'Learners bared their souls': Examiners' assessment literacy of how texts' work and the implications for L2 academic writing

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Under neoliberal conditions, the relationship between writing and assessment is intertwined and thus, investigating examiners' assessment literacy is essential because testing practices can, 'cripple the quality of education' (Popham, 2009, p. 4). Interestingly, Belcher (2013) calls for a broader lens in L2 writing pedagogy, which this paper intends to take up by shedding light on the implications of examiners' assessment literacy for L2 academic writing. In South Africa, various school-based tests highlight L2 writers' challenges, which often results in negative discourses about their writing proficiency and teachers' pedagogy. However, research that draws on a linguistically informed theory to investigate the implications of examiners' assessment literacy is limited in the South African literature. For this reason, I draw on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to illustrate what the English L2 question papers for 2017 to 2019 and their corresponding diagnostic reports reveal about examiners' orientations to writing proficiency. The findings point to three significant conceptual gaps, which were decontextualized discourses related to skills, creativity and process approaches. Therefore, the examiners' assessment literacy underscored the relationship between text purpose, its associated language features, and they demonstrated a limited engagement with thematic progression. The study concluded that examiners (mis)understanding of how texts work impact on narrowing the language curriculum that can hold ramifications for L2 students' academic writing skills.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Second Language Writing
Publication statusIn preparation - 2021


  • assessment literacy
  • Systemic Functional Linguistics
  • genre-based pedagogy
  • exit examinations
  • high stakes tests
  • academic literacy
  • academic writing
  • EMI university contexts
  • academic discourses
  • metalanguage

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