A student’s perspective of NCEA

I am a teenager and NCEA level one student. This piece is not my woeful lamentation about the standard of my teachers, nor is it a rhetoric on puffer jackets. This is my interpretation of the NCEA qualification and how it could be improved.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement, or NCEA, is the current system of educational assessment in New Zealand, although some schools teach alternate assessment programs.


To gain a particular NCEA level, a certain amount of credits are needed. Credits can be gained by reaching a standard of achievement, merit or excellence. No credits are awarded if a student does not achieve a standard.

At level one, a student can receive endorsements for the year. If 50 merit credits are achieved, then the candidate will achieve the year with a merit endorsement, likewise with excellence.

There are two types of NCEA assessment: Unit standards, where a candidate can only achieve or not achieve, and achievement standards, where a candidate can not achieve, achieve, achieve with merit, or achieve with excellence. Most standards at school are achievement standards.

There has been much attention paid to the NCEA system in the media lately. In my experience of NCEA there are some major flaws which undermine the qualification.

Firstly, more attention needs to be paid to grade boundaries, where a student can achieve with a high-merit that at any other school would be a low-excellence.

Secondly, it is too easy to gain the necessary credits for a merit or excellence endorsement through so called “drop-out” subjects, such as flax basket weaving.

When a student receives their marks for a particular assessment, they will often find they have achieved with a high-merit or low excellence grade.

Although in both cases the work will be of a very similar standard, one student will receive merit while the other will receive an excellence grade. This means there is considerable wiggle room when it comes to giving a definite grade.

A solution to this would be to give each piece of work a percentage grade, or have a further sub-class of high-merit or low excellence credits.

Aside from compulsory subjects such as maths, English and possibly general science, students have free reign to determine what subjects they will study during NCEA.

Other than subjects that are the basis of apprenticeships, most assessments will be achievement standards. This means that subjects such as Maori arts and drama, or traditional basket weaving can give students more easily achievable merit or excellence credits than in say physics or chemistry.

I believe this gives the students who take these subjects a huge advantage over those who take more traditional subject choices. This is the reason I think we are seeing so many students achieving NCEA, especially the rise in merit and excellence endorsements given at all levels.

Overall, NCEA is a good international qualification. Taking NCEA gives students educational options and opportunities that other qualifications do not.

More attention needs to be paid to grade boundaries, where a student can achieve within a high or low boundary of a grade.

Secondly, it is far too easy to gain a merit or excellence endorsement through so called “drop-out” subjects. If these errors are corrected, NCEA will truly give the students of New Zealand the results they want and deserve.

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