The refinement and uses of a test of academic literacy for Grade 10 students

  • Jo-Mari Myburgh-Smit
  • Albert Weideman
Keywords: academic literacy; language development; higher education; access; language ability; language testing; language assessment


The massification of higher education has led to a substantial increase in enrolments since 1993, and an astonishing 300% rise  in first
degree completion among black students. Yet questions remain about the level and adequacy of students’ preparation at school for such study. Drop-out rates of learners remain unacceptably high both at school and university level. Language ability is often identified as being one of several hurdles that prevent success, especially in higher education. At school there is an apparent misalignment between the aims of the current Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), and the subsequent instruction and assessment of students. CAPS requires that students should be prepared to handle academic discourse, yet no clear outline of what academic discourse entails is given.
Consequently, many higher education institutions across the country require of students to write additional pre-admission or post-entry tests of language ability. In some cases the National Benchmark Test (NBT) is used to grant or deny access, or in others for placement of at-risk students on language development interventions, usually defined as “academic literacy” courses. The clear expectation is that  these tests will have some measure of predictive value, or at least be useful as regards minimising risk of failure. Ideally, it would then be advantageous if students who need to improve their academic literacy levels could be identified at an earlier stage than university entry, whilst they are still in school. To monitor and gauge the value of language assessments and courses, however, one would first need appropriate, adequate and defensible assessment instruments. This paper discusses the need for and the refinement of an academic literacy test for Grade 10 students as a first step towards measuring and then developing the required level of academic literacy before entry into higher education.


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eISSN: 0259-9570