How NCEA Works

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand. Standards that secondary school students achieve as part of NCEA can be used as building blocks for other qualifications.

NCEA is recognised by employers and is 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 course, 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. There are two types of standards, Achievement Standards, and Unit Standards

•      Unit Standards (US) are internally assessed at school by teachers or in industry settings. Students either attain:

  • Achieved (A) if they achieve the required standard, or
  • Not Achieved (NA) if they do not achieve the required standard.

•      Achievement Standards (AS) can be internally assessed at school by teachers or externally assessed at the end of year through exams or portfolios of work marked by NZQA. Commonly, students will be assessed using both internal and external assessment. For achievement standards, students can get:

  • Excellence (E) for outstanding performance,
  • Merit (M) for very good performance,
  • Achieved (A) for a satisfactory performance, or
  • Not Achieved (NA) grade if they do not meet the standard.

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. Credits required for a certificate are:

Level 1:    80 credits     Including 10 credits in Literacy, including 10 credits in Numeracy

Level 2:    80 credits     At least 60 credits from Level 2 + 20 credits from Level 1   + Level 1 Literacy and                                                  Numeracy  

Level 3:     80 credits    At least 60 credits from Level 3 + 20 credits from Level 2

•     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.

Recognising High Achievement


Certificates can be 'endorsed' to reflect high achievement in a significant number of standards. Students will gain a Certificate Endorsement if they gain:

•      50 credits at Excellence = NCEA with EXCELLENCE

•      50 credits at Merit (or Merit and Excellence) = NCEA with MERIT

•      50 credits at Achieved (or Merit and Excellence) = NCEA with ACHIEVED.

Credits earned can count towards an endorsement over more than one year and more than one level. However, they must be gained at the level of the certificate or above.


A course endorsement provides recognition for a student who has performed exceptionally well in an individual course. The key objective of a course endorsement is to motivate students to achieve their potential in one or more courses.

Students will gain an endorsement for a course if, in a single school year, they achieve:

•      14 or more credits at Excellence Course with EXCELLENCE

•      14 or more credits at Merit = Course with MERIT

•      14 or more credits at Achieved = Course with ACHIEVED

To be eligible for Course Endorsement, at least 3 of these credits must come from externally assessed standards and at least 3 credits from internally assessed standards (Physical Education and Level 3 Visual Arts are exempt from needing 3 credits to be externally assessed).

Awards with endorsements will be shown on a student’s Record of Achievement.


Students can meet the requirements for Literacy or Numeracy by achieving specified achievement standards or special unit standards in literacy and numeracy. These are indicated by an L for literacy or an N for numeracy beside the standard number in the Level 1 course descriptors. 10 credits of Literacy standards at Level 1 or higher and 10 credits of Numeracy standards at Level 1 or higher are required to gain a Level 1 Certificate in NCEA.