The South African National English Olympiad
A joint project of SACEE and the Grahamstown Foundation


The English Olympiad 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 took on responsibility for the general administration of the Olympiad, and the competition was extended to cover the whole of the Cape Province.  In 1978 the project was further extended to include all of South Africa and by 2015, when a First Additional Language (FAL) stream was added to the project, the number of entries exceeded 8 000 from more than 400 schools nationwide – and the top prize had become R30 000!

Notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions that took effect just after the 2020 Olympiad examinations, the project has continued without interruption. After an understandable 32% dip in numbers for the 2021 competition, Home Language (HL) entry numbers have largely recovered, while a current focus of the Olympiad Team is on the further development and marketing of the English First Additional Language competition.

From the start, SACEE decided to use an ‘open book’ examination format, which has meant that candidates may take their texts into the examination room with them.  This has allowed for a themed syllabus, and examiners have been able to ask questions which are open-ended and require more personal responses than typical questions encountered in high school examinations.

SACEE is proud of the ongoing success of the English Olympiad project, and is grateful to the Grahamstown Foundation (its partner in the project) for its highly professional organisation and administrative support, and to Rhodes University for its scholarship prizes for the top fifty prize winners.

The Eastern Cape branch of SACEE remains responsible for the academic aspects of the competition, having provided most of the examiners since the inception of the project, as well as an army of well-qualified and experienced markers and moderators. The branch also publishes the annual English Olympiad anthology and a related study guide.

What is the ‘English Olympiad’?

The English Olympiad is an annual nationwide examination open to all secondary schools and their pupils in Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12.  Its aim is to enrich and to deepen the candidates’ appreciation of the English language and its literature, and to expose them to challenging texts and ideas that they would not normally encounter in a standard school syllabus.

  • Candidates are required to study an anthology of literary texts that is compiled each year by the Chief Examiner. Each anthology is based on a specific theme such as “Care and Compassion”, “War and Peace”, “A Twist in the Tale”or “School writing”, and might consist of just one genre such as drama or poetry, or a mixture of genres.
  • Preparation for the Olympiad examinations is based on a self-study programme in which a study guide assists individuals or study groups to interpret and to appreciate the set texts, giving clear pointers to context and asking pertinent questions to encourage understanding in depth, as well as the relevance of each text. The study guide also provides advice on how to approach the examinations and how to write a discursive essay.
  • In Olympiad examinations candidates are not required to regurgitate notes or facts. The Olympiad questions seek for well-expressed, intelligent, critical, personal responses to the prescribed works.
  • Although a ranking in the Top100 HL or Top20 FAL brings with it considerable prestige, and although the Top20 HL and Top5 FAL receive generous cash prizes, the Olympiad is more about participation and intellectual enrichment of all, and candidates who take their preparation for the Olympiad seriously are therefore bound to benefit from the experience.
  • The top 50 candidates are awarded scholarships by Rhodes University that cover their academic fees for their first year of study at the University, while each of the top twelve HL and the top five FAL candidates enjoys free entry to the midyear National Schools’ Festival in Grahamstown/Makhanda, as well as free accommodation and meals.
  • The closing date for entries and the payment of entry fees is 30 September each year. Printed anthologies and study guides are distributed to participating schools at the end of October, and the annual examinations take place at each of the participating schools in the first week of March of the following year.

For more information, kindly click on the links below:

For further details, please contact:
The Olympiad Officer, PO Box 304, Grahamstown 6140
Tel:  046 603 1145  /  046 603 1107

The 2024 English Olympiad
Examination Date:  5 March 2024

The theme of the 49th English Olympiad will be “Resilience”, for which an anthology of prose memoirs and a related study guide has been compiled by the Chief Examiner, for publication by the Eastern Cape Branch of SACEE.  Most of the selected texts have been taken from works by African and South Arican writers.

The Chief Examiner for the 49th Olympiad will be Liz Herselman, and the Assistant Examiners will be Anné de Plessis (Home Language) and Tasneem Dolley (First Additional Language), while the markers will all be fully-qualified teachers of English, most of whom have experience in the assessment of NSC and/or IEB examinations.

For more information please click on the links below:

The 2023 English Olympiad

The theme of the 48th English Olympiad, examined in March 2023, was ‘Care and Compassion’, for which a prescribed mixed-genre anthology (A Better World) and a study guide were published by the Eastern Cape Branch of SACEE.  

The Chief Examiner for the 48th Olympiad was Dr Diana McDermott, and the Assistant Examiners were Liz Herselman (Home Language) and Tasneem Dolley (First Additional Language).

To view past examination papers, please click on the relevant link below:

Home Language (HL) First Additional Language (FAL):
HL 2023 FAL 2023
HL 2022 FAL 2022
HL2021 FAL 2021

Congratulations to the 2023 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:

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

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

2022 2021 2020 2019