Digital practice exams in 2021

Information about what schools need to know and do for the 2021 digital practice exams will be provided in coming months.

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 1 October 2021. This window lets your school pick a time in Term 3 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.

Practice exam content

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

  • Te Reo Māori 
  • Te Reo Rangatira.

For 2021 NZQA will partner 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 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 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.

Preliminary timeline

This section will be updated as timings and activities are confirmed.

May We’ll prepare updated guides and support packages on getting ready for digital exams.
End June  We’ll provide you with guides and support material.
Mid July We’ll provide you with information to help your school manage, monitor and mark the digital practice exams.  
2 August to 
1 October  
 Our platform is open for digital practice exams.
Mid-late October  We’ll send a survey link to all schools that participated in digital practice exams seeking feedback on your experience.

Resources for digital exams

To get you started, check out the following general information and resources. This will help you and your students prepare for digital practice exams and digital end of year exams.

More detailed support material for the 2021 practice exams will be published here when available.

 For Principal’s Nominees and teachers

For students

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.


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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