Coping with bad news in matric results: ‘Do not give up hope,’ says UP psychologist and career counselling expert




PRETORIA – Matric exam results are a source of joy for many, but if learners do not achieve the marks required for university admission, they must not give up hope. It is not the end of the world.

This is according to Kobus Maree, a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Pretoria, who asserts that “the word ‘fail’ has no place in current society. Instead the phrase ‘insufficient achievement’ is more appropriate”. Prof Maree, who has doctorates in career counselling, psychology as well as in learning facilitation in mathematics, says while your current marks will co-determine whether you will be accepted into your preferred field of study, they will not determine if you will be successful in life. Nor will they limit your career prospects. “It hurts when one learns that the outcomes of an examination were less successful than expected. But step back emotionally and interpret the experience logically. All human beings experience success and are less successful from time to time. This is the most normal thing in the world.”

If you achieved results that were below your expectations, this is a manageable challenge. Try to see what has happened as an area for growth; an opportunity to demonstrate your resilience and become more adaptable. “This is a key characteristic and strength in these rapidly changing and uncertain times,” Prof Maree says. Learners who performed insufficiently can apply for the remarking of their papers, register for and write supplementary exams, or even re-do their grade or repeat certain subjects. “However, there is no ‘one size that fits all’. Hard work is needed.” Also, remember that going to university is not the only choice.One should not be set on a particular tertiary institution, whether it is a university, university of technology, college, or private training institution.”

Each study discipline and tertiary training institution should be rated on its own merit. A diploma in film studies or a technical qualification in wind turbine service can suit you as a person, but also be enriching. Several specialised diplomas and certificates allow for a range of career opportunities that can make students highly employable and provide them with more opportunities than some common degrees. “A tip is to thoroughly research career opportunities for students who have already graduated – both now and in the future. Ask yourself regularly whether you will still be employable in five, 10, or 15 years’ time.”


What if learners achieve a matric exemption pass but it is not strong enough for admission to university?

They should find out if they can still apply for a similar field of study at a different institution or at another level of training. “Establish whether you qualify for an extended or bridging programme. Consult a counsellor for information regarding whether it is advisable to rewrite relevant papers, to have your papers remarked, or to repeat or re-do certain subjects.”

If you decide to reapply for the following year, consider taking a gap year, working part-time, or finding some other active and constructive way to spend the time. Speak with a person who has not been successful previously but has managed the situation successfully. Prof Maree gives the example of a student who wanted to study medicine, but his marks were not good enough. “He did not even take Mathematics or Physical Sciences at school. After completing Grade 12, he registered for Mathematics and Physical Sciences at a post-school training institution. Next, he enrolled for a general degree at a university. After achieving excellent outcomes, he gained admission to study medicine.” Today he is a fourth-year medical student, indicating that there are different routes to your dream career.

According to Prof Maree, while a parent will feel disappointed when their child is less successful, focusing on what might have been serves little purpose. He offers the following advice:

  • Reassure your children and communicate openly. “Talk to them. Or text them. Offer them emotional support. Ask them how they feel. Carefully note their body language.”
  • Let them know there is a support structure in place; that you regard them as precious, and that you love them unconditionally.
  • Remind your child that this has been just one exam, one transition, and give them hope. Many people fail their Grade 12 exams but go on to be extremely successful in later life.
  • Talking negatively and blaming them serve no purpose. Be positive and inspiring.
  • If your child acts out and makes you feel miserable, this should be considered ‘normal’ under the circumstances. Do not blame yourself. What has happened does not make you a bad person or a failure.
  • Seek the help of an educational or counselling psychologist if you fear your child is suicidal. Be concerned if he or she stops talking, cuts himself or herself off from family and friends, or seems depressed. Suicide in South Africa is on the increase as learners could believe that they have ‘failed’ or have let others and themselves down. Phone the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, Life Line, or one of the suicide hotlines.

“Over time, learners’ Grade 12 subject symbols will mean very little,” Prof Maree says. “Learners should ask themselves what their short-, medium-, and long-term aims are and decide why they are studying; what their end goal is.” He argues that this surely cannot be to please their family or compete with others. “They should become the best possible version of themselves, rather than merely trying to be ‘better’ than someone else. Competing with others serves no purpose.” For information on bursaries, how to study, as well as how to relax, visit Prof Maree’s website at

Note to media: Prof Maree is available to comment on the matric exam results. He may be reached on 082 332 5065.

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Please call Prim Gower on 083 229 9011 or email


Coping with bad news in matric results: ‘Do not give up hope,’ says UP psychologist and career counselling expert.

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