Grade 12 milestone: Understanding and coping with your Grade 12 results – a student’s guide to emotional wellbeing

Grade 12 milestone: Understanding and coping with your Grade 12 results – a student’s guide to emotional wellbeing

Important decisions regarding the career journey ahead for high school graduates (and their families)  have to be taken at the end of the final school year. For some graduates, parental guidance may be absent, inadequate, or not to their liking. For others, external circumstances may stifle their own voices in determining their future careers.

What are some advisable and inadvisable steps? When is the best time to initiate this crucial conversation?

Coping with inadequate performance in Grade 12 examinations

First, congratulations to students who have achieved the necessary marks for admission to their chosen institutions and specific career or study fields. Second, for those who have not (yet) attained the desired marks: Relax. There are still good reasons to remain positive and optimistic about the future.

Before we proceed: Please discard the term ‘fail’ from your vocabulary. Instead, use the phrase ‘insufficient achievement’. Students’ current marks may well influence their acceptance into their preferred field of study, but they certainly do not have to determine their overall success in life or limit their career prospects

While it is disappointing when exam results fall short of students’ own and others’ expectations, it is essential to step back emotionally and consider the results calmly. In life, we all experience successes and setbacks. This is entirely normal. If your results were below expectations, consider this a challenge you can overcome – an opportunity to grow personally and to demonstrate resilience in today’s rapidly changing and uncertain world. Consider the words of Carl Jung (one of the most eminent psychologists of our time: “Be grateful for your difficulties and challenges, for they hold blessings. [We] need difficulties; they are necessary for health personal growth [and self-fulfilment].”

Do not to fixate on a particular tertiary institution, whether a university, university of technology, or private training institution. Yes, it is true that people with degrees often find employment more easily and earn higher salaries, yet a university degree is certainly not the only path to success. Non-university study has its own value, and each study discipline and tertiary training institution should be evaluated on how it best suits you.

Exploring options for dealing with a Grade 12 pass that falls short of securing tertiary admission: Practical guidance

Students faced with a Grade 12 pass that does not secure admission to tertiary studies have several avenues they can explore. They could for example request a reevaluation of their exam papers, they could opt to write supplementary exams, or they could opt to repeat grades or specific subjects. However, whatever they decide to do will require diligence and dedication on their part. Most importantly they need to convert their intentions and aspirations into actions. They could also apply to do similar courses at other institutions or to study at a different training level. Consulting with a career counsellor first is essential. If the decision is to reapply in the upcoming year, you as the affected student should consider taking a gap year (but only after consulting with a career counsellor and/or students who have taken a gap year previously). Or you could engage in part-time work or other constructive activities. Speak to people who have successfully navigated similar situations and also to those who have not. But remember, you understand yourself better than anyone else; you are the ultimate authority on your own being. Only you can advise yourself. Others can offer valuable insights, but they can never ‘advise’ you on the most appropriate career for you.

Remember: Becoming employable and leading a purposeful and meaningful life is entirely possible regardless of exam results.

The following is some general advice for parents:

  1. Discuss challenges that may impact your children’s ability to focus openly and honestly on their future beyond the exams.
  2. Maintain a cheerful outlook, encouraging your children rather than blaming or nagging them.
  3. Help your children get professional support and acknowledge the stress of the recent exams.
  4. Talk to your children and enquire about their feelings.
  5. Signs such as significant changes in eating, sleeping, or mood, expressions of hopelessness, or withdrawal from family and friends should be noted. Reach out to organisations like the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, Lifeline, or suicide hotlines for support. 

Tips for coping with sadness, disappointment, anxiety, and depression

In the face of disappointment, sadness, anxiety, or depression following your exam results, dwelling on what might have been serves little purpose. Instead, take active steps to address these emotions.

Remember that this is just one exam, one of many career-live transitions you will have to contend with in the course of your life. There is always hope. Many people who experience challenges in Grade 12 exams go on to achieve success in later life. Understand that you have not ‘failed’ anything. While your current marks may influence your acceptance into your preferred field of study, they do not determine your overall success in life. Avoid negative talk and recriminations.

Do not blame yourself or others. Disappointing exam results do not define you as a ‘bad’ or less valuable person, nor do they make you a so-called ‘failure’. If destructive thoughts or even thoughts of suicide arise, speak immediately with your parents and seek the assistance of a qualified professional such as a psychologist, a registered counsellor, or another suitable individual.

Discovering a sense of meaning and purpose in your career-life journey

It is imperative for students to cultivate a sense of meaning, hope, and purpose in their lives and to gain a clear understanding of their life’s purpose, why they are studying, and what motivates them. While it is critical to choose a field of study that offers financial stability, students should also consult trained professionals, such as career psychologists, to uncover and enact what is really important to them (their central life themes), beyond their ‘job’ goals.

Find someone to help you identify your key life themes

Once students have identified their central life themes, usually with the help of someone such as a career psychologist, they can then articulate their career-life purpose and  address existential questions such as “Why do I live?” “Where am I headed?” “Why am I on this planet?” and “Is life worth living?” Answers to these questions will place them on a sound footing for the future.

See the ‘story’ below for an example of what a key life theme is and its role in helping you live a meaning- and purpose-filled career-life.

‘Lebogang stated, “I come from a very poor environment. I was never ‘good enough’ in my parents’ eyes and consequently developed a very low self-concept [a key life theme]. I love helping and being there for students with similar challenges. Therefore, I am studying to become an educational psychologist so I can help children with an impaired sense of self, especially those who do not have access to such services”. This ‘vision statement’ unveils the social significance she envisions for her work        A common thread weaving through people’s career-life stories’ is the transformative power of turning personal pain, hurt, or ‘suffering’ into triumph and social contributions. In essence, it is about converting passive suffering into active mastery. By assisting others who have overcome similar challenges, individuals actively confront the pain they themselves have experienced, finding joy and pride in honouring the legacy of their loved ones in the best way possible. And every time they help others become whole (‘heal’), they also heal themselves.

URL’s of a few useful websites

Here are the URLs for additional websites where you can find information about universities, universities of technology, TVET Colleges, and private higher education institutions, among others:

Examples of diploma qualifications and minimum entry requirements for degree courses:,the%20form%20of%20an%20apprenticeship

All about TVET Colleges:

SAQA – The SA Qualifications Framework:


What is the difference between a certificate, diploma, and degree?

For information on bursaries, study techniques, relaxation methods, and more, visit

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