SQA Standards

SQA sets, maintains and monitors standards as part of our role as Scotland’s national qualifications body. We monitor standards in two ways:

  • Qualification standards
  • Assessment standards

Qualification standards

We define the level of knowledge and skills needed to achieve a qualification. We then apply these standards to a candidate’s achievement to gauge whether they have the required ‘level of competence’.

Assessment standards

Assessing how difficult the assessment is for candidates, taking into account everything the assessment covers. 

How we monitor standards

We work with schools, colleges, private training providers and employers to ensure that standards are accurate and consistent, across all qualifications, all the time. Each year, we evaluate the performance of our external assessments. For National Courses, grade boundaries, pass rates and qualitative data provided by examination teams are used to inform the preparation of future assessments.

Each SQA qualification is benchmarked against qualifications on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Awarding and setting standards

We review our grade boundaries (the marks needed to achieve a certain grade) year on year, to ensure exam results are fair across Scotland. Senior SQA staff regularly meet with subject specialists to discuss whether Course assessment was set at the right level. With statistical information we can justify whether a question was more difficult or easier than intended.

For more information on awarding, please read How we set grade boundaries (167 KB) 

Monitoring standards over time

Comparing standards over time means that a Course or Unit is equally demanding, even if it has been replaced or reviewed. Our Monitoring Standards programme samples qualifications, across subjects and levels, to ensure that SQA qualifications and Units are awarded on the basis of consistent standards.

For more information on how we ensure consistency, please read our Monitoring Standards Over Time Reports below:

Reports for 2015

National Qualifications:

  • Advanced Higher History
  • Higher English
  • Higher French
  • National 5 Administration and IT

Higher National Units:

  • Electrical Engineering
  • Sports Coaching
  • Communication

Scottish Vocational Qualifications:

  • Health and Social Care (Adults)
  • Health and Social Care (Children and Young People)

Monitoring Standards Over Time 2015 (503 KB)

Reports for 2014

National Qualifications:

  • Advanced Higher Graphic Communication
  • Higher Art and Design
  • Higher Geography
  • Intermediate 2 English
  • Intermediate 2 Mathematics

Higher National Units:

  • Business
  • Administration and Information Technology
  • Accounting

Monitoring Standards over time 2014 (620 KB)

Reports for 2013

National Qualifications:

  • Advanced Higher Geography
  • Advanced Higher Modern Studies
  • Higher French
  • Higher Physics
  • Higher Chemistry
  • Higher History
  • Intermediate 2 Geography
  • Intermediate 2 Graphic Communication
  • Intermediate 2 Psychology

Higher National Units:

  • Hospitality: Financial and Control Systems
  • Food and Beverage Service
  • Hospitality Supervision
  • Research Analysis in the Social Sciences
  • Social Science Research and Methodology

Monitoring Standards over time 2013 (414 KB)

Reports for 2012

  • National Qualifications:
  • Advanced Higher Mathematics
  • Higher Business
  • Higher Computing
  • Higher Religious Moral and Philosophical Studies
  • Intermediate 2 Administration

Higher National Units:

  • IT in Business: Spreadsheets
  • Office Management
  • ICT in Business
  • Economics 1: Micro and Marco Theory and Application
  • Sports Coaching with Development of Sport: Graded Unit 1
  • Sports Coaching with Development of Sport: Graded Unit 2
  • Sports Coaching with Development of Sport: Graded Unit 3

Reports for 2011

National Qualifications:

  • Advanced Higher English
  • Higher English
  • Intermediate 2 English
  • Higher Mathematics
  • Intermediate 2 Mathematics

Higher National and Vocational Qualifications:

  • HND Electrical Engineering
  • HND Beauty Therapy
  • HND Administration and Information Technology
  • SVQ Business Administration Level 2

Monitoring Standards over time 2011 

Monitoring standards over time 2011: SQA’s response