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Improving the academic performance of non-native English speaking students - the contribution of pre-sessional English language programmes

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There is an established, if weak, inverse relationship between levels of English language proficiency and academic performance in higher education. In response, higher education institutions (HEI) insist upon minimum entry requirements in terms of language for international applicants. Many HEI now also offer pre-sessional English courses to bring applicants up to the designated language requirement. Our paper revisits the research into language proficiency and academic performance using data on all full-time students (17,925) attending a major UK HEI in the academic year 2011/12, 4,342 of whom were non-native English speakers. Our findings confirm that while higher International English Language Testing System (IELTS) marks at entry translate into higher grade point averages (GPA), students who undertake pre-sessional courses do notably worse in GPA terms than students who arrive with acceptable (for the course) IELTS scores. These findings suggest HEI (and, by extension, international students) could benefit from a review regarding the appropriateness of current pre-sessional English Language proficiency programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-32
Number of pages28
JournalHigher Education Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date20 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • THORPE_2016_cright_HEQ_Improving the Academic performance of non-native English speaking students

    Rights statement: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Thorpe, A., Snell, M., Davey-Evans, S. and Talman, R. (2017), Improving the Academic Performance of Non-native English-Speaking Students: the Contribution of Pre-sessional English Language Programmes. Higher Education Quarterly, 71: 5–32 which has been published in final form at doi:10.1111/hequ.12109. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 970 KB, PDF document

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