The National Certificate of Educational Achievement, or NCEA as it's commonly known as, is New Zealand's main secondary school qualification for students in Year 11–13 and is accepted by the majority of employers here and overseas.

About NCEA

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main school leaving qualification in New Zealand. Around 150,000 students study each year towards an NCEA.

Introduced in 2002, NCEA is widely considered credible and robust, both in New Zealand and overseas. It is recognised by employers and used by students as a stepping stone into employment, apprenticeships, and a wide range of further study options – from apprenticeships and trades training to degree-level study.

NCEA has three levels:

  • Level 1 – usually in Year 11
  • Level 2 – usually in Year 12
  • Level 3 – usually in Year 13

NCEA website(external link)


The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) administers NCEA. They are your first stop for information and have some great resources to help you understand NCEA. Check out the NCEA information on NZQA's website.

NZQA – NCEA(external link)

Careers NZ

Careers NZ helps people think about what career they would like and how to create a plan to get there. They can help you and your child understand NCEA, choose the right subjects for the career or next education step your child wants to take and they provide support with career planning. Check out NCEA information on the Careers NZ's website, or call them toll-free on 0800 222 733.

Careers NZ – What is NCEA?(external link)

The Youth Guarantee 

The Youth Guarantee website can also help you and your child think about their options after school, see how their skills and interests relate to industry and create a plan to get into their job of choice. They can then plan their secondary school studies and achieve NCEA Level 2 (or equivalent) with this in mind.

Youth Guarantee(external link)

Your school knows all about NCEA and about your child and their strengths, weaknesses and interests. You can talk to your school anytime during the school year about NCEA, your child's career plans, and how to help them to get there. Many schools also have NCEA information sessions that you can attend.  

You can also ask your child themselves. They are the ones studying NCEA, and developing an idea of what they want to do for a career.

Here's a brief run-through of NCEA to help you get started.

How does NCEA work?

Within Levels 1, 2 and 3, your child chooses to study a variety of NCEA subjects offered by their school. These subjects have a range of standards that are used to assess your child's progress. The standard describes what the student needs to know or what they must be able to achieve in that subject.

For example:

A history standard might be, “carry out an investigation into a historical event of significance to New Zealanders”.

A mathematics standard might be, “solve measurement problems involving right-angled triangles”

An accounting standard might be, “prepare a report that analyses and interprets a company’s financial report for external users”.

Each standard is worth credits and students must gain a minimum number of credits to achieve each NCEA level. Credits are earned using a mix of internal and external assessment. 

What NCEA 'grades' can my child achieve?

There are two types of standards that contribute to NCEA, and different levels of achievement for each.

Achievement standards

These generally involve studying traditional curriculum subjects and your child gain these with grades of:

  • achieved with excellence (an excellent pass)
  • achieved with merit (a very good pass)
  • achieved (pass)
  • not achieved (fail).

Unit Standards

These generally involve studying vocational subjects and your child is awarded unit standards with grades of

  • achieved (pass)
  • not achieved (fail).

How many credits does my child need to earn at each NCEA level?

At every level of NCEA your child needs to achieve a total of 80 credits to have gained that NCEA level qualification as follows:

NCEA Level 1

80 credits at Level 1 or higher, including

  • 10 credits in numeracy standards
  • 10 credits in literacy standards.

Assessment can be in English or te reo Māori.

Talk to your child's teachers if you're unsure about which standards give credits that meet the numeracy and literacy requirements for NCEA.

NCEA Level 2

Total of 80 credits made up of:

  • 60 credits at Level 2 or higher
  • 20 credits at any other level.

NCEA Level 3

Total of 80 credits made up of:

  • 60 credits at Level 3 or higher
  • 20 credits at Level 2 or higher.

What resources are available to help schools/kura and parents/whānau understand the NCEA changes?

We are developing resources to help schools/kura and parents/whānau to understand the changes that we are implementing to strengthen NCEA.

The following resources have been sent to schools and can be downloaded here:

  1. For whānau:

2. For teachers/kaiako:

Additional resources have been developed and you can access videos below.

Video: My experience piloting an NCEA subject

Five secondary school students share their experiences of piloting NCEA Level 1 English and Te Ao Haka, the new Māori Performing Arts subject.

Transcript: My experience piloting an NCEA subject

[Student 1]

First year NCEA and my experience has been pretty good. I’ve loved having one assessment each term. It’s easier to get my head around. It’s easier to understand.

[Student 2]

By comparison I find it, for me, less stressful because I only have to do one assessment during the term.

[Student 1]

I think it takes pressure off students when there’s more learning and we get more time to prepare and stuff like that, and then have an assessment.

[Student 3]

And if you have more time to learn you can have more understanding time of what you’re supposed to do.

[Student 2]

Starting NCEA subjects this year was at first a bit challenging.

[Student 3]

Expectations just go up like one hundred per cent compared to doing junior work.

[Student 4]

It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be. You know, I thought it was this big, scary, you know...Everyone dreads it. But it actually hasn’t been too bad so far.

[Student 5]

While they may be daunted by how hard it may be and it is not easy, but if you apply yourself and work hard, you will be able to achieve excellence. Yeah!

Aku wheako o te paerete i tētahi kaupapa NCEA


Te NCEA tau tuatahi, otirā he tino pai aku wheako.

He tino pai ki au kia kotahi noa te aromatawai i ia wāhanga o te tau. He māmā ake te whai whakaaro ki tērā. He māmā ake hoki te whai māramatanga.

I runga anō i te whakataurite, ki a au, he iti ake te ahotea nā te mea kotahi anake te aromatawai

hei mahi māku i te wāhanga o te tau.

Ki a au, ka mahea ngā taumahatanga i runga i ngā ākonga i te wā he nui ake ngā mea hei ako ā, ka whai wā mātou ki te whakariterite, me ngā āhuatanga pērā, kātahi ka mahi i te aromatawai.

Ā, mēnā he roa ake te wā ako ka nui ake hoki te wā whai māramatanga o ngā mahi e tika ana kia mahia.

I te tuatahi he āhua uaua te tīmata i ngā kaupapa ako NCEA i tēnei tau.

Ka piki ngā tūmanakohanga, pēnei i te kotahi rau ōrau ina tauritetia ki ngā mahi teina.

Kāore i pērā rawa te kino i ōku whakaaro i mua.

Otirā i pōhēhē ahau he taniwha weriweri tēnei, me kī... e mataku ana te katoa ki a ia.

Engari i tēnei wā kāore i pērā rawa te kino. Āe, ka whakaaro rātou he uaua, āe, he uaua rawa ka tika,

Engari ina ka aro, ka aro rawa, ka mahi i ngā mahi, ka whai koe i te kairangi. Āe.


Cook Islands Māori [PDF, 37 KB]

Fijian [PDF, 36 KB]

Gagana Tokelau [PDF, 36 KB]

Tuvalu [PDF, 35 KB]

Video: Advice to other NCEA students

We asked four students currently studying towards NCEA what advice they can give to other NCEA students.

Transcript: Advice to other NCEA students

[Student 1]

The advice I’d give to someone who’s just starting Level 1 is just to prioritise, prioritise, prioritise.

[Student 2]

Get your head down.

[Student 3]

Do the work. Do the mahi. Get it done.

[Student 1]

It’s not just about getting it done, it’s understanding what you’re doing, as well.

[Student 4]

Here is a proverb that we students use: Don’t sweep your work under the mat lest it be lost for the future.

[Student 1]

Don’t start like five days just before it’s due.

[Student 2]

And then it should be pretty easy. No stresses.

He tohutohu ki ētahi atu ākonga NCEA


Ko aku tohutohu ki tētahi atu kātahi anō ka tīmata i te Taumata 1 ko te whakaarotau, whakaarotau, whakaarotau.

Me ihuoneone.

Mahia te mahi. Mahia te mahi. Whakatutukihia.

Kaua noa ko te whakatutuki, engari me mārama ki āu mahi hoki.

Anei tētahi whakataukī ka kōrerohia i waenga i ngā tauira:

Kaua e tātai i ngā mahi ki raro i te whāriki, kei taka i te anamata.

Kei tīmata i te rima rā i mua o te rā tuku. Ki te kore e pērā, ko te tikanga ka tino māmā. Kāore he māharahara.


Cook Islands Māori [PDF, 34 KB]

Fijian [PDF, 35 KB]

Gagana Tokelau [PDF, 34 KB]

Tuvalu [PDF, 34 KB]

Video: Navigating my school or kura

Video: The experience of my tamariki piloting an NCEA subject

How do scholarships fit in?

A scholarship is an external exam or assessment for top-performing secondary students. Students usually enter in Year 13, which is their last year of school. Scholarship exams are based on Level 3 standards relating to areas of the New Zealand Curriculum or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (the curriculum for Maori-medium schools) studied in Year 13.

A scholarship does not count towards your child's NCEA credits or qualification, but the fact that your child has gained a scholarship appears on the student’s Record of Achievement.

What does NCEA cost?

There are no longer any fees to enter NCEA or New Zealand Scholarship.

Why is this all so different to when I was at school? 

In the past, secondary school qualifications had a strong focus on more academic subjects. Students who were interested in vocational subjects weren't able to get qualifications in those subjects and gain recognition for their skills and knowledge.

They also relied heavily on exams (external assessment). This meant that all a student’s learning throughout the school year couldn’t be taken into account in their qualification. Another limitation was that exam marks were scaled so that only a certain number of students could pass.

NCEA is fairer and gives a very full picture of what your child can do. Any student who demonstrates the required skills and knowledge to the level of a particular standard, achieves NCEA credits. Each student receives a School Results Summary that shows all the standards taken throughout their school years, and the results for each.

Assessment is continuous throughout the year which means that everything a student does counts towards their qualification. This means that they have to work hard all year.

Since NCEA was introduced, more students are leaving school with qualifications. 

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