Why mid-year exams are important
It is easy to dismiss mid-year high school exams – which pupils across South Africa are writing this week until the end of the second term – as less significant than end-of-year exams, but that would be a mistake, an expert says.
Independent Institute of Education general manager Peter Kriel says mid-year exams play a significant role, and a very specific one in each grade, and therefore should be taken as seriously as final exams.
“Many view mid-year exams as a kind of practice run before the big race at the end of the year, but that analogy is not the right one.
“In fact, from Grade 8, exams should be viewed as progressively building a house, laying the foundations, building with bricks and cement, rounding off and finally, putting the roof on the end product when you finish your matric exams,” Kriel says.
“If the foundations you lay at the start of your senior high years are not solid, or you neglect to ensure your walls are solidly built in subsequent years, you can attempt to put on the most beautiful roof in your matric year, but it just won’t work.”
Kriel says each exam, and specifically each mid-year exam, plays a unique role as pupils progress through senior high school.
In this grade, pupils’ first significant mid-year exam gives them a good feel for and indication of their interests and strengths.
“You’ll start to see what you’re good at, and what needs more work if you are going to succeed in a specific subject,” Kriel says.
He says pupils should start applying these insights to start focusing their thinking around what they want to study after school.
“That finding will, in turn, help you make the very important choices about which subjects you’ll select in Grade 9.
“If you start this thinking now, your path will crystallise sooner rather than later, which will help you focus your performance and efforts on your work, not on deciding what you want to do after school, or about the anxiety about which subjects to select next year.”
Kriel says before settling on a future path, pupils should use their time advantage in Grade 8 to thoroughly investigate all their options for higher education institutions and qualifications, and very importantly, entry requirements for each.
With subject choices coming up for Grade 10 to 12, it’s important to achieve good marks in subjects that pupils would like to pursue to matric.
Grade 9 mid-year exams provide an indication of aptitude and likely future success in a subject.
This insight allows a pupil to make a call on whether to continue pursuing a subject despite less than stellar performance – which will mean working extra hard and getting additional help.
On the other hand, a pupil may decide to rather switch to a different subject – it is not too late at this stage – to ensure a better average mark in years to come.
“It is important to ensure you don’t, for instance, drop a subject which would have kept doors open, unless you are absolutely sure you won’t need it as an entry requirement at your chosen institution and for your chosen course,” Kriel says.
As in Grade 9, a poor mid-year performance may indicate that the pupil needs to choose another subject to replace one that isn’t working out. The difference is that this is the last opportunity to make a substitution, for instance moving from maths to maths literacy, or substituting accounting for business studies.
From this year on, mid-year exams become even more significant because pupils can already use these marks to apply to their institution of choice early with provisional marks.
Doing so will take mountains of stress and admin off them in the coming year-and-a-half, when all their energies should be focused on their matric preparation.
Matric mid-year exam marks can – and should – be used to apply to a higher education institution if this was not yet done.
“If you haven’t yet at this stage applied, ensure you do so as soon as possible,” Kriel says.
“Focus on your exams for now, but resolve to use the June holidays to visit all the good, registered and accredited institutions in your area to investigate what they have on offer, and get your application in before the stresses of the final months of your final year of school.”
Matric mid-year exams also provide pupils a valuable arsenal of insight into where they need to focus their attention and efforts in coming months, to ensure they get the very best final marks they can, Kriel says.
“All exams should also be viewed as an opportunity to get feedback on how well you handle exams, and to practise that skill if you find that the actual sitting down in the exam room and managing anxiety, despite your best preparation, is what you need to work on,” Kriel says.