The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main school leaving qualification in New Zealand. Around 150,000 students study each year towards an NCEA.
Introduced in 2002, NCEA is widely considered credible and robust, both in New Zealand and overseas. It is recognised by employers and used by students as a stepping stone into employment, apprenticeships, and a wide range of further study options - from apprenticeships and trades training to degree-level study.
NCEA has three levels:
At present, a student needs to achieve a total of 80 credits to attain an NCEA qualification at each level.
Credits are gained towards an NCEA qualification if a student achieves a standard.
Each standard describes what a student needs to know, or what they must be able to achieve, in order to meet the standard. Some standards are internally assessed by teachers during the year, while others are assessed externally by NZQA at the end of the year (for example, in an exam or by a portfolio of work).
There are two types of standards that contribute to NCEA:
Achievement Standards – these recognise learning from our National Curriculum subjects. Students can achieve these standards with grades of: Achieved with Excellence, Achieved with Merit, Achieved (pass), Not achieved (fail).
Unit Standards – these recognise learning in other areas (like vocational learning and te ao Māori). These standards usually only offer Achieved or Not Achieved grades (i.e. they are either pass or fail).
The Vocational Pathways provide new ways to achieve NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3, and develop pathways that progress to further study, training and employment.
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) administers NCEA and has a range of resources, including videos, about NCEA and how it works:
There’s also information on the Ministry of Education’s website:
This page was last updated on 6 August 2020.