Post-admission Language Assessment of University Students

Volume 6 of the series English Language Education pp 179-196


Construct Refinement in Tests of Academic Literacy

  • Albert WeidemanAffiliated withOffice of the Dean: Humanities, University of the Free State Email author 
  • , Rebecca PattersonAffiliated withOffice of the Dean: Humanities, University of the Free State
  • , Anna PotAffiliated withOffice of the Dean: Humanities, University of the Free State

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For several reasons, the construct underlying post-entry tests of academic literacy in South Africa such as the Test of Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) and its postgraduate counterpart, the Test of Academic Literacy for Postgraduate Students (TALPS), deserves further scrutiny. First, the construct has not been further investigated in close to a decade of use. Second, acknowledging the typicality of academic discourse as a starting point for critically engaging with constructs of academic literacy may suggest design changes for such tests. This contribution surveys and critiques various attempts at identifying the typical features of academic discourse and concludes that the uniqueness of academic discourse lies in the primacy of the logical or analytical mode that guides it. Using this characteristic feature as a criterion is potentially productive in suggesting ways to add components to the current test construct of academic literacy tests that are widely used in South Africa, such as TALL, TAG (the Afrikaans counterpart of TALL), and TALPS, as well as a new test of academic literacy for Sesotho. Third, a recent analysis of the diagnostic information that can be gleaned from TALPS (Pot 2013) may inform strategies of utilising post-entry tests of language ability (PELAs) more efficiently. This contribution includes suggestions for modifications and additions to the design of current task types in tests of academic literacy. These tentative suggestions allow theoretically defensible modifications to the design of the tests, and will be useful to those responsible for developing further versions of these tests of academic literacy.


Academic literacy Test construct Task types Test specifications Academic discourse Diagnostic information Post-entry assessment