Ten things NCEA has taught me
Four gruelling years, and I’ve finally passed through the system. NCEA, like any set of exams, is not something to look back on with exquisite fondness—on the contrary, it is no doubt something we will all be glad to leave behind—but it is nonetheless worth reflecting on how NCEA worked for us. At least, this is what NCEA taught me.
- …stress, all year round, all the time.
Isn’t it funny how internal assessments all seem to pile up at the same time? And isn’t it funnier how concentrating them to the same time doesn’t seem to mean there’s less at any other time? I mean, how many times did you stay up past two doing assignments? (Were you one of those people that stayed up until like, five?) At least we can safely say we’ll be well-prepped for the coursework pressures of university.
- …rote-learn answers.
Any well-disciplined student understands that excellences are not gained through a thorough understanding of the material. People who have more time to pore over answers, learning exactly what to write word-for-word come the exam, seemed to do better. People that knew what they were talking about, but kept missing that word or point, well, hmph, that brings me to…
- …take common sense, hash it out and make it sound meaningful.
Like any examination system, but especially with NCEA, explicitness of expression was crucial. It is not enough to say that ionic bonds take more energy to overcome than dipole attractions. You say first that ionic bonds are stronger than dipole attractions, then you explain the “more energy” bit. What that actually adds to the answer, I don’t know, but it is representative of most of NCEA answers. Common sense? Never! In fact…
- …write more in my answers than necessary.
NCEA students had to perfect the art of taking something explainable in one sentence, and filling half a page with it (the amount of space that’s given)—just to find the model answer’s, like, three lines. Anyone brave enough to actually try a three-line answer, though, paid dearly for it, because they probably missed a word or two. The solution? Always fill up all the space given, and more if you can—that way, you’re bound to get everything they want (and maybe more).
- …predict which questions will be worth how much.
This is, indeed, a feature unique to NCEA. Ignorance, they say, is bliss; here, candidates are blind to the marking systems, not like the outdated systems where we got told which questions are worth one mark and which are worth four. Therefore, they adapt—they learn to tell at sight, from the question, which questions are the important ones. It doesn’t mean they’re always right. But the skill, with practice, develops to a point where, after three years, it becomes natural instinct. I wonder how much use this newfound ability will be in the future.
- …focus more on what I need to show than what I have to learn.
Because I mean, if they totally spell out what you need to do, who cares what you’re learning? Okay—of course people don’t actually think like that—but the reality was that you had to understand what you needed to do, to get the marks you wanted. Then, sometimes, learning stuff was just a bonus. But then, learning anything at high school’s just a bonus. So, meh.
- …get every single little detail right.
The counterpart of item 2 for internal assessments: criterion-referenced assessment in its truest form (read: NCEA) demanded the fulfilling of every criterion in existence. It’s how it worked: these are the many criteria; screw up one and we drop you a grade (or two). Chemistry 3.1 is most reminiscent of this; the writing assessments in English were also somewhat demanding, though internal assessments in general seemed to have this idea. If you could be arsed, you had to be a perfectionist. If you couldn’t, either you did the same for the bare-pass criteria, or item 8 applies to you.
- …shrug and think, “Heck, who cares about those credits, I don’t need them.”
Admit it, the thought crossed your mind at least once in those three years. Reasons vary—too much coming at once, the standard’s too hard, the classic I’ve-already-got-my-80-credits-so-I-think-I’ll-stop-trying excuse from those low enough to use it—but apparently, NCEA students are known for slacking off. Whether or not this is a fault in the system is debatable if not doubtful, but in any case, it could be tempting.
- …keep up with changes to assessment systems.
If each of us had a dollar every time a change was made to NCEA while we were doing it, the government would be out of pocket. During the time I was doing NCEA, they simplified (or complicated, depending on who you ask) the marking system, merged and renumbered and deleted and created and changed the credit values of several standards, changed the achievement criteria of even more standards, ditched the grade average that was out of 100 but “not a percentage”, started reporting failures, strengthened moderation procedures and introduced “merit” and “excellence” certificates. And that’s not including the giant overhaul that the scholarship exams had. Phew.
- …complain about the system.
If there is just one thing we will remember about NCEA, this will be it. Stress, rote-learning and keeping up with the system were there, but it was the opinions, the arguments, the politics and the constant whining that will forever mark the memories of early NCEA-ers. The political opportunities were massive; the constant media attention ensured that everyone not only had opinions, but was at ease with expressing them. Who didn’t complain about some aspect or another? Who didn’t suggest their own version of what NCEA should be—or in the odd extreme case, the ditching of it altogether? NCEA taught us, if not to whine about the system, then to question how our national school leavers’ qualification should work.