SQA announces more support for learners taking National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams this year

1 February 2022

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has confirmed that a package of support services – including some further help with exam revision – will be available for learners who are taking National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher courses in 2022.

It is still the clear intention for SQA exams to take place during April to June.

The additional support being announced today follows the significant modifications already made to course assessments at the start of the school year to help reduce the volume of assessment and ease the workload of learners, teachers and lecturers, whilst maintaining the credibility and integrity of the qualifications.

SQA has been closely monitoring the levels of disruption to learning and teaching across the country, including learner and staff absences. Following discussion with partners across the education system, and agreement by the SQA Board of Management, SQA is now moving to ‘Scenario 2’. This means that some revision support will be published for learners during week beginning 7 March to help them with their revision in the final run up to their exams.

SQA will provide revision support for all courses that have an exam. This will be tailored to reflect different types of question papers, any modifications to the question papers that are already in place, and the type and volume of content that is assessed in each question paper.

Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive and Scotland’s Chief Examiner, said: “I fully understand that there remains significant disruption to learning and teaching caused by the pandemic. Teachers and lecturers across the country are working exceptionally hard to ensure learners receive all the support they need. I am also aware that learners may be feeling apprehensive or anxious about sitting formal exams for the first time this year.

“The substantial package of additional support SQA is announcing today is the fairest and best way we can help support all learners to demonstrate their level of knowledge, understanding and skills for each course, while also maintaining the integrity, credibility and standard of the qualifications.

“With the support of the education system, we will continue to do all we can to deliver for Scotland’s learners this year.”

Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: “Given the significant disruption to learning and teaching as a consequence of staff and pupil absence, and the resultant level of anxiety which young people are experiencing in the lead up to National examinations, it is important that as comprehensive support as is possible to provide is made available to them. This wide-ranging support package will go a long way to enabling exam candidates to better demonstrate the true level of their knowledge and skills.”

Stewart Nicolson, from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland said: “Given the level of disruption, it’s important that additional support has been identified for learners taking National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams this year.”

The other support services now available to learners are:

Exam exceptional circumstances service (available while exams are taking place)

This service is available for learners who are unable to attend an exam due to a reason beyond their control, such as a medical condition (including Covid-19 related absence) or bereavement, or who are affected by disruption on the day of the exam as reported by the Chief Invigilator.

The exam exceptional circumstances service will involve SQA appointees – practising teachers and lecturers – reviewing alternative assessment evidence that learners have completed through the year. Schools, colleges and training providers will need to send the evidence to SQA. This evidence will be judged against the national standard.

Grading (takes place once exams have been sat and marked)

In recognition of the disruption that learners have faced over the last two years, and the different approaches to assessment, this year we are prepared to be more generous in our approach to grading than in a normal year to factor in the impact of the pandemic on learners. In line with the approach being taken across the rest of the UK, SQA therefore expects that the overall outcomes in 2022 will represent an intermediary position between 2021 and pre-pandemic years.

SQA’s approach to grading the exams in 2022 will be based on its established awarding processes. Using ‘grade boundaries’ – the marks needed to achieve an A, B or C grade in each course – SQA will check that each assessment was set at the right standard or level of difficulty, making sure learners are treated fairly and that their grades accurately reflect what they know and can do.

During the grade boundary setting process, SQA appointees – practising teachers and lecturers who are subject experts in each course – will determine the 2022 grade boundaries by looking at all the available assessment evidence and course information, including the impact disruption has had on how learners have performed in the assessments.

This process also maintains the integrity and credibility of the qualifications and ensures learners are awarded the results they deserve. This is of vital interest to all those who hold qualifications now, for those who will achieve them in the future and for further and higher education establishments and employers.

Appeals service 2022 (after results have been published)

All parts of the Scottish education system agree that, as in any year, it is important that there is an appeals process available for learners who want to question their SQA results. In 2022, all learners will continue to have free direct access to the appeals service and a priority service will also be available for those applying to university, college, training or employment.

This year’s appeals service will involve SQA appointees – practising teachers and lecturers – who will review alternative assessment evidence that learners have completed through the year. This will be the same evidence as that used for an exam exceptional circumstances request, which will be judged against the same national standard for that course. SQA will also conduct a clerical check on the exam script. Schools, colleges and training providers will need to send the alternative assessment evidence to SQA.

Learners’ grades through the appeals process will be based upon the higher grade of the two types of evidence.

More information, including criteria for using the exam exceptional circumstances and appeals services, will be published over the coming weeks.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

We have also published answers to common questions about 2022 exams/contingency plans and about the exceptional circumstances and appeals services.