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Journal of Education (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

On-line version ISSN 2520-9868
Print version ISSN 0259-479X


PRINCE, Robert. The relationship between school-leaving examinations and university entrance assessments: The case of the South African system. Journal of Education [online]. 2017, n.70, pp.133-160. ISSN 2520-9868.

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.

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