National Certificate of Educational Achievement

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The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the official secondary school qualification in New Zealand. It was phased in between 2002 and 2004, replacing three older secondary school qualifications. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority administers NCEA.


NCEA Level 1 replaced School Certificate in 2002, Level 2 replaced Sixth Form Certificate in 2003 and Level 3 replaced Bursary in 2004.[1] A transitional Sixth Form Certificate was offered by schools in 2003 and 2004.[2]

The initial academic level was set about 35% lower in Level 1 NCEA than a school certificate pass(50%) so more students could get some type of qualification. Over time the academic standard in each level has been lifted about 5%. Nearly all of the much easier Unit Standards have been phased out. Those that remain do not lead to a tertiary level course at University as they are a lower standard than normal credits.[citation needed]

Over time there has been an increase in the amount of checking and supervision of teachers' making. Teachers who give wrong grades or credits to students are warned and red flagged if there is no improvement but students are allowed to keep the unearned credits. In 2013 there were about 44,000 unearned credits.[citation needed]


The NCEA system has three levels – one, two, and three – corresponding to their respective levels on the National Qualifications Framework. Each level is generally studied in each of the three final years of secondary schooling,[1] with NCEA level one in Year 11, NCEA level two in Year 12, and NCEA level three in Year 13, although it is not uncommon for students to study across multiple levels.

To pass each level, students must gain a certain amount of credits at that level or above. Credits are awarded through students passing unit standards or achievement standards. Each school subject is made up of multiple standards - for example Mathematics at level one is made up of 13 achievement standards, including separate standards for number, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and probability.[3] All standards use criterion-based marking, which means students only need to achieve the given criteria to pass the standard. While unit standards use a simple pass/fail system, achievement standards use a four-grade scale: Not Achieved (N), Achieved (A), Merit (M) and Excellence (E).

Assessment of individual is administered both internally and externally.[1] Internal assessments are assessed at the school level throughout the school year. External assessments are assessed at national level, usually by examinations held at the end of the school year in November.

The number of credits required to pass each level is as follows. Note credits can be reused for multiple certificates:[4]

  • NCEA Level One – 80 credits at level one or higher, of which 10 must be in literacy and 10 must be in numeracy.
  • NCEA Level Two – 60 credits at level two or higher and 20 credits at level one or higher. From 2013, the level one literacy and numeracy requirements must also be obtained.
  • NCEA Level Three – 60 credits at level three or higher and 20 credits at level two or higher. From 2014, the level one literacy and numeracy requirements must also be obtained.

Student who achieve a large number of Merit and Excellence standards can have certificates endorsed with Merit or Excellence.[1] To gain a level certificate with Merit endorsement, a student must pass the level with at least 50 Merit and Excellence credits assessed at that level or higher. Likewise gain a level certificate with Excellence endorsement, a student must pass the level with at least 50 Excellence credits assessed at that level or higher.[5]

In 2011, course endorsements were introduced.[6] To gain a merit course endorsement a candidate must achieve fourteen credits at merit or excellence within a given year. Additionally, three credits must be internally assessed and three externally assessed. The exceptions are Physical Education, Religious Studies and Level 3 Visual Arts, where due to all standards in the subjects being entirely internally assessed or entirely externally assessed. An excellence endorsement requires all fourteen credits to be achieved with excellence.[7]

Grade Score Marking (GSM) was also introduced in 2011, along with the realigned level one standards. Like the realignment, GSM was phased in so that only level one externals were marked with GSM in 2011. Under GSM each question earns up to 8 marks, with two marks per each of the grades (NAME). N0 also exists for "no response, no evidence".[8] The Grade Score Marks for each question are totalled and the overall mark for the standard is determined from that total. However, candidates would still ultimately receive one of four marks (NAME) whether or not the standard (such as 91098) was out of eight or 32 (for example, 90948). The rationale behind the change was threefold: it would clarify marks for candidates, motivate them to improve and improve consistency in marking.[9] In 2013, the phased entry of GSM was completed.

NCEA is the only known secondary school qualification worldwide in which marked examination papers are returned to students. After the examination papers have been returned, a student can apply for certain papers to be reviewed if a marking or clerical error has occurred (e.g. the paper has not been fully marked, the marks have been added up incorrectly, the examination paper shows a different result from their results notice), or they can apply for certain papers to be remarked ("reconsidered") if they feel they have not been assessed correctly.[10] To prevent students cheating, any blank writing space is crossed out by markers before the papers are returned, and students cannot request a review or reconsideration on any paper where they have written in pencil or used correction fluid.

Controversy and media[edit]

In January 2013 hundreds of students were able to access their grades a day before they were due to be released, after they were accidentally posted online.[11] In June 2014 NZQA released a press statement saying that 25% of the 2013 internal assessments were wrong. Students were nevertheless able to use the wrongly awarded credits to gain NCEA.[12] Each year NZQA takes a random sample of internal assessment for close checking. In some schools nearly all the credits gained are from internal assessments. Physical Education, Religious Education and Level 3 Visual Art are totally internally assessed. [13] Additionally, lower decile schools tend to both use internal assessment more and have larger gaps between internal and external achievement rates when compared to higher decile schools. [14] NZQA said this was more mistakes than usual as new standards had been introduced during the ongoing realignment and teachers had not yet adjusted their marking.


  1. ^ a b c d Swarbrick, Nancy (13 July 2012). "Primary and secondary education - Standards and examinations". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Secondary school qualifications prior to 2002". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Mathematics achievement standards Level 1". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "NCEA levels and certificates". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "NCEA endorsements". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "QA News March 2011". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "Course Endorsement Guide". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  8. ^ "NCEA External Assessment: Grade Score Marking". New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "Refined marking system for NCEA". Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  10. ^ O'Callaghan, Jody (19 February 2013). "Thousands apply to have NCEA papers remarked". Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Ray, Adam (14 January 2013). "NCEA students frustrated by glitch". 3 News (MediaWorks New Zealand). Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. 
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