Posted in Academic and quantitative literacy (AQL), NBT AQL preparation

It’s not about the NBT’s! It’s about being prepared for university

Our Grade 12’s deserve to reach university prepared

“It seems to me,” the mother of a Grade 12 recently wrote to me, “that tertiary institutions no longer expect children to take the NBT’s (for MANY of the programmes)”.

“Is it true?” she asks.

What are the NBT’s?

Access to highly sought-after directions of study

The National Benchmark Tests (NBT’s) are an institution about which most schools know little; in which many pupils are not interested; which a good number of teachers want nothing to do with; and even more parents simply don’t know enough.

These are tests that were taken up a few years ago by many South African universities. They are administered by the University of Cape Town. Initially the intention was for universities to use their results only for information additional to that yielded by the Grade 12 exit examinations, for example to place students whose academic literacy was not at the required level on language development courses. After a mathematics component was added, the use of the tests began to be extended to determine access to highly sought-after directions of study. Especially in courses where racial quotas for access to them could detrimentally affect applicants from one racial group, the NBT’s have become a determinant in selection.

So is it true that universities no longer require them? Or will not require them in the future? I strongly doubt it.

Universities change plans in a twinkling

Some universities indeed still require them, while some still do not. However, universities change plans in a twinkling. Let me give two examples. In the first, consider the case of one large residential university in the north. In January, their website proclaimed that they no longer require NBT results. By February there was a notification that their Faculty of Engineering still did, for selection on a certain course. Hard on the heels of that faculty came an announcement on the same website that their Faculty of Education also required NBT results. A second example: In January, I am inundated with enquiries from parents who, like the parent quoted before, said that a large residential university in the south no longer required the NBT’s. No surprise that a short while later, their website announced that their Faculty of Law still required it.

In a word: universities differ not only amongst one another, but even amongst their own faculties and departments, sometimes even among different programmes within departments and faculties. As the Latin dictum says: Caveat emptor. Beware at the same time of good ‘advice’, and especially of assumptions. Take all these with a pinch of salt.

If the prospective student is applying for only a single course at a single university, and is entirely sure of success: Relax. But do consider: what if – heaven forbid – this application is unsuccessful? What if the Grade 12 pupil then has to apply to another university, which does require the NBT’s to be written? Where membership of a certain racial group may place applicants at a disadvantage when applying to study medicine at some erstwhile Afrikaans universities, this can actually benefit applicants at other large universities (again in the north and the south). Here applications from members of one demographic group may be scarce, and sought after in admissions decisions. How does one apply for admission to these? With the aid of good results on the NBT’s.

Are the NBT’s no longer required? I doubt it. If they are not, this is true only in a very limited way. Caveat emptor.

No preparation for university is ever wasted

To end on a positive note: No preparation for university is ever wasted time or energy. If my generation, and in fact two subsequent generations, had arrived at university better prepared, we would have wasted much less of our own time, money and effort, as well as that of others. The current generation of Grade 11’s and 12’s have ambition that, to put it euphemistically, far surpasses that of their parents and grandparents. They deserve to go to university well prepared. So it’s not about the NBT’s; it is about being prepared, in the case of the Grade 12’s, for 2022, and in the case of the Grade 11’s, for 2023, respectively the most difficult and challenging year they will encounter.

Minimise your risk: go to university well prepared

Please visit the LCaT Academic Literacy Workshop page on this site to learn how you can prepare. For Maths, please visit the Purple Pepper Maths site.

For the AQL (Academic and Quantitative Literacy) component, contact Albert Weideman:

For the NBT MAT, contact Duard le Roux:

Also read: NBT AQL Preparation: Yes or no?