National Senior Certificate

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The National Senior Certificate or NSC is a high school diploma and is the main school-leaving certificate in South Africa. This certificate is commonly known as the matriculation (matric) certificate, as grade 12 is the matriculation grade. The NSC, previously known as the Further Education and Training Certificate or FETC, replaced the Senior Certificate with effect from 2008 and was phased in starting with grade 10 in 2006.

Pupils study at least seven subjects, including two compulsory official South African languages, either Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy, Life Orientation and three elective subjects.Students have the option of either taking the NSC (National Senior Certificate) or the NCV (National Certificate Vocational).

Subjects are all taken on the same level - there is no higher or standard grade as in the past. There are three pass levels, each with different pass requirements.First is a pass with Higher certificate, one must obtain 40% in home language, 40% in two other subjects and must obtain 30% in three other subjects. A learner who passed matric with higher certificate level, cannot enroll for a University Degree nor a Diploma at an institute of higher learning. The mean mark in any subject is usually about 55. Only a small proportion of candidates score an 'A' in any subject (from as little as 2% to a maximum of about 10% in subjects taken by highly select groups.) A further 8 – 15% are likely to gain a 'B' and about 20 – 25% achieve a 'C' grade. The National Senior Certificate is a group certificate and records an aggregate mark.

The Department of Basic Education has responsibility for general educational policy to be implemented by nine provincial education departments and private providers such as the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). There are nine provincial examination boards and three independent boards, of which the IEB is the biggest. The IEB operates on a national level catering primarily for independent schools.

Subject requirements[edit]

Learners study at least 7 subjects - 4 compulsory and at least 3-4 electives. All subjects are written on one grade only and are no longer written on Higher or Standard Grade. Not all schools offer the full range of Elective subjects listed here. Each school may offer subjects specific to its academic orientation. For example, Agriculture Schools offer the agriculture-orientated subjects whereas technical Schools offer the practical and mechanical-orientated subjects.

Group A: Fundamentals (Compulsory)[edit]

Learners must study 4 compulsory subjects,

    • Afrikaans
    • English
    • Ndebele
    • Northern Sotho
    • Sesotho
    • Siswati
    • Tsonga
    • Tswana
    • Venda
    • Xhosa
    • Zulu
  • Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy
  • Life Orientation

Group B: Electives[edit]

At least 3 subjects from the following:

  • Accounting
  • Agricultural Management Practices
  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Agricultural Technology
  • Business Studies
  • Civil Technology
  • Computer Applications Technology (previously Computer Studies Standard Grade - Literacy)
  • Consumer Studies
  • Dance Studies
  • Design
  • Dramatic Arts
  • Economics
  • Electrical Technology
  • Engineering Graphics & Design
  • Geography
  • History
  • Hospitality Studies (previously Home Economics)
  • Information Technology (previously Computer Studies Higher Grade - Programming)
  • Life Sciences (previously Biology)
  • Mechanical Technology
  • Music
  • Physical Science
  • Religion Studies
  • Second Additional Language
  • Third Additional Language
  • Tourism
  • Visual Arts

Life Orientation[edit]

Life Orientation (colloquially abbreviated as "LO") has been introduced into the senior high school phase as an examination subject. Life Orientation is a broad-learning subject that covers non-academic skills needed in everyday life. Life Orientation is examined, marked and moderated internally and comprises the following sections:

  • World of Work, helping learners find guidance in their choice of career and prepare them for the working world
  • Health Education, this sections includes sex education, HIV/Aids talks, pregnancy, etc.
  • Physical Education, involves physical exercise and training, it is done on a separate basis but eventually forms part of the Life Orientation mark
  • Religious Education, each South African school decides which religion to adhere to (as according to the South African schools act), learners may be exempted from these classes. In practice this means that learners may be exempted from, example, the Bible Studies class, but are compelled to attend the Religious Studies class (which deals with all religions as a study).
  • Citizenship and Responsibility, this section teaches learners about their rights and their duties as citizens.


There are three types of subjects:

  • General Subjects
    • An end-of-year examination: 75% of the total mark
    • Portfolio (Continuous Assessment): 25% of the total mark
  • Practical Subjects
    • An end-of-year examination: 50% of the total mark
    • Portfolio (Continuous Assessment): 25% of the total mark
    • Practical component: 25% of the total mark
  • Language Subjects
    • An end-of-year examination: 50% of the total mark
    • Portfolio (Continuous Assessment): 25% of the total mark
    • Oral Examination: 25% of the total mark

Continuous Assessment (CASS) includes all the tests, examinations, tasks, activities, orals and projects done throughout the year. Matric results are usually out of 400 marks.

Level system (1 to 7)[edit]

  • Level 7: 80 - 100% (Outstanding achievement)
  • Level 6: 70 - 79% (Meritorious achievement)
  • Level 5: 60 - 69% (Substantial achievement)
  • Level 4: 50 - 59% (Moderate achievement)
  • Level 3: 40 - 49% (Adequate achievement)
  • Level 2: 30 - 39% (Elementary achievement)
  • Level 1: 0 - 29% (Not achieved - Fail)

The 5% language compensation[edit]

Language compensation is described by several sources:

"To the final mark is added the language compensation, which is 5% of the mark attained by the candidate for all non-language subjects, for candidates whose mother tongue is not English or Afrikaans. The 5% compensates learners for the disadvantage suffered by these candidates being instructed in a language that is not their mother tongue." [Written reply to parliamentary question in 2011 [1]]

"The compensation applies to learners whose first language is neither English nor Afrikaans and who offer an African language as their first language. They receive an additional 5% on their non-language subjects. The measure was first introduced in 1999 by the South African Certification Council." [Written reply to parliamentary question in 2007,[2]]

Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Chairperson of Council, Umalusi has provided further explanation:[3] "This is the most misunderstood concept in this country. In terms of the policy on language compensation, learners who offer an African language as Home Language and do not offer Afrikaans or English as Home language qualify for a 5% language compensation on the mark they have obtained in a non-language subject. For example a learner who obtains a mark of zero (0) out of 300 will obtain 5% of zero (which is zero) for language compensation; a learner who obtains 10 out of 300 will receive 5% of 10, which is 0,5 marks, for language compensation; a learner who obtains 100 out of 300 marks will obtain an additional 5 marks for language compensation."

This kind of compensation has some impact on pass rates, but does provide significant impact at the upper end of the scale, affecting those applying for admission to university. For example, a qualifying learner obtaining 95% would receive 95 x 1.05 = 99.75% (which rounds to 100%). A learner obtaining 40% would receive 40 x 1.05 = 42.0%.

University entrance[edit]

In addition to minimum grades required in each subject, universities either set their own entrance tests and/or use the National Benchmark Tests (NBT).[4] To study for a bachelor's degree at a South African university requires that the applicant has at least an NSC endorsed by Umalusi, with a pass of 30% in the chosen university's language of learning and teaching, as well as a level 4 or higher in the following list of designated, 19-credit subjects:

  • Accounting
  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Business Studies
  • Dramatic Arts
  • Economics
  • Engineering Graphics and Design
  • Geography
  • History
  • Consumer Studies
  • Information Technology
  • Languages (one language of learning and teaching at a higher education institution and two other recognised language subjects)
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematical Literacy
  • Music
  • Physical Sciences
  • Religion Studies
  • Visual Arts


See also[edit]


  3. ^ Politicsweb, 3 January 2011, "Umalusi explains matric mark adjustments", Dr Sizwe Mabizela, 03 January 2011
  4. ^ About NBT Retrieved 21 March 2011
  5. ^

External links[edit]