NCEA and scholarship exams are underway for 140,000 senior students around New Zealand, but some students don't feel they need to turn up.
Students from Auckland, Northland and Waikato who've endured level 3 lockdown this year are eligible for an unexpected event grade.
Westlake Boys High School Principal David Ferguson says 70 percent of his year 12 students arrived at school to sit level 2 physics on the first day of NCEA exams.
"Some of them who've got excellence will still come in and sit, some won't, some will be a bit more strategic, but we've said if you can improve your results that's what we want - come and do the very best you can."
The unexpected event grade is based on a student's mock results and assessments throughout the year.
Those who attend the external exams will receive their best result from this grade, or the exam.
Te Kauwhata College year 12 students Michelle Aldersley and Kiri Rogers were happy with how their level 2 physics exam went on Monday.
"Nerve-wracking but it's really nice to get it over and done with."
Te Kauwhata College sits on the Waikato-Auckland border, and principal Deborah Hohneck says instead of study leave, most of her seniors returned to school to prepare for NCEA exams.
"We had a really good turnout, only a few who didn't show up because they've got jobs, but most came back to learn with their teachers and focus so they're as well prepared for exams as they can be."
Her message to her seniors ahead of NCEA: "I said to them you've got an opportunity to get your grades up to where they should have been or make your grades even better."
National claims New Zealand is fostering a culture of mediocrity offering the unexpected event grade in 2021, and a lack of compulsion could see many senior students in Auckland, Waikato, and Northland not turn up.
Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says "there's a gap between the rhetoric and the reality".
But NZQA and most principals suggest that's not the case.
"Anything we can do to encourage these young people back in school in 2022 should be welcomed," says Westlake Boys High School principal David Ferguson.
"It's not like we will use these unexpected event grades forever but if ever they need a hand, it's this year."
NCEA results will be out in the third week of January and scholarship in February.