Monitoring standards across qualifications
It is important that all qualifications at a particular level — Higher, for instance — should make broadly the same level of demand on candidates. This is checked annually by means of a statistic called the National Rating.
If the subject is shown to be relatively easy or difficult, compared to other subjects, this information is relayed to the PA and setters to inform examiners when setting papers for future years. It is extremely difficult, however, to make a direct comparison between, say, Mathematics and Music. For this reason, we cannot attempt to make all qualifications exactly equivalent — broad equivalence is what we are aiming for.
Monitoring standards over time, and over bordersIt is also important to maintain standards over time. This is not easy, because syllabuses may be revised over the years, with new aspects coming in and others dropping out. However, we have a lot of research experience in this area, and keep an archive of candidates' work to use as a benchmark for comparisons over time.
This makes it possible for us to check that the standard of a qualification is broadly the same as it was some years ago. In that way, when more candidates achieve a pass everyone can be assured that this represents real improvement, rather than a lowering of standards.
We also benchmark our qualifications against those of other countries.