We will all hear the question ‘NCEA or Cambridge?’ at some point in our schooling at Macleans. Unlike the annual speech and Q&A Careers does for all year elevens, this hopes to provide a more student-focused analysis of the difference between the two. Ultimately, this important choice is up to you and will benefit you depending on your own needs. 

Disclaimer: this article aims to provide you with information and not persuade you to take one over the other, both have great benefits and offer world-class education that prepares you for further study or employment. 

National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)

NCEA, or the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, is New Zealand’s main secondary school qualification for students in Year 11–13 and is accepted by the majority of employers in New Zealand and overseas. 

NCEA usually has three ‘levels’ that are each taken in a different year of schooling:

Level 1: typically undertaken at year 11

Level 2: typically undertaken at year 12

Level 3: typically undertaken at year 13

Scholarship: highly competitive extension to level three (around 3% of level three students obtain it)

Here at Macleans, we offer MCERT (or Macleans Certification) as a replacement for Level 1, which better prepares for senior pathways – either Level 2 and 3 or CIE. 

NCEA is assessed through a series of either internal (taken through school) or external assessments. Each internal assessment will cover one standar, whereas the external exam will typically assess two to three standards together.

Each standard describes what you need to know, or what you need to be able to do, in order to meet it. When you gain a standard, you are awarded credits. Credits are the two types of standards are assessment standard and unit standard. Universities tend to look at Level 2 and Level 3 credits for university entrance. 

It is typically seen as a more spread-out series of exams, requiring consistent effort, with internals assessed throughout the year and external examinations held near the end of the year. These exams are graded so that students can gain one of four grades; Not Achieved, Achieved, Merit or Excellence.

Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

Cambridge International Examinations is the international qualification used worldwide for students typically aged 16 and older. It is accepted by both New Zealand and overseas universities through conversion (e.g. a rank score). There are more than 55 subjects offered by the curriculum; however, Macleans College offers a select curriculum. 

CIE consists of two main components, AS and A2 (also known as A level). The two (AS and A2) make up an A-level grade ranging from an A* to a U (ungraded). Universities tend to look at the best three A level scores, which may extend to four or five, depending on the country. 50% of your score at AS will be used at A level and can be influenced by many factors. For example, the level of difficulty of the exam as well as the performance of other students in the cohort or time timezone will also influence the scaling of your raw mark. 

Cambridge exams all occur at the end of the year (November/December papers at Macleans) and are all assessed and moderated externally. Each subject will typically have more than one examination. 

Student performance is usually monitored throughout the school year through midterms, mid-year exams and mocks. It is typically seen as a rigorous course that requires year-long learning in preparation for an important series of exams at the end of the year. This makes it very revision-heavy. 

While each exam board will have its own benefits, it is important to remember that the decision should be made by YOU. Consider your personal strengths and the subjects that you will wish to study in the future. Review the requirements of the universities you wish to study at or the employment opportunities and standards. Best of luck!

8th of May

Written by Amelia Hu, edited by Emma Li

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