To gauge the academic writing abilities of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) who fall into certain categories as outlined below.
This procedure applies to all NESB candidates who commenced their HDR candidature from January 2013 and fit one of more of the following the criteria for PELA testing:
Received an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score below 7.0 overall or for any sub-skill (writing, reading, speaking or listening);
The criteria listed above indicate the potential for problems with language issues during HDR candidature. A HDR candidate’s PELA gives the members of their Advisory Panel an objective indication of whether they are likely to struggle with writing, and what measures should be put in place to assist them from the beginning.
Terms mentioned in this document and not defined here are defined in the Glossary of Terms for Policies in the Student and Teaching and Course Management chapters of the University Policy Library  and in the HDR Requirements .
Although language is not the sole defining factor of academic success, there appears to be an aptitude threshold below which HDR candidates are likely to experience difficulty in managing their studies. Research suggests that International NESB HDR candidates often encounter diverse and greater challenges in their HDR experience than their native English speaking counterparts, particularly in their efforts to develop their academic writing skills in English to meet the demands of thesis writing. Inadequate English skills put HDR candidates at risk of delayed or non-completion, or of significant stresses and obstacles throughout candidature. The PELA, which was established by the Graduate Research School (GRS) in 2013, is designed to identify potential problems early and put in place effective measures to avoid later complications.
PELAs are scheduled roughly every three weeks in Townsville, depending on numbers of incoming NESB candidates who fit the criteria for PELA testing. PELAs will be offered in Cairns and in external locations via LearnJCU on a needs basis. Cairns-based tests will generally be linked to visits to Cairns by either the GRS Academic Support Coordinator or an English as a Second Language (ESL) specialist from the JCU Teaching and Learning Development Unit.
No preparation is required. HDR candidates undertaking a PELA are asked to write an academic paragraph in response to a given statement. HDR candidates are given five minutes’ perusal to read the information in the paper and plan their response to the question. They then have 15 minutes to prepare a short response.
If a HDR candidate receives a Band 3 result (Fail), they will be required to meet with staff of the GRS and/or an ESL specialist from the JCU Teaching and Learning Development Unit to discuss their compulsory writing support plan. This plan will operate for an initial period of six months, at the end of which the candidate will be asked to undergo a second PELA to gauge their progress in developing their academic writing skills. Depending on the outcome of the second PELA, the candidate will either be deemed to be an independent academic writer without further obligations under PELA, or placed on an extended writing support plan for the following six months.
If a candidate receives a Band 2 result (Borderline Pass), they will be invited to attend a meeting with staff of the GRS and Teaching and Learning Development Unit to discuss an optional, but highly recommended, writing support plan. This plan will operate for an initial period of six months, at which time the candidate may opt to undergo a second PELA test to gauge their progress in developing their academic writing skills. Depending upon the outcome of that second test, the candidate may still need some assistance and a new plan will be devised.
If a candidate receives a Band 1 result (Pass), they will not be required to participate in a writing support plan, though they will still be required to undertake the compulsory Skills for International Postgraduates (SKIP) Program .
The outcome of this assessment will determine each candidate’s writing support plan. The most intensive level of support will involve regular contact with writing support staff and attendance at compulsory seminar sessions, as well as further writing assessment.
The Writing Support Program
Each customised writing support plan specifies activities that must be undertaken by anyone who receives a PELA Band 3 result, or that are recommended for anyone who receives a PELA Band 2 result. A primary element of the writing support plan is weekly attendance at a language and literacy workshop conducted by an ESL specialist from the Teaching and Learning Development Unit. Other elements of a plan may include compulsory attendance at specified research skills workshops, meetings with staff of the GRS and/or an ESL specialist from the Teaching and Learning Development Unit, and a follow-up PELA at the end of the six-month period. A writing support plan will be a conditional component of the HDR Development Activities Procedure  for NESB HDR candidates who receive a PELA Band 3 result; an optional component for those who receive a PELA Band 2 result.
 HDR Requirements
 HDR Development Activities Procedure
 HDR Skills for International Postgraduates Program (SKIP) Procedure