NZQA digital practice exams 2021

We’ll use our usual email communications to schools to highlight activities and actions, with links to more detailed information available on this section of our website. 

What’s happening

We would like all schools/kura to have offered students the opportunity to do at least one NCEA Online exam, by the end of 2022.

To support this journey, all schools will have the chance to offer digital practice exams using our online platform from 2 August to 31 October 2021. This window lets your school pick a time in Term 3 through to early in Term 4 that best suits you. This could be beneficial for schools that have never done digital exams and for those increasing their participation in digital exams.

Digital practice exam subjects

We worked with subject associations so that you can provide digital practice exams for all levels in:

  • English
  • Agricultural and Horticultural Science
  • Classical Studies
  • Media Studies.

We also worked with subject matter experts to source content for digital practice exams for all levels in:

  • Te Reo Māori 
  • Te Reo Rangatira.

For 2021 NZQA has partnered with the associations to make the digital exams available to all schools wanting to enter their students, regardless of whether they are association members.

Entering students for digital practice exams

Submitting digital external entries to NZQA means that you’ll be automatically provisioned for both the practice exams subjects and end of year exams.

Please submit your digital entries to NZQA:

  • by 1 July for digital practice exams scheduled in August.
  • by 1 August for digital practice exams scheduled in September and October.

Your School Relationship Manager will be in touch to get further information that will help us ensure your school is properly provisioned for digital practice exams.

Managing digital practice exams

Although the digital practice exams are offered on our platform, your school will manage and mark these exams, as with any other internal practice exam.

Benefits of doing digital practice exams

Key benefits include:

  • If digital practice exams are held under exam conditions, you could use the students’ results as evidence for derived grades or unexpected event grades (previously emergency grades).
  • It’s an opportunity for:
    • students to get digital exam experience using the NCEA Online platform before the ‘real thing’
    • testing school systems
    • schools and students to gain confidence and familiarity with the platform used for external exams.


2 August to 
31 October  
We've extended the dates that our platform is open for digital practice exams, due to the impact of COVID-19 and feedback from schools. This gives schools more flexibility to run practice exams up until early in Term 4.
Date to be confirmed We’ll send survey links to all schools participating in digital practice exams seeking feedback on your experience.
31 October Our platform is closed for markers.

Resources for digital exams

Check out the following information and resources. These will help you and your students prepare for digital practice exams and digital end of year exams.

For Principal’s Nominees and teachers

For students

  • Look at activities and information to get familiar with digital exams.
  • Check your devices.
  • Practice using past digital exams. You can search for these using your NZQA student login and select the ‘Find past digital exams’ link. Responses will not be saved in the digital past exams. 
  • Run through the student checklist (PDF, 161KB) for digital practice exams.

Further support and information

We’re here to support your school to provide digital practice exams to students. If you have any questions, please: 

  • Contact your school relationship manager by phone or email.
  • Email us at
  • Call our Contact Centre on 0800 697 296.

Key considerations when offering digital practice exams 

What you need to do

  • Have a senior member of staff available to lead these exams.
  • Submit digital entries to NZQA by specified deadlines.
  • Timetable these exams between 2 August and 31 October 2021.
  • Have time for teachers to learn about digital exam administration, supervision and marking.
  • Have time to prepare students and resources to deliver these exams.
  • Have the space and IT infrastructure required for the students involved.
  • Have IT support available.

What you need to know

Planning for the exam

  • The exams and assessment schedules have been developed and quality assured by the subject association or a subject expert.
  • The exam content on the digital platform cannot be changed.
  • If digital practice exams are held under exam conditions, you could use the students’ results as evidence for derived grades or unexpected event grades.
  • Students access the exams using their NZQA student login. They will need to create one or check they can access their login before their practice exams start.
  • If required, teachers can view the practice exam online before it is delivered.

Administering the exams

  • We will provide guidance materials to support your staff who will be administering, supervising, and marking the exam. We recommend each staff member will need 2-4 hours of time to develop confidence in their tasks.
  • The school-based digital practice exam administrator is responsible for the security of the exams and opening and closing each exam in the exam platform. They can also change the passwords for the supervisors and markers.
  • Student activity in each exam is monitored by the school-based supervisor using an online dashboard.
  • As for all practice exams, you must use your own policies and processes to manage exceptions like student absences, unexpected events and investigating breaches.
  • If you need support with any issues that arise, you can call NZQA’s Contact Centre 0800 697 296.
  • We will collect data such as log-ins, time spent in the exam, and log-outs, for statistical purposes only. The information will be held securely.

Marking and returning work and grades to students

  • For staff who currently mark NCEA Online, please note the marking software is different from the one used for end of year exams.
  • Teachers must complete marking of practice exams by 31 October 2021 as this is when the platform closes.
  • Teachers can include formative feedback using the marking application in the online platform. Such feedback can be extracted for students by running a report.
  • After marking is completed, students can keep their answers for future reference by saving screenshots, or by dragging and dropping the text into another document.
  • Students will have access to their marked digital practice exam scripts until 19 November (48 hours before the end of year exams start on 22 November).

Background information - overview of digital practice exams in 2020

In 2020, schools told us that the impacts of COVID-19 would make it especially useful to have some of their practice exams on the same platform as the end of year NCEA exams. If conducted under exam conditions, the results could be used for derived grades or unexpected event grades. So, we brought our plans forward and in May 2020 began preparing to offer this first opportunity for a limited range of digital practice exams.

We worked with 3 subject associations so that schools could offer digital practice exams for English, Agriculture and Horticulture Science, and Classical Studies at all levels. Digital practice exams in Te Reo Māori were also offered at all levels.

Digital practice exams were available from 31 August to 25 September 2020, with schools identifying the week that they intended to participate so that our business teams could plan the support we were going to provide. 6,236 students from 96 schools participated, with 264 students doing more than one session. Given the short preparation time for this initiative, participation levels were greater than we expected.

Several schools gave us anecdotal feedback about their experience with the digital practice exams. This included comments about how well the exams went and that the supporting guides were useful, along with constructive feedback on areas for improvement.

We also asked for formal feedback from all participating schools and students through surveys of students, school exam administrators, supervisors and markers. More information is available in the summary (PDF, 344KB) (PDF, 344KB)full report (PDF, 1.4MB) (PDF, 1.4MB)and summary dashboard (PDF, 242KB) (PDF, 242KB) 


We would like to thank the following subject associations for their support in offering digital practice exams in 2021:

  • Horticulture and Agriculture Teachers Association (HATA)
  • New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers (NZACT)
  • New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English (NZATE)
  • National Association of Media Educators (NAME)
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