We answer the top five questions parents have about NCEA

1200x800 common questions from parents

As a parent you are likely to be new to the world of NCEA, having gone through a different qualification system yourself. There’s no denying that there’s a lot to learn.

We'll help you navigate NCEA by answering the top five questions we receive from parents. Find out what’s changed since you did your exams, the options rangatahi have if they didn’t do as well as they’d hoped or don’t know what to do next and how NCEA actually works.

1. My kids didn’t do as well as they’d hoped – what now?

This can feel like a tough situation for your teen to be in, but there are actually several options they can explore. 

Options for your Year 11–13 teen (whether they’re leaving school or not)

Talk to the school about completing credits

NZQA will usually accept NCEA results up to late February. Some schools may allow students to do work to gain additional NCEA credits when they reopen. If your teen chooses this option, they complete the work and their school sends it to NZQA.

Review their results

If your teen only just missed out on the required credits to get tertiary entrance, it’s worth them checking their exam papers and internal marks from the year. If it’s possible there was a miscount, students can check with their school, or apply to NZQA for a review or reconsideration of results – check the NZQA website for the application deadline.

Options for your Year 11 or 12 teen who wants to change subjects

Your teen might not have done as well as they’d hoped and may want to change their subjects altogether. The best thing for them to do is talk through options with their school as they may be able to make up credits or swap subjects. Remember, subjects might have an impact on what your teen does later on, so it’s important they keep their future career in mind when making decisions.

Options for your Year 13 teen who didn’t get University Entrance (UE)

Was your teen set on going to university, but they missed out on the right number of credits to get accepted? All is not lost. Here are some avenues they can look into.

They can talk to the university about exceptions

Sometimes a university may offer an exception if a student doesn’t have enough NCEA credits. They will assess a student’s NCEA history and time at school. Suggest to your teen that they contact a student adviser at the university to discuss this option.

Consider a bridging or foundation course

Encourage your teen to talk to the university as there may be a bridging or foundation course they can do. These courses can build up skills and help them meet the minimum entry requirements for a degree course. 

2. My kids have their results, but no clue what to do next?

A lot of rangatahi experience information overload and find it hard to decide which direction to go in. Here are a few options to share with your teen.

Workplace training, apprenticeships, cadetships and internships

Workplace training

An option for your teen might be workplace training, also known as trade or industry training. This type of training appeals to many rangatahi as they can earn and learn while they work. 

New Zealand Apprenticeships

Your teen may excel in a New Zealand Apprenticeship, and they will end up a qualified tradesperson in their area of expertise. They will need to attend all courses that are part of the apprenticeship, including block courses, evening courses and day release classes, and complete off-the-job and on-the-job assessments to gain their Level 4 national certificate.

Cadetships and internships

Cadetships and internships are another avenue your teen could look into. Under this scheme your teen will work for a fixed term while their employer watches them closely to see if they are suitable for long-term work.

Cadets are usually studying, a graduate or intending to study towards a qualification at the organisation, and are usually paid for their work. Interns, on the other hand, may be at university, but are usually graduates, don't usually study towards a qualification at the organisation and are usually unpaid.

Universities, polytechnics, institutes of technology or wānanga

For some rangatahi studying at a university, polytechnic, institute of technology or wānanga could be a great option. There are hundreds of courses across key sectors and industries. 


University courses tend to concentrate on theoretical learning, but many now include work placements and internships.

Keep in mind that people over 20 years of age can enrol at university without having gained University Entrance.

Polytechnics and institutes of technology

Polytechnics and institutes of technology offer practical courses that range in length from one day to four years and aim to connect students with the related industry.


Wānanga (Māori tertiary institutions) have a practical focus within a supportive Māori kaupapa (foundation) and a strong tikanga (culture, protocol) Māori environment – and are available to all New Zealanders.

The NCEA credits your teen needs will depend on the provider they choose to study with. Universities require University Entrance, which is a higher requirement than other providers. If your teen isn’t planning to go to university, they should contact the polytechnic, institute of technology or wānanga they are interested in for entry requirements. 

Start working

Your teen might be keen to get straight into the workforce! Careers are a lifelong journey, so they could find a job now and study later. Many people alternate between paid work and study throughout their lives. Talk to your teen about checking out our jobs database of over 400 jobs across all industries.

Tools to help rangatahi explore options

Did you know we have tools to help your teen figure out what pathway might suit them?

Your teen could try CareerQuest – a tool that recommends jobs based on their actual interests.

If your teen has an idea of what job they want to do, they can check out our jobs database to find out what NCEA subjects they need and the range of entry points and training options.

Check out our Where to from school? ebook

All these options and more are covered in our Where to from school? ebook. It’s split into NCEA levels to make it easy to follow. 

3. My kids just want to leave school – is this a good idea?

Rangatahi who haven’t done as well as they hoped or are just keen to get a job straight away might be tempted to leave school early. It’s recommended that rangatahi stay on until they complete NCEA Level 2, as it will open more doors and give them the foundation skills needed for many jobs. 

Vocational Pathways

If your teen is really set on leaving school, Vocational Pathways provide new ways to achieve NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 and develop pathways that progress to further study, training and employment. They will get a Vocational Pathways Award when they’ve completed one of the six industry pathways and can show how their achievement relates to the learning or skills employers are looking for.

Options for school-leavers

There are so many options available to rangatahi that sometimes it can almost feel like too much information. Career planning can help young people make sense of all the information by helping them discover their preferences and values, and learn about training options and how to make a career decision. Talk to your teen about doing some career planning. It’s well worth the time.

4. If my kids want to go on to further study, what are the requirements? What jobs could their qualifications lead to?

Leaving school with NCEA Level 1 or less

If a student leaves school with NCEA Level 1, they can go on to study a certificate at levels 1–3. A certificate can take 12 weeks to one year of full-time study and will increase your teen’s chances of getting an apprenticeship or entering workplace training or traineeships. These qualifications can lead to many jobs, including beekeeper, nanny or painter.

Unless your teen is going directly into work-based training or an apprenticeship, as mentioned above, it is recommended they stay at school until they complete NCEA Level 2. This will open doors to more training opportunities and give them the foundation skills needed for many jobs.

Leaving school with NCEA Level 2

Leaving school with NCEA Level 2 means the student can study a certificate or diploma at levels 4–6. A certificate can take one year full time; a diploma can take one to two years. These qualifications will help your teen prepare for work in a trade, a technical role or other skilled occupation, leading to jobs such as electrician, computer technician or florist.

Leaving school with NCEA Level 3

Staying at school to NCEA Level 3 allows the student to study a certificate or diploma at levels 4–6 for trades, technical roles or other skilled occupations (see above for the time commitments and the types of jobs your teen could do).

NCEA Level 3 can also lead to studying a degree at levels 7–10. A Bachelor’s degree takes three to four years full time and will qualify your teen for jobs as diverse as programmer, teacher or environmental engineer.

5. What is NCEA? What’s different from when I was at school?

In the past, secondary school qualifications had a strong focus on the more academic subjects. Students who were interested in vocational subjects weren't able to get qualifications in those subjects or gain recognition for their skills and knowledge.

NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) is fairer and gives a full picture of what your teen can do. If your teen demonstrates the required skills and knowledge to the level of a particular standard, they will achieve NCEA credits.

One thing to remember is that these days, E is for Excellence – it isn’t the bad news it was for us parents when we were at school!

How it works

NCEA levels

There are three levels of NCEA:

  • Level 1 – usually done in Year 11 (what was Fifth Form)
  • Level 2 – usually done in Year 12 (what was Sixth Form)
  • Level 3 – usually done in Year 13 (what was Seventh Form).

Within these levels students choose to study a variety of NCEA subjects offered by their school. These subjects have a range of standards used to assess the student’s progress. The standard describes what the student needs to know or what they must be able to achieve in that subject.

Standards and credits

Each standard is worth credits and your teen must gain a minimum number of credits to achieve each NCEA level. Credits are earned using a mix of internal and external assessment.

NCEA achievement

There are two types of standards that contribute to NCEA, and different levels of achievement for each.

Achievement standards

These generally involve studying traditional curriculum subjects and students gain these with grades of:

  • achieved with excellence (an excellent pass)
  • achieved with merit (a very good pass)
  • achieved (pass)
  • not achieved (fail).
Unit standards

These generally involve studying vocational subjects – students are awarded unit standards with grades of:

  • achieved (pass)
  • not achieved (fail).

For more information about how NCEA works:

So with results just out, how do I know how well my teen has done?

We have a handy page on our website where you can check what credits are required to pass each NCEA level.

Find out more


  • New Zealand Qualifications Authority website, accessed December 2016 (www.nzqa.govt.nz).