All exams will go ahead as normal on Tuesday, the exam body says, after NCEA and scholarship exams were disrupted today in the wake of a severe earthquake hitting the South Island this morning.

Thousands of secondary school students were due to sit their NCEA and scholarship exams today, but many spent a sleepless night huddled outside or in evacuation centres, rattled by the 7.5 magnitude quake felt across most of the country.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) said this morning NCEA exams will continue as normal in schools that have not been affected by the earthquake.

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Scholarship exams were postponed at all schools an exam centres, because students due to sit them were not covered by the emergency derived grade process that NCEA students could opt for if they were affected by the quake.

"All NCEA examinations will continue as per normal, and proceed today at schools that have not been earthquake affected.

"If a school has been affected and is closed, or students are unable to attend because of this morning's events, an emergency derived grade process is available to ensure no disadvantage to students."

Decisions will be made by each school, NZQA said, and students and their parents are advised to contact their school directly to find out whether exams will be going ahead.

The last minute decision to postpone scholarship exams caused some confusion among schools, with at least two Auckland schools going ahead with the history scholarship paper before sending students home mid-way through.

This afternoon the NZQA posted an update saying Tuesday's exams "will proceed" as normal.

"NZQA has been advised by the Ministry of Education that based on the current situation we expect that most schools that are closed today are likely to be open tomorrow," it said in a statement.

In the interest of minimising impacts on students across New Zealand, NZQA has therefore decided to proceed with exams, but to provide emergency derived grades for students where necessary."


The statement went on to "wish all students well" during the exam period, and "acknowledge that the earthquakes are placing additional pressure on some students".

"We are confident that proceeding, while providing for emergency derived grades as necessary, is the best way of minimising these impacts."

Students and parents are advised to direct any questions to their school in the first instance.

Christchurch schools

Christchurch Boys' High School is open, and NCEA exams are due to take place as scheduled.

The school buildings had been inspected, and a decision had been made to open as usual, headmaster Nic Hill said on the school's website.

NCEA exams were due to take place at the University of Canterbury because of the school's ongoing building work, and that would continue, he said.

However, students who had been affected by the earthquake would have the option to apply for a derived grade.

"The advice to students with exams is to turn up and make your best effort despite being tired. If your performance is impacted you can apply for a derived grade.

"It is best though to do the exam even if applying for a derived grade."

Christchurch Girls' High School is also open, and exams set to take place as scheduled.

"The buildings have been checked by our engineer and are safe," the school said.

"This means the school is open and NCEA exams will run at the normal time."

Students unable to sit the exam would also be able to apply for a derived grade, the statement said.

Meanwhile, South Wellington Intermediate School told NZME it will close today.

A staff member at Maidstone Intermediate in Upper Hutt contacted the Herald to say the school would be closed because it had no power.

'He's shattered' - NCEA student spent all night on hill

Stan McFerrier and his son, Oscar, 15, spent the night on the hills outside Sumner after homes in the Christchurch suburb were evacuated to high ground following the tsunami warning.

"We had no sleep," the freelance cameraman said.

Oscar was due to sit NCEA Level 1 exams today, and they found out this morning that Christchurch Boys High intended to go ahead with exams.

"I took my son in this morning. They've said we can fill out a form which will give [him] a grade from the mid-year exam or something," McFerrier said.

"He's shattered. He's been up all night and he's been worried."

He expected "a few" students at Christchurch Boys High would do the same.

Many students were among those who spent a sleepless night huddled outside or in evacuation centres. Photo / Ross Sefton
Many students were among those who spent a sleepless night huddled outside or in evacuation centres. Photo / Ross Sefton

Oscar had since gone to his mother's house to catch up on sleep, McFerrier said, as Sumner residents were still not able to return home.

Luckily, he does not have exams tomorrow, and will have a few days to recover before his sits an exam on Thursday.

University closed

Victoria University of Wellington will close for the day as work continues to inspect buildings and ensure the campus is safe.

Massey University said its Wellington and Manawatu sites would close, but its Auckland campus is open and exams will go ahead today.

"Staff are checking buildings and infrastructure on all campuses this morning following the 7.5 magnitude South Island earthquake, felt strongly in Wellington and Manawatu but also in Auckland," it said.

"Exams for distance students scheduled for Christchurch, Nelson and Lower Hutt today will also be postponed, as they will for any other exam venues in the quake-affected areas.

"Auckland campus buildings are being checked as well but it will open as usual and exams will go ahead today."

School and early childhood centre closures

There are widespread school and early childhood centre closures following the quakes.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary Jerome Sheppard said they were telling schools and early childhood centres from North Canterbury to Wellington to stay closed until buildings had been checked.

Schools and early childhood centres in areas affected by tsunami warnings had also been told to stay closed.

Single-storey buildings require a visual check for damage before being re-opened. Multi-storey buildings also need to be checked by an engineer before being re-opened, Sheppard said.

If in doubt schools and early childhood centres in other areas should also remain closed.

Buildings should be approached with caution as there may be broken glass scattered outside.

"As people enter buildings, they should look out for broken glass, fallen light fittings and bookshelves, and other hazards.

"If there are signs of damage to a building's structure, schools should contact their Ministry property advisor."

Schools and early childhood centres should also check the Civil Defence website for regular updates about their area, Sheppard said.