How NCEA works

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand.

To recognise the disruption caused by COVID-19 there are some changes to NCEA for 2020. Information about these changes is available here.

NCEA is recognised by employers, and used for selection by universities and polytechnics, both in New Zealand and overseas.

How it works

Watch a video

explaining how
NCEA works
  • Each year, students study a number of courses or subjects.
  • In each subject, skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards. For example, a Mathematics standard could be: Apply numeric reasoning in solving problems.
  • Schools use a range of internal and external assessments to measure how well students meet these standards.
  • When a student achieves a standard, they gain a number of credits. Students must achieve a certain number of credits to gain an NCEA certificate.
  • There are three levels of NCEA certificate, depending on the difficulty of the standards achieved. In general, students work through levels 1 to 3 in years 11 to 13 at school.
  • Students are recognised for high achievement at each level by gaining NCEA with Merit or NCEA with Excellence. High achievement in a course is also recognised.  For more information, read about Endorsements.

NCEA Information At Your Fingertips 

NZQA has a mobile App called NCEA Guide written for parents, whānau and employers.

The App provides quick and easy access to key information about NCEA. Content can be viewed in English and Te Reo Māori.

NCEA Guide for mobile devices

The App makes practical information about NCEA more easily accessible and enables parents and whānau to access simple content about how NCEA works and how they can support family members studying for NCEA.

The NCEA Guide App is free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Get it now:

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Or download one of our NCEA brochures.

Quality assurance

NZQA has a formal quality assurance process to ensure that the assessment of each standard is fair across all students, regardless of the school they attend. This includes internal moderation, external moderation and assessment system checks. To find the Managing National Assessment (MNA) report for a specific school, find the school through the Search education organisations tool.

NCEA is a national qualification on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. Standards that secondary school students achieve as part of NCEA can be used as building blocks for other qualifications.


Scholarship is a monetary award to recognise top secondary school students. Scholarship exams are externally assessed and are an additional set of exams. They do not attract credits, nor contribute towards a qualification, but the fact that a student has gained a Scholarship appears on their Record of Achievement.

For more information see Scholarship.

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