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Turn Prelim Panic into Finals Advantage

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Writing Matric prelim exams and receiving your results can be a distressing eye-opener, but learners who perform worse than they would have hoped still have time to use the experience to their advantage before the final exams, an education expert says.

“Time is fast running out, and some learners may feel things went so badly with their prelims that they might as well throw in the study towel. However prelims are there for a reason – to serve as a test run for the finals, and to guide learners in their last week of studies. If that is kept in mind, and learners actively take control over their preparation in coming weeks, dire prelims don’t have to be the forerunner to disastrous final marks,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

Mooney says learners should also keep in mind that prelims are often pitched at a slightly more difficult level on purpose, to serve as a wakeup call, and that the most important steps to take right now are firstly to avoid panic, and secondly to take back power by putting in place a winning strategy for the weeks to come.

She says the following steps can turn a poor performance into a good one, and a mediocre one into a great one:


Your prelims will have given you a good indication of how much time you require to master your various subjects, which in turn will help you with drawing up an accurate and effective study roster.

See where you can save or create time, and where you can put in an extra hour or two every day. Every little bit helps, and the time you took to do a mock paper could mean the difference between being accepted into your course or institution of choice next year or not.

Very importantly, stick to your roster and don’t fall victim to procrastination and constant re-arranging of said roster. Right now, you DO still have enough time to get through and master all your work. At the end of the month, that picture would have changed quite substantially.


If you’ve left room for a movie on a Friday night, why not make that movie one which covers your setwork? You’ll be approaching the subject from a different angle (and use even your downtime efficiently), which deepens your understanding of it.

For other subjects, you can find TED talks about topics you find particularly challenging, for instance. These will not only help you to better understand something, but are quite likely to also increase your enthusiasm and inject some much-needed inspiration into the study process.


It is not too late to get someone to help you master your most frustrating subjects. There might be a retired teacher or recent graduate in your community who can help, or you can enquire at your school whether such assistance is available. Getting the insight and assistance of someone who is not your regular subject teacher can provide fresh perspective and approaches you may not have been aware of before.


Whether you are going to study at a public university or a private higher education institution, any good institution will be able to provide guidance and resources to their future students. Student counsellors will be able to provide insights into how current performance matches future options, and what is required in terms of intervention to ensure you can access your choice of qualification. Additionally, good institutions will be able to provide you with practical resources, such as papers from previous years.

“The importance of prelims should not be underestimated, because they may very well influence your options down the line. For instance, a higher education institution may decide to withdraw a conditional offer if you did not perform well,” says Mooney.

“However, using the learning from your prelims if things didn’t go to plan is one of the major reasons these exams exist in the first place. So if you resolve right now to take stock and take action, and throw yourself into preparing for your finals, there is a very good chance that you can turn things around and put in a final performance that will render unfortunate prelim results almost inconsequential.”

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