What is WACE?

July 6, 2022Learnmate

What is WACE? Understanding the Requirements and How it Works

Each State and Territory in Australia has its own recognised certificate that is issued to students who complete secondary school. The Western Australian Certificate of Education (or “WACE”) is awarded to senior secondary school students who satisfy certain requirements on completing secondary school in Western Australia. 

This blog is intended to help explain what WACE is and how to best prepare for it. 

What is WACE?

The terms “WACE” and “Year 12” are sometimes used interchangeably and generally mean the same thing. Students in Western Australia who complete a certain number of approved and endorsed subjects in accordance with specific requirements in Year 12 will be awarded the certificate.

WACE is typically achieved over two years and students must complete a total of 20 units and demonstrate minimum standards of literacy and numeracy. Students pick subjects based on considerations such as their interests, strengths and career aspirations and are awarded their WACE if they satisfy the relevant unit and minimum standard requirements.

You can read about WACE in more detail on the WA Department of Education's website.

What are the Requirements for WACE and the Achievement Standards?

WACE is only awarded to senior school students who satisfy certain requirements set by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority. These requirements include:

  • completion of a minimum of 20 'units' (see below) or 'unit equivalents'. This must include:
    • ten Year 12 units (or equivalent)
    • four units from an English course, including at least one pair of Year 12 units from an English course
    • one pair of Year 12 units from a subject classified as Arts, Languages and Social Sciences
    • one pair of Year 12 units from a subject classified as Maths, Science and Technology
  • completion of at least 14 C grades or higher in Year 11 and 12 units, with a minimum of 6 C grades in Year 12 units
  • completion of:
    • at least four Year 12 ATAR courses; or
    • at least five Year 12 General courses (or a combination of General and ups to three Year 12 ATAR courses); or
    • a Certificate II (or higher) VET qualification in combination with the above.
  • demonstration of minimum standard of literacy and numeracy.

'Units' are recognised if a student completes a course and is awarded a grade (ie., A, B, C, D or E) and a mark (out of 100) for a subject. To complete a Year 12 ATAR course, a student must sit the ATAR course exam.

'Unit equivalents' can also be awarded if a student completes a relevant and recognised 'General' courses (such as VET industry subjects).

If a student plans on going to university, their ATAR will be used to determine what courses they will be offered admission into.

You can read about the requirements in more detail on the Government for Western Australia's resource page.

Are there types of WACE Courses?

There are different pathways for a student to be awarded their WACE. As we've already explored, these include completing a certain number of units that fall under one of two categories: ATAR courses or General courses (or a combination of both).

ATAR courses

ATAR courses are the traditional school programs including Arts, English, Humanities, Languages, Maths and Sciences. These are typically for students interested in continuing their studies at university and relate to fields of practice which may be a prerequisite for, or which a student may continue at, a tertiary level after being awarded a WACE.

General courses

These courses generally relate to vocational fields of study and practice or direct pathways to employment after school and are typically not prerequisites for or relate to a tertiary field of study. These include areas such as Automotive, Community Services and Health, Construction, Creative Industries, Hospitality and the like.

What is the difference between WACE and ATAR? Are they related?

We have discussed and explained what the WACE is above but you may be wondering what this has to do with an “ATAR” and what it is. ATAR is short for “Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank” and is a percentile rank issued to students to indicate how well they did in WACE compared to all other students in the program that year. 

Students will be issued a number (or “percentile rank”) between 0 and 99.95. A percentile rank effectively states what percentage of the cohort a student performed better than. For instance, if a student receives an ATAR of 50, it means they performed better than 50% of students in the cohort. If the student receives an ATAR of 99.95, it means they performed better than 99.95% of students in the cohort.

Although curriculums differ by State and Territory (ie. HSC, VCE, WACE, SACE, TASC, BSSS etc.), every student in Australia is issued an ATAR on completion of their course. The ATAR is used by universities across Australia to provide a standardised means of assessing students for the purpose of admission to university and tertiary studies (hence Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank). 

How is the ATAR calculated?

To receive an ATAR, students need to have completed at least four ATAR courses in a recognised combination. For each of those subjects, students will be issued a mark based on their internal (school) and external (final exam) assessments and an ATAR is calculated based on the student's performance in those assessments.

However, a student's WACE marks go through a process of review, moderation and scaling to determine how that student performed relative to their peers. This includes:

  • considering and moderating marks based on how a student’s school performed relative to other schools (ie. to allow for marking differences between schools); and
  • scaling subject marks based on the relative difficulty of the subjects completed and the ‘strength of competition’ in those subjects. For instance, ‘easier’ subjects may be scaled down while ‘harder’ subjects are scaled up.

Once this process is completed, an aggregate is calculated by:

  • taking a student's best four scaled scored; plus
  • 10% of a student's best scaled score in Language Other than English (LOTE) (if applicable);
  • 10% of a student's best scaled score in Maths Methods (if applicable);
  • 10% of a student's best scaled score in Specialist Maths (if applicable).

Every student is then ranked based on their aggregate mark and a percentile is assigned to each student to the nearest 0.05 to calculate the ATAR. If you achieved a rank below 30, your ATAR will simply be reported as "less than 30".

Top 3 Tips for WACE Preparation

So how can you best prepare for the WACE and to achieve your academic goals? You may have realised in reading this blog that some preparation is required before a student even commences the WACE. And you’d be right to think that – as subject selection occurs in year 10, some bigger picture thinking is required before a student commences Year 11 and 12. This may include what profession or university course a student may want to pursue as well what subjects a student enjoys, is good and not so good at. 

We have quite a few free resources accessible on Learnmate to help students prepare for WACE and excel. These include a full Study Guide aptly titled ‘How to get the ATAR you need’ and study timetable to set yourself up to focus and learn effectively and efficiently. These include some considerations around subject selection before commencing WACE.

Here are our top 3 tips to prepare for and succeed in WACE.

Pick the right subjects for you

When you are completing subject selection it is important to consider:

  • what you have a genuine enthusiasm in
  • what your strong suits are; and
  • what subjects you may be required to do to get into your desired university degree.

From our research, 86% of students who achieve an ATAR of 90 or higher picked subjects they enjoyed doing or were interested in and 80% picked subjects that matched their strong skillsets. Picking subjects that engage you and that you’re good at will provide you with natural momentum. Over the year, as you do well and enjoy what you’re learning, you will be naturally motivated to keep putting in the extra hard work.

Additionally, make sure you consider how subjects you’re looking at picking have been scaled in prior years. It’s important to consider whether your hard work may be rewarded or penalised and whether that will help or hinder your ATAR aspirations. 

Plan study time with a timetable

Having a study plan and structuring your week, weekend and term assists massively in being organised and keeping yourself accountable. If you struggle to focus, making a realistic and sustainable study timetable and setting specific times for study, work and leisure is a key strategy to staying on track. 

From our research, 39% of students who achieved an ATAR of 90 or higher in WACE say they used and stuck to a study timetable during Year 12. Over 50% of those who scored an ATAR above 95 used timetables during Year 12. Discipline and focus breeds success.

Confront your weaknesses

Facing and confronting your weaknesses is a challenge that everyone faces in life. While it may be difficult at first, it’s important to have the awareness and take note of what you’re good and confident at and what you struggle with. 

Being able to recognise where you struggle to grasp concepts, maintain concentration or simply aren’t scoring well enables you to seek support to overcome these challenges. Whether that’s reaching out to friends, teachers or engaging a tutor. You’ll know what you need to focus on to achieve your goals and bring up your overall average for a subject. 

Having awareness and the ability to identify weaknesses is a strength. Based on our research, 50% of students who achieve over an 85 ATAR engage a tutor at some stage during year 12. 70% of students who achieved an ATAR of 99 or higher engaged one or more! If you want support from a tutor, Learnmate can help.


We hope that this blog has given you an understanding of the WACE, how it relates to a student’s ATAR and how best to prepare for it. 

Whilst it may seem complicated, from a student’s perspective it’s fairly basic. If you plan for WACE properly and put in consistent effort over Year 11 and 12, you will set yourself up to perform well in WACE and receive a good ATAR.  

Preparation is critical. Talking to and working with people that know the system and who have either succeeded themselves in the WACE or helped others to is a great way to give yourself the best chance of success. Tutors on Learnmate have been there and done that. They are here to help guide and support you along your journey. 

If you want to find and match with a Learnmate to give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals in WACE, look for a tutor today at: https://learnmate.com.au/tutors/wace-tutors/

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