We don’t think we’re being dramatic when we say internals are the single worst part of NCEA.

Okay, sorry, maybe we are – to be fair, there are a lot of terrible things about NCEA. Still, internals really suck. They’re those long, tedious, frustrating reports that your teachers just dump on you, often with no warning or explanation as to what the heck you’re actually meant to be doing. 

The weeks go by, and you still haven’t written anything in that Google doc you made a month ago, but you can’t do anything about it. Sometimes, when it comes to internals, you just don’t know where to start.

This scene is all too familiar for NCEA students around the country. That is, until now. Your old mate StudyTime is here to give you all the ways you can smash down that internal barrier, and stop procrastinating once and for all. Let’s get into it.

Background research

No matter what subject your internal is for, you can’t start it if you don’t know what’s really going on. So, before you even get to writing any sort of plan, you need to hit up Uncle Google and get some background information.

For example, if you’ve got a science internal on life processes, look up questions like, “what is a life process?”, and, “why are life processes important?”. If you’ve got more of a calculation-based internal, such as a velocity and acceleration internal for physics, Google things like, “how is velocity related to acceleration?”, or, “how to calculate acceleration from velocity”. Skim through all the results, and as you start to ask yourself more questions, look those up, too.

If reading isn’t your thing, just type keywords into YouTube, and watch the videos that seem relevant! The point of this step is to get a very general idea of what’s going on. We’re not answering any of your internal questions or concepts just yet, we just want to know what the big picture looks like. 

As useful as this is for getting context, this willy-nilly Googling is just the first step to research. To delve into some more deliberate web searches, we need to ask ourselves – what are we actually trying to find out?

The importance of finding out what you don’t know

When students say that they don’t know where to start with their internal, it’s often just because they don’t know what they don’t know. This is a totally normal thing that happens to every student at one point, so don’t feel bad about it! Here’s how you can get yourself back on track.

During your initial research stage, you probably noted down quite a few things that you wanted to answer, or that were still tripping you up. These could be how to draw specific graphs, why certain concepts are important, or what real-world comparisons could be drawn from your book or film study.

Write a bullet point list of all of these concepts you don’t understand, and highlight the ones that relate the most to your internal. Now, focus on directed research that aims to answer these questions. This is similar to the first step, but aim to centre your reading around topics that are directly related to your internal, rather than just the topic as a whole.

Without consciously identifying areas of weakness in your understanding, you’re going to struggle with your internal. This step will make beginning to plan and draft your internals so much easier.

How to draw up a plan

Once you have all of your research, it’s time to get to making the plan itself. 

When faced with an essay or report, we know it’s tempting to just jump straight in and get to writing. It feels like this is more productive – who has time to waste writing a plan?

We can assure you, writing a plan for your essays is totally necessary. Markers can tell when students have skipped this crucial step, because their essays are always full of waffle, hard to follow, and often leave out key information. We’re not about that unplanned essay life.

One of the most straightforward ways to plan for an internal is to break the whole report into paragraphs. Each paragraph can have its own “mini-plan”, so your full plan is actually just two to four “mini-plans” squished together.

Each “mini-plan”, or paragraph plan, should include the following:

  • The key point of your paragraph.

Summarise everything you want to say in this paragraph in one to two sentences. This is the main argument you’re going to make.

  • The ideas that support your key point.

For example, if your key point is to talk about how Macbeth teaches us about the dangers of ambition, your supporting ideas could be Macbeth’s character being a “tragic hero”, the specific scenes where he shows his ambition, and his relationship with Lady Macbeth. These are all specific examples from the play that back up our main argument we outlined in the first step.

If you’re writing a science internal, however, things might look a bit different. For this type of report, focus on including lots of the scientific processes you’ve learned about either in class or in your research.

  • What evidence you’re going to include.

If this is English, you want quotes or film shots. If it’s history or classics, get together your list of paintings, books, dates, and quotes together. It depends on the paragraph size and topic, but always aim to use at least two pieces of evidence per paragraph. More is more when it comes to evidence, so go wild!

How to write the plan itself

Just because we know what goes in a plan, doesn’t mean we know how to make one. The truth is, though, there isn’t one perfect way to draw up a plan. 

Here are some good suggestions on ways to format your plan:

  • If you’re into having things streamlined and organised, use a Google doc with some bullet points to write down your notes. This is a really great method to use if you often find yourself losing loose pieces of paper (you know who you are).
  • If you’re big into colours, design, and all that arty stuff, go to town with a colour-coded mind map or brainstorm. Put different ideas in different colours, and use boxes, speech bubbles, and arrows to show connected ideas and quotes.
  • Struggle with essay structure? Try a flowchart. This is a way to plan out all of your ideas while also planning how exactly you’re going to structure them as you write them. Use arrows to show the order of how you will write your ideas out. Pro tip: start from the biggest, broadest ideas on your topic as a whole, and work down to small, specific examples, getting more precise as you go.

Resources that make planning easier

While they can be hard to sniff out, there are a lot of wonderful websites out there that can make your internals a whole lot simpler. We’re going to run through some of the great ones, but just looking up the name of your internal with “NCEA” will usually bring up some useful stuff, too!

NZQA Exemplars and Advice

This might just be the one everybody’s most familiar with. NZQA (you know, the NCEA overlord) has very kindly provided all of us with some examples of what they think different grades look like for different internals.

To find your specific internal, it’s as easy as putting the name of the internal, whether you’re at level 1, 2, or 3, and “NZQA exemplar” into Google. A nice list of exemplars will pop straight up.

If you have absolutely no idea where to start on an internal, these are a fantastic way of getting a really vague idea of what your final report should look like. Not to mention, they include exemplars for not achieved grades right through to excellence, so you can see where former students have gone right or wrong in the past.

These reports are annotated by NZQA to point out what was good, what went wrong, and what the student could’ve done to improve. If that isn’t the best way to learn from other’s mistakes, we don’t know what is.

A cautionary tale for NZQA exemplars

Just as a side note here, those exemplars aren’t your one-way ticket to endless E8s. Different schools will assess internals differently, so just because the website has an internal written about a certain topic, and in a certain way, yours will likely look a lot different. 

You should only use this website to get a very general idea of the way the students are making arguments, and what feedback the examiners were giving.


Considered by many to be the holy grail for internals and externals alike, StudyIt is a fantastic resource for NCEA students. StudyIt acts like a hub that collates a lot of different resources from across the web, including relevant pages from No Brain Too Small, Bitesize, and Scholastic, to name a few.

Here’s an overview of what StudyIt provides for internals:

  • A list of assessment criteria, which is the NCEA way of saying, the stuff you need to do to get certain grades in your internal
  • General advice and tips. These often include specific things you need to include in your written report, or ways to practice for the questions that might crop up during your assessment.
  • Other resources, which are often links to other pages or websites that can help you understand the content. If you’re totally at a loss for where to start on an internal, this section can give you an idea of what you’ll be assessed on, and where to go to get more content-specific information.

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again – you’re going to have a real hard time getting started on your internal if you don’t understand the content. StudyIt, and all of the great websites it recommends for each internal, help you to understand what your internal is trying to examine, as well as understanding the actual content itself. What else could you want?

Also, ask your teachers!

We know that some teachers are less than useful when it comes to handing out resources, especially for internals. However, even if you’ve gotten stuck with a bad set of educators, they usually still have a lot of useful information up their sleeves.

For example, teachers often have internal exemplars lying around from previous years that they might let you read over.

These are a lot more useful than the NZQA exemplars, because they’re going to be structured in a very similar way to the internal you’re currently working on. Not to mention, you might also be able to get your teacher to talk through some of the key parts of the internal, AKA, the bits you really want to include in yours.

Not to mention, some teachers will have assessment schedules that they’ll be happy for you to use in structuring your report.

Assessment schedules are those weird tables where the internal is broken down into individual steps, each of which earns you a certain grade point (either achieved, merit, or excellence).  If you can get your hands on one of these, then you can create a plan that involves each of the steps listed in the criteria. How good!

But, not every teacher will have assessment schedules or exemplars. In that case, just ask for help!

You might ask them to help you draw up a plan of how you’re going to structure your report. Or, if you already have a plan drawn up, getting them to check over it is a great way to be sure that you’re on track before you start writing. Teachers are paid to help you learn, so there’s no shame in badgering them until you get useful feedback.

If you’ve exhausted your teacher’s wealth of information, don’t be afraid to bug the other students in your class as well! Setting up a group study session can be a fantastic way to crank out an internal plan with minimal stress. Just be sure to only invite your most productive pals, and you should be good to go.

Keeping organised

The biggest skill when it comes to internals (and being a student in general) is organisation. Unfortunately for most students, a lot of teachers don’t really highlight this, so the importance of keeping yourself in check can really fly under the radar. 

When it comes to internals especially, there are two key avenues for self-organisation that we want to explore. Let’s crack on with it.

Sticking to deadlines

We know we harp on about time management, but hey, it’s not our fault it’s such an important skill. For internal assessments, keeping to deadlines is super important, and we don’t just mean the date that the internal is due, either.

In the internal plan you wrote up using the brilliant tips we’ve already discussed, you’ll probably notice that your internal should be divided into sections. Maybe these sections are the stock-standard English essay paragraphs, or maybe they’re just different subtopics with related ideas that fit together.

No matter how you’ve split them up, use your intuition to create your own progress deadlines for each one of these sections. For example, if your internal is due on the last day of the month, you could split it up like this;

  • First paragraph due on the 10th
  • Second paragraph due on the 15th
  • Third paragraph due on the 20th
  • Introduction and conclusion due on the 25th
  • Final proofreading, edits, and submission due on the 30th

This type of planning seems simple in theory, but the effects it will have on your stress levels and the quality of your internal are massive. If you stick to the timeline you’ve set yourself, you’ll find yourself hitting that final due date with no cramming in sight. If you’re considering education beyond high school, setting timelines for yourself and sticking to them is an important skill to have.

Be sure to use checkboxes, where you can tick off each task as you complete it. If you prefer a more visual approach, you can even draw out a progress bar chart for each one of your tasks. As you get closer to completing each one, shade in your progress to see how you’re tracking!

Resource organisation

Your time isn’t the only thing you have to organise – you should be keeping your class materials in order, too.

Specifically, keep all of the resources relevant to your internal in a safe place. If your teacher gives you handouts, either staple them into a notebook or keep them in a folder where you won’t lose them. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you have useful information somewhere, it’s just lost beneath a months’ worth of muesli bar wrappers and school canteen receipts.

If you struggle with working with paper copies, get into the habit of asking your teacher for an electronic copy of the same document. If they don’t have one, simply take a photo of the document and save it to a clearly named file on your photos app.

When researching online, create a folder of bookmarks relevant to your internal, and save each page you use into that folder. Especially for the times when you need to use footnoting or in-text referencing, it can be useful to dedicate a Google doc just to research. Copy and paste in the key paragraphs you don’t want to lose, and put the URL link/book title/etc at the end of it. That way, when you go to create a reference list for your internal, you’ll know exactly where all of your wonderful information was found.

  • If you haven’t heard of reference lists before, this is just a list of all of the URLs or book names that you got all of your information from. Lots of internals in NCEA require you to include one of these at the end of your report to show where you got your information from.

To round things off

Planning an internal is no small feat. You might be struggling to get started because you’re not confident with the topic, or maybe, you just don’t understand what the internal is really asking of you.

In any case, using the steps we’ve outlined in this article will get you planning like a pro in no time. All that hard work won’t go unnoticed, either – well planned internals make for stress-free drafting, and lots of positive feedback on how well written your report is. Who doesn’t want that?