All about the National Benchmark Tests
These important tests could mean the difference between your teen getting into a good higher education institution or not.

If your teen is thinking of studying at a university or any other higher education institution, they may need to do the National Benchmark Tests. The NBT is an assessment for prospective first year entry student.

What are the National Benchmark Tests?

The National Benchmark Tests were first introduced in 2005 by Higher Education South Africa (HESA).

These tests have 3 purposes:

  • To assess entry-level academic literacy and mathematics skills.
  • To assess the relationship between entry-level skills and school-level exit results.
  • To provide institutions requiring additional information in the admission and placement of entry-level students.

There are two tests that potentially need to be taken, depending on what your teen will be studying.

Academic and Quantitative Literacy Test

This test, also known as the AQL test, is multiple-choice and has a total of 3 hours of writing time. This particular test, a combination of academic literacy and quantitative literacy, needs to be taken by all applicants regardless of what they’re planning to study.

Mathematics Test

This test, also known as MAT, is written by applicants to programmes for which maths is a requirement. It is also multiple-choice and the student has 3 hours to complete it.

Results and benefits

Once your teen has registered with an institution and writes the tests, it takes 2 weeks to get the full results. If the results aren’t what your teen was hoping for, the tests can be written a 2nd time at an additional cost and only if the institution agrees.

Even if your child has applied to more than one institution, they only have to write the tests once as the results can be accessed by anyone who has permission to see them.

There are benefits to your teen getting good results. Such as:

The results of these tests will help institutions build courses around your teen’s level of learning.

It could give your teen the edge they may need to get into selective institutions.

Many bursary awarders use the NBT results to help them make their decisions.

There is no pass rate for the NBTs, rather higher education institutions will use the Benchmark levels or results and other available information when processing applications and determining placements.

To find out what the National Benchmark Test levels mean, click here to download the PDF.

What are the National Benchmark Tests like?

Claire Mathieson, who studied at the University of Cape Town, had this to say about taking the NBTs. “The tests were not particularly challenging or scary but were formatted differently and made you think a little more. There were familiar concepts but set out in a university style - meaning if you could handle a university exam, you could handle university. I was confused by the way certain questions were phrased, but I clearly worked it out.”

When, where and how?

The tests, which can be taken in both English and Afrikaans, can only be written at certain times and at specific test stations.

The tests are written on either a Saturday or a Sunday and both tests are written at once. To find out more about when and where your teen can write, see the test dates and sites section on the National Benchmark Tests website.

Follow these links to find out more about:

Test Content
Applying to Institutions
Scores and Results
Test Languages

Did you know about the National Benchmark Tests? What are your thoughts? Send your comments to

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