A PELA may serve a number of functions:
- As a 'diagnostic' tool: It can identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, and help staff gain an understanding of their students’ language development needs.
- As a placement tool: It may be used to assign students to an appropriate language development program.
- As formative assessment: Used within a course or unit of study, a PELA may help to guide students towards areas for improvement.
- As an awareness-raising instrument: An institution may introduce a PELA to alert staff and students to the value of high levels of English language proficiency.
- As a mechanism for identifying eligibility for assistance: With limited resources available for language support programs, some universities use a PELA to identify those who are eligible for specific student services such as one-to-one consultations with language and learning advisors.
- As an auditing tool: It may assist institutions to identify the nature of the academic language support services that the institution should offer, for example.
While these functions are listed as possible ways in which a PELA may be used, it does not mean that a PELA is the best way of achieving them. For example, raising awareness about the value of high levels of English language proficiency might be more effectively achieved by other means.