English Olympiad

A SACEE project in association with the Grahamstown Foundation.

A background to the English Olympiad:

The English Olympiad first started as a small project in 1976 when Dr Malcolm Venter, a member of the Eastern Cape branch committee of SACEE (and now the Council’s National Chairperson) was asked to organise such an event locally. The first competition attracted 119 entries and the winner received a prize of R50.

The following year the Grahamstown Foundation agreed to take over the general administration of the SACEE English Olympiad and the competition was extended to cover the whole of the old Cape Province. The number of entries rose to 332 that year. In 1978, the Olympiad was further extended to include all parts of South Africa and the number of entries continued to rise substantially from then on. The 1982 Olympiad for example, attracted 2,760 entries from 256 schools, a 45% increase from the previous year.

In 1995 SACEE decided to discard the existing ‘set text’ system and introduce a new ‘open book’ format. This allowed for a more theme-orientated approach. For the first time examiners were able to ask questions which were open-ended and which required personal responses. This change proved to be extremely popular with a total of 4,115 entries being received that year. Two years later, 300 schools submitted a total of 4,676 entries between them and the competition has continued to grow every year since then.

SACEE is extremely proud of its English Olympiad project and grateful thanks go to the main sponsors, the De Beers Chairman’s Fund, who generously sponsored the project from 1985 up until 2020 and to Rhodes University for its scholarship prizes to the top fifty winners. Further thanks go to the sponsors of cash prizes for the top twenty; which include the English Academy of Southern Africa, Maskew Miller, Longman Publishers and Monash SA. In addition, SACEE is most grateful to the Grahamstown Foundation for all the organisational work undertaken by them. The Eastern Cape branch of SACEE has remained entirely responsible for the academic side of the competition since its inception in 1976. Initially the academic input was provided by Dr Malcolm Venter but since his retirement from teaching, this has been taken over by members of the SACEE Eastern Cape branch who are ably assisted by an army of markers and administrative staff.

What is the ‘English Olympiad’?

The English Olympiad is an annual nationwide examination open to pupils in Grades 10, 11 and 12. Its aim is to enrich and deepen the candidates’ appreciation for the English language and its literature.

  • Candidates are required to read and study a text that is compiled each year. This text is usually based on a theme such as “war”, “Shakespeare’s love poetry” or “School writing” and comes in the form of an anthology that might consist of just one genre such as drama or poetry, or a mixture of genres.
  • Although there is a rank order of the top one hundred candidates and huge prizes and bursaries for some of them, the Olympiad is more about participation and enrichment of all. What is looked for in the Olympiad is a critical, intelligent, individual response to the given works. It is not an examination where candidates can regurgitate notes or facts.
  • The prizes for the top candidates include cash prizes, books, book vouchers and scholarships. The top fifty winners are awarded scholarships by Rhodes University that largely cover their academic fees for their first year of study at the University. The top 15 enjoy a fully paid trip to the Schools’ Festival and the top three win cash prizes. 
  • The closing date for entries is from mid September to early November each year and the examination is written in early March the following year.

For further details and how to enter, please contact:

The Olympiad Officer, Grahamstown Foundation – P O Box 304, Grahamstown, 6140

Tel:  046 6031145 or 046 603 1107

Fax:  046 622 7462 or 086 262 6048

E-mail:  olympiad@foundation.org.za

2021 Winners Announced!

The theme of the 2021 Olympiad was ‘People and Personas’ and the anthology was entitled This is my Story, which consisted of a selection of stories told from a first-person perspective.  Genres included in the collection are a dramatic monologue, four poems, a travelogue, two short stories and an extract from a novella.  Both the anthology and study guide were compiled by the 2021 Cheif Examiner, Yvette Morgan and were published by the Eastern Cape Branch of SACEE.  

The 2021 examiners were Yvette Morgan (Home Language) and Tasneem Dolley (First Additional Language).

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 saw a decrease of 36%  in the number of entrants, but the 4482 entries received exceeded the anticipated target by 1982.  The exam was written on 16th March 2021. 

Normally the Top 15 HL winners and the top 5 FAL winners are given a trip to the National Schools Festival in Makhanda in July with all expenses paid.  This year there was no Schools Festival because of the Coronavirus, which meant, sadly, that there was no prize-giving.

Congratulations to the 2021 English Olympiad Winners!

Home Language (HL) TOP 20 in RANK ORDER:


The complete Top 100 (Home Language) results list, in rank order is available here.

First Additional Language (FAL) Top 20 in RANK ORDER:

 *Tied in 20th place

The complete Top 20 (First Additional Language) results list in rank order is available here.

Prizes awarded for the 2021 English Olympiad are as follows:

  1. The Top 3 HL candidates receive R33000, R30000 and R27000 respectively.
  2. The Top 10 candidates in the FAL exam receive various cash prizes from SACEE.
  3. The top 42 candidates in the HL exam and the top 8 candidates in the FAL exam receive free tuition scholarships for their firs year of study at Rhodes University, immediately upon successful completion of the matriculation examinations, and subject to meeting the university’s entry requirements.
  4. All candidates who complete the paper with sufficient comment receive certificates indicating a classified evaluation ranging from Participation to Gold.

For information regarding previous years winners, click on the year below:

2020 2019 2018

2022 Call for Entries will be available shortly.