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Guidelines for the length of candidate responses in examinations
A2018/32 - 3 Dec 2018


Principal's Nominee
All Teachers of Art History, Classical Studies, English, History, Media Studies, Music, Psychology, and Social Studies      

Guidelines for the length of candidate responses in examinations

From 2019, candidates entering examinations for subjects requiring extended answers should be advised that the quality of their writing is more important than the length of their essay/response.

Candidates should plan their answer and aim to write a concise essay/response. Those who write lengthy responses frequently undermine their answer through excessive repetition and/or insufficient precision.

The recommended word counts are not word limits. The intention is to encourage concise responses that address the question or the task, and to discourage long, repetitive, poorly focussed answers. Candidates will not be penalised for writing longer or shorter responses.

The assessment specifications will state the need for conciseness, as will the information in the examination. For example, in English Level 1, the 2019 assessment specifications state: “The quality of the candidate’s writing is more important than the length of their essay. Candidates should aim to write a concise essay of no more than 3 pages (paper examination) or about 550 words (digital examination)”.

External assessments held as ‘time-limited examinations’ are designed to allow candidates to complete their response in one hour. Research suggests that without allowing time for planning, a school student can write about the following number of words at each NCEA level: Level 1 600-700; Level 2 800; and Level 3 900-1000. This has been used as the basis for the expected lengths of responses in the 2019 examination round.


Please refer any enquiries relating to this circular to your School Relationship Manager.

School Relationship Manager
School Quality Assurance and Liaison
Telephone: 04 463 3000
Fax: 04 463 3115

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