Everything you need to know about the National Benchmark Test (NBT)

If you have started with your university application process and have gone over some of the admission requirements, then chances are you’ve come across the National Benchmark Test (NBT). These independently administered set of exams are established to test your academic readiness for university.

Here’s everything you need to know about the NBTs:

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

Universities use the NBT results in different ways:

  • Your NBT results, along with the NSC results, are used to help universities determine whether you are ready for academic study and will influence their decision to accept your application or not.
  • The results are also used to decide whether you will need extra academic support such as extra modules or an extra year of study after you have been admitted to
  • The results can help universities develop their curricula by determining which critical skills most students are lacking from their high school education.

The NBTs are made up of two separate tests: the Academic and Quantitative Literacy (AQL) test and the Mathematics (MAT) test.

The AQL test needs to be taken by all applicants regardless of what they are planning to study. The MAT test is written by applicants who are applying for programmes where Maths is a requirement, such as Engineering, Medicine and most of the Sciences. The AQL test can be written on its own if you aren’t applying to a degree with Maths but if you are, then you must write both (AQL and MAT) tests. Even if you’re applying to more than one university, you only need to write the tests once. Both of them are 3-hour long, multiple choice tests.

It’s very important to note that different universities and faculties will have different requirements and deadlines for the NBT so make sure that you check their websites and book your test accordingly.

How to register:

  • You must register online to write the tests and pay up front. Go to the NBT website to register.
  • The costs of the tests for the 2020 admission cycle are:
    • R100 for AQL only
    • R200 for AQL and MAT
  • Even if you’re applying to more than one university, you only need to write the tests once.

When to write the NBT:

There is no ‘right’ time to write the NBT and there are available slots to take the tests between May and January. You should aim to write when you feel most comfortable but make sure that you are within the deadlines set by your university or faculty. The results can take up to three weeks to reach the institution so be sure to factor this into your time frame.

How to prepare:

The NBT assesses your prior knowledge – what you know and what you are able to do and there are no past papers offered by the NBT administration to help to prepare for the tests. However, the NBT website provides information on the topics that are covered in the tests. Using this information, we as ASA have developed a weekend-long workshop to help you revise these topics and also offer a mock AQL and NBT exam so you can practice with a similar set of questions.

To find out more about this comprehensive NBT workshop, send an email to nbt@academicsuccess.co.za


Writing the NBT is an important step towards getting accepted into your university of choice. You will have to do a lot of your own personal research to ensure that you are following the correct guidelines for the specific degree that you are applying for. If you need more information on what you need to know before applying to university, check out these guidelines and tips.

For more information, go to the NBT website. If you have any queries about the NBT, contact them at the Call Centre (021-650 3523) or connect with them on Facebook.

Best of luck with this next step in your academic journey!