The 2016 NSC exams are starting on Monday. Yes, it is that time of the year again (we should start hearing Jingle Bells in busy mall isles soon!)

A lot of focus is placed on these exams and I’m sure most Grade 12’s are feeling the pressure from all over. I want you to take a moment to relax and when you feel ready, read through the following tips – they will hopefully give you some guideline towards making it out alive! You can also pass these tips on to brothers, sisters and friends in other grades – their exams are important, too!!

#1 – Set some S.M.A.R.T. goals to motivate you

Before you sit down (yet again) to work, think about WHY you are doing this. Whatever it is that you are trying to achieve, what are your reasons for wanting it?  In most cases, I’m sure, school leavers would say that their NSC results would have an impact on their future. This is true. If you have been accepted provisionally for the tertiary course you applied for, your year-end results have to meet the course’s entry requirements for you to register in 2017. If you are taking a GAP year next year and plan to apply for further education thereafter, your NSC results will determine what type of qualification and courses you can apply to. See Tip 3 – Consider Further Education for more information about entry requirements and download your insitution’s prospectus here

When you set your goals, make sure they are –

  • SPECIFIC – what is the exact outcome you are working towards, e.g. “I want to meet the requirements to study a National Diploma in Architectural Technology”
  • MEASURABLE  – what do you want to achieve in each subject, e.g. 60% in Mathematics etc.
  • ATTAINABLE – make sure your goals are within reach given the right amount of extra effort
  • RELEVANT – something that really matters yo you (again, keep your REASON in mind)
  • TIME BOUND – by when do you want to achieve  these results? Well, this one is easy…

#2 – Get organised and plan wisely

If you have not yet received a copy of your NSC exam time table download it here. Make sure that you know on which days and at what times you are writing which subjects and papers.

For each of your subjects

  • make a list of the chapters you have to study
  • for each chapter, make a list of each section you need to study
  • for each section, write down the amount of time you need to study and/or revise it (remember to be realistic!)
  • add the number of  hours to calculate the time you need to study for each subject – also add some hours to answer old exam papers (you can download old papers and memo’s here) AND to review the work you didn’t know when answering the papers, then add some time for short study breaks

Now draw up a study time table and enter

  • the dates/times you are writing
  • other responsibilities that you can not dismiss during the exams
  • time for eating, sleeping and exercising (you need to keep your brain and body healthy!!)
  • the hours you calculated for preparing for each subject (you can use a different colour for each subject)

Make sure that leave some time open for when something unexpected comes up, or if some of the sections you have to study take longer than anticipated. Also make sure that you find time to relax, and get enough sleep and don’t plan to study at times when you know you do not work effectively (like early mornings or late at night).

#3 – Repeat not to forget

To ensure that the work you are studying does not simply evaporate into thin air, try the following steps to repeat the content sufficiently:

S – Survey – skim read through the section you are studying to get an overview

Q – Ask questions – who, what, when, where, why, how – to help you focus on what is important

R – Read through the section attentively (you can underline or highlight anything that is important – your brain will pay better attention when colour is used)

S – Summarise the section using mind maps (see how to do it here), the 3 Column Method (write your normal summary in the middle column and use colour to highlight important information; write important key words from the summary in the left hand column/margin and any ideas/pictures/icons that might prompt you to remember on the column/margin on the right) or another way that works for you – make sure you write textbook page references in your summaries so you can go back and check information later.

Study the work, using memory techniques that work for you (see some examples here)

T – Test yourself to see what you remember – you can make use of the old exam papers you downloaded

R – Revise the work you don’t know well or can’t remember and ask teachers, tutors or fellow learners to explain concepts you do not understand. You can also take exam papers you answered and memo’s to teachers and ask them to help you identify where you are still making mistakes.

#4 – Make sure you pay attention

You can’t remember what you did not attend to. Your brain filters out irrelevant information to protect itself from sensory overload and it is therefore important to help it to pay attention to what matters. The brain is responsive to novelty, surprise, colour and unexpected or curious events, so when you make summaries, use funny pictures and colour to ensure that your brain pays attention and remembers what was studied. Furthermore, memory is relational, so try to link words or concepts that you struggle to remember to something familiar (and the more peculiar, the better!!)

Make sure that you take regular brain breaks – the recommendation is every 20-30 minutes. Stand up from your desk and use these few minutes to stretch out, have a glass of water or a healthy (quick) snack. Don’t break for too long (dont start watching a the new episode…) !! Just a few minutes to “reboot” your attention levels.

#5 – Take a chill pill

Make sure you find some time to relax and do something that you enjoy – the brain struggles to work at it’s best if you are stressed out. Also make sure you get enough sleep, exercise and eat well.

Try some of these relaxation techniques:

  • Muscle relaxation: lie on the floor or sit in a comfortable chair  |  close your eyes and breath slowly (do not force your breathing)  |  if you find that your mind is raising, count to 100 slowly  |  be aware of where your body feels tense  |  clench your toes tightly, count to three, then ‘let go’. repeat this several times  |  repeat this with all the muscles you can, working form your toes up to your neck  |  pull your shoulders right up to your ears and let them drop. repeat several times  |  screw up your face muscles and relax…and smile!
  • Breathe calmly: Sit or lie comfortably and close your eyes  |  put on relaxing music if you want to  |  imagine that you are breathing in calmness with each breath and letting go of stress when you breath out  |  think of one word you find soothing and repeat this in your mind or listen to the sounds around you  |  do this for about 10-20 minutes
  • Visualisation: close your eyes and think about a place where you normally feel relaxed (e.g. somewhere with a beautiful view or where you normally spend your holiday)  |  become aware what you see, hear, smell  |  breathe calmly while you your mind stays focussed on this place and feeling

Need some additional support and resources?

Go the WCED website with resources for Matrics, including video tutrials in some subjects:

Download Mind the Gap Study Guides in the subjects you need help with

Contact us if you want to meet up for some additional study tips and support

I wish you all the best for your upcoming exams!

Be on the look out for some more Tips for the exam room – coming soon!


  • Study Skills for High School Learners- H. Brand (for more information on Study Tools Workshops, visit
  • The Study Skills Handbook – Stella Cottrell (Second Edition – Palgrave, Macmillan)