Original Research

The quantitative literacy of South African school-leavers who qualify for higher education

Robert Prince, Vera Frith
Pythagoras | Vol 38, No 1 | a355 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v38i1.355 | © 2017 Robert Prince, Vera Frith | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 October 2016 | Published: 31 October 2017

About the author(s)

Robert Prince, Centre for Educational Testing for Access and Placement, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Vera Frith, Numeracy Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa


There is an articulation gap for many students between the literacy practices developed at school and those demanded by higher education. While the school sector is often well attuned to the school-leaving assessments, it may not be as aware of the implicit quantitative literacy (QL) demands placed on students in higher education. The National Benchmark Test (NBT) in QL provides diagnostic information to inform teaching and learning. The performance of a large sample of school-leavers who wrote the NBT QL test was investigated (1) to demonstrate how school-leavers performed on this QL test, (2) to explore the relationship between performance on this test and on cognate school-leaving subjects and (3) to provide school teachers and curriculum advisors with a sense of the QL demands made on their students. Descriptive statistics were used to describe performance and linear regression to explore the relationships between performance in the NBT QL test and on the school subjects Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy. Only 13% of the NBT QL scores in the sample were classified as proficient and the majority of school-leavers would need support to cope with the QL demands of higher education. The results in neither Mathematics nor Mathematical Literacy were good predictors of performance on the NBT QL test. Examination of performance on selected individual items revealed that many students have difficulty with quantitative language and with interpreting data in tables. Given that QL is bound to context, it is important that teachers develop QL practices within their disciplinary contexts.


Quantitative Literacy; school-leavers; Mathematics; Mathematical Literacy


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