Using SQA unit assessments

Students and teacher in classroom setting gathered around a desk

This page contains information for teachers and lecturers on delivering unit assessments in National Qualifications, including National 4 Added Value Unit assessments.

Changes to assessment in National Courses

In September 2016, the Deputy First Minister announced that units and unit assessments will be removed from National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses. These are being removed on a phased basis from 2017-18 onwards.

View information on changes to assessment in National Courses.

When delivering unit assessments in session 2016-17, please refer to the document Understanding the next steps for session 2016-17, which is available from each of our NQ subject pages.

Browse the NQ subject pages

Which documents should I refer to when delivering units?

Unit Specification

The Unit Specification provides an outline of what each unit will cover and details the outcomes and assessment standards that need to be met. Unit Specifications are available from the NQ subject pages of our website.

Browse our NQ subject pages.

Unit assessment support

For every unit, there is a corresponding Unit assessment support pack that shows a unit-by-unit approach to assessment. For units in National Courses, there are also unit assessment support packs that show combined and portfolio approaches.

Unit assessment support packs give examples of assessments that you can use with your candidates to produce evidence that meets the outcomes and assessment standards for the unit. The packs also detail the conditions for assessment and show how the assessment evidence should be judged. They are available from our secure website and you can arrange access to them through your SQA Co-ordinator. They must be stored securely and treated as confidential.

Is it mandatory to use the unit assessments provided by SQA?

No, it is not mandatory to use the unit assessments that we have provided. You have the following options:

  • use the unit assessments provided
  • adapt the unit assessments to suit the needs of your candidates
  • use them as a basis to develop your own unit assessments

This also applies to National 4 Added Value Unit assessments. If you choose to develop your own Added Value Unit assessment, you will need to make sure that there are opportunities for candidates to produce work that meets the evidence requirements and the outcomes and assessment standards for the Added Value Unit – as detailed in the Added Value Unit Specification.

What are the assessment conditions that should be put in place?

There are generally no restrictions on the assessment conditions to be put in place. Unless otherwise stated in the Unit Specification, you can decide which assessment conditions are most appropriate for individual candidates.

Some Unit Specifications may outline any specific assessment conditions that need to be followed, such as:

  • Open book - where candidates may have access to reference books during the assessment
  • Closed book - where no reference books are permitted during the assessment

Do candidates need to provide a piece of evidence for each assessment standard?

No. To produce a single piece of evidence for each assessment standard could lead to over-assessment and it is important to allow candidates sufficient time to complete each unit, as well as time to prepare for course assessment where applicable.

A single task or activity can cover several - or all - of the outcomes and assessment standards for a unit and could even cover the outcomes and assessment standards for several units.

How do I judge the assessment evidence?

Unit assessment support packs contain 'Judging Evidence Tables' which provide commentary on how candidates' work is to be judged against each assessment standard. You should use these tables when assessing candidates' work and indicate on their work if the assessment standards have been met.

Can I produce my own marking scheme?

Yes, you may produce your own marking scheme if you find it helpful, and you could do this by assigning marks to each assessment standard. However, this approach should only be used as a guide to help you identify if the candidate has met all of the required standards. Units are pass/fail and candidates should continue to be assess as pass or fail only -  they should not be given percentage scores or a number of marks.

Can candidates be reassessed if they fail a unit?

Yes. You may reassess a candidate that has failed a unit, including the Added Value Unit. We advise that candidates should only be given one - or in exceptional circumatances, two - reassessment opportunities for each unit. However, it is at the discretion of your centre to decide on the most appropriate approach.

Some Unit assessment support packs specify the conditions for reassessment, which must also be followed.

I would like to develop my own unit assessment, what are the key things I should consider?

If you develop your own unit assessment, your assessment must ensure opportunities for candidates to produce work which meets the evidence requirements and the outcomes and assessment standards for the unit (as detailed in the Unit Specification). Candidate work can take a number of different forms and may involve a combination of assessment methods, so you should use your professional judgement and knowledge of your candidates to select the most appropriate assessment activity.

If I develop my own assessment, should I have it checked by SQA to make sure it is fit for purpose?

Yes. We strongly advise that you submit it to us for prior verification - where an SQA appointee will check over the assessment to make sure it is fit for purpose and meets National Standards. We recommend that you do this before using the assessment with your candidates.

If you have not produced your own unit assessment, but you have chosen to modify or adapt the context of the assessment that has been provided in the Unit assessment support pack, then you do not need to submit it to use for prior verification. As long as you have not made changes to the mandatory content, have followed the advice in the Unit assessment support pack and maintained the same level of demand and difficulty, then we will consider this to be a minor change.

Find out more about prior verification.

If I submit an assessment for prior verification, will SQA edit it for me?

No. The purpose of prior verification is to check that the assessment is fit for purpose. We will not proof or edit your assessment and it will be returned to you in the original format in which it was submitted - including any spelling or grammatical errors.

Has SQA published any examples of unit assessments or exemplars that show how units should be assessed?

Yes. We have published examples of unit assessments which have been prior verified by an SQA appointee as fit for purpose and you can use them with your candidates. These assessments have not been edited by SQA so may contain spelling or grammatical errors.

We have also published candidate evidence and commentary materials as part of our Understanding Standards programme. These materials contain examples of candidate evidence, along with commentaries that explain why the evidence has or has not met the required standards for the unit.

These materials are available from our secure website and you can arrange access to them through your SQA Co-ordinator. They must be stored securely and treated as confidential.

Find out more about Understanding Standards.