Exam tips from the Premier

2010-11-02 00:00

OFTEN when we look at successful businessman and powerful politician KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize, we forget that to be where he is today, he had to travel the same road many of us have travelled. As matriculants write their examinations across the country, Sphumelele Mngoma sat with the premier to get the “juice” about his matric experience and get what worked for him.

Q: Let’s start by asking how you found your matric year?

ZM: I must tell you I was very excited about my matric year. We had been doing a lot of studying after hours in preparation for it. We used to study as individuals and sometimes as a group analysing old papers and trying to answer them. So ja, it was quite nice. We looked toward matric with a lot of excitement.

Q: What would you say was different about matric in your days and how things are done now?

ZM: During our days we did three external exams. One was done in standard six. But a few years after we had moved on, that exam was abolished. And then there was one in standard eight, which would be equivalent to grade 10. For that exam, we used to get what was called a Junior Certificate before we were able to advance to the last two standards. And only then were we able to write matric exams.

Q: What can you say about those exams?

ZM: I remember those exams very well. We used to do written and oral exams. Each student used to be taken in individually and questioned by external examiners, who used to be school inspectors, on different subjects — particularly on languages. You had to tell a story or do a poem.

But I remember this one year, I was in a local school here in Sobantu and they decided to change the pattern. Instead of having one on one with every student, they picked students randomly to check on how they were performing and to get a class average. It went well for the other subjects. The drama occurred in isiZulu and English. I was left out of the selection. Oh my goodness! I thought this was going to be unfair and I didn’t want the average to be obtained without me making my contributions. Just in case, you know. So I went back and caused chaos in the staff room. They tried to explain to me that the inspectors didn’t choose me and I said it can’t be. I told them they had to find a way to get me on the list. And for a while the teachers were shocked with the story. They went back to the inspectors and told them ‘guys we have a problem’. They ended up laughing about it later because generally people did not want to be selected, but here I was not keen to be left out.

Q: You must have been quite a confident pupil. Were you a top achiever?

ZM: I was a very confident student. We had very bright kids at the school and we were competing quite a lot amongst each other. One of the people I used to compete a lot with is my wife. She used to give us quite a hiding. As a group of boys, we just didn’t like the idea of a girl beating us, nope! So we would mobilise that each one must beat her. We would come back only to find that she had gone even higher. But it was fun. That is why I would say to students, more so when one was at tertiary level, I found group discussions very helpful because of the amount of work that needed to be done. I found that to get some facts to stick, you needed to take them in the form of group discussions. There were some things that you would remember because so and so said this or that.

Q: What did you do to relax in between the studying and how important would you say creating that space for relaxation is for matriculants who are currently studying?

ZM: I was strong on exercise for relaxation. After a stiff study session I used to do karate. Of course the good thing about sport, particularly this one, is that it helps you relax, which is why I would recommend martial arts from that point of view. Sport also creates a lot of discipline. So I would say to students that it is important to study and work hard but they must always create space for relaxation because if you don’t you end up with a lot of tension. You get to a stage where your mind is not absorbing, but at the same time you can’t sleep. I have always been against taking tablets to keep awake. I would say you rather do exercises. It keeps you fresh and awake. While the tablets might keep you awake, they might tamper with your concentration levels.

Q: What was the craziest thing you’ve done to forget a stressful paper?

ZM: I don’t remember any such (laughs). But one thing I was clear about, for me alcohol was a no-no. Smoking was a no-no. And in those days drugs were not really something we knew about. And as a result, we’ve never seen it as an option or an alternative. I think I would still recommend that as an approach for young people. For them not to get themselves dragged into that. To get back to your question, I’m afraid I wasn’t that adventurous.

Q: So how well did you do in your matric exam?

ZM: I got a first-class pass in Sobantu Secondary High school where I obtained my Junior Certificate. I achieved second class in Dlangezwe for my Senior Certificate.

Q: Did you wife manage to beat you then?

ZM: Oh yes. She used to do very well. For the period that we were there she was the top student.

Q: Did you follow a certain study regime. What worked for you and what advice would you give to matriculants?

ZM: What worked for me, firstly I tried to frequently do revision after certain sections were taught in class. That keeps the information fresh and it helps improve your retention of that knowledge. But over and above that we created space for group discussions. And then closer to matric, we used to do extra studying which meant waking up early in the morning when the mind is still fresh and clear or staying late at night when everything settles down. And that is what I would advise kids staying in homes where there are a lot of people. Synchronise your study times for when it is quiet and other people are no longer moving. But it must be linked with relaxation.

Q: As a parent what have you done to make matric easier for your children?

ZM: I found that the most important thing for a parent is to provide an environment for kids to study. Sometimes that means restricting their playfulness. Try and reduce the number of chores so that they can have more time to do their work. And always understand that studying creates a lot of pressure, so less scolding can be helpful and fewer expectations on this and that.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self who is starting off matric and then later when you are preparing for exams?

ZM: One I would say you need to remove all sorts of distractions. Keep to a group of friends that would be doing the exact same thing as you are so that you don’t get disturbed by people who have other interests and are not sympathetic to the pressures you are facing.

Q: What do you say to a matriculant who is overwhelmed by the pressure. They might look at you now and see this powerful politician and successful businessman forgetting that you were once a matriculant with dreams that might have seemed unattainable?

ZM: Learners must know that if you write matric and you don’t pass, that is not the end in life. You can still rewrite and improve your symbols. That doesn’t mean you are a failure, it just means that you have to try again. It might also mean that you must find something to do that might not be something you initially planned to do. If you get marks that get you to university and you had planned for that, well and good. But if your marks don’t allow you to get there, but can allow you another option, then follow that. Often it is trying to live through someone else’s dream that becomes a problem. I had a friend, who was a classmate, who got distinctions for his Maths and Science. He was persuaded to do Medicine even though he never liked it. He ended up failing his second year three times. When I got to my fourth year, he told me that he was dropping out and pursuing Engineering. When I was doing my internship, the fellow went on to pass Engineering with distinctions. He beat the whole of South Africa from the group of universities associated with his like Wits, UCT and UKZN …Your performance is not necessarily a reflection of the person you are or the person you will become. It is just perseverance and being flexible enough to change your mind when the situation calls for it.

Things you did not know about the premier.

•He matriculated in 1975. In those days you obtained a Junior Certificate in standard eight, which was equivalent to grade 10.

•He got his Junior Certificate from Sobantu Secondary with a first-class pass, which is equivalent to a distinction pass today.

•His Senior Certificate was achieved from Dlangezwe, a boarding school, where he met his wife, Dr May Mkhize.

•His father wanted him to be a principal. In matric, Mkhize toyed with the idea of a career in Agriculture. However, it was only while doing registration at university that he sorted the decision between Medicine and Engineering. Medicine eventually won.

•He did karate at school and was very involved in school leadership.

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