NCEA will undergo a move away from internal assessments, the Education Minister has announced.
Chris Hipkins said in a statement on Monday teachers and students had been burdened by over-assessment, keeping them from actual learning.
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"The current reality is that some students can finish school with gaps in their knowledge and skills.
"Some young people don't cover all the learning that is important and there has not been a strong enough focus on literacy and numeracy.
"With these improvements, NCEA will become more credible and robust. They will set stronger directions for students working towards an NCEA."
Exams will become worth 50 percent of marks across all subjects, even some that used to be entirely internally assessed, such as physical education.
Students will sit five to six subjects a year for a maximum possible 100 or 120 credits. They will be required to achieve 20 credits in literacy and numeracy, which students will be able to get any time onwards from year seven.
Further changes to NCEA will see the annual fee of $76.70 abolished at an estimated cost of around $49 million.
"We are abolishing these fees to make things a bit easier for families to make ends meet and ensure every student who achieves NCEA can receive their qualification," Hipkins said.
"It is another step by the coalition Government to put the free back into free education."
Students will also soon be able to sit their exams on a PC or laptop, and support will be improved for students who wish to take NCEA through Māori-medium education.
National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the changes have the party's "general support".
"There is still a lot of detail to be worked out, like how many standards will exist in each subject and how big they will be; whether some standards will be essential and detail around assessments including how predictable external assessments will be.
"National will be following closely, but today’s announcement is a step forward."