Yup, you heard that right: ultimate. Close all of your other tabs now (we know you’ve been googling abstract NCEA terms in your own time), because after reading this article, you’ll be so down with the NZQA slang that you’ll be critically evaluating whether Rob has a shot with Becky at parties.

If you’ve been following StudyTime’s advice so far, you’ll know that the assessment schedules on the NZQA (externals) and TKI (internals) websites are hacks for understanding what’s required to achieve each grade boundary.

But sometimes, these don’t help too massively. For some subjects (shout out to maths and physics), it’s pretty straightforward – you answer the question, preferably not with “doorframe”.


So you know that in order to get Excellence for the Level 3 Natural Processes Geography external, you need to provide an “insightful analysis”. But what does that even mean? Can anyone actually define what either of those words are asking you to do?

It’s a fact that pretty much every English standard requires that you show “perception”. But it’s also a fact that no one really knows what this is, because it’s not something you get taught in class – and it’s pretty hard to know whether you’re actually doing it or not. So January rolls around, and you cross your fingers hoping that whatever it is that the marker wanted was in your essay or answer somewhere.

But fear not (or less) – those days are over.  StudyTime proudly presents: NCEA lingo: translated.




Writing-Based Lingo


Some subjects require you to give your thoughts.

While there’s not much room for your opinion when finding the hypotenuse of a triangle, writing essays centred around your thesis are all about proving that your opinion is better than the person sitting next to you. If you go through the assessment schedules at different levels, you’ll notice a few abstract words like the following just keep popping up.

These are how you prove to the marker that Shawshank Redemption made you feel some type of way.



Jordan talks about it in every
video and article he writes/is made to embarrass himself in. Perception is the marker’s favourite word, because it’s in literally every marking schedule for every internal and external as the penultimate requirement for Excellence.

Simply defined, perception refers to seeing something.


However, in this context, it’s a bit deeper than that – in fact, it pretty much means being deep. Perception means having an opinion on the way in which something can be understood or interpreted. How do you show it? By having a personal opinion on what the author/artist is trying to do or what something means, and proving it using “how” and “why”.

I.e: “The Parthenon was constructed to celebrate all of the Olympians, rather than individual gods. (what). This is evidenced by the architect’s use of both Doric and Ionic columns (how), paying tribute to both the male and female gods at the same time in order to demonstrate Athens’ religious and cultural dominance (why)”. 



Insight is what you’re going to have to do to show that you’ve got that perception. Quite literally, it means what it sounds like: “in-sight”.

In your writing, you need to look into the text/building/vase/whatever it is you’re yarning about, and talk about the deeper meaning underneath the surface (and that’s where perception comes in).


It’s not what the text is about, it’s what the text is about. Try and look for the underlying purpose and meaning, which might be to do with society, the human condition (see below) and the art form as a whole.

If all else fails, Google it. People have PhDs on Shakespeare.


“The human condition”

We’ve mentioned the big three (society, the human condition, the art form)

These are things you want to be perceptively and insightfully telling the marker that the colour palette represents.

Society and art are pretty self-explanatory – you just bring it back to Trump or the concept of the anti-hero. But what the heck is the human condition?

The Human Condition is the experiences, virtues and vices that make us human.



Fundamentally, it’s what we all have to deal with or go through (unless you’re a chimpanzee) in life, and the highs and lows of existence. Love, death, mortality, morality, conflict, emotions – these are all part of the human condition.

And teachers love it.


“Personal Voice”

This is something that often pops up in English marking schedules, with absolutely no explanation of what it actually means.

Google defines it as your “writing personality”. We have absolutely no idea what that means.

A better way of thinking about personal voice is having an original response to the essay question, and writing in an interesting way. It’s all the spicy “hot-takes” that give your writing style and substance. 



You’re actually hearing my personal voice now, because my ideas are being written down using my writing style. My explanation of NCEA lingo would be different from yours, I use different word choices than you, and I structure my writing differently than you do. Fundamentally, if you were to write this article, it would be very different (and probably better).

How do you make sure you’re giving a personal response?

Basically, try and make your essay different from the thousands of others that Doris has had to mark that day. 40,000 people sat the Level 1 English exam, and that’s a lot of essays about how Katniss is a feminist icon.

Instead, add some originality: “Despite being a female protagonist, Katniss reinforces typically masculine characteristics in order to be accepted as a hero.”

Also, to really spice it up, use a variety of word choices, sentence openers, and sentence lengths in your writing. Imagine how many times Doris has to read, “This shows …


“Critical Evaluation”

You’ll notice that for Level 3, the actual names of the English externals are ‘
Respond critically to specified aspects of studied written/visual/unfamiliar texts, supported by evidence’.

What that means is that you’ve got to select a range of evidence from texts, and then respond critically. Cool, moving on.

Kidding. What responding critically doesn’t mean is talking about how much The Great Gatsby sucked.

It means objectively (an independent and open-minded view) looking at a evidence, thinking about it real hard, and using that to form an opinion – not applying an opinion to evidence.


A good way of thinking about this is how you might think of good old political “debates”.

Helen looks at all the evidence, even the stuff that doesn’t help her, weighs it all up, and uses it to argue that her party is still right in the end.

Becky only uses the evidence that supports her and ignores all the rest. Helen is applying the evidence to an opinion; Becky is applying their opinion to evidence.

Don’t be like Becky.



Kind of similarly to critical evaluation, showing appreciation for the text doesn’t mean you need to conclude your essay by giving
Shawshank 5 stars.

It does, however, mean that you need to show appreciation for the author/artist/vase-maker’s craft: how they’ve used techniques and the meaning they’ve put into the work.

This is actually something in every English external assessment schedule from Level 1 to 3.



For English specifically, you do it by showing the marker that you understand the importance of the techniques you’re talking about and the importance of the text as a whole.

So, when you’re showing off to the marker about how many quotes you know, or how much you know about ancient Greek columns, mention how important they are to the purpose or meaning of the art you’re writing about.

Why do they matter? How do they show important deep stuff?


Writing and Science-Based Lingo

Like the middle of those venn diagrams with the two circles, there is some overlap between all the writing about art and like, ions and stuff.

Specifically, there are two words that you’ll see on all walks of NCEA life:


“Developed/Justified Conclusion”

After you’ve done all that critical evaluation and appreciation and it’s all very perceptive, you’re probably ready to just conclude at this point and move on to the inevitable weighing up of the pros and cons of attempting unfamiliar text vs. leaving early. 

And for science reports, you’ll need to present a finding at the end.

As we touched on before, when you’re writing you are giving evidence to support your idea.



This means that you technically need to show/pretend that you carefully used all the evidence to come up with this opinion at the end, whether it’s that Puss n’ Boots is the best film of all time or that we should ban 1080.

Your marker wants you to show them that all the evidence is linked together logically, and it all ties in to prove your thesis (it all comes back to that).

Your evidence should build on itself, and every paragraph should do this by telling the marker how it all ties back to the bigger picture.

At the end, you re-state your thesis, and basically say that all your points have come together to successfully prove your great idea. Then you bring it back to, you know, society.



Literally every exam you’ll ever do ever will require you to analyse something at some point. It’s actually a pretty simple definition, and you’re probably doing it anyway.

It means looking at something (your book, painting, or experiment) carefully, and maybe even unpacking it, in order to be able to explain its meaning and the purpose.



For the arty subjects, you need to show that the evidence you’re giving is actually relevant to the idea you’re writing about, and how you understand what it all means.

For science, we’ll cover this in more detail under “explain”.


Science-Based Lingo

Now that that’s all out of the way and we don’t need to talk about society anymore, let’s talk about science lingo.
This is less about giving your opinion (your theories on relativity can wait, there’s a time and a place – but that time and place is not your Level 2 genetic variation exam), and more about making sure you’re explaining how the world works.




In order to get Excellence for a whole bunch of things, you need to show that you have not just an understanding, but a comprehensive one.

“Comprehensive” literally means knowing pretty much all the details, but how do you actually prove that you do?



Answer all parts of the question. Underline all the key words, make sure you can define and explain them, and include all of them in your answer.


“Describe” (Achieved)

The good news is, “describe” isn’t too tricky – you can often spot this in the Achieved/Merit questions, whereas Excellence asks you to “discuss”, “explain”, “analyse”, or “justify”.

In the marking schedules, answers that satisfactorily describe something are ones that can point out all the important factors in the question being asked and define them.



Make sure you know those key words!


“Explain” (Merit)

We’ll keep this one simple, because we can.

Explaining doesn’t just mean describing (giving all the details), but going a bit deeper into the working and teaching it clearly to someone else: your marker.

Imagine you’re describing whatever it is to a five-year old, who keeps asking “why?”.


A useful tool to keep in your head when you’re answering questions are explaining maps: the “how”, “why”, and the “so what?”.

How it works, why it works, and what this actually means for the answer to the question.


“Discuss” (Excellence)

For the final Excellence question, last year’s Level 2 genetic variation and change
paper asked candidates to “discuss how a mutation would become established in a population’s gene pool and spread to other gene pools”.

You discuss something when you write about different ideas in detail to compare or link them.

In the marking schedule, NZQA explains what a discussion to that question would involve. It’s similar to our definition of “analyse”: candidates needed to identify all the relevant biology things and link them together, explain how it all works, why it works, and what this means for the mutation spreading to other gene pools.


A useful sentence stolen straight from that schedule is “a because b due to c therefore d”.

There’s not much more to say for this one, apart from studying not just the individual components of the paper, but how it all fits together (yes to the mind maps).


We’re done!

There you have it – the complete, ultimate, beautifully-written guide to understanding what NCEA is on about at all times.



Now that you can spot these key words in the paper, make sure you have a think about what you think the marker needs in order to give you the grade that you want.

And make sure you check out our other articles on how to maximise your study gains, so you too can analyse stuff comprehensively.


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