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The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand.  NCEA is recognised by employers, and used for selection by universities and polytechnics, both in New Zealand and overseas.

  • Each year, students study a number of courses or subjects.
  • In each subject, skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards.
  • Schools use a range of internal and external assessments to measure how well students meet these standards.
  • When a student achieves a standard, they gain a number of credits.  One credit is equivalent to 10 hours of study.  Students must achieve a certain number of credits to gain an NCEA certificate.
  • There are three levels of NCEA certificate, depending on the difficulty of the standards achieved. In general, students work through levels 1 to 3 in years 11 to 13 at school. 


Literacy and Numeracy | Te Reo Matatini me te Pāngarau

In order to gain an NCEA qualification, students must meet the literacy and numeracy requirements for NCEA Level 1. 

To fulfil the literacy requirement, students must gain a minimum of 10 credits through either:


 To fulfil the numeracy requirement, students require a minimum of 10 credits through either:


There are no additional requirements for NCEA Level 2 or Level 3. For further clarification, see the NZQA website for information on "NCEA literacy and numeracy requirements".


Literacy and Numeracy | Te Reo Matatini me te Pāngarau from 2024 onwards

As part of the NCEA Change Package, a package of new Unit Standards are being developed to assess foundational literacy and numeracy.

The package of Literacy and Numeracy standards are worth 20 credits in total and are externally assessed.

The standards will become mandatory in 2024. An interim measure will be put in place during 2024-2025 to enable learners to meet the new requirements by using either:

  • the new literacy, numeracy, te reo matatini, and pāngarau standards;


  • selected assessment standards (TBC term 2, 2023) from the following NCEA level 1 subjects: 
    • English
    • Mathematics and Statistics
    • Te Reo Rangatira
    • Te Reo Māori
    • Pāngarau.

Learners will be required to meet the standards to attain NCEA at any level from 2024 onwards. 

The 20 Literacy and Numeracy credits are stand-alone credits and do not contribute to the 60 credits required to be awarded NCEA at each level.


When students perform consistently above the 'Achieved' level, their result(s) can be 'endorsed' to reflect their high achievement.  This can occur at either the Certificate or individual course/subject level i.e., either their NCEA qualification can be 'endorsed' if certain criteria are met, or if they are strong in particular subjects, those subjects can be 'endorsed' individually. 

For an NCEA certificate to be endorsed with Excellence a student must gain 50 credits at Excellence at the level of the certificate (i.e., Level 1 or 2 ) or above. So, if a student has 50 Level 1 credits at Excellence they may have their Level 1 certificate "endorsed with Excellence". Likewise, if a student gains 50 credits at Merit (or Merit and Excellence) at Level 1 their NCEA  Level 1 certificate may be "endorsed with Merit". Endorsement awards show on their Record of Achievement.

Course endorsement provides recognition for a student who has performed exceptionally well in an individual course/subject. Students will gain an endorsement for a course if, in a single school year they achieve:

  • 14 or more credits at Merit or Excellence, and
  • at least 3 of these credits are from externally assessed standards and 3 credits from internally assessed standards. Note, this does not apply to Physical Education, Religious Studies or Level 3 Visual Arts.

NOTE: The time requirement of 'in a single school year' applies only to the subject endorsement, and not to certificate endorsement. 

These Course Endorsement Scenarios are helpful in understanding how endorsement can be awarded.


NCEA Levels and Curriculum Levels

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) consists of 10 levels. NCEA  Certificate Level 1 means it is situated on Level 1 of the NZQF, the first tier of the framework.  Doctoral qualifications can be found on Level 10 of the NZQF.

The Curriculum Framework consists of 8 levels.  The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA) are the mandated, national curricula of Aotearoa.


Gaining NCEA Levels 1, 2 & 3

Level 1

80 credits are required at any level (level 1, 2 or 3) including literacy and numeracy.

Level 2

60 credits at level 2 or above + 20 credits from any level.  The level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements must also be met.

Level 3

60 credits at level 3 or above + 20 credits from level 2 or above.  The level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements must also be met.

Credits gained at one level can be used for (or count towards) more than one certificate. They may also be used towards other qualifications. For example, unit standards in the domain 'generic computing' might be used towards a Level 2 NCEA certificate, as well as towards a National Certificate in Computing (Level 2); or 20 credits gained at Level 1 can also count towards a Level 2 NCEA certificate.

See the NZQA website for information on "NCEA levels and certificates".

Gaining NCEA Levels 1, 2 & 3 from 2024 onwards

The NCEA Change Programme is a work programme led by the Ministry of Education to deliver a package of seven big changes aimed at strengthening NCEA.  From 2024 onwards, as a result of the change programme, the new requirements to gain NCEA will come into effect. 

Level 1 - 2024

60 credits are required at level 1.

Level 2 - 2026

60 credits are required at level 2 or above.

Level 3 - 2027

60 credits are required at level 3 or above.

See the NZQA website for more information on the upcoming changes to NCEA.


University Entrance

University Entrance (UE) is the minimum requirement for getting into a New Zealand university.  To gain University Entrance students will need:

  • NCEA Level 3
  • Three subjects at Level 3 made up of:
    • 14 credits each, in three approved subjects
  • Literacy - 10 credits at Level 2 or above, made up of:
    • 5 credits in reading
    • 5 credits in writing

Numeracy - 10 credits at Level 1 or above.

See the NZQA website for information on "university entrance".

University Entrance Requirements

University Entrance can be attained by fulfilling specific criteria in relation to NCEA Level 3. This involves:

  • gaining credits through specific subjects.
  • meeting specified literacy and numeracy requirements (which may be in addition to those required for gaining an NCEA).

For the specific requirements, visit the NZQA website. 

The Approved Subjects List for University Entrance is a list of registered assessment standards that will meet University Entrance requirements.

See the NZQA website for information on "approved subjects list for UE".

Universities may have additional entry requirements as well. A student should be sure that they meet the requirements of the specific university they want to attend, and the specific course they wish to enrol in. 


New Zealand Scholarship provides recognition and monetary reward to top students in their last year of schooling. Assessment is by either a written/spoken examination or by the submission of a portfolio or report of work produced throughout the year. Scholarship candidates are expected to demonstrate high-level critical thinking, abstraction and generalisation, and to integrate, synthesise and apply knowledge, skills, understanding and ideas to complex situations.

To be eligible to receive a scholarship award, the student must be enrolled in tertiary study in New Zealand for the years in which they receive monetary awards.

See the NZQA website for information on "New Zealand scholarships".

Internal and External Assessment

Some standards are internally assessed by teachers during the year. Other standards are assessed externally by NZQA either at the end of the year e.g. in an exam or by a portfolio of work or during the year e.g. Common assessment activity.

Resources for internally assessed standards include:

  • Moderation Newsletters
  • Clarifications
  • Exemplars of student work
  • TKI resources and Conditions of Assessment

Resources for externally assessed standards include:

  • Assessment Specifications
  • Examination papers and exemplars
  • Cut Scores
  • Assessment Reports

Assessment Grades

Assessments measure what a student knows or can do against the registered criteria of a standard in courses they study.  If they meet the criteria, they achieve the standard, and gain credits towards a qualification.  The grades that a student can earn depend on the type of standard being assessed.

For most unit standards there are usually just two grades:

  • Achieved (A) for meeting the criteria of the standard.
  • Not achieved (N) if a student does not meet the criteria of the standard.

Some unit standards, e.g. Whakairo, Māori Performing Arts etc., have introduced grade distinctions similar to achievement standards, i.e. Achieved, Merit and Excellence.

For achievement standards, there are four grades:

  • Achieved (A) for a satisfactory performance
  • Merit (M) for very good performance
  • Excellence (E) for outstanding performance
  • Not achieved (N) if students do not meet the criteria of the standard.

See the NZQA website for information on "Assessment Grades".


Moderation is about checking that assessment materials and marking is at the national standard, and ensures that internal assessment in schools is credible and robust.  Secondary moderation happens every year.


There are two moderation processes:

Internal Moderation   External Moderation
Done by schools or between schools   Done by NZQA – schools advised which standards have been selected for moderation
Assessment materials critiqued and modified before use   Use the Moderation Cover Sheet
Student work is checked for authenticity etc.   Include a copy of the task and any supporting resources for each standards
Teachers’ grade judgments are verified by a subject specialist   Include the assessment schedule
Assessment materials retained with samples of student work for external moderation  

Include 8 pieces of student work for standards which have Achieved, Merit and Excellence grade distinctions.

Include 4 samples of student work for standards for which the only passing grade is Achieved, eg. Most unit Standards.