The Matric’s Pass or Fail System: Is It Time for a Change?


With November coming up, many students around South Africa are preparing for one of the biggest tests of their life: the Matric.

We call it the Matric in South Africa, but senior secondary school exams are present worldwide, just with different names. That said, it’s still a huge deal for senior high school students, regardless of what it’s called.

And while the Matric remains the same every year (for the most part, at least), one thing remains constant and that’s the grading system.

The Matric uses a pass or fail system. This means that when the results come out, students only learn if they passed or failed the exam and nothing more.

At a distance, this looks like a simple and effective way to relay information.

However, it can pose a lot of unforeseen problems for students, regardless of whether they decide to push through to university.

So, is it time to change the pass or fail system?

Well, maybe.

Let’s get into the details.

What Is the Pass or Fail System?

Getting your matric or passing the exam is crucial for any South African student looking to get into university. While it isn’t the only requirement, it’s one of the minimum requirements for all universities.

And to make the system simpler and improve the passing rate, South Africa uses a pass or fail system.

Basically, students can obtain their Matric if they pass five out of six of their exams. Currently, you can still get a National Certificate if you get 30% on three of your subjects as long as you get at least 40% on the other three. But the details can change from year to year.

Over the years, the passing rate for the Matric has been steadily increasing. It was only at 46%in 1996 but rose to 78.2% in 2013, which is a huge increase. This seems bright on the surface, but the higher passing rate is largely attributed to the lower standards and the pass or fail system.

Why Doesn’t the Pass or Fail System Work?

The current Matric grading system treats education like it’s black and white. But as we’ve learned over the years, this isn’t the case. Education is much more nuanced, and it can be hard to quantify a person’s ability with a simple pass or fail system.

South Africa’s educational system faces many problems, and exams aren’t the problem. Instead, the problem is how we grade the exams.

With a pass or fail system, students don’t get to see areas where they excel and areas where they need to improve. This barely does anything to prepare the youth for life after high school, be it a vocational or academic track.

Students deserve more than to be graded on a single metric. It’s important to prepare the youth for the real world, and the pass or fail system doesn’t succeed at doing that.

A Potential Solution

There’s a system that’s currently being used in Kenya that could be what South Africa needs. While the Kenyan system still requires students to take an exam in their senior year, they don’t get a pass or fail grade.

In fact, the entire notion of passing or failing the exam is thrown out the window. Instead, students are given a list of grades for each subject, which can show where they excel and where they lack.

This gives a more complete picture of a student’s abilities and puts more value on non-academic knowledge.

The youth hold a nation’s future. It’s the job of the nation to help the youth find the best path for them, and a pass or fail system isn’t the way to do that.

Instead, it’s important to show students areas where they excel and where they could use some work. That way, it will be easier for them to figure out which skills can take them to their goals and what they need to develop along the way.