Pass rates for a controversial maths exam, which reduced some students to tears, are higher than previous years, according to Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Provisional data for the 2016 NCEA exams were released by the minister this morning. Level 2 pass rates had improved, and the Kaikoura Earthquake did not have a negative affect on results, Parata said.

However, the data also shows small declines in Level 1 and University Entrance pass rates.

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It comes as scholarship exam results were released by New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) this morning.

Among the notable points Parata made today was that a maths exam, which generated controversy as it was deemed too hard for students, had gained a higher pass rate than in 2015.

Overall achievement in the Level 1 Mathematics Common Assessment Task (MCAT) was "in line with expectations and higher than 2015", she said.

It follows huge backlash from students and teachers who slammed the exam as being "far too difficult" for students, amid reports some left the exam hall in tears.

Formal complaints were laid with the NZQA about the exam, saying the test was poorly judged, and others claimed it would put children off maths.

Watch: NZ Herald Focus host and broadcaster Tristram Clayton attempts the controversial NZQA paper, but is left broken.

However, Parata said it did not have a negative affect on students' marks.

The same was said for November's Kaikoura Earthquake, which struck in the early hours of the first full day of the NCEA exam season, causing confusion and chaos for schools and students.

However, the minister said preliminary assessment of results for students at schools disrupted by the 7.8 magnitude quake indicates achievement "is in line with national trends and past patterns of achievement".

This was "extremely heartening", she said, and "shows that our system of assessment is both responsive and robust enough to minimise the impact on students of events which were completely beyond their control".

The comments came as she released preliminary data saying more students are passing Level 2 NCEA exams, the standard that is seen as the minimum qualification for success.

Achievement rates for NCEA Level 2 rose by one percentage point, to 77.4 per cent, Parata said, based on provisional roll-based data.

"The results show more young people are gaining the qualifications they need to be successful in their lives beyond school, reflecting the hard work of students, teachers and parents," the minister said.

NCEA Level 2 achievement rates have improved in 2016, according to Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / File
NCEA Level 2 achievement rates have improved in 2016, according to Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / File

"One of the highlights of the provisional results is the significant increase in Maori achievement of NCEA Level 2, which has lifted by 2.9 percentage points to an impressive 73.5 per cent."

Achievement rates among Maori students had risen "significantly" since 2008, Parata said, and the achievement gap was shrinking.

Overall achievement of NCEA Level 3 had also increased by 0.7 percentage points to 63.4 per cent.

For decile 1-3 schools, achievement of NCEA Level 3 rose at an even faster rate, up 2.5 percentage points to 53.9 per cent.

However, provisional data for NCEA Level 1 achievement was 0.2 percentage points lower than the final 2015 figure, while provisional data for University Entrance was 0.7 percentage points lower.

But Parata said both were expected to increase before the results are finalised as schools update and provide late internally assessed results, and students apply for review and reconsideration of their results.

The final results will be released later in the year.