05/01/2018 06:12 SAST | Updated 05/01/2018 11:49 SAST

Misperceptions About Matric Exams Explained

'There are unfortunately some entrenched perceptions that require more effort than the occasional information session.'

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Since I joined Umalusi as head of communication in 2012, I have interacted with many people in different parts of our country who hold disparate views about the work of Umalusi –– the council for quality assurance in general and further education and training in South Africa.

The fact that people hold different opinions about Umalusi is par for the course in my line of work. In fact, it presents a golden opportunity for me to set the record straight in a deliberate attempt to address some of the misperceptions.

Be that as it may, there are unfortunately some entrenched perceptions that require more effort than the occasional information session. In this blog, I discuss five of these.

Misperception 1: There is only one 'matric' certificate in South Africa

Reality: Apart from the well-known National Senior Certificate (NSC) (aka matric), we also have other qualifications that are pegged on level 4 of the national qualifications framework, namely, the National Certificate (Vocational) –– which is largely offered at TVET colleges –– and the Senior Certificate (aka "old matric") –– which is largely offered at adult centres.

All these qualifications are issued by Umalusi, and they provide a pathway to higher education. The NSC exams are managed and administered by three assessment bodies: the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI).

Misperception 2: The IEB exams carry more weight than the DBE exams

Reality: All national exams are quality assured by Umalusi.

Umalusi's mandate is to ensure that question papers set by various assessment bodies are equivalent in terms of the level of difficulty, and in terms of the distribution of higher-order, middle-order and lower-order cognitive levels of questions asked in the papers.

Umalusi also appoints moderators (also known as external moderators) in each subject, to ensure that all papers set by all assessment bodies, including IEB, meet Umalusi's policy requirements.

Both DBE and IEB follow the curriculum assessment policy statements (CAPS), with slight differences in assessment guidelines.

If papers do not meet these requirements, those papers are sent back to the examiner for corrections, until they meet the required standard as determined by policy.

Misperception 3: The current 'matric' exams are much easier than those written under the 'old' curriculum

Reality: Under the old curriculum, it was possible to opt to write subjects at a lower standard –– i.e. at Standard Grade (SG) rather than Higher Grade (HG), and it was possible to achieve 33.3 percent in all subjects at Standard Grade level to gain a "matric" certificate.

Furthermore, a Standard Grade pass could be converted to Lower Grade (LG) (25 percent) to effect a pass. An aggregate of 720 marks was required for a basic pass, regardless of subject combinations.

A study conducted by Umalusi a few years ago found that the standard of the current NSC question papers lies somewhere between the degree of challenge of the previous SG and HG papers.

The current NSC papers of all assessment bodies are still required to incorporate the higher order cognitive questions (analysis, synthesis, evaluation and creative problem-solving) that were evident in the "old" HG papers.

Misperception 4: Umalusi uses mark adjustments to inflate 'matric' marks

Reality: Standardisation is the moderation system used the world over to mitigate the impact on learner performance caused by exam-related factors other than the learners' subject knowledge, abilities and aptitude.

The standardisation of examination results is necessary to take care of any variation in the standard of the question papers, which may occur despite careful moderation processes, as well as variations in the standard of marking that may occur from year to year. Other sources of variability include undetected errors and learners' interpretation of questions.

During the standardisation process, which also involves statistical moderation, qualitative inputs from external moderators, reports by internal moderators and post-examination analysis reports, and the principles of standardisation are taken into consideration.

Standardisation is thus necessary to achieve comparability and consistency of examination standards across years. There are no shenanigans in this process.

Misperception 5: Umalusi certificates are inferior to IEB certificates

Reality: This is painfully untrue. The IEB is not mandated to issue matric certificates –– they only issue a printout of results which still need to be certified by Umalusi.

In the end, all NSC certificates for DBE, IEB and SACAI are issued by Umalusi bearing Umalusi's name and logo –– i.e. no certificate shows the name of an assessment body or the name of the school where the learner attended.

** Lucky Ditaunyane is Umalusi's Head of Communication