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Why school exams are important

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School Exams

School exams for Year 11, 12 & 13 students, are known as mock or preliminary exams (prelims), and are traditionally help in Term 3 each academic year.

For most schools these exams have either started this week, or else will be held over a week or so at some stage this term. We recommend you find out when your teen’s school exams are to make sure they are putting aside enough time to plan and prepare for them.

School exams can seem like an unnecessary burden to many students, as they know they will sit similar exams in the external assessments during the national November examination period. This can mean they don’t see the value in preparing for school exams, or treating them seriously.

However, school exams have many real benefits that should not be overlooked.

Derived Grades

Derived grades are used to replace NCEA external examination grades.

Reasons for relying on derived grades for the NCEA external exams include sickness, accidents, natural disasters and unforeseen circumstances which means the student either can’t attend their NCEA external exams or mean students perform more poorly than if the event hadn’t happened. For example, during the Christchurch earthquakes, all students were able to use derived grades.

Derived grades are a grade reported by a school based on pre-existing evidence. This pre-existing evidence can be grades from end-of-topic tests, as well as school exam results. Most schools prefer to use the results of school exams, or the best grades achieved by a student across their topic tests and school exams.

Long Term NCEA Exam Preparation

School exams encourage students to study their Term 1 and 2 material for each subject and start the summarising process. Students should be summarising their subject material, revising their own notes, actively testing themselves to memorise the material, as well as practising past NCEA papers. By doing this, students should be able to work out what they don’t know or maybe haven’t been taught in class so they can target their study.

The results of school exams are also very important for indicating where gaps in a student’s learning are. By figuring this out in Term 3 it means there’s enough time to get assistance before Term 4 begins.

As a result, when students are in the process of study for the NCEA externals in November of Term 4 this should be much less stressful. Hopefully during Term 4 they will be revising material they have already studied previously, rather than learning the subject content from scratch a couple of weeks before the NCEA exams.

Understanding NCEA External  Exams

NCEA external exams have a very defined structure and content for each subject. School exams are an excellent opportunity for students to include practise of past NCEA exams in their studies.

As part of practising past papers, students learn what the structure of each exam paper is, the likely types of questions they could be asked, as well as how the marking scheme for each subject works. This includes identifying key words and exam answer structures that are required by the examiners.

Understanding all of these aspects of the NCEA exams will allow students to maximise their confidence, preparation and resulting grades for all their exams.

Learning to Deal with Exams

School exams are a great practice run for the November NCEA exams.

They give students a chance to learn to deal with exam stress, time pressure, as well as exam techniques. These are skills that need to be learnt and built on over time.

Students that make the most of the challenge of Term 3 school exams will be more prepared for the NCEA externals.

School Prizes

School exams are one of the main assessment tools that teachers use to determine who is eligible for school prizes each year. This is important for school prizes for all levels, but especially Level 3. Students aiming to do well, should make the most of the opportunity.

No matter what grade a student earns, students receive the full amount of credits for that particular standard, just at an Achieved, Merit or Excellence level.


School exams are a very important part of the learning process for students taking NCEA, Cambridge or IB and all students should make the most of the opportunity they present.

If you have any questions about anything you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to contact us by emailing

We’re more than happy to help.

Melanie and the AHeadStart Team

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