Facing up to literacy: perceptions and performance in a test of academic literacy for postgraduate students

  • C du Plessis
Keywords: academic literacy, language testing, face validity, test construct, postgraduate assessment


Language proficiency and academic literacy tests such as the National Benchmark Test (NBT) and Test of Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) are already well established assessment instruments that are widely used at universities in South Africa to assess the literacy levels of first-entry students. A more recent initiative has been the institution of language testing at postgraduate level as a means of identifying students at risk
of not completing their academic studies at that more advanced level. This article examines the face validity of the Test of Academic Literacy for Postgraduate Students (TALPS) amongst a cohort of postgraduate students at the University of the Free State and the perceptions of these students as to their own levels of academic literacy. A correlation is made with the students’ actual performance in the TALPS as an initial step towards gaining a measure of understanding of the low levels of academic literacy of some postgraduate students. The results of the study show that, although most of the students consider the TALPS to be fair and accurate, there is a major discrepancy between the perceptions of their own  academic literacy levels and their actual test performance. Possible reasons for the disparity are gleaned from the responses provided by the students in the survey questionnaire and an analysis of their test scores. It would seem that the academic literacy levels of students may not increase substantially during the undergraduate phase of study, a phenomenon that reflects back on language issues, course electives and undergraduate teaching and assessment practices.

Key words: academic literacy, language testing, face validity, test construct, postgraduate assessment


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eISSN: 0259-9570