Academic Reading ability of first-year students: what's high school performance or prior exposure to academic reading got to do with it?

  • Constance Zulu Department of English, North-West University (Mafikeng Campus), Mmabatho 2735, South Africa
Keywords: academic, reading ability, first-year students, high school performance


This article investigates two areas: (1) whether high school performance (as measured by the matric final examination in English) or prior exposure to academic reading makes a difference in the performance of students in a test of academic reading ability and (2) what common reading difficulties are experienced by these students. The subjects were first-year Law students enrolled in an English and Academic Skills (EAS) course at the University of the North-West (now known as the North-WestUniversity). Two groups were used. Group A comprised first-time first-year entrants and Group B comprised repeat and re-entry students. Both groups were administered a pre-test and post-test of academic reading ability. The dependent variable was academic reading ability and the independent variables were matric grade and prior exposure. Two measures of reading ability were used, namely a reading comprehension and a cloze passage. An analysis of variance found no significant difference between the pre- and post-test means when prior exposure was examined. However, a significant difference was found between the pre- and post-test means when the matric grade was tested. The results seem to suggest that the matric grade rather than prior exposure accounts for a statistically-significant difference in the performance of the subjects in the academic reading ability test (F = 6.89, P < 0.002 and F = 4.96, P < 0.009) for the pre-test and post-test respectively, suggesting that students with upper grades (A, B or C) in matric English are more likely to have a better chance of succeeding in their academic reading course than students with middle or lower grades. A qualitative analysis revealed that critical reading was the most difficult skill for the students, implying that more emphasis should be placed on teaching this skill.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2005, 23(1): 111–123

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614