Your worst enemy could be your best friend.” – Bob Marley


NZQA: sometimes our nemesis, often a nuisance, but deep down a nurturer.


When deadlines pile up and you’re running on three hours of sleep and double that number in energy drinks, it’s easy to curse the NZQA gods for making internals a thing.


But, those reeling you in to feed you credits aren’t leaving you high and dry entirely. NZQA wants you to succeed (it’s true, I know) and with assessments comes assistance in the form of subject resources tucked away on their website.


There are three main subject resources that, when used together, can be super advantageous when studying for an exam or completing an internal.


You may have seen these on the NZQA website before but we’re here to show you how to make the most of them and score the best grade you can get.


Without further ado, here’s how to get an excellence with the help of NZQA.




The first of the three is Assessment Reports.


For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to use help from our trusty friend: Level 2 English Visual Text examination.


Once you’ve located English through the ‘Subjects’ page, scroll down and click on the relevant Level alongside ‘Assessment Reports’. From there, you can find the standard you’re looking for.



Assessment Reports show you what markers of past exams noticed that students commonly did to achieve the grades they got.


Let’s take a look at the difference between what students who got an Achieved did versus what students who got an Excellence did.



You can see a few differences that markers noticed between the two. For example:


Students who got Achieved:

  • understood the selected question and addressed both parts of the question, using its key words in the response
  • wrote a straightforward three-point essay with appropriate evidence
  • used a limited number of language features accurately


Compared with:


Students who got Excellence:

  • fully understood the question […] with skillful integration of examples and language techniques
  • wrote essays which showed a comprehensive appreciation of the text as a whole, weaving their analysis of the chosen aspect through a discussion of how the text develops
  • used language features confidently and judiciously to support the argument


You can use Assessment Reports to know what to duplicate from past students, as well as how to bump your grade that one step higher.


On top of this, markers include what you should avoid in the Not Achieved section and have standard specific comments at the bottom of the page that tells you things like which ‘“language features” are interesting to write about or which texts to avoid.




The second subject resource to make use of is Exemplars.


It’s all well to be able to read what students have been doing that’s getting them top marks, but what do markers really mean when they say that a student used “sophisticated vocabulary” or “nuances of meaning”?


Sometimes it’s helpful to learn by seeing how it’s literally been done before. This is where exemplars can help you.


Exemplars are provided for both internals and externals. Exemplars for externals are found in the same place as Assessment Reports, but internal exemplars can be found in this section:



Reading a past exemplar will give you a sense of the overall feel of how something should be done. They can also be a good place to start if you’ve never written anything of the like before.


Making the most of exemplars should go hand in hand with reading the marker’s comments. This is where you can see the relationship with how the student’s work fits the criteria laid out in the Assessment Report.


Let’s take a look at the marker’s comments from the 2016 excellence exemplar of the same exam and compare it with the Assessment Report.



While we can see what the student did similarly to other students who also got excellence, these are just signposts for what it is in the exemplar that we are looking out for.


Read an exemplar through, read the marker’s comments, and then read it again keeping the comments in mind.

This is how you pick up on these points that earned the student their grade.


Exemplars can be, but are not always, indicative of the specifics of how something should be written. For example, it’s common that essays that are awarded excellence are longer than essays that get achieved, but there are excellence-awarded essays that are only a page or two long.


The same goes with things like perfect spelling or extensive vocabulary – yes, your markers want to know you can construct an adequate sentence, but don’t be thrown off by reading an essay that uses words like elucidated or perfunctory (and yes, these are real words I came across when finding exemplars and had little to no clue what they meant). 

Exemplars are meant to guide and inspire you, not show you what you have to live up to.


NZQA (and you will find probably everywhere else in your life) has a strict no plagiarism policy. Exemplars should never be directly taken and reproduced. Markers have a very particular set of skills, skills that they have acquired over a very long career. If they find you’ve plagiarised, they will look for you, they will find you, and they will… give you a not achieved.


All in all, exemplars are a great way to get an idea of how something should be written. They should be used as guidelines as opposed to prototypes that you should strive to replicate. Remember: nothing is perfect, so exemplars may not be either!




The third subject resource is Assessment Schedules.


Assessment Schedules are found in the same place as Assessment Reports and Exemplars. They condense these first two into something more direct.



Assessment Schedules are probably something you’re familiar with; they’re essentially what the markers are looking for when they mark your assessment.



The words in bold are what differentiates an achieved from a merit and a merit from an excellence.


We can see that to get an achieved a student needed to involve exploring and interpreting, to get a merit they needed to involve reasoned and clear interpretations, and for an excellence, insightful and/or original interpretations.


Let’s now compare the excellence parts from the three subject resources for the visual text exam and see how they all link.



The crux of what the markers are looking for in the Assessment Schedule is both found in the student’s exemplar and in the Assessment Report.


Further below, the Assessment Schedules break down what markers are looking for specifically within different aspects of the essay. This includes things like the levels of engagement, appreciation or how insightful your evidence is. Again, the bolded words show the change in how these are assessed when graded.


Assessment Schedules are not only helpful when setting out to write an assignment, but are extremely useful for practising exams or tests.


The best way to practise exams is to sit practice/past tests yourself. Assessment Schedules are a good way to mark what it is you’ve written as markers will have a similar, if not identical, marking guide and is a sensible way to critique your work.




NZQA is here to help.


Subject resources can be helpful if you utilise them properly.


When setting out to write a Classics internal or study for that Media Studies exam, open up the NZQA website and have the subject resources up on different tabs. It’s the best way to see how they all work together and get you that Excellence.


Thank u, NZQA.





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