Understanding NCEA

Aug 2, 2019NCEA, Parent advice

So if you’re reading this, you’ve got a child studying NCEA but you can’t seem to wrap your head around what NCEA is and how it works.

As a tutoring company who specialises in NCEA subjects, we like to think we’ve got the NCEA system downpat and thought we’d share our knowledge with parents.

What is NCEA?

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for high school students in New Zealand. Other qualifications include IB and Cambridge.

Basically, NCEA is the qualification your child is aiming to gain before leaving high school. The qualification is split into three levels. Level 1- for year 11 or 5th form students, Level 2- for year 12 or 6th form students, and Level 3- for year 13 or 7th form students.

Your child may aim to endorse the level with a merit or excellence. This means upon completing the year of assignments (internals) and exams (externals) they would have received enough points at a merit or excellence level to receive an endorsement. Endorsements can be compared to receiving a degree with distinction at University.

Bottom line: NCEA is the qualification your child will receive after finishing high school and it’s split into three levels and is gained over year 11, 12, and 13. 

How does it work?

The subjects that your child studies each year will be made up of assessments and exams. The assessments are used to test how well your child meets a certain standard. A standard is one key tool your child needs to know for that subject. For example in maths, a standard could be apply numeric reasoning for solving problems.

When your child achieves a standard, they receive an amount of credits. For example, if your child completes an english essay worth 15 credits, they will get a grade in return. NA- Not Achieved means your child misses out on those 15 credits. A- Achieved means your child gains those 15 credits, M- Merit means your child gaines 15 credits at a Merit level (these 15 credits can contribute to a Merit endorsement at the end of the year), and E- Excellence means your child gains 15 credits at an Excellence level (these credits can contribute to an Excellence endorsement at the end of the year.

Bottom line: your child will have assignments and exams which are made up of standards. These standards are the core skills your child needs to pass that course.

How to pass NCEA?

In order for your child to pass NCEA they need to gain:

  • 80 credits in each level
  • A minimum of 10 literacy credits which include skills like writing and public speaking
  • A minimum of 10 numeracy credits which include statistical skills
  • In order to receive an endorsement, your child needs to receive 50 or more credits at Merit or Excellence.
  • In order to achieve an endorsement in a specific course, your child needs to receive 14 or more credits at Merit or Excellence for that subject.


How to get University Entrance?

If your child wants to go to University, they will need to get University Entrance.

To achieve generic University Entrance your child will need to get:

  • 60 credits at NCEA Level 3
  • At least 14 credits in each of three ‘university approved subjects’. For example at least 14 credits in Chemistry, Biology, and Statistics. The list of approved subjects can be found here.
  • 10 literacy credits at NCEA Level 2 or 3. These 10 literacy credits but comprise of 5 credits in reading standards and 5 in writing standards. See the list of standards that meet these requirements here.
  • 10 numeracy credits at NCEA Level 1 or above. See the list of standards that meet these requirements here.

Bottom line: there are “approved subjects” that your child will need to take in order to get University Entrance. 


So that is a basic run down on what NCEA is and how your child can pass. There are many resources out there to help with understanding NCEA a little better. The NZQA app is a great tool for this. Once you have a better understanding of NCEA you will be able to help your child reach their goals whether that’s getting University Entrance or endorsing with Excellence. For more assistance with these goals get in touch with us and claim a risk free session for your child.

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