A review panel will start investigating what went wrong with last year's NCEA maths exams - just as exam results are due to be posted.

The three-member panel has been set up after mistakes were found in four maths and statistics exams for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and NZ Scholarships.

Panel convenor Dr Sharleen Forbes, a former Statistics NZ general manager of statistics education and research, said the panel would start work in Wellington next week and hoped to report its findings by mid-February - although it was hard to tell how long it would take.

"It depends on how much information is provided to us and how much more we ask for," she said.


The worst mistake was in the NCEA Level 3 Statistics exam, sat by about 15,000 students, which contained a table that added up to 121.1 per cent instead of 100 per cent, making it impossible to answer the question.

The other mistakes were a discrepancy between a table and a graph in Level 1 Maths, a wrong figure in Level 2 Maths (Calculus), and data left off a graph in Scholarship Statistics.

The panel members have been asked to find out how the mistakes were made and not detected, and to recommend "improvements to the procedures for the development of future external examination papers and their quality assurance".

They will meet just as results for all 146,000 students who sat NCEA and scholarship exams are due to be posted on the NZ Qualifications Authority website on Tuesday, January 17.

Secondary Principals' Association president Sandy Pasley said it was "a very anxious time for students, particularly those that were involved in exams that had some issues".

She urged any students who felt they had not been marked fairly to apply for a review or reconsideration. There is no charge for a review, which involves checking that results have been added up and recorded correctly without reconsidering a student's answers. A full reconsideration costs $20.40, but this is refunded if the marks are changed.

"I urge students if they are concerned about marking to get some advice from their school. They don't want to spend their money unnecessarily," she said.

"But I understand that if there is found to be a fault in what they [the markers] have done, there is no charge. It certainly does happen in a number of cases."

The deadline for applying for a review or reconsideration is February 17.

Apart from the maths exams, technical problems were reported for some of the 5000 students who sat exams on computers in a trial aimed at moving all exams to digital technology by 2020.

Pasley urged NZQA to conduct more trials before adopting digital exams generally.

"The sector is very anxious about the statement that they would be all digital by 2020," she said. "That is being very ambitious."

NCEA numbers

146,000 students sat NCEA or Scholarship exams last year

5000 sat exams digitally

15,000 sat a faulty Statistics exam

10,225 applied for review or reconsideration of their 2015 results

1976 had their marks changed as a result