As NCEA exams hit the halfway mark, test yourself on these sample questions from popular Level 1 subjects - and then check the experts' advice on the perfect answer. Vaimoana Tapalaeo reports


Show understanding of significant aspects of unfamiliar written texts through close reading, using supporting evidence.

Poetry: In this poem, a mother loses her child at a kite festival called "Colour the Sky".

The day I lost you at 'Colour the Sky' by Nicole Wallace:

In the park
kites darting, spinning, streaming, whistling,
you gone from my side - suddenly. The sky an artist's palette;
my face - bleached parchment paper.
searching, seeking, shrieking - kites swirl
happy laughing, delighted squeals - children skim
and skip along grassy plains. Jackets billowing,
hair whipped by wind - gusting.
anxiety, guilt - only a mother can know
A crumpled chip packet and a carelessly discarded apple core from a carefully prepared lunchbox, left thoughtlessly.
tongue darting furtively across dry barren lips
sweet, the moist richness of the half eaten biscuit
I ate when you crumpled, called out and cried -
overwhelmed by the wind, the noise, the chaos.
frantic, fearful. Next time a harness, I'll bring
tether you to my side, like those kites -
bright lights, flashing colours, whizzing controlled motion -
anchored firmly, safely to their owners.
In the park,
I saw you.
The wind dropped away.
Kites slumped and dropped instinctively -
were gathered up in protective arms.
I exhaled,
feeling your soft breath
against my wet cheek

ENGLISH TEACHERS want to see that a student has a deeper level of understanding behind the words of a novel or, as here, a poem. One of the important points in reading this poem is to see how the constantly shifting language creates an atmosphere of confusion, pointing to the mother's anxiety over losing her child.

The head of English at Queen Charlotte College in Picton, Megan Bruce, says being able to show a unique understanding is the key. "When we mark essays, we are looking for insight. Has the student gone beyond the text and thought about the bigger ideas that are being explored in the writing or film?"

She said more students were structuring and paragraphing their essays better and most were better at keeping to time limits. Despite that, pitfalls students continued to fall through included only half answering a question and rewriting the plot of a text, so effectively not answering it. Other issues were pupils leaving out important things - such as language techniques. Her other "big beef" was the standard of handwriting.



Describe the causes and consequences of an historical event.

Question: Write an essay on one historical event you have studied this year, using the following question.

Identify and describe the causes of. ...

What were the most significant consequences of ... ?


no longer limited in which historic events are taught to students, and teachers are now able to use any event they think will interest those youngsters sitting in front of them.

Topics include the civil rights movement and the arrest of Rosa Parks and the Birmingham Campaign; the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille; and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as part of the Pacific War context.

Closer to home, there are race relations topics that take a look at events such as the Springbok tour; as well as the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918.

Teacher Lara Hearn-Rollo of Queen's High School in Dunedin said answering a history exam question required a lot from students, who really needed to make sure they remembered key dates and contexts and really focused on what was being asked of them.


Demonstrate understanding of a variety of French texts on areas of most immediate relevance.

Question: What is the link between Emma and Anne-Sophie's families? What do you think Anne-Sophie is most looking forward to seeing or doing? Anne-Sophie has some concerns about her stay in NZ. What are they?


Salut Emma!! J'ai parlé avec mes parents et je peux confirmer que j'arriverai en Nouvelle-Zélande en juillet! Je veux bien manquer mon été pour pouvoir passer l'hiver en Nouvelle-Zélande avec toi! Youpi!

Ce sera super de pouvoir visiter tout le pays avec toi et ta famille. Papa et Maman disent qu'ils n'oublieront jamais les deux mois qu'ils ont passés en Nouvelle-Zélande avec tes parents il y a vingt ans. Ils m'ont montré des images vraiment drôles!!!

J'ai regardé des sites web et lu des livres et j'ai trouvé plein d'endroits à visiter. Les beaux paysages de l'ile du sud seront passionnants! Bien sûr je veux surtout voir ta maison à Dunedin _ est-ce que c'est une grande ville?

Je sais qu'on ira à Wellington, visiter le grand musée mais j'ai un peu peur du vent dans cette ville dans tous mes livres on parle de ça!! Tu penses que ce sera un problème? Je dois remplir ma valise de pulls?

J'ai entendu beaucoup parler des jolies plages dans le nord de ton pays. C'est vrai que le climat y est sec même en hiver? Tu crois qu'on aura assez de temps d'y aller? Est-ce que l'eau sera assez chaude pour se baigner? Un de mes amis qui a déjà voyagé en Nouvelle-Zélande m'a dit qu'il a pris ses plus belles photos sur ces plages et je veux faire la même chose que lui!

Je préfère être dans la campagne mais je voudrais passer du temps à Auckland parce que c'est la plus grande ville. Est-ce qu'on peut faire une promenade en bateau pour aller sur une des ?les près d'Auckland ou est-ce que ça coûtera trop cher? Je n'ai pas beaucoup d'argent donc je ne veux pas trop dépenser mais je veux acheter quelques petits cadeaux pour mes amis et ma famille. J'imagine qu'Auckland aura les meilleurs magasins? Bon, ça y est! Je suis impatiente de vous voir tous! Ecris-moi vite! Anne-Sophie

ANNE-SOPHIE IS looking forward to visiting the beaches in Auckland and the museum in Wellington but is worried about the weather there and whether she'll have enough money to buy gifts. Sue Pommarede, head of international languages at Rosehill College in Papakura, said this year's exam was a success, with no mistakes or surprises. Errors students tended to make were mixing up tenses and not having a full vocab. There had been a drop in the number of students taking French as a subject. "There seems to be this view out in the community that English is the only language you need out in the world."


Demonstrate understanding of biological ideas relating to a mammal as a consumer.


There are two major types of digestion: physical (mechanical) digestion and chemical digestion. Compare and contrast these two processes, discussing why both are necessary for digestion to be efficient.

DISSECTING A cow's eye may have been the big drawcard to take up biology back in the day - and it seems it's the practical side of the subject that has seen its popularity soar in recent years.

Jo Fissenden, biology teacher at Kaikoura High School in Canterbury, says the sciences were very much regarded as "cool" among students and for many it was the hands-on stuff that had them hooked.

"Lots of the classes we run are quite practical. For my older students, when we learn about evolution ... we get them to skin a rabbit with tools they've made and cook it on a fire. It gets students thinking about how things would have been and it gets them excited about the subject."

Answering the question above all comes down to whether the student has studied the digestion processes and can accurately explain how they work.

Physical digestion involves the mouth - how we use teeth to chew and grind food. Chemical digestion is when food is broken down with acid and enzymes within the body.

"They need to explain that whole process. How the food is in the mouth and where it moves and how it moves and is processed in the body."

Mrs Fissenden said many pupils only half-answered an exam question and that was disheartening when they had done well throughout the year.

"I tell my students to start off by highlighting the key words in a question and really think about important words like 'compare' and 'contrast' and make sure they do what the question says."