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 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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