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Tried and tested: Academic literacy tests as predictors of academic success

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It is claimed that various factors related to academic literacy deleteriously affect student throughput. The international trend is to determine the academic literacy levels of prospective or already admitted students. This article reports on such an initiative, where the academic literacy of first-year students at a number of South African universities is annually tested for the assignment of students to appropriate academic language support courses. A construct of academic literacy is introduced as basis for test development. Next, validity considerations are introduced and discussed in relation to the construction of TALL and TAG, respectively English and Afrikaans placement tests for academic literacy. The problem addressed, is whether the Afrikaans test predicts academic success and can be used to support decisions on access. Tests such as TAG (and TALL) are often used for purposes they are not intended for. Empirical data from three case studies at three South African universities is drawn upon to determine its predictive validity. The findings indicate that academic literacy on its own predicts academic success to a very limited extent. Placement tests such as TAG should, consequently, not be used to inform decisions on access, but only for its intended purpose, namely placement.

Keywords: academic literacy; access; placement; validity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Tobie Van Dyk is professor at the School of Languages, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa and Head of the Centre for Academic and Professional Language Practice at the Faculty of Arts of the same university.

Publication date: 2015-06-30

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