A-Z Useful Definitions

This page will explain some of the common terms and acronyms relating to the National Qualifications.

A - D

Added Value 

Added Value is about making sure that learners can put their skills, knowledge and understanding into practice.

At National 4, learners undertake a compulsory Added Value Unit as part of the Course. Learners complete an Added Value Unit assessment, which also provides the basis for assessing the Course as a whole. This is assessed as a pass or a fail.

At National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, added value is assessed through completing the Course assessment, which may involve a combination of assessment methods.


An individual who is entered for a qualification or assessment. 


SQA works with ‘centres’. These are schools, colleges, training providers and other organisations with the authority to deliver SQA qualifications. 

Controlled assessment 

Our consistent approach to developing, conducting and marking Course assessments.

Core Skills 

The fundamental skills that help people through their education, work and life. The Core Skills are Communication, Numeracy, Problem Solving, Information Technology, and Working with Others.

Visit our Core Skills web page.


A collection of Units are combined to make a Course. Courses at National 5 and above are not just made up of Units – they also include an overall Course assessment which can be made up of coursework and a traditional exam.

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is the curriculum and qualifications system in Scotland for 3-18-year-olds.

E - H


E-assessment is assessment which takes place online or through an electronic system. 


Candidates who are entered for a particular qualification on our system. 


Information which can be gathered to show a learner’s attainment. 

External Assessment 

This means that marking is undertaken by SQA.

Marking that is carried out by the school or college is known as internal assessment.

Formative assessment

Assessment which takes place throughout a Course. 

Free-standing Unit

A Unit that can be undertaken on its own and not part of a larger qualification.


The term used to describe Courses and Units that form a structured progression involving two or more SCQF levels. Courses that are in a hierarchy will normally have a common set of Units. 

Most of our National Courses and Units have been developed in hierarchies to support smooth progression through the levels of qualifications.


Holistic means looking across all areas, for example, of the curriculum. 

I - L

Interdisciplinary Project 

A project undertaken as part of a Scottish Baccalaureate qualification, where subject knowledge is applied in realistic contexts.

Visit our Scottish Baccalaureates web page.

Internal assessment

This means that the assessment is set and marked by the school or college.

Assessments set and marked by SQA are known as external assessments.

M - P

Mandatory Unit 

A mandatory Unit is one which must be achieved in order to pass a Course.


See National Assessment Resource.

National Assessment Resource (NAR)

An online resource to help support assessment approaches for CfE. It hosts materials to help teachers. 


By practitioner, we mean a teacher, college lecturer or other education professional. 


Progression means moving from one qualification to another. This can be vertically (moving on to a qualification at a higher level) or horizontally (moving on to a qualification at a similar level).

Q -T

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance ensures that rigorous and credible national standards are maintained.

SQA's approach to quality assurance is based on our principles of partnership, fairness and transparency and designed to support centres at all stages in their delivery of SQA qualifications.

Visit our Quality Assurance web page.


See Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is a way of comparing and understanding Scottish qualifications. It does this by giving qualifications a level and credit points. These tell you how difficult a qualification is, and how long it takes to achieve the qualification.

Visit our SCQF web page.

SCQF credit points 

Credit points show the size of a qualification and how much work is involved in achieving it. One SCQF credit point equals about 10 hours of learning.

This is one way of comparing qualifications using the SCQF. The other way is by SCQF level.

SCQF level 

The SCQF level shows how difficult a qualification is. 

There are 12 levels on the SCQF. Level 1 is the least difficult and level 12 is the most difficult.

Skills for learning, life and work 

A framework which outlines definitions of the five broad areas of generic skills that are essential for qualification development. These are: literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, employability, enterprise and citizenship, and thinking skills. 

Visit our Skills for learning, life and work web page.

Summative assessment 

Assessment which takes place at the end of a Course.

U - Z


Units are the building blocks we use to make up Courses. They may also be done as individual qualifications on a free-standing basis – known as free-standing units.


The process used by SQA to ensure qualifications are fit for purpose. 


Part of our quality assurance process, to ensure all centres offering SQA qualifications are meeting the national standards.

Visit our Quality Assurance web page.