A simple guide to NCEA results

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Enrolling in tertiary study in New Zealand will often mean having to meet an entry requirement, and for people under 20, or those coming from secondary school, this is typically a number of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) credits at a certain level.

We've broken down NCEA and entry requirements to make them simpler to decipher for people who might be unfamiliar, like parents or guardians. 

What is NCEA?

NCEA is the main qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand. There are three different levels of NCEA, 1, 2, and 3. Usually, students will start with Level 1 NCEA in year 11, and progress to Level 3 in year 13.

Over the school year, students will gain credits through completing internal (during the year) and external (end-of-year exams) assessments. The amount of credits achieved determines whether a student completes their NCEA level or not. 

What are credits?

Credits are gained by completing assessments given in a students' chosen subjects. Typically students take 6 NCEA subjects a year. It usually takes 18-25 credits to pass each subject.

How many assessments are there in each subject?

In each subject, there are between 5 and 8 assessments (sometimes referred to as a "standard"). Assessments are usually worth 3 or 4 credits. This gives students the chance to achieve around 120 credits across all subjects.

How are assessments graded?

Assessments can be achieved at three different levels:

  • achieved (A),
  • achieved with merit (M),
  • and achieved with excellence (E).

The better the student performs in the assessment, the higher the grade they'll receive, with E being the highest.

If a student passes the assessment they will receive all credits at the level that they were graded. For example, for a four-credit assessment achieved at merit level, the student will receive four merit credits. Students are not able to gain some of the credits for completing part of the work - it's all or nothing.

If a student fails, they'll be given a not achieved (N), which means they won't receive any of the credits for that assessment.

Can a student achieve an overall grade for a subject?

Yes. To achieve an overall grade of merit or excellence for a subject, 14 or more of the credits achieved must be merit or excellence.

For more information about NCEA credits, check out this guide on careersnz.

How to gain NCEA

  • NCEA Level 1 is gained by completing 80 credits at any level, including a minimum of 10 literacy credits and 10 numeracy credits.
  • NCEA Level 2 is achieved by gaining 80 credits, 60 of which need to be at level 2 or above, and 20 at any level. The Level 1 numeracy and literacy requirements must also be met.
  • NCEA Level 3 is achieved by gaining 80 credits, 60 of which need to be at level 3 or above, and 20 at any level. The Level 1 numeracy and literacy requirements must also be met.

Can a student achieve an NCEA level with an overall grade?

Yes. This is called an "endorsement". If 50 or more of the credits a student achieves are merit or excellence in one level, they will get a merit or excellence endorsement for that level.

Literacy and numeracy credits

These are needed to pass level 1. To find out which subjects and achievements count towards literacy and numeracy, head to the NCEA website.  

What are unit standards?

Unit standards are assessments that are usually completed in vocational subjects such as hairdressing or carpentry. Credits earned in unit standards can only be graded "Achieved (A)" or "Not Achieved (N).

What is university entrance?

University entrance (UE) indicates the minimum level of prior learning typically required by tertiary providers to allow a student entry into a degree-level programme. In 2022, it was updated to reflect the effect of COVID-19 on students.

Find out what the current requirements for university entrance are →  

How to check NCEA results

Secondary school students can log in to the NZQA website using their login, where they'll be able to see a breakdown of their results.

What is relevant study/experience?

Sometimes, an entry requirement will mention that relevant study or experience can be used in lieu of NCEA credits. These vary based on the programme, so it's a good idea to talk to an enrolment advisor.

Talk to enrolments

If you have any questions about entry requirements, or anything about the programme your interested in, feel free to get in touch with our enrolments team.

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