Unexpected event grades

Unexpected event grades

On approval, NZQA may invoke the unexpected event grade (previously called the emergency grade) process, in line with the Assessment (including Examination) Rules for Schools, 7.1.6: "NZQA reserves the right to apply an emergency grade where a group of candidates is significantly disadvantaged by extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.”

Unexpected event grades will generally be applied to groups of students affected in a similar way by a common single event and are awarded at the discretion of NZQA.

An exceptional event is one which stops students:

  • from attending an examination, or
  • impairs their performance in an examination, or
  • prevents them completing an examination.

Principles used in the awarding of unexpected event grades:

  1. Unexpected event grades can only be applied with the approval of the NZQA Chief Executive.
  2. The school can apply for unexpected event grades where a valid entry exists for a student on the date of the external examination.
  3. The unexpected event grade is based on standard-specific evidence collected by the school prior to the start of the external examination period unless otherwise directed by NZQA.
  4. Where the student attends the examination, the better of the unexpected event grade or examination grade will be awarded.
  5. An unexpected event grade of Not Achieved must be reported where the student has had an adequate opportunity for assessment. If the school reports a Not Achieved grade and the student attempts the examination, NZQA will report the examination grade (Not Achieved, Achieved, Merit or Excellence). If the student does not attempt the examination (Void or Absent) NZQA will report the grade as a ‘Void’ result.
  6. The unexpected event grade can be applied irrespective of examination attendance.
  7. Students can appeal an unexpected event grade using the school’s appeal process.

When the unexpected event grade process may be invoked

NZQA may invoke the unexpected event grade process following an exceptional event beyond the control of students which prevents their attendance, impairs their performance, or prevents them finishing an examination. This could include situations such as a natural event, technical failure or public health emergency. For example:

  • examinations are not held (e.g. the school is closed after an earthquake until buildings are declared safe), or an examination session was disrupted by an incident beyond the students' control
  • examinations are held but the school holds evidence that:
    • there has been significant disruption to prior teaching and learning, preparation and performance
    • some students are prevented from attending the examination session by the situation (e.g. by flooding, blocked roads or by order of the Medical Officer of Health)
    • students are unable to complete the examination due to disruption by a fire alarm, or a power cut stopped a digital session.

Schools should ensure the affected students are made aware that unexpected event grades have been submitted, and that they do not have to do anything additional.


Students are only eligible for consideration for an unexpected event grade in standards for which:

  • the school has evidence of the event and the effect on students; and
  • approval has been given by the NZQA Chief executive; and
  • a valid entry in the affected standards exists at the date of the examination; and
  • the school holds standard-specific evidence that has been collected prior to the start of the examination period.

Deriving grades from school-based evidence for external assessment

Information about how to derive and quality assure valid, standard-specific grades from school-based evidence can be found here.

Process for submitting an unexpected event grade

  • Contact your School Relationship Manager to request that an Unexpected Event Grade situation be declared.
  • Check that the unexpected event grades submitted in your data file are accurate, up to date and that a result is reported for every external entry.
  • Identify which students, and for which standards, the unexpected event grade will be applied.

All candidates with an entry in an externally assessed standard must have a result reported. The possible results are:

  • N – Not Achieved
  • A – Achieved
  • M – Merit
  • E – Excellence
  • Y – Absent
  • V – Void (Standard Not Assessed).

If a student received a result of Not Achieved from the standard-specific evidence held by the school, this grade must be reported to NZQA as part of the unexpected event grade process as it is a valid assessment outcome. However, NZQA will record any Not Achieved (N) grade as a Void (V) result, as in the actual examination, the student has the choice to leave the paper blank.

If the school has no or insufficient standard-specific evidence for the candidate, then a Standard Not Assessed (V) result or an Absent (Y) result should be provided where appropriate.

Not Achieved (N), Absent (Y) or Standard Not Assessed (V) grades are not included on a student’s Record of Achievement (ROA).

If a student attends an examination for which an unexpected event grade application is approved, the better of the unexpected event grade or examination result will be awarded.

The emergency grade can be applied, irrespective of examination attendance.

If the school reports a Void (V) grade, this will take precedence over a Not Achieved (N) grade.

Unexpected Event Grades should be reported for all students, with external examination entries through your student management system (SMS) prior to the start of the examination period (Rule 5.5 c).

Web entry schools can enter unexpected event grades directly – see web entry instructions.

For a small number of students (fewer than 10) you may:

  • Contact your School Relationship Manager to request that you submit a normal derived grade application through your NZQA Provider login. If approved list the reason as "unexpected event grade event of … (brief description of the event)". A Derived Grade Application Form does not have to be completed by the student.

Appealing an unexpected event grade

The student should appeal to the school if their final result was the unexpected event grade. The school's appeal procedures apply as it is responsible for the result. The school must email the details to their School Relationship Manager if the appeal is upheld and a change in the grade is required.

Appealing a result where it is not an unexpected event grade

Students should apply for a review or reconsideration in the normal way through their Learner login if the final result was not an unexpected event grade. This will occur when the submitted grade was either the same as, or lower than, the grade achieved by the student in the examination. In this case the unexpected event grade would not have been applied. Applications for a review or reconsideration must be made online by the cut-off date and the original answer booklet sent to NZQA or following the process for an examination completed digitally as appropriate.

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