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Article on Developing and Evaluating the First Phase of the Grade 12 Mind the Gap Study Guide Series

The Mind the Gap study guide series is an innovative and committed attempt by the Department of Basic Education to improve the academic performance of Grade 12 candidates in the National Senior Certificate examination.

In 2012 Dr Patricia Watson undertook the development of the first of four titles in the Mind the Gap series for the subjects: Accounting, Economics, Geography, Life Sciences. These study guides are available in both English and Afrikaans. In 2013 the DBE is developing Mind the Gap study guides for English First Additional Language, Mathematics, Mathematical Literacy and Physical Science.

Dr Patricia Watson began her career as a student teacher in Mpumalanga where she collaborated with the Storyteller Group to produce educational comics and classroom resources. While completing her PhD in Applied Linguistics, she lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand for nine years. After leaving lecturing, she ran her own publishing business focusing on educational media development and organisational learning. She joined the DBE in 2011 and is leading the Mind the Gap programme.


About Mind the Gap

The Mind the Gap study guides assist Grade 12 learners to mind-the-gap between failing and passing, by bridging-the-gap in learners’ understanding of commonly tested concepts so candidates can pass the National Senior Certificate (NSC).  Each study guide provides explanations of key terminology, simple explanations and examples of the types of questions that learners can expect to be asked in an exam. Model answers are included to assist learners in building their understanding. Learners are also referred to specific questions in past national exam papers and exam memos. 


Each of the study guides were written by four subject teams comprising teachers, examiners, curriculum officials and academics. The DBE would like to express great appreciation to the writing teams who made Mind the Gap possible, and who wrote the guides between May 2012 and Sept 2012, which was an astounding feat of efficiency.


Impact of Mind the Gap

In 2012 the distribution of the Mind the Gap study guides was not at scale nationally but limited to underperforming districts in Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Northern Cape between the prelim and the final examination. The opportunity to scientifically track the impact of the guides was seized. Sharing a commitment to using an evidence base for policy interventions, Drs Watson and Taylor collaborated in designing an impact assessment which would show the causal relationship between the study guides and students results.


Stephen Taylor works in the office of the Director-General as a researcher and policy advisor. He has completed a PhD in Economics in which he investigated the role of schools in South Africa’s economic development. He is a specialist in impact evaluation methods.


The impact assessment involved distributing the study guides to selected schools in Mpumalanga through a Randomised Control Trial in an effort to measure the causal impact of the study guides on performance in the National Senior Certificate. The final sample consisted of 318 ordinary public schools with 79 schools receiving the study guides and 239 schools allocated to the control group. Distribution took place in September 2012, approximately six weeks prior to the NSC exams. These two groups of schools were in no way systematically different – the only difference was that one group received Mind The Gap study guides. Therefore, any differences in performance in the 2012 examinations can be attributed to the causal impact of Mind the Gap.

The analysis of matric 2012 data indicated that the Geography and Life Sciences study guides positively impacted on performance in those subjects. However, in the cases of Accounting and Economics, no discernable statistical difference in performance between intervention and comparison schools was identified. This does not prove that the Accounting and Economics study guides had no impact – it only indicates that we are unable to quantify the impact at this stage.

In contrast, statistical evidence shows that receiving a Geography or Life Sciences study guide led to an increase in performance in those subjects of about 2 percentage points. This result is remarkable especially since the study guides were delivered late in the year (October/November 2012), and yet the guides still had a significant impact on learners’ results. We therefore expect them to have a bigger impact if the learners have more time to go through the material.

In 2013, the Mind the Gap study guides are being distributed nationally and learners can expect to receive the guides well before they write the prelim examinations.

 Mind the Gap and the Impact on Passing Matric

A simulation exercise was conducted to estimate what sort of impact the Mind The Gap study guides are likely to have on the matric pass rate now that they are being distributed nationally. If we assume, conservatively, that only the Geography and Life Sciences study guides have impacts on performance, and that those impacts are 2 percentage points in both cases, then it is possible to conduct a simulation of this scenario using previous matric data.

The matric data for 2010 was used since this was a year in which no children received Mind The Gap. According to our calculations (which differ slightly from official matric 2010 figures due to excluding certain unusual candidates), 367417 candidates passed matric in 2010 (a pass rate of 65.54%). Had children who took Geography and Life Sciences achieved 2 percentage points better than they did (as we predict the Mind The Gap study guides would have caused) then 373026 children would have passed matric (a pass rate of 66.54%). This means that 5609 children who did not pass matric in 2010 would have passed matric had the Geography and Life Sciences Mind the Gap study guides been distributed nationally. This impact is significant especially given how cheap and light an intervention Mind The Gap is compared with many of the other education programmes that operate in our schools.

Moreover, Mind The Gap is due to be rolled out in more than just these four subjects, so we can expect these study guides to make an even bigger impact on improving the quality of education in South Africa.


We received many positive messages via Facebook, SMS, and email, thanking the Department for providing the Mind the Gap study guides.

Here are some of the comments:


“This guide is really better than any approved textbook.” - Ronel Pretorius 


“Very user friendly. Teachers felt that it is written in a way that most learners will easily grasp the content, even the difficult processes.” - Tommy Botha, Nontobeko Mjali, Jean Goliath, Jannie Gerber, Gillian O’Reilly and Alan Stevens 


“You guys are great leaders who are working for the people” - Dadley Mashaphu (Learner) 


“Thank you for renewing my faith in our education department” - Sheilagh Hardouin (Parent)

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