Many learners in South Africa dream of going to university to become doctors, lawyers and engineers. But the path to tertiary education is not an easy one, unless you are prepared.

This is where the National Benchmark Test comes into play. The National Benchmark Tests Project (NBTP) was commissioned in 2005 by Higher Education South Africa (HESA), now called Universities South Africa (USAf).

The main objective of the project was to assess the entry level academic skills of candidates in academic literacy, quantitative literacy, and mathematics. The NBTs are designed specifically to complement the National Senior Certificate as they provide an independent and objective assessment against which the performance of students on the National Senior Certificate can be compared and calibrated.

Tracey Young-Thompson, Manager of Operations at education provider Advantage Learn explains why preparation for the NBTs during matric is so crucial.

“The NBTs were set up to test a learner’s academic readiness for tertiary education. Effectively they are standardised tests which give universities a good sense of a learner’s skill sets and readiness for the rigours of higher education.”

“Most degree programmes require that the NBTs be written,” she said.

What exactly do the NBTs entail?

Most Grade 12s applying for tertiary study in South Africa as well as learners looking to enter competitive degree programmes and/or scholarship programmes write the NBTs.

The NBTs are a unique assessment as they are different to what learners are used to. They are in a multiple choice format and calculators are not allowed in the mathematics portion of the test.

The two tests comprise of:

  • Academic and Quantitative Literacy (AQL) is a standardised multiple-choice assessment.  This is made up of two components:
    • Academic Literacy wherequestions focus on grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and numerical application. The aim of this is for learners to demonstrate the ability to read, understand and communicate meaning from a body of text.
  • Quantitative Literacy (QL) looks at numerical calculations similar to Mathematical Literacy and no calculators are allowed.
  • MAT is closely related to Core Mathematics and tests a student’s ability to apply their knowledge and understanding of mathematical concepts. This is a standardised assessment via multiple choice. There is no calculator allowed.

“AQL is compulsory if you are writing the NBTs. MAT is only for specific degree programmes like Sciences, Engineering, Health Science etc,” Young-Thompson says.

The NBT results are valid for three years once a learner has written the tests, so learners are encouraged to write it in their Matric year. This means that learners can take their gap years or take their time to decide on what they really want to study at university.


How to help your child ace the NBTs:

Young-Thompson says the multiple-choice format of the NBTs has proven challenging for learners who haven’t practised. She says removing a calculator from a learner often causes them to stumble in the MAT and AQL tests.

Because the tests are in multiple-choice formats, learners who are used to getting marks for process rather than just a correct answer (as is the case in most math tests and exams in schools), have little room to manoeuvre in the NBTs, says Young-Thompson. However, if learners prepare correctly for the NBTs, these issues fall away.

Young-Thompson says proper preparation for the NBTs also have a dramatic effect on a learner’s math scores at school because different skills are taught during the NBT preparation workshops.

“Acing the NBTs is more important than ever because there is a growing competition to get into tertiary institutions. More and more institutions require it to be written before the application date for that course closes,” she said.

Advantage Learn was the first education provider to offer NBT preparation, giving them many years of experience in effectively preparing learners for the test.

They provide a full AQL and MAT test preparation in the form of live-online workshops, in-person workshops and online courses in both English and Afrikaans.

“By signing up to courses like ours, you are changing the trajectory of your child’s life by giving them as much preparation as you can and providing them with the tools to cope with this test,” Young-Thompson says.

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