Friday, 17 June 2011

Stuff to Do To Pass Your NBT - Learning from Shreeya's Mistakes

The things I wish I knew before I wrote the National Benchmark Test…

Righto, lots of pressure, right? You want to get accepted into UCT / WITS / TUKS etc and are forced to write the Benchmark test in the hopes of getting a badass score and getting offered early acceptance. When I wrote mine in April, I was quite clueless. But I’ve complied some information to help you study for this test: yes, you have to study. Start now. There’s nothing in here that you don’t know already (or you should already know) but it’ll help if the information is reiterated. Start well in advance with your revision, it’ll help you.

Let’s establish the basics:

1. AQL

What nobody told me about the Academic Quantitative Literacy test was that it’s timed. That freaked me out. What happens is, your entire 3 hour test is broken down into a few questions, alternating quantitative literacy with English academic literacy. Once the time is up, you’re not permitted to turn back. So pace yourself well. NO CALCULATORS ALLOWED.

  1. Mathematics

This test is for the people applying to degrees that require mathematics as part of the degree course. It’s 3 hours, and is a free for all compared to the AQL. You work at your own pace for the 3 hours and can leave after about 2 hours, if you’re done early (geeks). NO CALCULATORS ALLOWED.


You’d be looking to aim for a ‘proficient’ level within the tests. That means you require the following skills (taken straight off the official NBT website) :

Academic Literacy:

Select and use a complex range of vocabulary; understand and interpret non-literal language; understand and critically evaluate the structure and organisation of texts and ideas within these texts; evaluate and use a complex range of different text genres; develop academic arguments; evaluate and interpret the evidence for claims.

Quantitative Literacy:

Select and use a range of quantitative terms and phrases; apply quantitative procedures in various situations; formulate and apply complex formulae; read and interpret complex tables, graphs, charts and text and integrate information from different sources; do advanced calculations involving multiple steps accurately; identify trends/ patterns in various situations; reason logically & competently interpret quantitative information.


Demonstrate insight, and integrate knowledge and skills to solve non-routine problems and make competent use of logical skills (conjecture, deduction). Tasks typically require competence in multi-step procedures, represented in the framework outlined below:

Modelling, financial contexts, multiple representations of functions (including trigonometric), differential calculus, trigonometric and geometric problems (2D and 3D), measurement, representation and interpretation of statistical data,

So…how do we get there?


To achieve a proficient level (which we’re all aiming for) it’s a good idea to check out the NBT site’s specifications. Pretty demanding, eh?

Here’s some stuff I wish I did before the paper:

Academic Literacy :

- Try and get your English teacher to give you editing skill exercises, which are as close as you’re going to find to the syllabus manifest in the AQL test. Focus on questions where they ask you to provide synonyms / replace parts of the sentence to change it’s meaning

- They’re basically looking to test your understanding of text : they can provide you with an arbitrary sentence and ask you a comprehension question on it. Try reading through newspaper articles and pick out random words like ‘they’, ‘this’, ‘a study of’ and try to match what exactly these words pertain to in the greater context of the article.

Quantitative Literacy

- Grab a mathematical literacy paper and turn to the statistics section. Or look at some grade 9/8 papers involving long division and multiplication to brush up on your basic maths skills. It may seem demeaning, but lots of us forget our basics.

- You’re not going to have access to a calculator, so devise quick methods for manipulating decimals, percentages, fractions by all the BODMAS rules.

- Practise working with pie chart percentage values to two decimal places. Try and calculate the whole number each percentage represents in the chart out of the total amount of given data.

- There’s special conceptualization, too : how would this figure look from angle x,y,z

- Rewriting equations in different forms as per a word problem : if Person A earns x amount and x is 20% more than person B’s salary write Person B’s salary in terms of x blah blah

You can get a maths lit paper here :

Or get others by googling the exam paper name followed by dbe.

In that paper, questions to take note of are:



Question 4

Question 5

But practise the entire paper for your own benefit.


- There’s nothing better than PAST YEAR PAPERS of any year. Take your school’s past year papers or download some of the department’s ones and work through them without a calculator.

- Memorise your special angles

- You’re given a formula sheet, though, so don’t stress about that

- Don’t neglect your trigonometry and graphs – how the graph would look as an inverse, if reflected about whichever line etc


  1. Hi:

    Nice post. Thanks alot.

    I have some general questions:

    1) are all the questions multiple choice?
    2) do you only return an answer booklet or do you return some other workings/ calculations?
    3) Is the test in hard copy or electronic?

  2. Hi there, all the questions I've had to do were multiple choice. NO workings were submitted, just the sheet with your MCQ answers and it's all in hard copy at the station you're writing in - so remember to bring along a HB pencil and an eraser. Best of luck! :)

  3. You are just brilliant. Thank you so much. I'm rather stressed and i had no idea what to expect. Thanks to you, im no longer clueless

  4. What about Physical Science?

  5. Im writing my NBT next week and im stressed out about the math, trig has always been a problem for me . Thanx for clearance hey

  6. You truly are an angel. Thank you so much!

  7. is there any math paper 3 stuff in the test??


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  10. Im writing both the AQL and MAT in about 3weeks and heard somewhere that there is some formula you are required to know seeing that you don't have a calculator for the MAT exam. Do any of you know something about this??

  11. Vusi Ndlovu
    Tanx hey I was clueless so am now getting on to shape

  12. Thanx a million you a star

  13. Aye!!!!!!!!!!! GIVE THAT MEN A BELLS!!!!! #Awesome

  14. Hi thanks its of great help....Writing tomorrow

  15. Thanks so much. This helped to calm me down.

  16. I didn't know, now I knw Thanx for the help

  17. Thank you very much, your information was useful