Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s article, “Dear Grade 12 pupil: Let’s talk about your matric pass“, addresses matriculants who will this year become first year university students. He criticises South African Basic Education and argues it is in dire straits, touches on what university applicants should expect when they start tertiary education, and instructs them on how to conduct themselves when they become students.
Included in the article is this passage, which could be used as a concise explanation for the use of the National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) by South African universities. Jansen points out that while school has taught learners how to memorise and repeat facts, university requires critical thinking:
“The real test of how much and how well you know comes when you enter university. Here the rules are different. It will not help you in a good university to memorise and repeat facts. What will be tested is your ability to think critically, independently and thoughtfully. The smart scholars among you will, for the first time, experience difficulty in one or more university subjects.”
While the NSC examination is a school-leaving test, and tests whether a candidate has mastered the school curriculum, the NBTs are a university entrance exam, and test whether an applicant is ready for tertiary education. As Jansen points out, school and university are quite different environments. Success at school does not necessarily equate to success at university. The NBTs assess the ability to combine aspects of prior learning in competency areas that directly impact on success of first year university students.
There is a responsibility on the part of South African universities to address the problems of the “articulation gap” (discontinuity or discrepancy) between school and university, as well as the distressingly high university drop-out rates (almost 50% in 2015). The NBTs are one of the tools that can be used to help address these issues. By identifying academic strengths and weaknesses using their applicants’ NBT results, universities are able to make provision for academic assistance and support for these students.