Understanding NCEA

How it works

Watch a video 

explaining how
NCEA works
  • Each year, students study a number of courses or subjects.

  • In each subject, skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards. For example, a Mathematics standard could be: Apply numeric reasoning in solving problems.

  • 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. 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.

  • Students are recognised for high achievement at each level by gaining NCEA with Merit or NCEA with Excellence. High achievement in a course is also recognised. For more information, read about Endorsements.

Recognising high achievement with 'endorsements'

When students perform consistently above the 'Achieved' level, their result(s) can be 'endorsed' to reflect that high achievement. This can occur at either the Certificate or individual course level.

Certificate endorsement

For an NCEA certificate to be endorsed with Excellence a student must gain 50 credits at Excellence at the level of the certificate 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 the Record of Achievement.

Certificate endorsement is calculated in January each year on the release of external results. Only the highest level certificate awarded can be endorsed unless students:

  • achieve more than one level NCEA certificate in a single year e.g. a Year 11 student doing multi-level study may achieve both a Level 1 and a Level 2 certificate in the one year and have them endorsed
  • in addition to meeting the requirements of a higher level certificate endorsement they have achieved sufficient credits from a lower level to be able to endorse the lower level certificate e.g. a student may be working at both Levels 2 and 3 and achieve enough Level 2 Excellence credits to upgrade their Level 2 Merit endorsement to Excellence. The student will need to contact NZQA to have the lower level certificate upgraded.

For detail, please refer to Section 8.1 Award of Certificates.

Course endorsement

Learn how to monitor your progress towards
Course endorsements

Course endorsement provides recognition for a student who has performed exceptionally well in an individual course. 

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 from externally assessed standards and 3 credits from internally assessed standards. Note, this does not apply to Physical Education, Religious Studies and level 3 Visual Arts.

A course endorsement is not a qualification.

A course endorsement can be awarded even if a qualification for that level is not achieved. For example, a student may achieve a Merit endorsement for their Level 2 Mathematics course regardless of whether they achieve NCEA Level 2.

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