The relationship between standardised test performance and language learning

  • GD Kamper Institute for Educational Research, University of South Africa
  • EB Mahlobo Department of Education, Pretoria
  • EM Lemmer Department of Further Teacher Education, University of South Africa


The English language proficiency of South African learners is integral to academic achievement, career development and functioning in a multilingual society. Against this background, this article reports on an empirical investigation of the relationship between (1) performance in standardised reading/writing tests in English Second Language (ESL) and (2) the use of language learning strategies (LLSs). The focus of the study on LLSs was determined by the importance of self-directed learning in outcomes-based education (OBE). A literature study investigated the role of and interplay between contextual factors and learner factors in the development of English Second Language proficiency and their relationship with the ESL learner's language learning strategies. The empirical inquiry comprised a case study of an underachieving Grade 11 learner in a secondary school in KwaZulu-Natal. The latter was chosen on the basis of poor matriculation results. Data gathering took place by means of the application of two standardised tests, the Writing Performance Test in English and the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning, an individual interview using a structured interview schedule and observation in the teaching and learning environment. It was found that a significant relationship between language proficiency (in terms of performance in standardised reading and writing tests) and LLS use can only be assumed with some confidence in respect of memory and cognitive strategies, but not in respect of compensation, metacognitive, affective and social strategies. The implications for language teaching in Curriculum 2005 context are briefly indicated.

Key words: standardised test performance, language learning strategies, English Second Language, KwaZulu-Natal, underachievement, secondary school, case study

[Jnl for Language Teaching Vol.37(2) 2003: 164-178]

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eISSN: 0259-9570