Frequently Asked Questions
Beyond the Exam
Beyond the Exam film - what is it about?
The film sets out in a clear and informative way, to explain to parents and learners, the journey of an exam paper from its creation to candidates getting their results – taking into account the changes to qualifications as a result of Curriculum for Excellence. The film also explains the SQA Results Services available to schools and colleges, to ensure fairness for all candidates.
Two copies of the film have been sent to every school and college, which can be used as a resource and to help teachers explain the process to parents and learners. The film has also been sent to parent groups – the National Parent Forum Scotland and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, so they can share it among their members.
What are grade boundaries/how do they work?
Awarding is one of a number of quality assurance procedures SQA has in place to ensure candidates sitting SQA qualifications are given the grade they deserve. Awarding is the procedure where the mark required to attain a particular grade within a course are decided. These mark requirements are called grade boundaries.
For each SQA qualification, the assessment, whether question paper or coursework, will be set with an intended level of demand which reflects the grade descriptors for the Course and attainment at the relevant level on the Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework (SCQF). If the assessment of a Course functioned as intended and there were no other mitigating circumstances, there is no requirement to make any grade boundary adjustments.
However, if the assessment is found to be easier or harder than intended, adjustments will have to be made to ensure that the national standard of the Course is maintained.
SQA takes its responsibility to uphold the high standards of Scottish qualifications very seriously.
What are Results Services?
Find out further information about SQA's Results Services
Changes to National Qualifications
What’s different about the new qualifications?
The new qualifications have been developed to support Curriculum for Excellence, which aims to help all young people in Scotland fulfil their potential and take their place in a modern society and economy. The qualifications recognise that there are different types of learners; they reward a wide range of achievement and reflect the work that learners have completed throughout the academic year.
There is more focus on skills development compared to the existing qualifications; the new qualifications are better suited to testing the skills required to succeed in the 21st century. There is also a greater emphasis on “deeper learning” by helping learners to think for themselves; to apply and interpret the knowledge and understanding they have developed and to demonstrate the skills they have learned.
Are the new qualifications a better test of skills?
The new qualifications have a greater focus on skills development, but will still retain the important elements of knowledge and understanding. The assessment methods that will be used reflect this new emphasis on the application of skills.
For most subjects at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, there will be an appropriate balance between exams and Coursework (assignments, portfolios, practical activities etc). This is to ensure a balance between the assessment of knowledge, understanding and skills; appropriate to the subject and level.
What are the long-term benefits for learners who study the new qualifications?
The new qualifications will equip learners with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to face the challenges of 21st century society. They have been designed to support the aims, values and purposes of Curriculum for Excellence, and learners will benefit from qualifications that support the curriculum and will experience a better planned, better connected and more progressive educational experience.
Assessment in the new qualifications will promote breadth and depth of understanding, will motivate and challenge learners, and will ensure a smooth progression from one qualification level to the next (eg when progressing from National 5 to Higher).
Will Intermediate and Access qualifications still be available?
Yes. During sessions 2013-14 and 2014-15, the current Access 2, Access 3, Intermediate and Higher qualifications will still be available alongside the new qualifications. This is to allow learners in S5 and S6 (who have previously sat Access 1/Access 2/Standard Grade/Intermediate 1/Intermediate 2 qualifications) to complete their education under the current qualifications system.
From 2015-16 onwards, Intermediate and Access qualifications will no longer be available.
Comparisons between new and previous/existing qualifications
How do National 4 and National 5 differ from Standard Grade General, Standard Grade Credit, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2?
Previously, learners in secondary schools started their Standard Grades in S3 and studied them over two years. Now, learners will begin studying for the new Nationals at the start of S4, and they will study them for the duration of one year. Learners in S1, S2 and S3 will now study a broad general education; which means they will study a broader range of subjects for a longer period, before commencing the Nationals in S4.
At National 4, there are no formal external exams; however, learners will be assessed throughout the year by their teacher/lecturer using SQA assessments. At National 5, exams remain an important part of the system, but for the majority of subjects there is now more emphasis on coursework and on-going assessment throughout the year.
The new qualifications have also been designed in hierarchies; which means they share a similar structure at each level. This means there will be a smoother progression between levels, eg when progressing from National 5 to Higher.
Is National 5 the same level as Standard Grade Credit?
Yes. The National 5 qualification is equivalent in level to Standard Grade Credit and Intermediate 2 qualifications (SCQF level 5).
Our online ready reckoner shows which qualifications the new National Qualifications will replace and what SQCF level they sit on.
Will the new National 5 be less challenging than Standard Grade Credit/Intermediate 2?
No. All new qualifications have been benchmarked against the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) to ensure that the current standards and levels in qualifications are maintained.
We will quality assure the new National Qualifications to ensure they are credible and continue to meet the national standard.
Assessment and exams
Will learners studying for the new qualifications still sit exams?
Most learners studying at National 5, Higher or Advanced Higher will still sit exams. To achieve a Course Award at National 5 and above, learners need to pass all Units of the Course plus a Course assessment, which consists of a question paper (exam) and/or coursework.
Further information is available on our Exams page.
National 1, National 2, National 3 and National 4 Courses do not include exams, and will be internally assessed by the school or college.
How will National 1 to National 4 be assessed?
National 1, National 2 and National 3 will be assessed through internally marked Unit assessments only.
At National 4, learners must pass all the Units in the Course, including an Added Value Unit. For the Added Value Unit, learners sit an Added Value Unit assessment that is marked internally by the school or college. It performs a similar function to the Course assessment at National 5 and above and provides the basis for assessing the Course.
National 1 to National 4 will not be graded but will be assessed as pass or fail. Find out more on our assessment page.
Why is National 4 assessed internally?
National 4 Courses have been designed to provide flexibility in timetabling and assessment. Internal assessment is more suitable for Courses at National 4 level and will help to build learners’ confidence in preparation for progression to National 5.
Does internally assessing National 4 mean the qualification will hold less weight?
No. All internally assessed qualifications will be subject to robust quality assurance by SQA, to ensure that the qualifications are being assessed at the national standard.
National 4 follows a similar model to other existing qualifications such as the Higher National Certificate (HNC) and the Higher National Diploma (HND), which are both internally-assessed but quality-assured by SQA. Many people use these qualifications to progress into employment or to get into higher education, often with advanced standing (where the university accepts the qualification as credit towards completing an undergraduate course, enabling the student to enter the course at a more advanced stage, eg entering at second year instead of first year).
Can learners still be presented for early assessment?
Yes. Schools still have the flexibility to present learners early, where it is in the interest of the individual.
Should learners still sit prelims?
It is for individual centres to decide whether or not to use prelims, as they do not form part of the formal assessment process and are not a requirement of SQA qualifications. Some centres use them to:
- help measure learners' progress with the Course
- provide feedback to learners and parents on their progress
- inform decisions on what level of qualification is appropriate for each learner
- prepare learners for the Course assessment
- provide a source of alternative evidence for the Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service
What is added value?
The new qualifications place greater emphasis on deeper learning – in other words, trying to help learners to think for themselves and use what they have learned in practice. To aid this, the new qualifications will do more than test the skills, knowledge and understanding that learners have developed; they will also assess the following:
- breadth – the range of knowledge, skills and understanding that learners have developed throughout the Course
- challenge – how learners have deepened or extended their knowledge and/or skills
- application – how well learners can apply their knowledge and/or skills to different situations
This is known as the ‘added value’ of the Course, and it applies to all Courses at National 4 and above.
How is added value assessed?
At National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, added value is assessed through the Course assessment.
National 4 Courses include an Added Value Unit that performs a similar function to the Course assessment at National 5 and above. Learners will sit an Added Value Unit assessment, which provides the basis for assessing the Course at National 4. Find out more about added value.
Grading the new qualifications
How are the new qualifications graded?
National 1 to National 4 are not graded, but will be assessed as pass or fail.
Courses at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher are graded A to D. Grading is based on the learner’s performance in the Course assessment.
What does Grade D mean?
Grade D, like grades C to A, is reported on the candidate's Qualifications Certificate as a Course award in its own right. Grade D indicates that the candidate has:
- achieved all the National Units for the Course at that level
- attained between 45% and 49% in the Course assessment.
Is the achievement of a Grade D in a National 5 Course of more value than achieving a pass at National 4?
National 5 Courses - which are graded A to D - carry 24 SCQF credit points at SCQF level 5, reflecting the level of demand and challenge involved.
National 4 Courses - which are not graded - also carry 24 SCQF points, but these are at SCQF level 4, which has a lower level of demand and challenge.
Will grades at National 5 and above be banded?
When the candidate receives their Qualifications Certificate in August, it will simply state that they have achieved a grade A, B, C or D – or “No Award”. However, the school/college will be sent details of what band they have achieved their grade at.
So, for example, if the candidate has achieved a grade A for one of their Courses, the school/college will be notified as to whether they have achieved an A (upper) at Band 1 or an A (lower) at Band 2.
What is the fallback position for new National Qualifications?
There are no automatic compensatory arrangements at any level.
If a learner receives a ‘fail’ or ‘No Award’ result, they will still receive credit for the Units they have achieved at that level. This means that when they receive their qualifications certificate, the Units that they have passed within the Course will appear on the detailed Record of Attainment section of their qualifications certificate pack. Each Unit will be listed along with the SCQF credit points obtained.
Are there fallback arrangements for learners who receive a fail or 'No Award' result?
There are no automatic compensatory arrangements at any level. However, our Recognising Positive Achievement arrangements support learners who don’t achieve the Course Award at National 5 but may be eligible to achieve National 4 instead.
Any learners wishing to re-sit the following year will only be required to complete the parts of the Course that they have not already passed. It is at the discretion of the school to decide whether or not to re-enter candidates.
Will learners still choose subjects?
Yes. Learners will still choose which subjects they want to study at National 2, National 3, National 4 and National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher levels.
To find out when learners will make their subject choices and how many they will choose, please speak to the school or college.
Will learners who take 5, 6 or 7 subjects in S4 be disadvantaged compared to those in other schools who take 8?
No learner should be disadvantaged by the new qualifications. We have been working with universities, colleges and employers, to make sure that they are fully aware of the implications of the new qualifications, and how they will benefit as young people start to leave school with new qualifications.
Scottish Universities are currently reviewing policies on entry requirements to reflect Curriculum for Excellence and, nationally, university leaders have affirmed that they will continue to be committed to fair admissions policies and that these will allow equal consideration of candidates regardless of the number of subjects they have studied.
How can I keep up to date with the latest developments on a particular subject?
The easiest way to keep up to date is to visit our subject pages and select the relevant subject. From there, you can see what stage of the process each qualification is at and access the latest documents for the Course. Our subject pages are split into Course levels (National 4, National 5 etc) and contain important updates and announcements.
When we publish new documents and support materials, we put a news item on our CfE News pages. If you are signed up to MyAlerts you will receive a notification of this. We also inform all of our partners and key stakeholders (eg teaching unions, parent bodies and employers) so that they can share this information through their own communication channels.
Literacy and numeracy
What is SQA doing to address literacy and numeracy?
Literacy and/or numeracy skills will be developed within all National Courses. How this takes place will vary from Course to Course depending on the subject area.
There are also new Units in Literacy and Numeracy. Literacy Units are a mandatory part of English and Gàidhlig at National 3 and National 4. The Numeracy Unit is a mandatory part of Mathematics at National 4 and Lifeskills Maths at National 3, National 4 and National 5.
The development of literacy and numeracy among learners is the responsibility of everyone in Scotland’s education system.
Further information is available on our Literacy and Numeracy page.
What support is available in National Literacy Units for disabled learners and learners with additional support needs?
We have produced a quick and easy guide to supportive practices for National Literacy Units, which can be accessed from our literacy support page. This guide may be helpful to schools/colleges, learners, parents/carers and others interested in the support available in National Literacy Units.
With specialist help from colleagues in the Glasgow Dyslexia Support Service, we have also published assessment support materials for teachers and lecturers, to encourage and promote inclusive practice in the assessment of National Literacy Units at National 3 and National 4 – particularly where learners may have reading and writing difficulties. Teachers/lecturers can arrange access to these materials through their SQA Co-ordinator.
What are new Awards?
Alongside the new National Qualifications, SQA has developed a number of new Awards, which are now available for schools and colleges to deliver.
Wider Achievement Awards:
- Personal Achievement Awards
- Personal Development Awards
- Modern Languages for Life and Work Awards
- Wellbeing Awards
- Religion, Belief and Values Award
- Scottish Studies Award
- Cycling Awards
The new Awards cover work from different subject areas and are shorter than traditional Courses. They recognise success across different levels of difficulty, meaning they are suitable for young people of all abilities. They will be marked and assessed internally and do not have any external assessments or exams. Further information can be found on our Awards page.
Developing the new qualifications
What is a Subject Working Group?
Subject Working Groups (SWGs) carry out specific pieces of work as designated by the Qualifications Design Teams (QDTs). Teachers and lecturers have nominated themselves to join these groups. You can find out more about Subject Working Groups on our Quality Assurance page.
What is a Curriculum Area Review Group?
Curriculum Area Review Groups (CARGs) are groups that help us to develop the new qualifications by providing advice and guidance in each curriculum area. Each group is made up of nominated representatives from partner organisations, stakeholders, teaching associations and parent groups.
Find out more about the work of CARGs, and how members were nominated, on our Development Groups web page.
Implementing the new qualifications
How is SQA supporting schools and colleges to implement the new qualifications?
Our Curriculum for Excellence Liaison team is continuing to visit every school and college across Scotland to meet with teachers and parents, to explain the changes, answer questions, and gather feedback to gauge what further support is needed to deliver the new National Qualifications.
We are continuing to run support and information events for teaching staff across Scotland, and we are providing tailored webinars as well. Find out more on our events page.
Throughout the development process, teachers/lecturers have been provided with assessment support materials to help them prepare for teaching and assessment. To date, we have published more than 1,000 assessment support documents.
We continue to keep schools and colleges updated every step of the way with regular monthly e-newsletters containing all the latest news and developments on the new qualifications. These are also posted on our CfE News page.
Quality assuring internal assessment
How will SQA ensure that national standards are met and maintained in the new qualifications?
We have introduced new quality assurance arrangements to support internal assessment of the new National Qualifications. A combination of approaches will be used to externally verify the assessments to ensure they continue to meet national standards. Further information is available on our Quality Assurance page.
We are also introducing controlled assessment to ensure consistent setting, conducting and marking of assessments. Further information is available on our assessment page.
Will SQA provide support to teachers/lecturers to help them understand the national standards?
Yes. Teachers/lecturers are already teaching and assessing to very high standards in schools and colleges, and continuing this good practice is an important part of implementing the new National Qualifications.
We are providing ongoing support to schools and colleges and are continuing to run support and information events for teaching staff across Scotland. Assessment support materials are also available on SQA's Secure website, which outline the Assessment Standards that need to be met, and show how the evidence gathered can be judged against the Outcomes and Assessment Standards. Teachers/lecturers can arrange access to these confidential documents through their SQA Co-ordinator.
I’ve read that schools/colleges can develop their own Unit assessments using the assessments that SQA has published. How will SQA ensure that these are fit for purpose?
For schools/colleges that devise their own Unit assessments, we will continue to offer a prior verification service, where the assessment is scrutinised by an SQA appointee. This gives the school or college additional confidence that their assessment is fit for purpose and meets national standards. More information on prior verification can be found on our delivery page.
What is a Nominee?
Each Quality Assurance panel requires a number of subject specialists to undertake quality assurance activities. The number of subject specialists on each panel will depend on the total number of centres who are delivering new National Qualifications in the relevant subject area.
Your local authority will be asked to nominate the required number of subject specialists to take part in these panels. If you are interested in being nominated as a subject specialist, you should contact your SQA Co-ordinator.
Skills for learning, life and work
What are Skills for Learning, Life and Work?
Skills for Learning, Life and Work (SfLLW) is a framework of five broad, generic skills that has been used when developing the new National Qualifications. The five broad areas of generic skills are:
- Health and Wellbeing
- Employability, enterprise and citizenship
- Thinking Skills
The development of SfLLW occurs naturally in many of the new National Courses and Awards, where learners will develop these skills in addition to knowledge, understanding and subject-based skills. There are also some new National Courses that have a direct focus on developing SfLLW.
The aim of SfLLW is to improve the skill sets of learners to better prepare them for the world they live and work in. Find out more about Skills for Learning, Life and Work.
Skills for Work Courses
Are Skills for Work Courses changing?
No. Our Skills for Work Courses will continue to offer practical experience linked to particular careers, which encourage young people to become familiar with the world of work.
In light of the new qualifications, the titles of Skills for Work Courses have now changed from Access 3, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 to National 3, National 4 and National 5 respectively. This is to ensure consistency, but it is important to note that there has been no change to the content of these Courses.
We are continuing to develop new Skills for Work Courses; such as the Creative Industries Skills for Work Course and the Travel and Tourism Course.
Universities, colleges and employers
Are universities, colleges and employers aware of the changes to the National Qualifications?
Yes. We communicate with universities, colleges and employers on a regular basis to ensure that they are aware of the changes. Scotland’s Colleges (the organisation that represents further education colleges in Scotland) is also represented on the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board and plays an active role in shaping the new qualifications.
We have attended a number of Higher Education events to talk about the new National Qualifications, including the UCAS Conference in Glasgow.
Our CfE Liaison Team also continues to engage with employers across Scotland.
Will universities adapt their entry requirements to include the new qualifications?
Universities have been considering revisions to their entry requirements to include the new National Qualifications, and a number of universities have already published their updated admissions statements. Find out more.
Please also use the A-Z Jargon Buster to explain our most common terms and acronyms.