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Levels and credit points

The SCQF uses two measures to describe qualifications and learning programmes within the framework:

The volume of an outcome is arrived at by estimating the amount of time required by the 'average' learner, at a particular level, to achieve the outcomes. The number of credits will differ greatly from qualification to qualification, within levels and between levels.  See the Ready Reckoner download for further details of the credits associated with SQA's qualifications.


Each of the 12 SCQF levels can be the location of one or more qualifications.  At present these are qualifications of higher education institutions in Scotland and those awarded and accredited by SQA.

Level 1 represents outcomes designed for learners with severe and profound learning difficulties, while level 12 contains outcomes associated with doctoral studies. Increases in level of demand relate to factors such as:

Each level of the SCQF from two to 12 has a descriptor, known as the level descriptors, which sets out its characteristic general outcomes under five broad headings:

The level descriptors are designed to allow broad comparisons to be made between the outcomes of any learning that has been, or can be, subject to valid, reliable, and quality-assured assessment. They are not intended to give precise or comprehensive statements of required learning at each level, but can provide a useful reference point when:

It is not envisaged that every qualification or programme will, or should, have all of the characteristics set out in the level descriptors.

The positioning of two or more qualifications or programmes of learning at the same level should be taken as indicating only that they are broadly comparable in terms of the general level of outcome. It does not indicate that they have the same purpose, content or outcomes, nor does it take account of any structural or operational features. It is also important to note that the SCQF does not demonstrate equivalence of qualifications. An example of this is Advanced Higher, HNC, and the Certificate in Higher Education all being on level 7. Although these qualifications are all on the same level, they have quite different forms of delivery and assessment rules. When programme designers create a qualification they need to think about matters such as course content and the nature of the assessment required, but the SCQF is not directly concerned with either of these.

Qualifications awarded by Scottish higher education institutions, and those awarded or accredited by the SQA, will all be placed on the levels of the SCQF. The smallest free-standing qualifications (such as SQA Units) and components of larger qualifications (such as university modules) are allocated to a single level. Larger qualifications are allocated a final or exit level, but will often be composed of components at a number of different levels. For example, an individual who completes an SQA Scottish Group Award will normally have completed Units at two levels, while a holder of an Honours Degree will normally have completed units or modules at four levels.

In some cases, all the qualifications of a particular type will have the same exit level. In other cases, such as SQA's Professional Development Awards (PDAs), and Graduate Diplomas/Certificates awarded by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), they will have different exit levels, depending on level and volume of outcomes. All of SQA's qualifications will be in the framework by 2006.

The level descriptors are available to download from the Downloads page.

Credit points

SCQF points are used to quantify the outcomes of learning and give them a value or currency. These general SCQF points are allocated to outcomes of learning that are subject to valid, reliable methods of assessment.

The number of SCQF points is worked out on the basis of the amount of time that an 'average' learner at a specified level might expect to take to achieve the outcomes. In common with other credit systems, the SCQF works on the basis that one credit point represents the outcomes of learning achieved through a notional 10 hours of learning time. However, this is merely a guide and no points are added or taken away if more or less time is taken to achieve the outcomes. No points are 'earned' by a learner if the outcomes of learning are not achieved.

Most mainstream qualifications in Scotland have been developed on a credit basis with design rules related to the amount and level of credit required. For example, the achievement of a Higher National Diploma requires the accumulation of 96 SCQF points, at least 48 of which must be at level 7, while an SQA Course at Higher requires the accumulation of 24 SCQF points at level 6.

General SCQF points can be used to assist learners to transfer between programmes. The awarding bodies - SQA and individual universities - decide the extent to which this kind of transfer can take place. They determine how much of the credit already achieved is relevant to the new programme and the specific number of credits that can be transferred.