Teachers – What you need to know about NBTs

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Have your learners been asking you about the National Benchmark Tests? What’s in them, what to expect, and how to prepare? We’ve got you covered with some helpful information from Janine for the next time these questions pop up.

What are the NBTs?

The National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) are a set of tests that measure an applicant’s academic readiness for university. They complement and support, rather than replace or duplicate the National Senior Certificate (NSC).

There are two tests: AQL, which is the Academic Literacy (AL) and Quantitative Literacy (QL) test, and MAT, which is the Mathematics test.

How are they used?

A number of universities in South Africa use the NBTs to help interpret the NSC results. Universities use the NBT results in different ways:

  • The results can be used to determine whether an applicant is accepted or not. The NBT results are used in combination with your NSC results to see if you’re ready for the academic study universities offer.
  • Some use them as guidance to see where you should be placed. They will use the results to determine whether you need extra academic support or not.
  • The results can also be used to develop curricula  for university courses.

What can your learners expect?

Both tests consist only of multiple choice questions. The AL and the QL tests are combined into one three hour test (AQL), with 75 questions in the AL section and 50 in the QL section. The MAT test consists of 60 questions.

Helping your Learners Prepare:

The MAT Test

  • Tell them not to wait too long before writing the test

The MAT test is based on the work they do in school. That doesn’t mean that they need to wait till the end of the year to write it. Our research shows that there is no advantage in writing the MAT test later in the year. We understand that many universities have deadlines in May and June, which is why we have left out any work that would not have been covered yet. So when is the best time to write the MAT test? Writers need to choose the time of writing that enables them to meet the deadline of the institution to which they have applied.

  • Ensure they are familiar with multiple choice questions

Unless multiple choice questions are already being used in the classroom, give your learners some guidelines regarding how to deal with multiple choice questions.

  • Make sure that they understand “mathematical language”

Make the reading skills needed in mathematics clear: it’s easy to assume that all learners understand the variations of the language used in mathematics but this isn’t true for many learners. For example, do they understand the difference between ‘but’ and ‘and’, between ‘twice as much as’ and ‘two more than’; do they understand the language related to inequalities, such as ‘at least three units’ or ‘not more than 5’, etc.?

Make the quantitative skills required in mathematics clear. Ratio, percentage, numerical manipulation, etc., are not specific skills required in Grade 12 (although they were taught it in the earlier grades and are expected to know it), and learners may have forgotten (or maybe never understood) these quantitative concepts.

  • No calculators allowed!

Calculators are not allowed into our test venues. When learners depend on calculators, they lose their arithmetic skill, understanding of numbers, relative size and their position on a number line. The questions in the MAT test are asked in a way that calculators are not needed.

How can you help them to cope with this? Wherever possible, depend on mathematical concepts rather than calculators to solve problems. Even though it is possible for a calculator to solve an equation, it doesn’t show the learner’s arithmetic ability.

The AQL test

In the AL section, they will be required to read short passages that are similar to those they’ll be given in university and then they’ll answer multiple-choice questions based on those passages.

For the QL section, ensure that they understand and can apply the basic concepts used in mathematics and mathematical literacy classes. Encourage the use of graphs, charts, maps, and tables in a variety of learning contexts. Make sure they understand how to create graphs and tables and how to read and interpret the information in these graphical representations.

Sample questions

You’ll find more details about both tests in our “Preparing your learners” booklets, as well as some exemplar questions to help your learners get a feel for what the tests will be like:


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