The NZSC has a hierarchical structure with five levels:
- Order: The fifteen soil orders are the highest, most generalised level of the classification and provide the national overview of New Zealand soils.
- Groups: The orders are divided into 74 soil groups based on variation in factors such as drainage status, parent material, chemical and physical properties.
- Subgroups: The soil groups are divided into 299 subgroups that provide more detail about the range of soils included in each soil group.
- Family: The soil subgroups are subdivided into family criteria that provide more detail about the soil parent materials, rock class, texture, and permeability.
- Sibling: The soil family are subdivided into sibling criteria that provide more detail about soil depth, stone content, upper and lower textures, and drainage. The family also contains functional horizon attributes detailing horizon stone content, texture, structure size, and consistence.