Step 4: Awarding meetings
In Step 1, the examiners aim to produce a paper of the same difficulty as those in previous years. However, no one really knows precisely how difficult a paper actually is until candidates have taken it. In practice, a paper will generally turn out to be slightly easier or harder than the previous year's.
After each examination, PAs are provided with a wide range of information to help them understand how the examination has operated in practice. This information includes:
- reports from all markers
- statistics on how candidates' marks are distributed (how many candidates got each mark), how this compares with previous years, and centres' estimates which show the expected national pattern of awards.
For National Courses at Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher, and Advanced Higher, awarding meetings involving the PA and senior SQA staff are held to determine the minimum marks required for particular grades.
All the available information is discussed, including:
- centres' estimates
- comments and opinions from the examiners and markers on the examination paper and candidates' responses
- the National Rating of the subject for the past few years (this indicates the relative difficulty of the subject at that level compared to other subjects at that level, in that year)
- information on grade boundaries and pass rates for the subject at that level over the past three years
When the options have been narrowed down to a small number of possible pass marks, the examiners identify the percentages of candidates who would gain grade C or better. Where there are large numbers of candidates taking an examination, one would not expect the percentage of those getting an award to vary much from year to year, though it can and does sometimes happen. The presentation pattern may change, or there may have been a change in the examination requirements. There may, indeed, be a real change in overall attainment as compared with previous years. When the proposed pass mark would lead to a large change in the pass rate, the examiners have to provide justification for this.
When all available information has been taken into account, the minimum mark is set for grade C, and then a similar procedure is used to set the lowest mark for a grade A (band 2) and an upper grade A (band 1). These decisions determine the mark for a grade B, which is set halfway between the minimum mark for grade C and the minimum mark for grade A.
For Standard Grade, awards are determined separately for each Element of the subject concerned, eg for Problem Solving in Science, or Reading in English. In most subjects there is one internally-assessed Element, where the grade is awarded by the centre. This is subject to moderation. For other Elements (where there is external assessment) the examiners look at all the available information, as for National Courses. At the awarding meeting the minimum mark for each grade is decided. To help make these decisions, data on how candidates performed at two adjacent levels is available.
For Project-based national Courses (PBNCs), a meeting is held between the PA and senior SQA staff to ensure that standards are maintained from year to year and across the range of related Courses. This is done by scrutiny of samples of the current year's candidate project work and archived material from previous years.