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The difference between NCEA internal and external assessments

NCEA assessments are completely different to the old School Certificate system which was exam-based. Now, students sit both internal assessments and external assessments.

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At the beginning of each new standard, students are informed of the criteria they need to meet and the level of work they need to produce in order to achieve that standard. They will be required to sit a set number of internal and/or external assessments per standard course, which will award credits towards their level of study. Students are required to accumulate a set number of credits to pass each level of their NCEA.

Important facts you need to know

  1. Having both forms of assessment plays to the strength of the student. If a student struggles with exams, they can rely heavily on internal assessments to confidently pass.
  2. Some university degrees require a certain percentage of externals to be completed. It's best for students to consult with their dean and careers advisor when choosing subjects and assessment types to ensure they meet the criteria of their dream university.
  3. If a student is aiming for a course endorsement they must complete both internal and externals. However, there are some exceptions where courses are completely internally assessed like Physical Education.

Internal assessments

Internal assessments are completed throughout the year and are designed by a student's school. Students usually have a set amount of time (months or weeks) to complete an assessment rather than a few hours like an external assessment/exam. Internal assessments are very similar to university assessments, preparing students for life beyond secondary school. They may be asked to complete an art portfolio, research report or carry out a scientific investigation.

External assessments 

External assessments (or exams) are held during a set time frame at a set time across New Zealand. Typically there is one external per achievement standard. Externals require students to recall information and apply knowledge in context and link ideas.


For more useful information about NCEA download this eBook - Getting to grips with NCEA

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