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Digital exams go mainstream

After five years of trialling digital NCEA exams are starting to roll out nationwide

Thousands of students will be typing rather than writing this year as they sit NCEA using a computer.

Digital assessment is starting to roll out in earnest. After five years of trialling and piloting, 14 text-based subjects will be offered digitally in 2019 on a new exam platform, across NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3. This reflects around one third of the total NCEA examinations available and the range of subjects will expand in 2020.

Registrations flowing thick and fast

Around 220 schools are interested in offering students the opportunity to sit at least one subject digitally this year, with registrations flowing in thick and fast, NZQA deputy chief executive digital assessment transformation Andrea Gray said.

“Interest is high. During a recent visit by NZQA to Taranaki, more than 100 parents and students crowded into a school library to learn more and try out the exam functionality,” she said.

“Digital reflects the way students already interact with the world, how they’re doing much of their learning, and will help prepare them for their next steps after school in a rapidly changing world. Most schools deliver at least some of their curriculum and assessments digitally, with the vast majority saying their boards support it as a priority,” she said.

Support for schools with less digital experience

NZQA is introducing NCEA online in stages and choosing digital assessment is optional for schools. “Students say they love working online. That said, NZQA is encouraging schools to choose online exams only when they’re ready; and a big part of that iswhether students have been learning digitally.”

NZQA is working with schools and other education agencies where more support is needed to address challenges to participation. This includes a partnership with Network for Learning (N4L) to help schools with less digital exam experience or those indicating they may need additional support.

Looking ahead

Schools, students, exam centre managers and others are involved in the design process, so how digital exams are delivered matches the changing classroom experience. For example, testing has shown technologies can’t yet provide the right mathematics digital assessment experience.

“As part of that co-design we’re looking ahead at the next wave of innovation, and in future years more will be developed specifically for a digital platform. While good quality essay writing will remain important as a skill, digital assessment can increase the ways students can show what they know and can do, such as using a simulation.”

Equity a key motivator

Equity is a key motivator for these innovations. To support the lift of Māori and Pasifika achievement, students have suggested technology could bring to life images on paper, letting students hear questions read aloud, as well as reading the text.

“Innovative digital assessment could be part of the solution to digital divides by drawing in students who have not engaged with paper-based learning. It can help students use critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and resilience to achieve their learning goals in new ways more relevant to their individual needs and their culture,” she said.


NZQA has developed some information and practice activities to give students and teachers hands-on experience of what this year’s digital exams will look and feel like. They can be found on the NZQA website.

Student Exam Hub (nzqa.govt.nz) 

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 September 2019 10:13