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11 secrets from an exam marker for better NCEA results

Getting the best academic results from a student is impossible without the right tools and attitude. Below, we give away 11 secrets for improving NCEA results from one of New Zealand's most experienced educators, Peter Hampton, who says study is only half of the equation for academic success. Creating the right environment, goal setting and appointing mentors are all as equally important as revision. 


  1. Understand the criteria and aim for more than the minimum 
    Students should fully understand what NCEA is and how it operates. Knowing how to get endorsements, the University Entrance criteria and how many credits are required to pass are all important pieces of information students must know so they have goals to work towards. Once they have an understanding of the minimum requirements to pass your teen should be aiming for their highest level of achievement - Excellence or Merit grades - where possible.
  2. Ask for help
    Establishing a good relationship with teachers is a major benefit. Students should have honest discussions about their capabilities and weaknesses. They should not be afraid to put their hand up in class to ask questions, that's what teachers are there for. Students should ask for help and give up some of their free time to attend the extra tutorials on offer. Teachers are often available outside of class hours too. 
  3. Appoint a mentor 
    A mentor - teacher, family member or friend - can help keep students on track. This should be someone who the student can sit down with every few weeks. Often, teenagers can feel very alone during their NCEA years. By appointing a mentor they will have someone looking out for them and someone to approach when their study becomes overwhelming. 
  4. Utilise online planners and study tools
    Today's technology savvy students can benefit from using many online planners and study tools available for free. For a full list of useful online study resources download this FREE eBook
  5. Motivation induced learning 
    Students are more likely to study well if they enjoy a particular subject. A lack of motivation can lead to issues such as distraction and disinterest. Seeking good advice is necessary to choose the right subjects and remain motivated. This is especially important at the Year 11 and 12 mark. Students should contact their careers advisor to gauge their strengths and choose subjects wisely. They should do this before they start NCEA and when selecting subjects for Levels 1, 2 and 3. There are online tools such as Bulls Eye that allow students to set up a profile that will generate a list of career options based on their interests, strengths and weaknesses.
  6. There is no substitution for hard work
    Procrastination is a big problem for students, particularly boys. Unfortunately, hard work is the only way to achieve true success. Boys, however, aren't always good at planning and this leads to issues when meeting deadlines. Fortunately, some schools have an online planner and send course outlines to students so they can prepare their workload. This assists in making a schedule and marking due dates. It is better to complete internal assessments early as they all tend to be due around the same time; this way students avoid being overloaded just before the due date. 
  7. Aim high in benchmark exams 
    Students are usually required to sit benchmark (practice) exams toward the end of Term 3. Some students don't take these examinations seriously as they believe they are not the 'real deal'. However, your teen should study just as hard for their benchmark exams as they will for their end-of-year exams. When a crisis occurs preventing a student from sitting their end-of-year exams then their benchmark grades will be used as their final result.
  8. Prepare for external assessments
    Examiners often recommend students go over class notes every day even when no formal homework has been set. It helps prepare for external examinations and identify areas students don't understand so they can then get assistance rather than leaving it till the last minute. In the lead up to exams students should increase their study to: 10-15 hours per week (Level 1), 15-20 hours per week (Level 2), 20+ hours per week (Level 3). 
  9. Develop a routine
    Setting up a routine of study and revision will set students up to achieve well. A student should study each day for a set amount of time to develop this habit. They should also have a dedicated study space (not their bedroom). A routine and study space helps students get organised, meet deadlines and work strategically within boundaries. This coupled with their style of learning will ensure academic success. 
  10. Learning styles
    Students take in and process information in different ways – they will usually fall into one of three learning styles: visual, auditory and tactile. Identifying the method of learning which works best for your teen is essential. Help your teen identify their learning style by asking them to take this short quiz. 
  11. Find a balance to avoid burnout 
    It is important students remain in a positive frame of mind and remain relaxed. In addition to study, ensure that your teen is sleeping well, eating well, getting fresh air, taking regular short breaks and socialising or taking part in extracurricular activities. If their extracurricular activities are too demanding, then maybe it's time to cut back on these commitments to ensure they do not burn out.

For more tools that will help your teen reach their academic potential download this FREE eBook - An exam marker's secrets to better NCEA results.

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