Matrics, here’s all you need to know about the 2021 National Benchmark Tests (NBT)

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Updated: 19 February 2021.


Here are a few things to note due to the Covid-19 pandemic when it comes to the NBTs in SA. This information is clearly stated in the NBT website and it includes the following:

1. National sessions will not be offered during lockdown level 3.

2. There is too much uncertainty as to when the restrictions will ease and when venues will become available.

 3. The national sessions will only resume and be limited to certain venues once lockdown level 0 is reached.

In addition students are urged to kindly note that at this point there can not be any confirmed dates given for such sessions and students are strongly encouraged to write the Online NBT".

Students are advised to check the frequently asked questions on the website for additional information and answers to commonly asked questions and to ontact the helpdesk immediately should they have any technical related difficulties in the information below:


Telephone: 021 650 3523

What are the National Benchmark Tests?

The National Benchmark Tests were first introduced in 2005 by Universities South Africa (formerly HESA) and is an assessment to see how university-ready prospective first-year students are. 

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 with 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.

1. Academic and Quantitative Literacy (AQL) test

Also known as the AQL test, this is a multiple-choice test in a 3-hour morning session. A combination of academic literacy and quantitative literacy, it needs to be taken by all applicants regardless of what they’re planning to study.

The AQL test: R90.

2. Mathematics (MAT) 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.

AQL and MAT tests: R180


  • The results of these tests will help institutions build courses around your level of learning.
  • It could give you the edge you may need to get into selective institutions.
  • Many bursary awarders use the NBT results to help them make their decisions.

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

What is the difference between the NSC and the NBT?

The National Senior Certificate exams test how well you meet the Grade 12 curriculum expectations. If you pass, you get your NSC certificate.

The National Benchmark Tests see how ready you are for tertiary studies.

When and where?

The tests, which can be taken in both English and Afrikaans, can only be written on selected days, from 11 May 2019 to 4 January 2020, at specific test stations across each province. If you cannot travel to any of these stations, you may register as a remote writer.

Your NBT score will be released to the institutions 2 to 3 weeks after you sat the tests. Please note that each tertiary institution has their own deadlines for NBT results so ensure you book your session and write well in advance. 

Both tests are written on one day: the AQL in the morning and the MAT in the afternoon.

To find out more about when and where you can write, see the test dates and sites section on the National Benchmark Tests website.

What are the National Benchmark Tests like?

There are no old exam papers available and teachers are not allowed to take the tests in order to help their learners prepare. The NBT website includes exemplar questions from each of the tests so you can test yourself and get a feel for the kind of questions that you'll be faced with in the tests. 

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.”

national benchmark tests

Image: National Benchmark Tests Project website


Once you have registered with an institution and written the tests, it takes 4 weeks to get the full results. If the results aren’t what you were hoping for, the tests can be written a second 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.

So what are the benchmark levels? Your results will fall into one of these categories: proficient, intermediate or basic. The NBT website explains it as follows:


Test performance suggests that future academic performance will not be adversely affected (students may pass or fail at university, but this is highly unlikely to be attributable to strengths or weaknesses in the domains tested). If admitted, students may be placed into regular programmes of study.


The challenges identified are such that it is predicted that academic progress will be adversely affected. If admitted, students’ educational needs should be met as deemed appropriate by the institution (e.g. extended or augmented programmes, special skills provision).


Test performance reveals serious learning challenges: it is predicted that students will not cope with higher education study without extensive and long-term support, perhaps best provided through bridging programmes (i.e. non-credit preparatory courses, special skills provision) or Further Education and Training (FET) provision. Institutions admitting students performing at this level would need to provide such support themselves.

To see how your marks fit into the benchmark levels, click here.


You could apply to have your test remarked (R250 fee). Ensure you apply for the remark within 30 days of receiving your test results.

For all information and to register for your NBTs, visit the National Benchmark Tests Project website. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get quick answers to your questions about the NBTs.


How did you find the NBTs? Do you think these tests will boost your chances at getting accepted into your university of choice?

Share your stories and questions with us via email at Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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