Students at two Auckland schools were part-way into their history scholarship exam this morning before it was cancelled.
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) issued a release shortly before 9am, saying the 9.30am exam would be postponed, along with this afternoon's chemistry scholarship exam because of this morning's 7.5-magnitude earthquake.
All NCEA exams would continue as scheduled, unless a school was damaged or otherwise affected by the quake, NZQA said.
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However, students in at least two schools began to take the exam before it was announced that it had been cancelled.
One parent of a Takapuna Grammar Year 13 student who sat the history scholarship exam today said they were 20 minutes in and had seen the questions before they were told to go home.
"One of the students apparently ... said to the invigilator, 'the scholarship exam's off', and the invigilator said, 'no, no that's still going ahead, sit down and start'," she said.
"Then someone else came in about 20 minutes later and all the kids knew straight away what they were in for.
"It's a bit of a cock-up all round, because we don't know what will happen now. Those kids have seen the paper."
They were sent home without any advice on what would happen next, she said.
"They were just told to go home."
She contacted NZQA and its initial response was that no student would have seen the paper, she said.
NZQA has since said it will issue a new exam for students to re-sit.
The mother of a St Mary's College student who sat the exam said the three students taking the history paper at the school were around one hour into the test when they were told it had been postponed.
Her Year 13 daughter was among the scholarship students, and had been left "a bit upset by it", she said.
"I would imagine there are quite a few schools affected and quite a few students who are feeling really gutted because they have worked really hard all year towards this and due to the communication breakdown with NZQA they've been put in a situation where potentially all that hard work's [gone to waste]," the woman said.
She was pleased a new paper would be sent out to schools, she said, as St Mary's College had told her it "would be impossible" for the exam body to develop a fresh exam in time for a re-sit.
"If NZQA do set a new paper then my daughter will be happy with that," she said.
"We think that's the best possible outcome.
"They [NZQA] need to do something that's fair to all students across the country regardless of whether they've seen the paper or not, and they need to give everybody the opportunity to show their aptitude, not just let all that work go to waste.
"I think everyone understands it's a really difficult situation, but we just want NZQA to do what they've said today they will be doing and give the students another chance to sit the exam soon."
Following questions from the Herald, NZQA said it would provide a new paper for all history scholarship students to sit.
Management at the exam body was expecting some students may see the exam questions, "because of the short notice" given before it was postponed, a spokeswoman said.
A new paper would be issued to schools. No date has yet been set for the re-sit.
It is not yet known how many schools continued with the exam, or how many students may have seen the questions before they were sent home, NZQA said.
Asked on Twitter whether students who sat the full three-hour exam would be made to re-sit the new paper, NZQA said their papers would be marked as normal and would not need to re-sit the exam.
Takapuna Grammar principal Mary Nixon was not immediately available for comment.