Original Research

Time limits and English proficiency tests: Predicting academic performance

Ingrid Opperman
African Journal of Psychological Assessment | Vol 2 | a20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajopa.v2i0.20 | © 2020 Ingrid Opperman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 October 2019 | Published: 25 June 2020

About the author(s)

Ingrid Opperman, Department of Student Development and Support, Higher Education Development and Support, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa


English is the primary language of instruction in South African higher education, but entering students of first year are often not sufficiently proficient. Therefore, a need is evident for proficiency testing to guide intervention initiatives. International proficiency tests are lengthy and expensive, but Cloze procedure and vocabulary tests have been used as effective alternatives. However, time limits may affect observed reliability and predictive validity in the context of higher education. The present research assessed a cohort of first-year tourism management students using versions of the English Literacy Skills Assessment (ELSA) Cloze procedure and Vocabulary in Context tests under three time-limit conditions: normal, double and no time limits. Students in double and no time-limit conditions performed significantly better than the normal time-limit group. Group scores were correlated with, and significant predictors of, academic subject first-test scores. Better performance and more accurate prediction under extended time limits may be related to students attempting more questions. As the ELSA Vocabulary in Context was the better predictor in this research, the importance of non-technical vocabulary, as opposed to semantic and contextual understandings in Cloze procedure, is highlighted. Therefore, screening the English proficiency levels of students admitted to higher education institutions may be useful to flag likelihood of success and guide interventions.


higher education; English proficiency; Cloze procedure; vocabulary; time limits


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