There are no quick fixes to improved learner performance in the National Senior Certificate Examinations. Rather these are the product of 5 years of commitment by teachers and learners to thorough preparation and diligent practice. Listed below are tried and tested strategies that are common practice in most high performing schools.


1      Understand that the road to a National Senior Certificate (NSC) and good results starts in Grade 8 not Grade 12. Good results are the product of a five years of good teaching and learning, not one year of cramming or ad hoc arrangements.

2      Use your NSC results as a benchmark for performance standards in the other grades.  Pass rates, subject averages and symbol distributions across the school should be based on those obtained by pupils in their final NSC examinations.

3      Use the standard, structure, time allocation and nature of questions contained in the final externally set NSC papers as models for examination- and test-papers set across grades with appropriate adjustments for each grade.

4      Write two sets of examinations a year – one set in mid-year and one at the end of the year – in all grades.  Use the results of these examinations to provide individual pupils and subject groups with feedback on their performance including:

  • areas of strength and weakness
  • the interpretation of questions
  • the use of time
  • other aspects of examination technique.

5      Make optimal use of teaching time. Make sure that the teaching of the academic programme starts promptly on the first day of the year and extends for the full year. Treat teaching time as sacrosanct and refuse to shorten the school day, close early, extend breaks or use allocated teaching time for anything other than subject teaching.

6      Allocate the minimum possible time for examinations, particularly in the junior grades. It is not impossible for pupils to attend school for a full day during the examination period and for them to write two two-hour examination papers each day if the papers are separated by at least a three-hour interval.

7      Arrange the school timetable so that teachers teach the same subject across several grades. Insist that subject teams meet regularly to plan and discuss teaching priorities for the subject including the knowledge and skills pupils will need by the time they enter Grade 12 if they are going to succeed in the subject.

8      Appoint a senior member of staff (an experienced HoD or deputy principal) as academic head with the responsibility of ensuring that teachers teaching grade 12 are provided with the data and other information that they need to perform well. This should include:

  • access to past NSC examinations papers and examiners reports
  • detailed analysis of past examination results of the school for the subject (subject averages, symbol distributions etc.) and those of other similar schools.

9      Insist that homework is set and checked regularly. All secondary school pupils should get some homework every day starting from the first day of the school year. For grade 8 a minimum of 1,5 hours of homework should be set.  In grades 11 and 12 pupils should be expected to spend a minimum of 3 hours a day after school hours on homework and the revision of what has been taught in class each day.

10     Make sure that all teachers teach their classes when they are supposed to be teaching them and that a significant part of their teaching consist of whole-class teaching. Research shows that teaching is most effective when a well-prepared teacher stands in front of her class and engages them in discussion about the topic of the lesson. When teachers ask questions and challenge responses they force pupils to engage with the subject, making them think about the topic and clarify their understanding of it.

11     Make good teaching and learning a priority and central to all that happens in the school. Insist that it be included as an agenda item for every subject and staff meeting. Invite subject specialists and principals from other schools with a reputation for high achievement in the NSC examinations to talk to your staff or arrange for your staff to visit their schools, to sit in on lessons and attend subject meetings to see and understand what they do to achieve their success.

12     Persevere. Good results are not achieved overnight they are the results of persistent effort over time, years rather than weeks or months.

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