The highest number of matriculants ever wrote the National Senior Certificate in 2015.
The basic education department said this was the eighth group of pupils to sit the NSC since the new education system was introduced.
"We have had the highest number of candidates who wrote matric exams in the history of South Africa," said the department's director general Mathanzima Mweli.
He was speaking at a technical briefing in Midrand, Johannesburg ahead of the release of the 2015 matric results.
The largest number of candidates came from KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Gauteng and Limpopo.
The three provinces accounted for 54% of the candidates, which meant they decided on whether the pass rate would drop or increase.
Mweli said it might take three to five years to get the pass rate on an upward trend because of changes in the education system.
The matrics of 2015 entered the education system in January 2004, Mweli said.
"Many of them went through Grade R meaning they would have benefited from the system," he said.
The total number of candidates who wrote the exam were 799 306. This included 667 925 full time candidates and 131 381 part time candidates.
A total of 7.8 million question papers were printed and 10.5 million scripts were marked at 6 772 exam centres. There were 65 000 invigilators, 49 900 markers and 121 marking centres.