"I'm feeling well prepared," says Zoe Tinkler on the eve of the start of her NCEA exams.

The Year 11 16-year-old at Diocesan School for Girls is among the 48,270 students who will sit NCEA Level 1 English this morning. It's the biggest exam of the 2016 exam season, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) said, and kicks off the exams proper.

Zoe, from the North Shore, said the atmosphere was calm in school yesterday as everyone put their heads down to study.

"I'm feeling quite good about it," she said. "I've prepared to the best of my ability.

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"I'm studying in the library and everyone's really focused, working hard."

She went into school to study because the teachers were available if students had any questions, she said, which was "really helpful".

The three-hour exam will consist of two essay questions - one on a novel and one on a movie - followed by an unseen texts section, where pupils are given three passages they haven't seen before and asked comprehension questions on them.

She was "quite comfortable" about her ability to pen essay responses to questions on the classic American novel

To Kill a Mockingbird

, and the film

Little Miss Sunshine

.

However, unseen texts could pose more of a problem.

"If I were to go wrong somewhere it would be in unfamiliar texts," Zoe said. "I find that more challenging than essay writing."

She's crossing her fingers for a question about racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, because "there's lots to write about" on that theme.

Once English is done, she's got science, maths, Chinese and history to study for. Around 146,000 students will sit exams in the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Hekia Parata wished students luck in their exams, saying it was the "culmination of many months of hard work and study".

Exams run until December 2, when a 1750-strong assessment team will begin marking all the papers in time for Christmas. Results are expected to be released by mid-January.