The Senior Certificate (SC) examination, a focus of the research described in this thesis, has an important function in terms of the quality of the education system overall and also in terms of the contribution of education to the achievement of national goals. The SC examination functions i) as a measure of achievement at school ii) as an indicator of work readiness and iii) as an indicator of the potential to succeed in higher education. This thesis offers a critique of the SC examination in respect of its functions. The way in which learners’ language related needs are constructed is crucial in discussing the SC examination’s legitimacy since perceptions about the needs of learners are reflected in what is taught and assessed. Since the majority of candidates writing the SC examination do so using a language which is not their mother tongue, the research described in the thesis attempted to identify the way in which the English second language (ESL) SC examination papers construct learners’ needs.