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Students are being warned not to use cellphone texting abbreviations in NCEA exams after reports suggested the shorthand was to be allowed.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is dashing media reports that students could use text abbreviations in exams without penalty if their answers otherwise showed the required understanding.

Such use has sparked fears that students would be put at the mercy of exam markers who had differing levels of cellphone literacy.

Bali Haque, deputy chief executive of the authority, said there had been no change to guidelines and there was no specific policy about text language.

However, he warned: "If people are expecting they can come up with an exam script full of text and pass, then they're dreaming.

"Examiners will be expecting the use of the English language in full. I think students are intelligent enough to understand that. Most would know the difference between using formal language in an exam and informal with friends on the weekend."

Mr Haque said the guidelines allowed markers flexibility to forgive the occasional abbreviation or spelling or grammatical error if a student had otherwise shown a clear understanding of the question.

The rules were stricter in subjects such as English, which requires good use of language.

Avondale College principal Brent Lewis said he would be sending a strong message to his students that they would be unwise to include text in their answers.

He feared reports about the issue would be taken as a carte blanche by students to use the technique and said using it in formal examinations was inappropriate.

"My concern is any student who does it, particularly now it's been publicised, will expose themselves to risk because it depends on the skills of the examiner and whether they are text literate or not.

"It's a bit of the luck of the draw as to who gets the paper, because English can be a second language through text. I don't know how they moderate to clean that up."

- Additional reporting Mike Houlahan

When a pigeon is not a pidgin

The texting issue sparked debate among wordsmiths and in Parliament yesterday.

Asked his opinion, language expert Max Cryer said it was " a very heavy downward slide".

Bill Manhire, poet and head of Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters, said it sounded "dopey".

"Does that mean in English exams it should now be possible to write answers to poetry questions in free verse? It sounds really dopey to me."

National education spokesman Bill English's statement said: "This kind of pigeon English is fine for young people organising their social lives, but it is not an acceptable way of expressing an academic argument or idea."

Education Minister Steve Maharey retorted by using Mr English's spelling mistake to illustrate NZQA's policy of forgiving minor mistakes that were understandable in an otherwise strong answer.

"The statement is understandable, despite pidgin being spelt p-i-g-e-o-n, as in a bird from the dove family, rather than p-i-d-g-i-n, as in simplified language used between persons of a different nationality. But we will give him credit."