FOI23/24-165 Exam Exceptional Circumstances

Date published: 18/04/2024

FOI reference: 23/24 165

Date received: 25/04/2024

Date responded: 18/04/2024

Information requested

I would like to request information under FOISA.

The SQA website contains information about the Exam Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service (EECCS). It gives two 'outline reasons' to categorise the circumstances that would allow someone to qualify for EECCS, within which there are six 'detailed reasons' further defining the qualification criteria.

Even if, as stated, an exhaustive list of detailed reasons cannot be produced, there must be some form of guidance or other information confirming qualification for the EECCS. For example, would the death of a pet fish count as a bereavement? Would a bad cold, or period cramps, which had affected a learner in an exam count as a medical condition? What sort of things might count as a domestic circumstance or an exceptional absence? I note that one specific example is provided, with the website stating that disruption to learning prior to the exam would not meet the requirements for a student to be able to make use of the EECCS.

I would like you to release all materials (e.g. briefings, guidance, discussion papers, meeting papers) regarding the criteria for students to qualify to make use of the EECCS. 


The Examination Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service (EECCS) supports learners who have been unable to attend an exam, or whose performance in the exam has been affected by a personal circumstance, or who have experienced an unplanned incident on the day. It is a pre-certification service that covers situations where an exceptional circumstance has impacted a learner’s performance on the day of an exam.

SQA provides information to centres. This information supports centres to understand eligibility for EECCS and explains how centres should use the service. We use the term ‘reason(s)’ to detail the criteria. Within our centre information, exceptional circumstances are categorised as either ‘personal circumstances’ or ‘examination circumstances’. These are called outline reasons. Under each outline reason there are detailed reasons, such as a medical condition or a disruption.

It is not possible to produce a definitive list that covers every possible exceptional circumstance. However, each request submitted should correspond with one of the following reasons.

Outline reason Detailed reason
Personal circumstance


Medical condition*

Domestic circumstance

Exceptional absence

Examination circumstance**

Examination arrangements ***


There are currently no COVID-19 rules or restrictions in Scotland and we are now living with COVID-19 as a respiratory infection. Further information can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.

*Schools, colleges or training providers will not be required to specify the nature of the medical condition when submitting a request, but they must hold documentation such as a letter or statement from the head of centre confirming that it affected the learner.

** To be considered for an EECCS request, learners must have been affected during the exam by a disruption, or other exam circumstance, reported by the chief invigilator.

*** Examination arrangement related exceptional circumstances include situations where the centre fails to correctly implement a pre-agreed assessment arrangement.


Eligibility is determined by the school, college or training provider based on information provided by SQA and authorised by the head of centre or their delegate. This means that centres access the service to help support fairness of access and there is no direct access for learners.


Responsibility for determining eligibility to use the service lies with the head of centre or their delegate. This is important as it is the schools, colleges and training providers that are closer to the circumstances learners experience and because of this, it is appropriate that they make these decisions in collaboration with their learners based on this developed understanding of their circumstances and the associated impacts. Centres are also better placed to understand the specific requirements related to the submission of an EECCS request and as such can better support learners in deciding whether a request should be made. SQA has trust in the head of centre role to ensure use of the service is as legitimate, consistent and as fair as possible. It should be noted that learners are required to give their consent to ensure they agree with a request being submitted on their behalf.

It would be for the head of centre to determine whether the scenarios you outlined in your enquiry which related to bereavement / medical condition, would be considered valid. This is based on their understanding of the full context of such situations, combined with their direct experience of the resulting impacts on the learner and in turn how these impacts may have affected either their ability to attend an examination or their performance in an examination. heads of centre use their holistic understanding of the situation, their professional judgement and the information we provide to make the final determination regarding whether an EECCS request should be submitted on behalf of a learner. Only requests that have been approved by the head of centre will be accepted by SQA. 

Further detail regarding the sections of our information that directly relate to your enquiry are explained below:


Personal circumstances

The personal circumstances outline reason is available only for learners who are unable to attend the exam due to a personal circumstance, or learners whose performance on the day of the exam was affected by a personal circumstance.

Personal circumstance: bereavement

These requests will be the result of a recent bereavement that means the learner is too upset to complete an exam or is affected during the exam.

Example requests:

Following the recent death of a close family member or friend, the learner is too upset to attempt, or complete, the exam.

Personal circumstance: medical condition

These requests are likely to be a result of the learner being incapacitated or unable to attempt the exam because of a severe medical condition. Minor ailments are not considered valid for exceptional circumstance consideration.

Requests related to COVID are submitted under the ‘medical condition’ detailed reason.

Centres are not required to specify the medical condition when submitting a request, but must hold documentation such as a letter or statement from the head of centre confirming that the condition meant that the learner was unable to sit the exam. A medical certificate/GP letter is not an essential requirement for entry into the service.

Example requests:


The learner is admitted to hospital and is unable to attend the exam.

The learner experiences severe vomiting the night before an exam and is unable to attend the exam.


Personal circumstance: domestic circumstance

These requests will follow an unexpected circumstance, over which the learner had no control, relating to their personal life.

Example requests:

The learner is the victim of a crime immediately before an exam and this prevents them attending the exam.


A member of the learner’s immediate family is rushed to hospital the night before the exam with a sudden illness and this prevents them attending the exam, or affects their performance.

Personal circumstance: exceptional absence

Where circumstances are known in advance of the exam, the centre can submit a Change of Timetable request for the learner to advance or delay the start time.

If alternative arrangements cannot be implemented, an exceptional circumstances consideration request can, in some circumstances, be made.

Example requests:

Coincident exam — where a learner is entered for two qualifications whose examinations times coincide and rescheduling is impractical.

The learner is attending court and the date of the hearing cannot be rescheduled.

Examination circumstances

To be considered for an Examination Circumstances request, learners must have been affected during the exam by a disruption, or other exam circumstance, reported by the chief invigilator.

Examination circumstances: Examination Arrangement or Disruption

Invigilators are provided with procedures to manage many types of unplanned incidents or issues with examination arrangements and interruptions or disturbances during exams. Invigilation teams should use these procedures to minimise any adverse effect on learner performance, thus avoiding the need to request exceptional circumstances consideration.

If, however, the action taken does not fully mitigate the circumstance, an exceptional circumstances request can be submitted. In such cases an Invigilator’s Report must have been submitted to SQA.

All Examination Circumstances requests are subject to additional quality assurance by SQA before they are approved. This is to ensure a consistent approach is applied nationally.

Example requests:

Examination Arrangement: the learner’s agreed assessment arrangement was not implemented correctly.

Disruption: there is a fire alarm during the exam, meaning the exam room is evacuated and the exam cannot resume.

Please find enclosed copies of documentation concerning EECCS criteria. Documents have been redacted to remove personal details, under section 38 and information not within the scope of your request.


FOI23/24 165 Information Sheet (4.74 MB)