The design and use of 'alternate'assessments of academic literacy as selection mechanisms in higher education

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Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

In a context where applicants to higher education study vary widely in terms of their prior educational, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds, it becomes extremely important to assess the extent to which these applicants might be said to be ready to cope with the typical academic reading and writing demands of higher education study. This assessment becomes even more crucial in a country like South Africa, where issues of equity of access, selection and redress remain a central challenge. Put simply, the challenge is to identify academically talented students from educationally diverse backgrounds, especially in cases where the educational backgrounds of these applicants may have militated against them, fully demonstrating their talent in conventional (e.g. school-leaving) examinations. This article describes the theoretical basis for the development of tests of academic literacy that downplay the role of prior learning in the assessment of academic readiness. The uses of these tests as selection mechanisms complementary to conventional academic assessments are also outlined. Empirical data are presented that demonstrate associations between these tests and academic performance in higher education. Issues and challenges regarding the validity and reliability of these tests are presented, and the implications of major research findings on the tests debated and deliberated upon.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies on 8 April 2010, available online: