How best to go about scholarship exams for subjects not taken?

I’m interested in doing scholarship exams for subjects I don’t take and was wondering if there were any specific tips for going about this. For writing subjects it seems easier to accomplish but for subjects like Economics, Accounting, or Agricultural and Horticultural Science, what would be the best way of working towards these?

I am interested in far more subjects than school allows me to take and would enjoy expanding my knowledge by working towards a goal that can potentially provide tangible recognition, as it is more motivating.

That’s a great question. We always like to see people trying to expand their knowledge and challenge themselves. I’ve invited a Crimson expert on scholarships to this thread, they will get back to you shortly :slight_smile:

While I was a student at King’s College, a fantastic academic school that doesn’t have a particularly strong culture of taking NZQA Scholarship exams, I decided I wanted to challenge myself and I picked up 12 NZQA Scholarship exams which was at the time unheard of. At the same time, I was finishing 7 A Levels in the same exam sitting so had to pursue a fast self-study approach where I focused on scholarship exams I felt I could pass on given the time constraints and ended up passing 9 of them including 1 Outstanding Scholarship in English. My NZQA Scholarships were English (O), Media Studies (S), Geography (S), French (S), English Literature (S), Chemistry (S), Economics (S), Statistics (S), Physical Education (S). I had never taken Physical Education, Media Studies, Economics or Geography before in any formal classroom setting and had never sat in a class for any NZQA Scholarship exams at all except for a few Chemistry seminars with my lovely teacher Doctor Huffadine.

I’ve been a big advocate for self-studying and exploring intellectual interests beyond the constraints of what traditional schools recommend pursuing and have been very excited by the academic movement that has been triggered in NZ schools around this notion led by many of our Crimson students.

One of our recent students, Soumil Singh, demonstrated the power of self-study in NZQA Scholarships with magnificent effect:

Another talented student of ours Rahul Sood, demonstrated the power of strong foundations in English when he achieved Top Scholar in Media Studies without ever haven taken a class in the field.

In recent years, many Crimson students and New Zealanders more generally have been opting to sit NZQA at younger and younger ages and without having an NCEA background. If you are a talented student in a particular subject area, it is definitely worthwhile considering NZQA as a way to challenge yourself, improve your candidacy, create some administrative headaches for your school (kidding) and be the best you can be!
Good luck with the exams!


Thanks for the answer :slight_smile:

For you personally, how did you go about learning these subjects, such as Economics and Geography, at NZQA Scholarship level without any background in the subjects at all, let alone at NCEA? Are there any tips you can share as to how you accomplished this, would be much appreciated.

For NZQA economics, I leveraged the knowledge I learnt pursuing A Level Economics and also studied about 5 past papers. Additionally, I familiarize myself with key graphs in the AS Level syllabus.

For NZQA Geography, I jumped straight into past papers and reviewed the complexity of the resource booklets and practiced reading and dissecting them. In this exam, you were not required to bring in any outside knowledge at all but can entirely utilIze the resource given to you. Because of this, the exam was purely a test of analytical reasoning and argumentation as well as visualization (illustrating your concepts with graphs and shapes). You don’t need to use any specific types of images but can invent whatever representations best illustrate your point. From 2015 onwards, knowledge of the topic raised in the resource book is now also required although we have found that candidates are able to leverage their understanding garnered from places like debating and MUN quite well to deal with this. For best results, some reading of the Level 3 Geography texts is recommended when shooting for Outstanding or High Scholarship passes. (Thanks for feedback, Tina!)

Don’t forget to bring some pens and coloring pencils to help with the illustration (seriously!)


I personally sat 9 NZQA Scholarship exams, a number of which in subjects that I never had taken. First and foremost, I think that there is an important dichotomy within the NZQA Scholarship subjects. Firstly, there are subjects like (but not limited to) Art History, Media Studies, and Geography that do not require an awful amount of subject knowledge. To pass these sorts of exams you must have a basic knowledge of the subject, excellent essay-writing and argumentation skills, and study a number of past papers. Secondly, there are subjects like (but again not limited to) Calculus, Economics, and Accounting that require a lot of subject knowledge. To pass these sorts of exams you must have an extremely good knowledge of the subject and study a number of past papers.

Let me start by first talking about how you should go about self-studying for the first type of subject (Art History, Media Studies, Geography, etc.) if you do not not take it in school. I think an important precursor is excellent essay-writing skills. If you, for example, have always attained excellences in English then this is a good indicator that you will succeed in these types of subjects. Firstly, I would recommend that you work out exactly what is expected of you from the exam. Read past papers, exemplars, and any online resources that are out there. Look at the prompts for this year’s exams. Once you know what is expected of you, start studying the material that will be tested for this year’s exam. There is no easy way around this - learn what you need to know. Use the internet, books from the library, teacher’s from your school, NZQA Scholarship resources, etc. Once you believe that you have the required subject knowledge, complete a number past papers and write essays based on likely prompts. If you have teachers who can look over these and give you feedback, then that is fantastic. If not, the process of completing past papers and writing essays in itself is still extremely beneficial. As a whole, this should be good preparation for passing this type of Scholarship exam.

The second type of subject (Calculus, Economics, Accounting) requires you to put a lot more time and effort into studying for its NZQA Scholarship exam. This is because excellent essay-writing or argumentation skills do not carry you very far; you can only pass these exams with an excellent knowledge of the subject. These exams are usually an extension of what you learn in NCEA Level Three for these subjects. Thus, I recommend that you begin by buying a comprehensive NCEA Level Three workbook for the subject. There are generally a number of brands and you can buy the books at shops like Whitcoulls. Once you have an excellent knowledge of the NCEA Level Three subject, you should begin studying specifically for the NZQA Scholarship exam. Again, I would recommend buying a specific workbook for this - there is generally at least one for each subject. If you do not understand a particular concept (at both the Level Three and Scholarship level), then try and find a better explanation online. Once you are well-versed in the Scholarship material, sit as many past papers as you can to ensure that you are well-prepared. Bear in mind that the process of self-studying for these types of subjects will require you to start a lot earlier and spend a lot more time than for the first type of subjects that I discussed.

This is the exact process that I went about for studying for the NZQA Scholarship exams. In the end, I passed 8 of the 9 exams I sat: Statistics (O), Accounting (S), Economics (S), Physical Education (S), History (S), Classical Studies (S), English (S), and Music (S). Tutoring can definitely be one of the most important components of self-studying for an NZQA Scholarship exam, but my results are proof that if you do not have the necessary resources then hard work and determination can be enough.


Self-studying Scholarships is a great way to expand your reach and get an idea of other subjects that could potentially interest you. I studied 8 Scholarships in my final year of high school, and while these were mostly subjects that I had done up to Level 3 at in school, there were a couple of fresh ones that I picked up, Music and Earth and Space Science.

To begin my study for these subjects I had a look at the exam papers and what was expected for them. Music was quite special; in addition to 2 essays in the external you were required to submit an internal portfolio. I received quite a bit of support from my school’s music teacher in terms of resources for this, so that’s always a good place to start, your school teachers. Even if you aren’t taking that subject at NCEA, most teachers will be thrilled that you are interested in the subject and be more than happy to give you some advice and/or resources.

Earth and Space Science was a bit different in that there was no teacher at my school for this subject. I decided to take it nonetheless simply because the subject interested me. From looking at the past papers I got a general idea of the content that was involved and then looking at exemplars I got an idea of the writing style and depth of understanding I would need. I then spent hours and hours looking up the different concepts on Google, finding explanations and videos from a whole host of websites, and this was how I solidified what I needed to know. Then I started actually doing some practice papers and comparing my answers to both the marking schedule and exemplar answers.

In general, for self-studying scholarship, I think the response above me is great advice - splitting it up into the two broad types and then focusing on either essay-writing skills or on Level 3 content knowledge.

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