Language proficiency as a predictor of GPA

Think back to your university days – can you remember how difficult it was to get the hang of all the obscure jargon your professors used? Now imagine that there were three or four times as many unfamiliar words and that you took much longer than other people to read texts and follow instructions.

Would you have done so well?

Would you have coped at all?

Maybe not?

This is the challenge that many of our international and domestic students face.

In a piece of summer scholarship research, we’ve been exploring UABS student experiences and the nature of the language-based challenges that some students encounter. We’ve confirmed that English language proficiency, as indicated by DELNA, strongly predicts overall GPA. We’ve also seen that it equally strongly predicts performance in each course we examined. And there was one surprising finding – it’s reading proficiency, rather than writing or listening ability, that determines success, at least in the first semester of study.

The summer scholarship that made this work possible was awarded by the Business School. Thank you, Professor Boxall! The scholarships are designed to provide talented students with research training and experience. This project has certainly done that and is also generating academic publications. Beyond these personal gains, the project has provided valuable local evidence for further research and targeted interventions. We’re currently using it to adapt the work that Innovative Learning and Teaching do. Our immediate aim is to make the first year experience at university a little less stressful and our support for first year students more appropriate and effective. Katy Mann and Doug Carrie have some great ideas in this area – look out for these in a future post!


Prachi Malhotra is conjointly studying Commerce and Arts, and alongside her study, has an impressive line-up of awards and recognitions. These include a Summer Research Scholarship at the University of Auckland Business School and selection for the Women’s Mentoring Programme, the 360 Leadership Programme and AIESEC’s Activate Programme. She is also an enthusiastic volunteer, mentoring on the First Year Experience, acting as a class representative and fundraising for Auckland Microfinance Initiative, Rotaract, and the SPCA.

Susan Geertshuis is Director, Learning and Teaching and Professor of Lifelong Learning at the University of Auckland Business School. She teaches within the School and leads the School’s Innovative Learning Team (ILT) and the Educational Development Unit (EDU). In addition to her roles in the Business School, Susan is Academic Director of Electronic Engagement and reports through to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). Susan joined The University of Auckland in 2003 as Professor of Lifelong Learning where she was initially employed as Director of the Centre for Continuing Education, before moving to the Business School in 2012. Prior to moving to Auckland Susan was Professor of Organisational Studies, Director of the Centre for Learning and Innovation in Organisations, Director of the Centre for Learning Research, Research Director of the Centre for Learning Development and Deputy Director of the Health Services Research Unit at various UK Universities.


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