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National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)

NCEA has three levels, Level 1 (Year 11), Level 2 (Year 12), and Level 3 (Year 13), as well as NZ Scholarship for the most able Level 3 students.

At least 50% of the year’s work in most subjects is externally assessed, in general, by means of a three hour examination, and the remaining 50% (depending on the subject) is internally assessed through in-class projects.

Scholarship is assessed purely by means of a three hour examination (or a folio of work in the case of Graphics and Visual Art).

How Does NCEA Work?

The curriculum content of each subject at each level is divided up into about five to eight "topics." Each of these topics is either internally or externally assessed. For each topic, there are Achievement Standards (AS), which specify exactly what the students have to do in order to "pass," earning credits towards their NCEA.

For each standard, there are three levels of achievement:

  • Achieved 
  • Achieved with Merit 
  • Achieved with Excellence 

A few of the subjects at Scots College are assessed by Unit Standards (US), which are similar to achievement standards, except that there is no division into achieved, merit, or excellence, and these are always internally assessed. Credits achieved via units standards have the same status as those from achievement standards as far as NCEA is concerned.

To achieve NCEA, students must accumulate a certain number of credits (see below). Each student’s official annual results (issued in May of the following year) will show:

  • Credits gained from the standards (both external and internal)
  • Grades (achieved, merit, or excellence) for each standard
  • Examination results for the externally assessed standards
  • The level of NCEA completed

After students have left school, they are further able to complete or upgrade their NCEA level. NCEA credits can be gained in most courses at polytechnics and colleges of education, and in accredited private and government training establishments and on-job training programmes.

NCEA results are recognised by tertiary institutions (both NZ and overseas) and employers. For some purposes, internal results may be more relevant; for others, examination results may be more relevant. However, for most purposes, a combination of all results will give a clear picture of a student’s achievements.

Year 11 (NCEA Level 1)

Scots College moved away from delivering NCEA Level 1 some years ago. With the impending changes to NCEA, Scots College will not assess nor result any NCEA Level 1 standards from 2024. Instead, we have created a holistic programme called the Scots Tohu that, alongside traditional subjects, offers project-based learning to provide future-focussed skills and better wellbeing for both students and teachers. Click on the button below to learn more about this programme.

Year 12/13 (NCEA Levels 2 & 3)

To achieve Levels 2 or 3, 80 credits are needed – 60 credits at that level and a further 20 credits of Literacy and Numeracy.  


NCEA Levels 1, 2, and 3 qualifications are endorsed "with Excellence" or "with Merit" if at least 50 of the 80 credits are gained with Excellence/Merit, respectively.

Individual subjects can also be endorsed if a student gains 14 or more credits at Excellence/Merit within that subject.

NZ Scholarship (Year 13)

In addition, the most able students are encouraged to enter Scholarship in up to three subjects; each subject (except Visual Arts and Graphics) has just one examination. The Scholarship exams occur concurrently with the Level 3 exams in November, and this will mean several exams in a short space of time. A decision about whether or not to enter Scholarship needs to be made early in Term 3.

University Entrance (NCEA level 3, English level 2, Maths level 1)

University Entrance preliminarily qualifies a student to a place at University in New Zealand.

To gain University Entrance, 14 credits are needed at Level 3 in three different subjects. Also needed are 10 English credits at Level 2 (5 reading, 5 writing) as well as 10 Maths credits at Level 1.

Please note: this minimum UE Standard no longer guarantees a place at University. A points system now operates and the de facto university entrance requirement is a minimum of 70-80 achieved credits, but this varies from university to university.