- News24 spoke to six learners who achieved outstanding marks at St Andrew's School for Girls and St David's Marist Inanda.
- St Andrew's recorded a 100% pass rate for the 32nd year in a row.
- St David's recorded a 100% pass rate, with 97% receiving a bachelor pass.
The global pandemic sent the country's education system into a tailspin and forced schools to change their model of teaching and learning - but, for some top achievers from the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), it also taught discipline and how to knuckle down and focus.
The day before the IEB results were set to be released, News24 caught up with six matrics from St Andrew's School for Girls and St David's Marist Inanda, both in Johannesburg.
All were nervous and excited ahead of Friday.
For Hayley White, who was one of only three matrics at St Andrew's to get nine distinctions, moving to online learning improved her marks.
Her school recorded a 100% pass rate for the 32nd year in a row.
"My marks improved during the lockdown because it forced me to really focus and be disciplined with my time. All the teachers at school were also really helpful and were available," said White.
A few of her distinctions were in Advance Programme English, French and Mathematical Literacy.
White plans to study BA Law at the University of Stellenbosch.
On Thursday, Nicholas Carr, the top achiever at St David's Marist Inanda, said he was feeling anxious, but hopeful - not knowing that he got eight distinctions, which included a 99% in Maths and 92% in AP Maths.
Carr's advice for the class of 2021 is to put it all in, but not at the expense of your health.
"Just work as hard as you can, but also watch out for that because I felt really overworked at home, having nothing else to do and lacking simple things, like sports. Try to find things like that and work as hard as you can, but be careful... and watch your own mental well-being," he said.
He is looking to study a Bachelor of Science at the University of Pretoria or the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
Lihle Ndlovu, from St Andrew's, also has her eyes abroad. She got seven distinctions, including in Accounting and Mathematics. She is hoping to study commerce in the United States, Canada or the University of Cape Town.
Ndlovu, who is usually an organised student, said the shift to online learning was difficult to adjust to, but a consistent routine is what helped.
"It took a while to get into a routine, but our teachers were there to help. What I learned is that you need to be consistent, otherwise it will catch up to you," she said.
The support of her friends and family is what kept Ishika Govan, from St Andrew's, going. It helped her achieve seven distinctions, including AP Mathematics and Physical Science.
"It was heartbreaking not being able to interact with friends in person, but their support and my family really kept me going," said Govan.
Gabrielle Padiachy used the pressure of the pandemic to secure eight distinctions, including AP Mathematics and Accounting. She plans on studying Actuarial Science at the University of Cape Town.
"Last year was very stressful, but it motivated me to work harder because I did not want to slack just because of the pandemic. I did not allow the pandemic to change my goals," she said.
Nqubeko Mthabela, the head boy at St David's, not only had to deal with academic pressures, but also had to find a way to motivate his prefects and fellow schoolmates through virtual addresses and videos.
"As head boy, I needed to keep everyone motivated, so I would have regular online meetings with the prefects and online assemblies with the boys," he said.
At the start of the lockdown, Mthabela aptly quoted James Lane Allen in an online address, saying: "Adversity does not build character, it reveals it."
Mthabela achieved five distinctions, which included Business Studies and English. He said he did this by making sure that he gave it his all and had no regrets at the end of the academic year.
He is planning on studying a Bachelor of Commerce: Philosophy, Politics & Economics at UCT or abroad.
The matric results for government schools are expected to be released on 22 February.
Did you know you can comment on this article? Subscribe to News24 and add your voice to the conversation.