NCEA Online Q and A

Below are some of the common questions regarding NCEA Online. If you have a question that is not covered here, please email

What is happening?

What is NCEA Online?

Almost all students are doing some of their learning and assessments online and it makes sense for them to do their exams online, as that is what they’re used to.

NCEA Online reflects the digital, connected world students live in and allows students to sit exams online.

We’ve been giving students a chance to do some of their NCEA exams online since 2015 (through trials, pilots, practice and end-of-year exams) and thousands have taken part. Students tell us that they prefer it.

What NCEA Online subjects are available in 2022?

Check out the National secondary examinations timetable for the list of subjects offered digitally in 2022.

What is NCEA Online focusing on for 2021?

This year we will build on initiatives already underway, including:

  • engaging schools with no participation in NCEA Online
  • making our platform available for digital practice exams from 2 Aug to 1 Oct and working with subject associations to broaden the number of exams available
  • ongoing research, innovation, and enhancements – for example, trialling English language text to speech, investigating remote supervision of exams, investigating alternative ways to deliver digital exams to remote locations, enabling students to listen to as well as read the questions in some Te Reo Rangatira exams, and trialling Scholarship Media Studies
  • investigating digital tools to help with character and symbol-rich subjects
  • helping schools to be confident about the capacity and reliability of their schools’ digital infrastructure for the level of NCEA Online participation that is right for their students, in collaboration with Network for Learning (N4L) and the Ministry of Education
  • continuing to improve the guidance and processes for those involved in the logistics of running and marking digital exams
  • co-designing the platform/system through workshops, customer experience interviews and surveys/evaluations
  • looking at a new student interface for a better user experience  
  • integrating tools used by Special Assessment Conditions students
  • delivering RAS Mini Pilot Common Assessment Activities and exams using the NCEA Online platform.

How are you incorporating the suggestions made by students and teachers?

We’re involving schools, students, and Exam Centre Managers (ECMs) in the design process, so that the way we deliver the digital exams matches the changing classroom experience and works well for students. Markers are also involved in research and innovations trials.

To design a great user experience, NZQA works closely with stakeholders, to ensure their feedback and ideas are heard during the design process, as well as researching what is happening internationally. 

Moreover, the data that sits underneath a student’s digital exam experience – how long they took to complete the exam, which questions they spent more time on or returned to, how they wrote, edited or deleted and rewrote their answers, helps NZQA to develop exams.

How can schools, kura and students get involved in the co-design process?

Our Customer Experience team run workshops with schools and kura to help shape how we design NZQA services. We encourage school staff and students interested in taking part to email us at

How many are now doing NCEA Online assessment?

Once a school has offered NCEA Online, they generally continue to participate. Thousands of students have taken part in NCEA exams online since 2015 (through trials, pilots, practice exams and end-of-year NCEA exams) and students tell us that they prefer it over paper-based exams.

Nearly two-thirds of all schools participated in NCEA Online in 2020. Last year 22,475 students from 276 schools sat at least one digital exam through NCEA Online. This is a 55% increase in students and a 41% increase in schools compared to 2019.

In 2021 kura and schools involved in the Review of Achievement Standards mini pilots will be using NCEA Online during the year to complete their assessments.

How many students and schools participated in digital practice exams in 2022?

All schools/kura had the chance to offer digital practice exams using our online platform from 15 August to 30 September 2022 (217 schools/kura and more than 30,000 students/ākonga participated).

This was a good opportunity for students to get exam experience using NCEA Online before the ‘real thing’ and for schools to test their systems.

Why – the rationale

Why does NZQA see online assessment as the future?

NZQA’s vision is to offer digital exams that are authentic, relevant, and credible.

Almost all students are doing some of their learning and assessments online and it makes sense to do their exams online. This is what students are used to and they tell us that is what they prefer.

Digital learning, teaching, and assessment helps students prepare for how they will work, live and continue to learn in the 21st century.  NCEA Online is working to align assessment with the way students use, and will continue to use, digital devices every day. 

How might learning outcomes improve through digitally based teaching?

Digital learning and assessment reflect the global, digital, connected world students live in. The transition to digital exams reflects the changes taking place in classrooms. When implemented effectively these changes will improve student engagement in learning and assessment and will therefore support better levels of achievement. 

Digital assessment provides better data and insights about how students respond to questions.  This will be useful for teachers designing classroom learning and will help in developing future exam questions so students can best show what they know and the skills they have learned. This data will help teachers reframe less successful teaching approaches, recognise new patterns in student achievement and support students to self-diagnose their learning strengths and gaps.

Does digital assessment provide more equitable opportunities for Māori and Pacific students?

Digital assessment has the potential to improve the equity of NCEA outcomes for Māori and Pacific students. For example, personalised learning pathways that include digital assessment have the potential to engage more students in new ways more relevant to their individual needs and their culture.

Achieving equitable access and outcomes for ākonga Māori and Pacific students through participation in NCEA Online underpins our innovation, research and service design.

NZQA is prioritising listening to the views and experiences of Māori and Pacific rangatahi, their kaiako and whānau.

That way, we can be more certain that what, how, and why we are implementing NCEA Online works.  

When - the timeframes

What subjects will be available as digital NCEA exams in future years?

Over the coming years, NZQA will further expand the range of subjects and look to deliver exams developed specifically for a digital platform and to incorporate more innovation. 

Part of our work involves researching ‘hard to digitise’ subjects, such as maths, chemistry, dance and drama, which need to be managed and delivered in a different way.

Is there a time when exams will be digital only?

There is no specific timeframe for removing NCEA paper-based assessment.

However, some of the inflexibility of paper-based exams cannot be addressed until there is a critical mass of uptake of digital exams. NZQA wants all schools to have offered students the opportunity to do at least one NCEA Online exam, by the end of 2022. NZQA will be working with the sector to determine an appropriate timetable for, and approach to, introducing “opt out” rather than “opt in” digital exams.  

How - including training and getting ready

What is NZQA’s target for the number of schools and students doing NCEA Online assessment, and what is NZQA doing to ensure that its target is reached?

NZQA wants all schools to have offered students the opportunity to do at least one NCEA Online exam, by the end of 2022. This approach is based on several factors, including that:

  • NCEA Online and other forms of digital external assessment provide a strong platform for future innovation in assessment, and the flexibility to free up the current parameters of ‘once a year, end of year, set location’
  • changes in assessment are coming - with NCEA Online becoming the new ‘normal’ (for some subjects at least), and the Review of Achievement Standards (RAS) taking a ‘digital first’ approach
  • students who complete our surveys after digital exams continue to be extremely positive about the experience.

In line with this, while NCEA Online is currently ‘opt in’, we will start talking with schools in 2021 about when ‘opt out’ would be feasible and how that could work from their perspective.  

We want to better understand what is needed to support safe, reliable, and educationally useful uptake of NCEA Online, especially for those schools with limited or no digital experience. This involves a range of activities including understanding specific barriers to participation, analysing data to confirm schools that haven’t participated in NCEA Online at all, developing plans to address specific schools’ challenges, and working with Network for Learning (N4L) and Ministry of Education.

What support is there to help schools and students prepare for digital exams?

NZQA is helping teachers, Exam Centre Managers, supervisors, markers and NZQA staff who support the exam development, delivery and marking to get ready for digital exams.  We are also working with Network for Learning to provide schools with technical support for internet connectivity.

We have a wealth of practical information, resources, advice and support for schools offering digital NCEA exams for the first time and those schools scaling up their involvement – for example information sheets, check lists, FAQs, guides, webinars, links to website content and practice activities.

Students can get ready for digital exams through practice activities and by accessing past digital exams. There is also information on how to Check devices

We’ve dedicated a section of our website to Get your school ready for digital exams.  

We also have two dedicated email addresses so that people can easily get in touch with questions, concerns and suggestions:

How will NZQA ensure there are no technical problems with the exam?

In the last two years of successful delivery of NCEA Online there haven’t been any major technical problems, within the control of NZQA, that have interrupted delivery of the exams.

We work with schools so they can carefully prepare.  That involves everything from schools testing their internet connection, to ensuring students have access to suitable devices and know how to use them. NZQA also works with schools to help ensure Exam Centre Managers and Supervisors have the right knowledge and skills to support students during exams. 

There is a risk that exams might be affected by technical issues – this risk is always present when introducing any new major technical change. For this reason, the system continues to be tested and evaluated thoroughly, and we have policies in place to ensure no students are disadvantaged should a significant technical issue affect an exam.

What approach should schools adopt in management and use of devices?

NZQA provides minimum device specifications for NCEA Online which are updated annually – see the digital exam device check section on our website. These are updated annually.

The Ministry of Education provides guidance on resourcing and managing digital devices in schools. The enabling e-Learning website provides educators and students with examples of effective practices at the school level, information about software and licensing, and details of options for developing policies at the school level, including policies for acceptable use.



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Page updated: May 2021

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