National Senior Certificate (NSC) in South Africa

The National Senior Certificate or NSC is a high school diploma and is the school-leaving certificate in South Africa. This certificate is commonly known as the matriculation (matric) certificate, however, grade 12 is the matriculation grade. 

Students 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).

NSC Standards

Subjects are taken on the same level – the earlier higher/standard grade split is obsolete. The three pass levels have different requirements.The higher certificate requires 40% or higher in the home language as well as in two other subjects and at least 30% in three other subjects. Students who pass the matric with a higher certificate level cannot enroll for a university degree nor a diploma at any institution of higher learning.

The mean mark in any subject is approximately 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 selected 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.

NSC Subject requirements

Students study at least 7 subjects: 4 compulsory and 3-4 optional. All subjects are set at one grade only and are no longer set at Higher or Standard Grade.

Group A: Fundamentals (Compulsory)

Learners must study 4 compulsory subjects: Two of the official languages of South Africa (at least one must be at the home language level):
    • Afrikaans
    • English
    • Ndebele
    • Northern Sotho
    • Southern Sotho
    • Swazi
    • Tsonga
    • Tswana
    • Venda
    • Xhosa
    • Zulu
  • Mathematics, Mathematical Literacy, or Technical Mathematics
  • Life Orientation
Group B: Electives

Learners must also study 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

Life Orientation (LO) has been introduced into the senior high school phase as an examination subject and is designed to cover non-academic skills needed in everyday life such as:
  • World of Work, helping learners find guidance in their choice of career and prepare them for the working world
  • Health Education covers topics such as sex education, HIV/Aids, pregnancy, etc.
  • Physical Education, physical exercise and training (done on a separate basis but eventually forms part of the Life Orientation mark)
  • Religious Education, as mandated by the South African Schools Act, students may request to be exempted from classes about specific religions i.e. Bible Studies. Those who do so remain obligated to attend the general Religious Studies class.
  • Citizenship and Responsibility, explain to students their rights and duties as citizens.

NSC Assessment

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. Results are usually out of 400 marks.

Level system (1 to 7)
  • 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)

Language compensation in NSC

Language compensation attempts to adjust for the difficulties faced by students whose mother tongue is neither English nor Afrikaans. This kind of compensation impacts pass rates, but provides a 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%.
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