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?

NZQA is introducing digital exams - that students can sit using a computer rather than using pen and paper - because New Zealand schools are increasingly using digitally enabled teaching and learning.  NCEA assessments need to reflect these evolving practices and students need to develop digital skills for life and work in a world where technology is always at their fingertips.  Furthermore, students are saying it is the way they like to work.

NZQA is adopting a staged approach to the NCEA Online programme.  We are working with schools and students to ensure the technology delivers a good user experience. 

Schools are at different stages in their approach to digital teaching and learning, so digital assessment needs to be in sync with that. Paper-based exams will continue to be available as schools transition to digital teaching and learning.

What's different this year from the past few years of Trials and Pilots?

This year students will be able to sit 14 NCEA external exam subjects at different levels using digital devices.  This is the next stage in delivering NCEA Online, after four years of digital Trials (that did not count towards NCEA) and digital Pilot exams (that did count towards NCEA) in English, Classical Studies and Media Studies.

From 2019 digital exams will be available in an increasing number of subjects.   To support that move students choosing digital exams will continue to have a personalised paper as a backup.

Paper based exams will also continue to be available for all subjects as the transition to digital assessment takes place over the next few years

This year NZQA will not be offering digital Trial exams. If for any reason a student needs to apply for a derived grade, after entering a digital or paper exam, schools will use assessments completed during the year.

How are you using the information from the previous years of Trials?

We used these Trials to test what works and doesn’t work. Students’ results for Trials did not count towards their NCEA results so they were a great opportunity to gather input from students and teachers, and design what works best.  We were able to try innovations while providing schools and students with opportunities to experience a digital exam. The feedback helped identify the areas where innovative approaches may work well in the future, and where there is more work to do.  

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

To design a great user experience, the NCEA Online team and our suppliers are using feedback from previous years, ongoing design sessions with students, teachers, principal’s nominees and exam centre managers, as well as researching what is happening internationally.  Some new features won’t be ready this year but we anticipate having more in place in 2020.

How many students and schools participated in digital exams in 2018?

Approximately 6,700 students from 53 schools nationwide entered digital NCEA exams for Levels 1-3 English, Media Studies and Classical Studies, a 60% increase on 2017.  Since 2014, around three quarters of New Zealand secondary schools and well over 30,000 students have experienced at least one digital exam through NZQA’s digital Trials and Pilots project.

Will students be advantaged or disadvantaged depending on the type of exam they sit?

The digital exams in 2019 are electronic copies of the paper. The same resources and questions are presented to students completing either the paper or electronic versions. Students will demonstrate the same knowledge and skills whether they complete the paper or digital exam. As in previous years, in 2019 all students entered for a digital exam will have a personalised paper available as a backup.

Why – the rationale

Why does NZQA see online assessment as the future?

Digital learning teaching and assessment helps students prepare for how they will work, live and continue to learn in the 21st century. Students use technology for much of their learning and it doesn’t make sense for students to complete their exams using pen and paper if that's not how they are used to learning. Students tell us this is how they want to sit their exams. NCEA Online is working to align assessment with the way students use (and will continue to use) electronic devices every day. 

Will digital assessment improve educational outcomes?

Digital assessment will provide 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.

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

Digital assessment has the potential to improve the equity of NCEA outcomes for Māori and Pasifika 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.

Why is NZQA introducing digital exams when some schools are not yet ready to teach and assess in this way?

We recognise schools are at different stages in their approach to digital teaching and will continue to offer paper-based exams as schools transition towards digital education.

Can digital assessment assist students who apply for special assessment conditions?

Digital exams provide some level of Special Assessment Condition (SAC) accessibility. Over time, we will add to the current accessibility and usability options of spellcheck, font changes and resizable screens.

For more information on Special Assessment Conditions see here.

When - the timeframes

Which subjects are available as digital NCEA exams in 2019?

NZQA aims to deliver 14 text-based digital exam subjects in 2019, comprising 35 exam sessions across levels 1-3:

Agricultural and Horticultural Science (L1-3)

Art History (L1-3)

Business Studies  (L1-3)

Classical Studies (L1-3)

Education for Sustainability (L2)

English (L1-3)

Health (L1-3)

History (L1-3)

Home Economics  (L1-3)

Latin (L1 and 2)

Media Studies (L1-3)

Social Studies (L1-3)

Te reo Māori (L1)

Te reo Rangatira (L1)


What subjects will be available as digital NCEA exams after 2019?

NZQA will further expand the range of subjects in 2020 and beyond. Not all subjects will be available digitally in 2020. From 2021, NZQA will look to deliver more digital exams, more developed specifically for a digital platform and more innovation being incorporated into the digital exams.  Digital exams are being offered progressively, at a pace that reflects the readiness of the education sector and the availability of technology to support a good student experience. For example, we will look carefully at the different requirements of those subjects where special characters are required, such as mathematics, science and music. We are currently investigating the student experience and technical requirements for delivering foreign language exams digitally.

We will continue working with schools, students, educators and other experts in the wider sector to ensure the technology delivers a good user experience for each subject before it is offered as a digital exam that counts towards NCEA grades.  Input from the sector is helping us to ‘get it right’.  While schools transition towards digital education and exams, we will continue offering the paper-based exams.   

Is there a time when exams will be digital only?

There is no specific timeframe for removing NCEA paper-based assessment. Schools are at different stages in their approach to digital teaching and learning and digital assessment needs to be in sync with that. We will continue to offer paper-based exams while schools transition towards digital education and exams.

How - including training and getting ready

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.

Students can get ready for digital exams through practice activities and by accessing past digital exams.  They can also check their digital device will work on the exam platform.

We’ve also dedicated a section of our website to help schools get ready for digital exams.

How will NZQA ensure there are no technical problems?

The focus for NCEA Online is on a staged approach. We design, test and evaluate each new enhancement, and 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 have been and may continue to be technical issues – it is a normal part of introducing any new major technical change. For this reason, the system continues to be tested and evaluated thoroughly and  paper back-ups will remain available, as well as having other fall-back plans in place to ensure no student will miss out.

What approach should schools adopt in the use of devices?

School boards of trustees decide what devices their schools use, when and how they use them, and who owns them. Some schools purchase class sets of devices; others run bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programmes; and others work with local trusts to establish affordable lease-to-buy arrangements.  Some schools specify the kind of device they want their students to use to best support their course delivery. Specifying a device can make it easier for teachers to manage and integrate devices for all students’ learning.

The Ministry of Education provides guidance on planning, 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.


For more information please email:

Page updated: 15 October 2019

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