NQ Quick Guide


This guide gives you the basic facts about National Qualifications (NQs) in Scotland and tells you about the range of qualifications available.


COVER: NQ Quick Guide.National Qualifications (NQs) are one of the most important types of qualification in Scotland. Almost everyone leaving school or college today has one or more NQ. This guide will give you an idea of what the NQs that a young person might achieve at school or college actually mean.

NQs are awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) - Scotland's national body for qualifications.


What are National Qualifications?

National Qualifications are one of the three main groups of qualifications awarded by SQA. The other two groups are Higher National qualifications (usually taken at college) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (work-based qualifications).

NQs are taken by students in secondary schools and colleges (and some training centres). They cover subjects to suit everyone's interests and skills, from Chemistry to Construction, History to Hospitality, and Computing to Care.

The types of NQ that you will come across are:

Standard Grades

Standard Grades are no longer available and have been replaced by the new National Qualifications.

Some Standard Grade documents are still available for information, including past papers and arrangements documents. To support teachers/lecturers through the transition from Standard Grade to National 3, National 4 and National 5 Courses, we have also produced Course comparison documents for each subject. These highlight useful areas or topics of study in Standard Grade materials that might be useful for the new Courses.

National Units

National Units are the building blocks of National Courses and Group Awards. They are also qualifications in their own right, and are normally designed to take 40 hours of teaching to complete. Over 3,500 National Units are available.

National Courses

National Courses are usually made up of three National Units and an external assessment (which could be an exam or a piece of work that is assessed by examiners). There are National Courses at various levels.


Access 1, 2 and 3

Access 1 is designed for students who require considerable support with their learning, while Access 2 is designed for those with more moderate support needs. Access 3 is comparable with Standard Grade Foundation level.

Learning at Access 1, 2 and 3 is assessed by the school - it does not involve an exam.

Intermediate 1 and 2

Intermediate 1 and 2 are qualifications for students who have completed Standard Grades, or Courses at Access 3. For some students Intermediate 2 is a stepping stone to Higher. They are also suitable for those wishing to take up a new subject at school or college. Some schools now offer Intermediate Units and Courses as alternatives to Standard Grade in second, third and fourth year.


Highers are aimed particularly at students who have passed subjects at Standard Grade Credit level, or who have successfully completed a Course at Intermediate 2. (Adults wishing to study Highers at college may not need previous qualifications.)

Highers are normally needed for entry into university or college to study for degree or Higher National Certificate or Diploma courses (HNCs or HNDs).

Advanced Higher

Advanced Highers are aimed at students who have passed Highers, and are usually taken in sixth year of school or at college. These Courses extend the skills and knowledge gained at Higher and are useful for entry to university or employment.

Skills for Work Courses

Skills for Work National Courses have been introduced on a pilot basis to encourage school students to become familiar with the world of work. They involve a strong element of learning through involvement in practical activities which are directly related to a particular vocational area, and they develop knowledge and skills that are important to employment. They are available at a range of levels and are normally delivered by a school and college working in partnership.

Skills for Work Courses are assessed by the school or college - they do not involve a Course assessment, such as an exam (though the assessments are quality assured by SQA).

Group Awards

National Qualifications Group Awards are built up from National Units.

National Progression Awards (NPAs)

NPAs are designed to develop and assess a defined set of skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas. They are linked to National Occupational Standards - the basis of Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

NPAs range from Access 2 to Higher, and are mainly used by colleges for short programmes of study, such as part-time programmes for those already in work or return-to-work programmes for the unemployed.

NPAs are available from summer 2006.

National Certificates

National Certificates are primarily aimed at 16-18 year olds and adults in full-time education, normally at a college. They prepare students for more advanced study or employment. National Certificates are available from summer 2006.

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