Update on Digital Assessment trial for NCEA (e-MCAT)

NZQA announced further details about the e-MCAT trial last week in an email to its Principals & Nominees network (email on May 7 from Richard Thornton, Deputy Chief Executive, Assessment Division; NZQA granted permission for me to discuss its contents here).

The gist of it:

  • the trial will take place in September, alongside the regular MCAT
  • It will be a practice assessment that will not earn credits, nor will it count towards NCEA
  • up to 20 schools will be involved
  • the trial will use an electronic version of the 2013 (modified) MCAT assessment
  • it’s still just a trial –

The trial will be used to evaluate the method of assessment delivery and assessment marking, and whether both meet best assessment practice. Feedback from the students and teachers as to the format of the assessment will also inform any future work and development around digital assessment.

For more information, they directed readers to the new area of the NZQA website that I mentioned in my post last week:

If you have any questions or would like any further detail please view the innovation pages (http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/what-we-do/where-are-we-going/), recently added to the NZQA website, that outline what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been thinking about in terms of the future and digital assessment.

The specific information about the e-MCAT trial can be found by clicking on the “What we’ve been doing” post-it note at the bottom of the page in the website that the email mentions.

Ask your school’s Principal or Principal’s Nominee to see the email if you want to read the original (I’m not sure if NZQA intended for me to reproduce the email here in its entirety, so to be safe I’ll make you go find it yourself!)

But wait –

hasn’t the Ministry of Education just announced consultation for a proposal to change the MCAT to an Internal assessment?

Yes, on Monday it was announced that the Ministry want to remove the MCAT and change AS91027 (Algebra) into an internal assessment. The very same MCAT that NZQA want to change into a digital external assessment.

I spoke to Sue Chalmers, Manager of Secondary Examinations at NZQA, about this apparent contradiction.

When I first heard about the consultation it appeared that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, but Sue clarified a couple of things for me. She explained that regardless of what happens to the MCAT in the future, with regard to trialling a digital external assessment this year the MCAT is still the most convenient one to trial, because it’s not in the external assessment system with the rest of the November exams.

Whatever NZQA learn about running digital assessments from this trial will still be relevant and useful for other externals whether the MCAT remains an external or not. At the same time, whatever NZQA learn about assessing the MCAT specifically through running the trial will still be relevant and useful for the AS91027 standard whether it remains an external or not. The MCAT may or may not be administered by NZQA in future (depending on the outcome of the Ministry of Education’s consultation) but it could still be set up as a digital assessment which schools could administer as an internal assessment whenever their students were ready (as with other internals currently). It would just be a different organisation that designs this digital internal assessment, for example NZAMT or some other interested group.

I’m encouraged that the word is starting to get out about the coming changes, and I’m glad that my initial fears that NZQA & MoE weren’t aware of each others’ plans for the MCAT were unfounded. I’m still a little concerned though that the whole notion of assessing digitally hasn’t really penetrated the collective consciousness of the secondary education sector.


We need to be teaching with ICT and e-learning tools. It’s no longer optional. Digital assessment is coming very soon, and our students need to be familiar with the tools.

I’ll keep you posted with updates as I learn more. In the meantime, be sure to check out the NZ Maths & Statistics ICT Community to share your ideas and use others’ resources.



Have your say in the Ministry of Education’s consultation about whether AS91027 should remain an externally assessed standard (the MCAT) or become an internal. Visit the TKI website for details and to download the consultation forms. Consultation ends on Friday 20 June 2014.

Leave a comment


  1. Murray Paull

     /  May 15, 2014

    Yes, I have no doubt that digital assessment is coming. However..
    As a school starting BYOD this year we have looked at a number of schools who are already running BYOD programmes. Even the Auckland school’s where every student has an i-pad/laptop still do one subject, Mathematics, on paper. This is not to say that they do not use the devices in Maths, but the difficulty/time of writing Algebraic statements on an electronic device is just too much. Until you have a stylus that can write on a screen easily I do not see it as either feasible or fair to expect students to work in one mode all year then be assessed in another.

    Multi choice will not cut it as the standards explicitly state that clear evidence of thinking should be displayed.

    It will be interesting how this plays out.

    • I agree Murray. I agree with NZQA that from a logistical perspective the MCAT is the obvious choice to trial, but I’m still confused about how it’s the best choice content-wise. It will be very interesting indeed how it plays out!


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