The government has eased the pressure on thousands of teenagers with changes to NCEA and University Entrance announced on Wednesday.
The changes give teachers the discretion to award students a limited number of credits, and also lower the number of credits needed for certain benchmarks such as merit and excellence endorsement.
The government says it is making sure students are not penalised for falling behind during the lockdown.
Principals had lobbied the government to make changes and they told RNZ they were happy with today's announcement.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said for every five credits students achieved, teachers would be able to award one credit in recognition of learning the students had completed but which had not been formally assessed.
The extra credits were capped at a maximum of ten for NCEA level 1, and eight credits for NCEA levels 2 and 3.
Hipkins said students would require 12 rather than 14 credits in three approved subjects to get University Entrance, and the number of NCEA credits required for a merit or excellence endorsement had been lower from 50 to 46.
He said students would get a course endorsement if they achieved 12 credits, rather than 14, at merit or excellence level in that course.
Secondary school students told RNZ they worried they had fallen behind during the lockdown and the changes were a big relief.
Paw Moo, a Year 13 student at Onehunga High School, said the challenge of getting through NCEA had been on her mind.
"That was the first question that popped between our year group, 'how are we going to pass this year'," she said.
She said the changes had removed doubt about whether it was worth trying to work toward course endorsements.
"These goals, these endorsements I want are more achievable and makes me want to work harder."
Sione Tuifua, the head boy at Onehunga High School, said he had found studying at home during lockdown difficult and the changes were a big help.
"Having these extra credits boosts my confidence of actually passing this year."
At Kaipara College, Year 13 student Olivia Simpson said the changes were a big relief.
"This has given equity for all students," she said.
"It has given us our opportunity back. There's been so much stress I think across every student who's been taking NCEA and just the fear that maybe all we can do is just pass our assessments and pass our year and this has given us the opportunity to reach for the stars and do our best."
Fellow Kaipara College student Odette Sullivan-Yates said she had been worried that she would have to prioritise certain standards and subjects to ensure she could apply to join the airforce next year.
"I can now look at not just passing my exams, but hopefully doing well and maybe getting excellence and merit."
Tyrone Brown said he had definitely fallen behind during lockdown and gaining just a few credits to recognise learning would make a big difference.
"Those one or two credits that's a big jump still, that can just push you over the edge to where you need to be," he said.
Kaipara College principal Steve McCracken had written to the government asking for changes to NCEA in light of the impact of the lockdown.
He said he was happy with the announced changes.
"The goverment's taken into account student and staff well-being and the disruption that Covid-19's caused to schools," he said.
"It's a sensible solution to a rather complex problem."
McCracken said the changes would make a significant difference for many students without damaging the credibility of the NCEA qualification.
"I don't think it is easier, at all. I think it actually reflects the abnormal situation that all students are in," he said.
"It provides a more equitable outcome for all students rather than having a disparity between those who have and those who have not."
Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said the government had found a positive way of redressing the balance for students whose learning had been interrupted by covid.
Shea said giving teachers the ability to award up to eight or 10 credits in recognition of student learning was a good idea.
"That is significant and it is proportional to the amount of learning time that's been lost. But it means the students are still going to attain a really credible qualification. And I think that's the key, this is not something that's being given away."