Because mathematics can turn up in all areas of life, the New Zealand Department of Education has created a national curriculum that builds up maths skills for kiwi kids from the moment they start school. As a result, by the time students are hitting high school, they are beginning to be prepared to earn credits in numeracy to pass NCEA.

So, is maths worth taking as a standalone subject at the NCEA level? Will NCEA maths provide any future advantages? And, if numbers aren’t your thing, is it still possible to pass NCEA maths? In short – yes. NCEA has been set up to mean you can ‘accidentally’ earn numeracy credits by taken subjects you are genuinely interested in. There are also many advantages to having NCEA maths subjects, so let’s explore the complete guide to NCEA maths.

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Teenage Girl in Math Class - AndreaObzerova From Getty Images
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Why you should take NCEA Maths

Having an understanding of the maths topics offered at NCEA level can open unexpected doors. At the very least, you’ll find that getting credits in maths means that you will have an easier time understanding certain topics and get a better start in many jobs.

From law to entrepreneurship, from Investment to public relations, or from international trade right through to teaching, the paths that NCEA can help you on are incredibly varied.

NCEA as the way to Improving Numeracy in New Zealand

Developing basic maths skills can be the difference between paying your bills and ending up in debt. Basic numeracy can provide the skills to create a budget to manage a home, read financial statements to invest through Sharesies, or complete the calculations required to undertake a building apprenticeship.

Of course, taking more advanced maths topics increases your options even further. To get into most classes offered at a tertiary level, you need NCEA with numeracy credits. However, for many courses, having math-specific credits improves your ability to pass the course and actually get in. Many high demand university courses have more applicants than they do spaces, so they can choose people with the best chance of excelling.

Become a Pool Shark with NCEA Maths

While we certainly don’t recommend using your amazing maths skills to hustle people – there is no doubt that improved mathematical abilities can provide unexpected benefits. So yes, NCEA trigonometry, NCEA Geometry, and NCEA Calculus can all provide the grounding to become a mathematical pool playing genius.

However, more than becoming the plot twist for an action movie, the skills and abilities you learn when you master your NCEA maths papers can help improve your everyday financial literacy. While your great-grandmother could probably add up the cost of her grocery cart with a 99.9% accuracy faster than a cashier can swipe, simply being able to create an estimate of how much you are spending can improve your budgeting.

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Maths 101 Dog learning maths - Sadeugra from Getty Images

Demystifying the NCEA Maths Syllabus

There’s a standard joke amongst many parents that the only people who understand NCEA are the kids sitting it – even the teachers don’t always seem to understand how it works. Part of the reason it seems so confusing is that there aren’t set subjects that you absolutely must take, and NCEA Level 1 subjects can lead to different pathways by the time you get to Level 3.

It is possible to earn NCEA Maths credits by taking subjects you’ll enjoy. In addition, numeracy requirements can be met by taking non-maths subjects such as graphic design, media studies or certain te Reo Maori subjects.

What’s even more exciting and a little confusing is that you can take different levels. Much like taking university papers, if you find that you’re in your final year but discover that a level 1 subject would give you an excellent grounding in a topic you find interesting, you can take that. If you are taking a majority of level 2 papers, but there is an NCEA level 3 paper that you have all the requirements for, you can, in some instances, take that at the same time.

The way NCEA maths, and all NCEA subjects, are set up may seem confusing to those educated under the old school certificate system. However, it allows students to follow a more varied path, and test out how they go in different topics before they head into further education or vocational pathways.

Learn more about the NCEA Maths Syllabus.

Minimum numeracy requirements under NCEA Maths

One area where people often seem to get confused is with the minimum numeracy and literacy credits. Numeracy is not the same as maths. You can get numeracy credits from a range of subjects and different topics – and many subjects offer credits in numeracy and literacy.

You only need to achieve a minimum of 10 credits for numeracy (and 10 credits for literacy, but if you don’t complete this bare minimum, you cannot get NCEA. But, of course, earning the minimum numeracy credits is also considered the basic level for being able to “adult” out in the world, so it should be something attainable by most.

Getting Grades in NCEA Maths

Not all NCEA maths subjects have end of year exams, although most do – and most will have tests throughout the year. While the tests are generally an internal marker to show you and your teacher how well you are learning the subject, you should look at them as a practice for the final exam. The more tests and practise exams you can sit, generally, the more confident you will be in the actual exam.

For any subject, there are only four grades you can get:

  • Achievement (A)
  • Achievement with Merit (M)
  • Achievement with Excellence (E)
  • Not Achieved (N)

While you only need to meet the “Achievement” standard requirements, if your future goal is to get into a popular university course, the higher grade, the better your chances. Even if you have no intention of going to university, aiming to do the best you can leaves those doors open if you change your mind.

Failing NCEA Maths

If you’re struggling with this, don’t freak out! You can get help. You may have an undiagnosed learning difficulty such as dyspraxia. You may have ADHD, or you may have a teacher who isn’t explaining the topics in a way you can understand. Often gifted kids can cruise through primary school faking knowledge, and then suddenly find themselves really struggling in high school.

Look at getting extra coaching, and talk to a professional about making sure that you don’t have eyesight or hearing concerns. If you think that dyspraxia, ADHD, or any neurodivergence may be a consideration, the best path is to get professional assistance. While this isn’t a magic bullet, and you will still need to revise, you may be able to find strategies that will better help your particular learning style.

If your issue is purely confidence or lack of understanding, then attending a group class like Kip McGrath or Numberworks can help. Another option is to work with a tutor who specialises in NCEA maths and create a customised learning plan. Tutors are usually able to come to your home (or location), removing many of the barrier’s students need to rely on transportation – and most can help via zoom as well.

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Teaching maths on whiteboard - Rido

NCEA Maths Revision Tips: How to Tackle Maths Problems

Maths can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be boring! If you’re struggling to enjoy your maths revision, find a tutor who can teach your applied mathematics. This means more than simply endless reviewing and memorisation; you can find a way to really come to grips with what all of those formulas mean.

Suppose you’re lucky enough to have a teacher than can bring maths alive. In that case, you already have a head start with this way of learning. Still, unfortunately, it isn’t the most efficient method to teach an entire class. Nor is it something that works for everyone. However, when you’re looking at understanding maths for many people learning why the formulas and equations work is the best approach.

Unfortunately, because this learning method does take time, the earlier in the year that you can find an applied maths tutor, the deeper your understanding will be by the time you come to your end of year NCEA maths exam revision.

Mastering the NCEA Syllabus

Work through at your own pace. While it can be hard if you are behind or ahead of your classmates, the important thing is to make sure that you understand each area before moving on to the next. As soon as you encounter a problem area, seek help. Whether that is asking for help from your teacher, hiring a tutor, or working through the topic on Khan Academy.

Understand How The NCEA Exams Work

Knowing your topic and being confident in your understanding is not enough. For example, when you are revising for NCEA maths exams, you need to understand what the exam will entail and answer the questions correctly. This means when you need to show your working, read the questions, and check your work for basic errors.

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Reviewing maths with tutor - Kate_sept2004 from Getty Images

The Advantage of Using NCEA Math Past Papers

Working through NCEA maths past papers is one of the best and most popular methods for a student to revise before sitting any NCEA maths exam. Remember that the NZQA, your teachers, future employers, and everyone else, wants you to pass. There isn’t a trick to passing exams, maths exams are simply the easiest way to test that you have the knowledge and understanding of the topic.

To show yourself where any gaps in your knowledge might be, download the past papers for the NCEA maths subject you are taking – you can download past exams for any NCEA subject. Work with a tutor to go through the past exams, make sure that you understand what the question is asking, and know how to answer it.

Developing Exam Strategy From NCEA Math Exam Papers

Although there is no trick to sitting exams, there are certainly strategies that you can use to make sitting exams easier. Use your practice exams to work out where your strengths and weaknesses lay – and then create a strategy to work around these.

  • Time yourself
  • Carefully read each question
  • Note if you start to feel anxious or restless (see if there is a pattern)
  • Get feedback, so you know what areas to focus on
  • Repeat the process until you’re confident.

Whatever NCEA maths subjects you take, by staying focused (not an easy call) and finding practical benefits to your new knowledge, the benefits can last a lifetime.

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Alison