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Nzqa History Scholarship Essays

Top scholars look back at NCEA


Last updated 05:00, July 11 2015

Former NCEA top scholars, from left, Joel Lawson, Asher Emanuel, Emily Adlam, and Thomas Leggat.

NCEA's most successful students look back on the system with a paternal mixture of fondness and disappointment.

This group of 'premier scholars' - those who gained multiple scholarships at an "outstanding" level, and were at the top of their year group nationally - are scattered across the world now, but their memories of NCEA are clear.

That is, if they actually took it.


Thomas Leggat graduated from Wellington College in 2012, taking seven scholarship NCEA exams and a Cambridge maths paper. For him, NCEA was a touch predictable.

"I had kind of learnt the system. I knew exactly the style of question that would come up. Cambridge was certainly far less predictable."

SCHOOL REPORT: What are the NCEA results at your school? See data for every school in New Zealand

That said, he understands the value in a clear formula - in learning skills rather than content.

"When you are designing a maths curriculum, having a system that splits up the skills probably makes that much easier. But for the essay subjects like English and history, it was always kind of funny to look at these huge checkbox marking criterias," Leggat says.

"It didn't sit well with me that those essay writing subjects were marked in such a granular way."

This 'formulaic' complaint is well documented, but other scholars disagree with it. Emily Adlam, a top scholar in 2008, argues NCEA actually encourages more creative thinking.

"Excellence level questions usually force you to do something a little different and unexpected, whereas the [rival] Cambridge system is almost entirely based on rote-learning," she says.

Adlam graduated from Diocesan School for Girls in 2008 and is now studying for a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge University. Ironically, she didn't take the 'Cambridge' set of exams at high school.

"My school didn't offer them, and I was happy where I was."

People enjoy the annual Oxford v Cambridge boat race. Photo: Reuters.


Many private schools and elite public schools now offer the Cambridge International General Certification of Secondary Education or the International Baccalaureate system as an alternative to NCEA for their top students.

Joel Lawson graduated from Auckland's Macleans College in 2009 with the Cambridge certificate instead of NCEA.

"Generally, for the more academically inclined they strongly encourage Cambridge," Lawson says.

He took five NCEA scholarship exams, and now works as an engineer at Fisher and Paykel. He says Cambridge was especially pushed on science students.

"I've had to learn both syllabi, and there's just absolutely no comparison. In year 13 NCEA you're learning what they learn in year 12 Cambridge, and you're not even learning all of that."

But not all successful students are happy with the idea of a two-tiered system.

* NCEA results: Full coverage
* NCEA giveth and it taketh away

Asher Emanuel, who graduated from Auckland's Saint Kentigern College in 2009, was disappointed when his school introduced the International Baccalaureate (IB) system.

"The rationale was that they were better recognised at international universities, which was the actual reason: the possibility of purchasing an elite education," Emanuel says.

"It's this antipodean cringe at the notion of the qualification not being accepted in Oxbridge."

Emanuel now works as a law clerk, and was previously the co-editor of Victoria University's Salient. He says a two-tiered system is inequitable and takes the nation's best teachers out of a collaborative national framework.

"If the teachers are spending time teaching IB and Cambridge they can't spend time improving our own standards and curriculum."


"I had kind of learnt the system." Photo: Fairfax.

Adlam says NCEA didn't quite push students such as herself to their limits - but she doesn't think that is necessarily a problem.

"I think it's unreasonable to demand of any examination system that it provides adequate challenges for everyone - some people will always have to go outside the system for extension."

Emanuel says he found the system plenty challenging at times.

"I certainly didn't have a perfect NCEA record. I was not, and was never going to be, a perfect student, and nor was anyone. There was always room for challenge in the NCEA framework."

Athene Laws graduated from St Cuthbert's College in 2010 and is soon to begin postgraduate study at Cambridge University. She thinks NCEA could push some students further.

"It doesn't necessarily cater to higher achieving students," she says.

"My younger step brother is about to hit the excellence endorsement and stop there."

Adlam agrees that the four grade system - Not Achieved, Achieved, Merit, and Excellence - is a bit blunt.

"Many of my friends who got a lot of high merits were very dissatisfied with the system, because they felt they were being lumped in with a large body of other people who were just scraping through into merit."


None of the scholars contacted were particularly worried about the growing proportion of students getting excellence and merit endorsements, but they acknowledged others might me. Whilst they had universally achieved excellence endorsements, their scholarships - which are much rarer - are generally the only high school level qualification making it onto their CVs.

"There's definitely a value in scarcity," says Emanuel.

"But I don't think employers are that sensitive to that fine of a distinction. These were always broad brushes."

 - © Fairfax NZ News

New Zealand Scholarship Art History

Art History assessment specification

Scholarship Performance Standard (93301)Art History
Mode of AssessmentWritten Examination
For Year2018

Format for the assessment

There will be three sections to the exam paper.

Candidates will be required to answer three questions, one from each section.

There will be three questions in Section A, three questions in Section B, and one question in Section C.

Questions in Section A focus principally on aspects or elements of art.

Questions in Section B require a response to the broader issues of art history.

The question in Section C will require critical analysis of the given text and discussion of its relevance to art.

Resources or information supplied

There will be a question booklet and a separate answer booklet.


Each answer is marked out of 8 marks, making a total of 24 marks.

Candidates are advised not to repeat the same information in their answers.

2018 Examination timetable

Art History resources

The links listed below are for resources to help teachers and students understand what is required for success in New Zealand Scholarship.

Performance standards

Exam materials (question books, resource books, reports, schedules, etc)