It’s exam season for Victorian students – but a growing number shun the ATAR

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Today marks the beginning of the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) exam season in Victoria but for a growing number of the state’s Year 12 students, choosing to complete an unscored VCE means they will finish their secondary schooling without sitting exams or receiving what was once seen by many as an all-important Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score.

The move represents a changing attitude in secondary schools across Victoria as alternative ways to enter university become more common and young people re-evaluate their education and career goals after the impact of the pandemic.

In Victoria, the examination period continues until 15 November with the first exams being held in dance, languages, music, and theatre. Students can obtain their VCE certificate of completion with less than four study scores (unscored VCE).

More students choosing unscored VCE

In 2018, data from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA), shows that just 4.1 per cent of VCE students chose to do it without receiving an ATAR. By 2020, the year the pandemic impacted, that number had risen to 8.3 per cent. In 2022, 10.9 per cent of all VCE students elected to do an unscored VCE and forgo receiving an ATAR.

The ATAR is a ranking between zero and 99.95 of a student’s scores (compared against other students in the state) and is the standard pathway into university. But as more universities embrace alternative paths or course entry that does not require an ATAR, today’s high school students can look forward to more options.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president, Colin Axup, said completing VCE unscored was now seen as a legitimate tertiary pathway.

“We focus a lot on study scores and ATARs, but a scored VCE is not the only pathway to success,” he said.

It’s a belief held by 17-year-old Maddie, who made the decision to do her VCE unscored two years ago when she was in Year 10. She’d already seen her older sister struggle through her own VCE year in 2020 when the lockdowns enforced as a result of COVID-19 saw many Victorian students looking for ways to reduce their stress. At first, Maddie says, her parents seemed disappointed, but with her older sister paving the way and now completing a Bachelor of Arts in music performance, Maddie says her mum and dad became “more open to me looking at other ways to study and work too”.

“At my private school, all everyone used to talk about was how important it was to get an amazing ATAR,” she told The Bursar. “I think the school still think that – it looks good for them if their students get high scores – but I think the students are exploring new ways to do things and realising that education is about much more than just a number.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]