KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Ina Cronje yesterday said the start of the province's matric exams was progressing well.
The day's English exam paper was delivered on time to more than 150000 candidates.
Cronje visited two schools in Pietermaritzburg to personally deliver good luck cards to students.
She said she wanted to motivate and encourage the pupils.
"There is no secret for success besides hard work, passion and determination for a bright future," she said.
At the Payipini High School pupils felt honoured by the MEC's visit. The school has one of the best results records in the province.
Principal Christopher Ndlovu was a bit nervous about his school's performance in this year's exams.
This year's students are the first group to write the matric National Senior Certificate under the new curriculum.
Ndlovu said his school was in a poverty-stricken community and did not have resources such as a laboratory, but this had not stopped the pupils from achieving good results.
Last year the school had a pass rate of 88 percent.
"For practical lessons in subjects such as science we take pupils to the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Pietermaritzburg campus, where we are given the use of a lab."
One of the pupils, Thabani Makhanya, said almost all his schoolmates came from poor families with unemployed parents, but the kind of education the school provided was "rich".
"It is a bit frightening that we are the first group to write under the new curriculum but the teachers have done their part - now it is up to us."
Makhanya said the teachers had gone the extra mile by providing extra classes.
The teacher unions have expressed satisfaction with the way exams started.