Thinking about scholarship exams, but not quite sure what’s required or if you have what it takes? 

Never fear, just check out our exclusive FAQ on NCEA Scholarship exams below. 

Why sit scholarship exams?


  • Fame – if you win a top scholar or premier scholar prize, you get to go to a fancy ceremony with the Governor General. If you get a scholarship subject, your school will usually acknowledge you in some way or put you on an honours board somewhere.
  • Fortune – you can win money for passing scholarship exams (see below).
  • Challenge – scholarship exams are hard and only a small % of students get them. This makes them a challenge that will really stretch you. However, they aren’t impossible (read on to find out why) and are achievable to get.
  • Engagement – scholarship exams involve a different type of thinking. Often you’ll have to apply your knowledge to interesting situations, solve problems and connect different topics together in a new ways. It gives you a whole new way to engage with your subjects.

What kind of money can I get?


  • For the first two scholarship passes you get, you get $500 for each one.
  • If you get three scholarship passes, you get $2000 per year for 3 years.
  • If you get the top scholar in a subject, you get $2000 per year for 3 years.
  • If you get three Scholarships with at least two at “Outstanding” level or more than three Scholarships with at least one at “Outstanding” level in the same year, you might be eligible $5000 per year for three years.
  • If you get three scholarship passes at “outstanding” level, and you are in the top 10 students in the country, you get $10000 per year for 3 years.
  • The main catch is you have to be going to uni in NZ to claim it.

What’s the odds of me getting one?

The odds seem small (only a small % get scholarship) until you think about the following:


  • Lots of students don’t even enter into scholarship. Even straight excellence students.
  • Out of those who do, lots of people don’t even sit the exam.
  • Out of those who do, lots of people try a question or two then leave early.
  • Out of those who do the whole exam, lots of those people have done little or no prep for the exam. 
  • We promise, if you give it your all – the chances are much much higher than you think.

But no-one (or hardly anyone) from my school has ever got a scholarship before. Do I even have a chance?

Yes, what school you attend has nothing to do with your chances to get a scholarship.

The main reasons why certain schools do better at scholarship are:


  • Bigger school = more people.
  • Their school pushes them hard to do scholarship.
  • Their teacher(s) have decided to hold regular scholarship classes.
  • You can mitigate all of these factors just by willing to give it a proper crack – attempting scholarship exams, doing regular practice, and doing tonnes of past exams.

What’s the best way to prepare for them?


  • Find how different topics and concepts you’ve learned link together. Most scholarship subjects involve linking ideas (or texts) together across different topics.
  • Practice. Really understand the questions. Lots of them involve critical thinking or looking at unfamiliar scenarios. The best way to get good at this is purely through practice.
  • Understand the marking schedule. Break down that assessment criteria and understand what they look for. It’s way more open ended than NCEA but it’s important to still understand what the marker wants.
  • Talk to other people doing scholarship (or people who have done it already) and bounce ideas and strategies off each other.

What if my school hasn’t done all of the externals?


  • Depending on the subject, you may have to learn some material from externals or internals you haven’t done.
  • However, this is a lot easier than you think, and gives you a good grounding at uni, as at uni they cover all of the topics.

I’m scared that this will take focus away from my Level 3 exams.


  • Totally get that. It’s best to view scholarship exams as a ‘separate’ thing, like a piano exam. 
  • Also, go into it and have fun. You basically have nothing to lose. If you begin practicing now, you won’t need to do much study.
  • Studying for scholarship also helps to consolidate the Level 3 information, so you’ll do usually better in Level 3 exams anyway.


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