The relationship between school-leaving examinations and university entrance assessments: The case of the South African system

Robert Prince


Many higher education systems across the globe struggle with the challenges of low throughput rates and high
dropout rates. It is estimated that more than half of South African Higher Education students drop out before
completing their degree studies and only one in four students complete their undergraduate programmes in
regulation time. Access, success and completion rates continue to be racially skewed. The challenges of these
low throughput and high dropout rates along racial lines means that effective teaching and learning has to be a
major focus for the higher education sector. In addition, extended degree programmes, where degrees are
formally done over a longer period of time, have to be considered as part of the future higher education
landscape in South Africa. One difficulty is determining which students will benefit from an extended
programme. In South Africa there are two assessments of school-leavers that are pertinent to this difficulty.
The first is the national school leaving examination, the National Senior Certificate (NSC), which is a statutory
requirement for entry into Higher Education. The results of the NSC are norm-referenced (they yield an
estimate of the position of the tested individual learner in relation to her peers) and are often difficult to
interpret for the purposes of admission, placement and curriculum development. The second assessment is the
National Benchmark Tests (NBTs). The NBTs are criterion-referenced (they generate a statement about the
behaviour that can be expected of a person with a given score) and test students in three domains: Academic
Literacy, Quantitative Literacy and Mathematics. This paper investigates the empirical relationship between
the two assessments and argues that they should be seen as complementary in order to address the challenges
of placing students in appropriate programmes and creating effective teaching and learning environments.


National Benchmark tests; extended university programmes

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Copyright (c) 2018 Robert Prince

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Journal of Education