Applying qualification and assessment standards

Photo of calculator.After we have included our new or revised standards in the qualification mdash; such as a Unit Specification - or written the assessments, such as question papers and project briefs (along with marking instructions and grade descriptions) we then 'apply' them, or use them with learners.

While it is SQA centres such as schools, colleges, and private training providers who interact with learners every day, we provide a wide range of advice on learning and teaching approaches and include support notes in, for example, Arrangements documents.

While these are designed to assist teachers, lecturers, and trainers who work with our qualifications, we do not have a 'hands-on' role in gauging how effectively our qualifications are being 'delivered' or taught. We do, however, have a hands-on role in overseeing how effectively they are being assessed.

Qualifications are either internally or externally assessed or a combination of both. For internally-assessed qualifications, eg Units and internally assessed components of Courses, this is done by markers and internal verifiers (who are teachers, lecturers and trainers) in SQA centres. It is subject to external verification by SQA-trained practitioners who have a firm understanding of the SQA standard. Externally-assessed qualifications are marked directly by SQA, and we carry out a number of quality assurance procedures to ensure that standards are consistently accurate between Markers and over time.

For more information about how we assess our qualifications, please see our updated Guide to Assessment (467 KB) and to find out about assessment arrangements for disabled candidates and/or those identified as having additional support needs, please follow the link to our assessment arrangements web pages.

Some examples of how we assess qualifications

Learners playing footbal.So, for example, to gain the award of National Course in Physical Education (Intermediate 2), learners are required to achieve the two components of:

  • Physical Education: Performance
  • Physical Education: Analysis and Development of Performance

The first is internally assessed and externally verified. This determines Unit achievement (pass/fail) and a mark to contribute to the Course assessment. The internal assessment will be subject to external verification. The second is assessed externally by a question paper, which is marked (directly by SQA Markers) out of a total of 60 marks. The Course assessment provides grades of A, B, C, and D.

We also run an appeals system for National Course learners who do not perform as well as expected in the National Course assessments - please see appealing assessment decisions below.

For the Higher National Certificate Electrical Engineering (G7TA 15), learners need to achieve nine SQA credits (72 SCQF credit points) from mandatory Units (one of which is for the Graded Unit) and two SQA credits (16 SCQF credit points) from optional Units, all of which are assessed 'internally' in the centre, most probably a college.

Marking is done by lecturers, who may or may not be internal verifiers, and their decisions are subject to internal verification within the centre and a process of external verification run by SQA.

While many Graded Units are project-based, this one is assessed by a written question paper that is devised, administered (in accordance with agreed national guidelines) and marked in the college, and then subject to central verification in SQA. The Graded Unit allows learners to gain a grade of A, B or C.

The level 2 Scottish Vocational Qualification in Retail Skills is based on standards developed by Skillsmart Retail, which draws its membership from the retail sector. Learners must successfully complete one mandatory Unit and five optional Units.

Assessment is carried out by assessors and internal verifiers in centers. It is subject to a robust quality system based on processes associated with risk assessment and management. SQA's risk rating system must be auditable by the regulatory body (SQA Accreditation Unit).

Learners' performance is not graded.

Follow the links below for more information:

Appealing assessment decisions

Photo of SQA Certificate.SQA runs a system of appeals for National Courses (centres run their own systems of appeal of assessment decisions for assessments that they have marked and internally verified, and for which they have responsibility, eg National, Higher National and Scottish Vocational Unit assessments) and you should check the learner information provided by the centre you are attending in the first instance.

Our Your Exams booklet gives more information about how we review assessment decisions for National Courses.

The publication of the updated guidance on Estimates, Absentees and Assessment Appeals (EAAs) for the 2008 diet has been published.

This document will support our work with teachers, lecturers and partners to enhance understanding of standards. Two copies of the document have been issued to centres.

Finally, we offer an interactive toolkit for subject specialists who are delivering National Courses, to help them understand the broad principles to be observed when generating and submitting evidence for Estimates, Absentee consideration and Appeals. Here you can compare your decisions about estimates and appeals evidence with those of SQA. The resource can be accessed at www.sqa.org.uk/eaaa.

Centre and qualification approval

During centre approval, we make sure that your centre has the management structure and quality assurance systems to support the delivery, assessment, and internal verification of SQA qualifications.

During approval to offer qualifications we make sure that, once you have decided to offer a qualification, your centre has the staff, reference, learning and assessment materials, equipment, and accommodation you will need to deliver and assess the qualification. We also check your internal verification system to ensure that it meets our quality requirements.

For both types of approval, you must demonstrate your potential to meet our approval criteria. You will also have to show that you are continuing to meet our criteria following approval as you deliver and assess qualifications.

Quality assuring National Course assessments which SQA mark directly

Learners sitting exam.External assessment leading to certification is carried out each year under our arrangements. At the National Qualification examination diet in May/June, all qualifications with an external assessment are offered.

There are full details of the external assessment arrangements for these National Courses in the publication Project-based National Courses: procedural guide for centres (129 KB).

Coursework (investigations, projects, folios, etc)

For those qualifications where learners are required to undertake a project, or produce a folio or report for external assessment, the following conditions apply:

  • the submission of evidence relating to projects, folios, reports, etc produced for an entry for a previous year does not exempt you from the current requirement if you are re-sitting the subject
  • failure to submit projects, etc, by the specified date without a satisfactory explanation will lead to a penalty being applied
  • all submitted material is the property of SQA; in certain subjects, arrangements may be made for the return of projects, etc and a charge is made for this service

It is your responsibility to find out (from your teacher or lecturer) whether your subject involves a speaking or practical test, or the submission of coursework. You'll find out more about coursework from our 'Preparing for Your Exams' pages.

Quality auditing

Quality auditing is the method we use to determine whether your centre is ready to assume devolved authority for standards-related processes, such as approval and validation.

We have been auditing centres since 1993. The outcome of a successful audit is that centres can then assume authority for one or more of the devolvable processes. You can find out more from our auditing web page.

Verifying assessments

Learner and tutor in workshop.Verification is one of the most important standards-related activities. SQA and centres carry it out, independently and jointly, and it makes a significant contribution to the success of the Scottish Standard overall.

Further details about internal, visiting, central, and system verification are available from the quality assurance pages of our Induction Guide for SQA Co-ordinators.


Marking instructions/schemes

Examiners write these along with the assessment (such as a written question paper) and they show clearly how marks are to be awarded for candidate responses. You can see copies of these on our subject pages


Grade descriptions

Are where we describe what candidates need to do to be awarded a particular grade, for example, a grade C


Assume devolved authority for standards-related processes

Where a college is successfully audited by SQA, we transfer authority for certain aspects of our standards work (with the agreement of college senior management) and work jointly with the centre to ensure that standards are maintained effectively. SQA retains overall responsibility for how standards are maintained for the centres' SQA qualifications, however


National Qualification examination diet

Or 'the diet' is how we refer to the processes relating to supporting and running our annual (May/June) programme of examinations for National Qualifications