Detailed Guide on Preliminary Examinations in South Africa


Preliminary examinations, commonly referred to as prelims, are crucial assessments for students in their final year of secondary school in South Africa. These exams are designed to prepare students for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, also known as the matric exams, which are the final examinations at the end of Grade 12.

Purpose of Preliminary Examinations

  1. Preparation for Final Exams: Prelims provide students with a trial run, allowing them to experience the structure, timing, and rigor of the final matric exams.
  2. Assessment of Knowledge: These exams assess students’ understanding and retention of the curriculum covered throughout their high school education.
  3. Feedback for Improvement: Results from prelims give students and teachers valuable feedback on areas that need improvement before the final exams.

Exam Structure

1. Subjects Tested

Preliminary examinations cover all subjects that students have taken throughout their high school years. These typically include:

  • Languages (English, Afrikaans, and/or other indigenous languages)
  • Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy
  • Physical Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • History
  • Geography
  • Accounting
  • Business Studies
  • Economics
  • Information Technology
  • Other elective subjects

2. Format and Duration

  • Papers: Each subject usually has multiple papers (e.g., Paper 1, Paper 2) that test different areas of the curriculum.
  • Duration: The duration of each paper varies, typically ranging from 2 to 3 hours.

Preparation for Prelims

1. Study Materials

  • Textbooks: Use prescribed textbooks and ensure you understand all topics covered in the syllabus.
  • Past Exam Papers: Practice with past prelim and matric exam papers to familiarize yourself with the question format and difficulty level.
  • Study Guides: Utilize study guides that summarize key concepts and provide practice questions.
  • Class Notes: Review your class notes and any additional materials provided by your teachers.

2. Study Plan

  • Timetable: Create a detailed study timetable that allocates time for each subject, ensuring a balanced study routine.
  • Revision Schedule: Start your revision well in advance, allowing time for multiple rounds of review.
  • Breaks: Incorporate regular breaks to avoid burnout and maintain productivity.

3. Study Techniques

  • Active Learning: Engage in active learning methods such as summarizing notes, creating mind maps, and teaching concepts to a peer.
  • Practice Tests: Regularly take practice tests under exam conditions to build confidence and improve time management.
  • Group Study: Join study groups to discuss challenging topics and share resources.

Exam Day Tips

1. Preparation

  • Sleep Well: Ensure you get a good night’s sleep before each exam to be well-rested and alert.
  • Healthy Breakfast: Eat a nutritious breakfast to maintain energy levels throughout the exam.
  • Check Essentials: Bring all necessary materials, including pens, pencils, erasers, a calculator (if allowed), and your ID.

2. Exam Strategy

  • Read Instructions: Carefully read all instructions and questions before starting.
  • Time Management: Allocate time to each question based on marks and stick to your time plan.
  • Answer Order: Start with questions you are most confident about to build momentum.
  • Review Answers: If time permits, review your answers and make any necessary corrections.

Post-Exam Procedures

1. Review Results

  • Feedback: Analyze your results to identify strengths and areas needing improvement.
  • Consult Teachers: Discuss your performance with teachers to get specific feedback and advice for final preparations.

2. Action Plan

  • Focused Revision: Create a focused revision plan addressing the weak areas highlighted by your prelim results.
  • Additional Support: Seek extra help through tutoring, online resources, or additional classes if needed.


1. Educational Websites

  • Department of Basic Education: Access past exam papers, memoranda, and curriculum guidelines.
  • EduConnect: Provides tips, resources, and guidance for high school students preparing for exams.

2. Books and Guides

  • Study Guides: Purchase study guides specific to each subject that offer summaries, practice questions, and exam tips.
  • Past Papers: Obtain past prelim and matric exam papers from bookstores or download them from educational websites.


Preliminary examinations are a critical step in the journey towards achieving a successful matriculation. By understanding the structure, preparing effectively, and using the right resources, students can approach their prelims with confidence and use the experience to enhance their performance in the final NSC exams. Consistent study habits, active learning techniques, and thorough revision are key to excelling in these important assessments.