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Graduating from New Zealand high schools

For international students, whilst studying in New Zealand at a high school, it is possible to graduate with an international university entrance diploma. The NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) Level 3 entitled primarily to study in New Zealand. But because the European high school equivalent, recognizes these diplomas as university entrance qualification.

The requirements are: given certain chosen subjects like English and Mathematics as well as achieving a certain score in those subjects. These so-called credits which students gather during the school term by special papers and presentations. At the end of the 13th year there are the national final exams, which are always taken in November.

Anyone interested in this graduation should definitely plan six terms, starting in the month of July. Many high schools offer international students special study programs that lead to the required NCEA Level 3.

Of course if you need more than 6 terms (1,5 year), but need 2 years, or even more (NCEA start in year 11 in New Zealand), that is entirely possible. This will obviously lead to higher cost (tuition fees, homestay, etc.).

New Zealand has signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention, a European treaty recognising each other’s entrance qualifications. So all 27 member states of the European Union will accept recognised (by the NZQA) high school qualifications.

How the NCEA system in new Zealand works

  1. Each year, students study a number of courses or subjects.
  2. In each subject, skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards. For example, a Mathematics standard could be: Apply numeric reasoning in solving problems.
  3. Schools use a range of internal and external assessments to measure how well students meet these standards.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Students are recognised for high achievement at each level by gaining NCEA with Merit or NCEA with Excellence. High achievement in a course is also recognised.

Subject Choice
You need to take care when choosing your subjects because many common subject combinations that New Zealand students take may not be acceptable to Europeann universities. In some European countries there are strict rules about subject choice for students studying to graduate from high school. Students sit the final exams in four or five subjects. We advise students studying in New Zealand take at least five subjects and advises that English or Te Reo Rangatira are suitable substitutes for the home language, which is compulsory in most European countries.

Minimum subject requirements:

  • English or Te Reo Rangatira
  • Mathematics
  • at least three other approved subjects (StudyNZ has a list of approved subjects, please enquire).

If you want to take subjects that most closely follow the European requirements you should consider taking:

  • English or Te Reo Rangatira
  • Mathematics
  • any social science subject (preferably History)
  • any natural science subject
  • any language, literature and arts subject (preferably a second language)

Types of standards

Students can achieve two types of standard - unit standards and achievement standards.
•    Unit standards are competency based
•    Achievement standards are New Zealand curriculum based

How standards are achieved
As students study new topics, their teachers will explain what will be assessed and how. Teachers ensure that students are prepared for assessment. If students pass the assessment, the standard is achieved.

Assessments measure what a student knows or can do against the registered criteria of a standard in courses they study. If they meet the criteria, they achieve the standard, and gain credits towards a qualification.

Some standards are internally assessed by teachers during the year. Other standards are assessed externally by NZQA at the end of the year e.g. in an exam or by a portfolio of work.

What happens if a student doesn't achieve a standard?
Schools may allow students to have further assessment opportunities for internally assessed standards later in the year. Students can have up to one further assessment per standard per year.

There is only one opportunity each year to achieve an externally assessed standard. If a student fails to achieve externally assessed standards, they may repeat the assessment the following year. Students who were sick at the time of the exams may apply for a derived grade for individual standards.

For more information, go to the NZQA web site.