A comparative analysis of academic literacy specifications for a standardised test and academic literacy requirements for reading and writing in a range of disciplinary contexts

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Standardised testing gained prominence in the South African higher education sector in the last decade, largely as a means of providing information to identify students who might require additional academic support and for placements onto appropriate higher education programmes of study. This study explored academic literacy as a construct for standardised tests in comparison with the kinds of literacies required for reading and writing for various subjects across diploma programmes. The purpose of this study was to determine whether alignment between the academic literacy test specifications and reading and writing practices in and across diploma subjects would support the claim that generic standardised tests are appropriate for all subjects and fields of study. Theoretical approaches to standardised testing and academic literacies formed the backdrop to frame the study and analyse the findings. The multiple-case study approach was used to explore the reading and writing practices across various diploma subjects, using semi structured interviews and document analysis for data generation. The test specifications of a standardised test served as the interview protocol, as well as the analytic codes for interview and document data that were analysed by means of thematic coding and content analysis. The findings revealed two distinct content representations in different subjects, that is text-dominant and visual literacy-dominant orientations that influenced the practice and application of different literacies, academic literacy being but one of an array of literacies. Conclusions based on the data and findings suggest that while academic literacy as a construct is integral to knowledge acquisition in academia, disciplinary literacies have a profound presence and should be accommodated in standardised testing to ensure that what is tested resonates with subject literacies. It is argued that alignment of test specifications and reading and writing practices in subjects would render tests and test results valid for appropriate use.

Includes bibliographical references