Journey to results

How exams are marked and grades decided

Are you curious about what happens to your exam paper once you leave the exam room? 

Watch our exam to results day animation to find out.

Grade boundaries

While the impact caused by the pandemic may have been less severe than in previous years, this year has not yet been a return to normal.

We evaluate learners’ performance in assessments in an equitable and fair way, while ensuring national standards are maintained so that qualifications remain credible over time.

We, together with partners across the education community, again designed a package of support for learners, to help support recovery of teaching and learning, while maintaining the standards and credibility of our qualifications. The package of support included:

  • modifications to course assessments, carried over from the 2021-22 session
  • an Exam Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service
  • a sensitive approach to grading, and
  • a direct appeals service.

After exams and coursework are completed, all question papers are packaged up and securely sent to be marked.

Over 6,500 experienced, subject-expert teachers and lecturers from across Scotland – mark the question papers and coursework.

They determine final marks in line with national standards, through careful application of marks schemes and following training and guidance from SQA. The consistency of marking is monitored by SQA throughout the marking period to ensure markers stay on standard.

Once marking is completed, 140 awarding meetings take place to evaluate how the assessment – exams, and in most subjects, coursework – for each National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher has performed. They set the minimum marks needed to get an A, B, C or D grade in a particular subject and level.

Overall, the aim is to ensure standards are maintained year on year, so that the qualifications and grades awarded retain their value and currency.

Final grades are based on learners’ demonstrated attainment as reflected in their performance in their SQA assessments. Historic performance at schools, colleges or local authorities is not used to determine grades.

Grade boundary meetings are not provided with any information that identifies individual learners, schools, colleges, training providers, or local authorities.

Grade boundary decisions are made using the expert judgement of senior examiners, the Principal Assessor and their depute, who are experienced subject specialists and course teachers or lecturers. To ensure a consistent approach to each subject, decision making meetings are chaired by senior SQA staff.

No. Grade boundaries vary from subject to subject, and by level, as all the information about how the assessment of each course has performed is reviewed separately.

Each course has its own content that allows learners to develop a specific set of knowledge, understanding and skills at distinct levels of difficulty. How learners are assessed to achieve a National 5, Higher or Advanced Higher in each course is different, based on its unique content and skills.

In 2023, normal awarding procedures were in place. However, a sensitive approach to grading was adopted which was intended to provide an extra layer of protection for learners as part of our package of support.​

A range of qualitative data was used, including feedback from marking teams, supported by statistical data, such as the estimates received from schools and colleges.

Grade boundary adjustments are made to deal with any specific issues identified after a thorough evaluation of the evidence – for instance if a question paper or questions have been too hard, or not challenging enough.

In addition, we have been sensitive to the challenges learners have faced as recovery from the pandemic continues.

Using all the evidence and experience of our senior examiners, practising teachers and lecturers, for each subject and level, we considered the impact of:

  • ongoing pandemic disruption to teaching and learning
  • the modifications to course assessments
  • the removal of revision support.

We also monitored learners’ performance and skills recovery. At each stage of the grade boundary process, we took time to review the evidence and decisions to ensure all factors had been fully considered before grades were finalised.

This approach has helped to ensure fairness, while maintaining standards and the credibility of qualifications over time.

Learners receive their results for National Qualifications, Courses, and Awards on Tuesday 8 August. ​

All learners receive results by postal delivery. For those with activated MySQA accounts, they also receive their results by text and/or email from 8am on Tuesday 8 August.

If a learner has a concern about a grade for a National 5, Higher or Advanced Higher course, they can appeal either via their school or college or by using SQA’s learner direct service. It is a free service and opens at 9am on Tuesday 8 August.

A priority service is available for those learners with a conditional place at university or college, or in training or employment that is dependent on their grade.

The submission deadlines are:​

  • Tuesday 15 August at 11:59pm for priority appeals​
  • Tuesday 29 August at 11:59pm for all other appeals​

More help and advice for learners