External examinations

A number of standards are assessed externally, i.e. not by the school's teachers. In most subjects, students sit an exam at the end of the school year, which covers these externally assessed standards. Exams are written and marked by teachers contracted to NZQA for that purpose. All candidates for a subject will sit the exam at the same time wherever they are. All their answers will be marked to the same standard.

Information sheets for candidates

Information is provided on external examinations for students and their families.  In mid-October information sheets are sent to schools to be handed out to students entered for external assessments. They are usually handed out with the examination Admission Slips. If you need another copy of the sheet, see the Candidate Information Sheet (PDF, 303KB). (PDF, 363KB)  (Candidate Information Sheet - Māori) (PDF, 363KB)

Exam booklets are personalised

Each student will have a pack of exam booklets with a unique exam code. This code allows answer booklets to be tracked and the marks accurately recorded against the student.

Previous exam booklets and documents

Under NCEA subject resources, students can find:

  • previous exam booklets for the standards they're sitting.
  • the assessment schedule for previous exams. This tells students what markers were looking for when they marked their answer booklets.
  • the assessment specifications for this year's exams. These tell students what the exams will be like and the equipment that can be used.

Exam location

Generally, students sit exams at their schools.

If there is a good reason why a student cannot sit all their exams at their school, they must talk to the their Principal's Nominee who will contact the School Relationship Manager by 14 August to discuss any change. After 14 August, there has to be a very good reason for any change to where a student sits their exams. If this is the case, the school needs to talk to the NZQA School Relationship Manager.

Te reo Māori in external assessments

Both English and te reo Māori are New Zealand's official languages. Unless specifically excluded by the assessment specifications, candidates can present their answers in te reo Maori in external assessments. NZQA will contract markers or assistants to markers to facilitate the assessment of candidates who have answered in te reo Māori. In most subjects, candidates can request the exam booklet in te reo Māori.

To find out which subjects are translated or can be answered in te reo Māori, see Te reo Māori Translation Subjects. For more information, see Assessment and Examination Rules and Procedures for Secondary Schools (5.9).

Assistance when sitting exams

Students may be entitled to receive help in exams if they have significant learning, medical or physical difficulties.

The school:

  • should have talked to the student about this
  • will apply to NZQA by the end of term 1 if the student needs this help
  • will provide the student with a report that outlines the help they need
  • will tell the student if NZQA approves their entitlement for Special Assessment Conditions.

If NZQA approves a student's entitlement for Special Assessment Conditions, they will get assistance during the year for assessments.

Derived grade

Candidates who through illness or misadventure have been prevented from sitting exams, or who consider that their performance in an external assessment has been seriously impaired because of exceptional circumstances beyond their control, may apply to NZQA to be awarded a derived grade. A derived grade is based solely on the student's pre-existing standard-specific evidence held by the school.

For the policy, process and application form for a derived grade see Derived grade process guidelines.

Examination Development process

NZQA's examination development process takes approximately 18 months. The examination is written according to the requirements of the standard being assessed. NZQA editors format the examination as a digital online examination and as a paper booklet. The paper is reviewed by at least three critiquers and a suitable assessment schedule is developed. If required, it is translated into te reo Māori and Braille.

For a diagram of this process, see NZQA Examination Development Process (PDF, 158KB).

Exam-marking process

For an overview of the marking process, see NZQA Examination Marking Process (PDF, 99KB).

From 2013, Grade Score Marking has been used to mark all NCEA examination papers.

The Profile of Expected Performance (PEP) for an externally marked standard is produced each year as a guide to Marking Panel Leaders. The PEP does not set a pre-determined target for results but allows monitoring to take place to ensure the standard is consistent and not easier in one year than another. The PEP is based on historical trends, analysis of other statistical information and the professional experience of contracted Examiners and Panel Leaders, as well as NZQA National Assessment Facilitators. The PEPs are shown on the NZQA website from early November each year as graphs. The graphs show the expected performance for each grade (eg. a bar from 10-16 for Merit shows the percentage of candidates gaining Merit is expected to be between 10% and 16%). For valid reasons, such as improved examination format, results may be outside the PEP.

Return of examination material

NZQA returns examination material to schools and students. For information on the return process and for what to do about missing booklets or portfolios, see Return of examination material.

Follow NCEA on Twitter

NZQA is using Twitter to send brief messages to exam candidates. Messages include information like deadlines for fee payment and, during the exams, traffic delays on major motorways. Anyone wanting to receive these messages can follow the Twitter account @NZQAofficial.

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