NQ School and college practitioners

If you are delivering National 2 to National 5, Higher, Advanced Higher, National Certificates, National Progression Awards, Skills for Work courses and Awards.



What happened to this yearís examination diet?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 national examination timetable has been cancelled.

The Scottish Government asked SQA to develop an alternative certification model to ensure that learnersí work is rightly and fairly recognised.

For this session, teachers and lecturers have used their professional judgement to estimate a learnerís grade and band based on the learners demonstrated and inferred attainment of the required skills, knowledge and understanding for each National Course.

SQA will work to ensure learners receive their results no later than Tuesday 4 August. A free appeals service will be available so schools and colleges continue to have a mechanism to question any result, and guidance will be provided.

We recommend that schools and colleges encourage learners to sign up to MySQA to receive their NQ results by text and/or email. Any learner already signed up to receive their results through MySQA will continue to do so, and we also recommend that learners review their profile to make sure their contact details are correct.

Who took the decision to cancel this yearís diet and what was the decision-making process?

As outlined in our statement, on 19 March 2020, the Deputy First Minister asked Scotlandís Chief Examining Officer to develop an alternative certification model following the cancellation of this yearís timetable.

Why were exams cancelled instead of pushing the timetable back later in the year?

This was considered as an alternative but with no clear timeline for when schools and colleges would be reopened, the Deputy First Minister asked SQA to develop an alternative certification model.

If this is all possible then why do we need an exam system from now on?

This is an unprecedented situation, and the closure of schools and colleges for an extended period means that it will not be possible for learners to sit exams as part of the 2020 exam diet. SQA will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government Education Recovery Group on future examinations.


How will the awarding process work?

The alternative certification model will allow us to award grades for all learners entered for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses as fairly and reliably as possible, across subjects and levels. It is based on teacher and lecturer estimates, with associated moderation by schools, colleges and SQA.

The data we will use includes school and college estimates, rank orders, historical results and estimates for all National Courses and learnersí prior attainment data for many Highers and Advanced Highers. Doing so allows us to explore the reasons for any apparent changes in the pattern of attainment (compared with previous years) that are reflected in the estimates submitted by schools and colleges.

To be as fair as possible such an approach needs to incorporate multiple checks and decision rules to identify where adjustment may be necessary. But it is important to highlight that, in Scotland, there are some qualifications that have low uptake either at a school and college level or at a national level. Prior attainment data is also not available for National 5 and some Higher learners.

This means we will not use a purely statistical approach to moderation. Final grade distributions will be signed-off through national awarding meetings. Each meeting will involve input from senior qualifications staff in SQA and principal assessors for each subject and level.

Will you provide schools and colleges with any more details on the Awarding process at this time?

It is important for us now to concentrate on the significant task of considering these estimates so that we can meet the timescales to deliver results to learners on 4 August.

In line with our approach every year, we will be clear about the awarding process on Results Day. This year, this will of course include the detail underpinning our approach and the impact of any moderation that we have had to make to estimates.

Results Day

When will candidates receive their results?

Results will be issued to learners on Tuesday 4 August, by post and via MySQA, our online and text service.

Learners are strongly encouraged to sign-up to MySQA, as a direct way to receive their results.


Will SQA continue to offer its Post-Results Services to schools and colleges?

For 2020, we are offering a free post-certification review (appeals) service. This service will enable schools and colleges to request a review of the grade awarded to a learner for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses Ė where the learner has been awarded a lower grade than the estimate grade submitted by the school or college.

How does the post-certification review (appeals) service work?

Schools and colleges can request one of two review types for each learner:

  • a post-certification review Ė submission deadline 21 August
  • a priority post-certification review (for learners awaiting results for college or university places) Ė submission deadline 14 August

All review requests must be signed-off by the head of centre, or their representative, before being submitted to SQA. The school or college is required to submit evidence of the learnerís performance, which demonstrates that the learner was performing at the grade they were originally estimated for. A senior SQA examiner will review this alternative evidence, along with any commentary provided by the school or college. They will also consider any additional evidence held by SQA (such as unmarked coursework that was previously submitted to SQA or available materials from visiting assessments that took place prior to lockdown). The examiner will then determine if the learnerís grade should be changed.

There are three possible outcomes:

  • The learner is awarded a higher grade
  • The learnerís grade stays the same
  • The learner is awarded a lower grade (very rare)

Where there is a change of grade, this will be awarded at the lower band, eg. A2, B4, C6.

Is it possible to request an appeal for a change of band?

No. A successful post-certification review (appeal) request will result in a change of grade only ó a change of band is not a feature of the review.

Will learners awaiting results for college or university places be a priority?

As we do every year, we will give priority to requests for those learners requiring a result to secure a conditional place at college or university. For this, the school or college needs to request a priority post-certification review and submit the request to us by Friday 14 August. Results of priority post-certification reviews will be issued in line with UCAS deadlines.

What are the criteria for an appeal?

For schools and colleges to request a review of the learnerís grade, the following criteria must be met:
  • The learner must have been awarded a lower grade than the estimated grade their school or college submitted to SQA;


  • Alternative assessment evidence must be available to support the estimated grade.

How will an appeal be progressed?

Once a request, and all the associated alternative assessment evidence is received, it will be reviewed by our senior subject specialist examiners. They will either accept or reject the request, based on all of the available evidence.

If a request is accepted, the learner will be awarded their original estimate grade. If the learner requires the result for a conditional college or university place, we will advise the school or college, the university and UCAS, as appropriate. Learners will be sent an updated Scottish Qualifications Certificate after all review requests for 2020 have been completed.

If a request is rejected, we will confirm the original grade certificated, or an alternative lower grade, with the school or college.

When will you provide schools and colleges with more details about this yearís appeals process?

More detailed guidance on the appeals process, evidence required and planned dates for the service including uplift dates for the collection of evidence will be sent to schools and colleges on 19 June.

A system user guide, including information on how to make review requests, detailed instructions on how to package the evidence and what support is available, will follow before 4 August, when the service opens.

What types of assessment evidence can be submitted in support of a review?

Examples of the types of evidence schools and colleges can submit are detailed in the document Post-Certification Review: Information for Centres. All evidence must have been generated during the course and before the estimate deadline on 29 May. In some cases, SQA may already hold evidence that has previously been submitted but not marked, for example some National 5 coursework.

You may wish to submit a commentary for your decision-making for each learner, which highlights the key areas of evidence that you believe confirms their estimated grade.

What if I have a limited amount of alternative evidence available for a learner?

You can provide a short commentary about the learnerís performance in relation to the evidence you have been able to provide. Commentaries should be unique to each learner and must focus on the learnerís performance, rather than the learnerís personal circumstances. Examples of commentaries are provided in the document Post-Certification Review: Information for Centres.

Can a review result in learners being awarded a lower grade?

It is possible that a lower grade may be awarded following a review because the alternative evidence supplied is judged to be so far from standard that it cannot support either the original school or college estimate or the grade the learner has been certificated for.

We expect this to be very rare and, if it does occur, we would have further dialogue with the school or college. The inclusion of this option within the review process supports fairness and equity to all learners, while maintaining the integrity and credibility of the qualifications.

I would like to revise an estimate grade. Can I submit a request to SQA to have it changed?

If you discover that an error has been made by your centre in submitting a candidateís estimate or entry information you can email estimate.amendments2020@sqa.org.uk for more information and to request a ĎLate Estimate Amendmentí form which you must submit to us by 31 August 2020. This may be an administrative error, or an academic error identified through your internal appeals process. Requests for candidates who have a conditional offer at college or university and require priority review must be submitted by 14 August 2020.

What if I disagree with the outcome of a review? Can my centre escalate this further?

The outcome of a post-certification review is an academic judgement that represents the considered findings of an SQA senior examiner, taking account of all the evidence available to them. It is not possible to appeal an outcome of a review on this basis.

However, your head of centre can make an escalated appeal to SQA on your behalf if you believe that there has been a procedural irregularity and that SQA has not correctly followed the principles of the post-certification review. This request must come from your head of centre and must be provided in writing.

We will share more information on escalated appeals before the post-certification review service opens.

Can learners appeal the estimated grade submitted by their school or college?

If a learner disagrees with the estimated grade submitted to us on 29 May, this is a matter for the centre.


Do learners still need to undertake their practical assessments and/or coursework?

Higher and Advanced Higher

No. SQA has confirmed that schools and colleges are not required to submit learner coursework for marking for Higher and Advanced Higher courses.

Also, we do not require schools and colleges to submit marks for internally assessed coursework.

National 5

We confirmed earlier that National 5 coursework already submitted by schools and colleges will not be marked. We also do not require schools and colleges to submit marks for any internally assessed coursework.

Are schools and colleges required to send in copies of Internal Assessment Marking Forms?

No Ė schools and colleges should not send us Internal Assessment Mark Forms (IAMF). The marks and the coursework evidence are no longer required, given the information in our statement on coursework, published on 24 March.

Should schools and colleges still be asking learners to complete coursework, or other assessments, even though SQA no longer needs it?

There is no requirement for learners to complete coursework or other assessments. Schools and colleges are not required to set any more prelims or mock exams, or homework tasks for the purpose of determining an estimate grade.

Schools and colleges are best placed to make decisions about the completion of coursework, given their knowledge and understanding of the status of their learnersí coursework and the circumstances in which it can be completed, within current public health advice guidelines.


Does SQA have enough Markers in place to support this yearís activities?

With the decision to cancel the 2020 exam timetable, and no coursework being marked for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, there is no need for the normal marking activities, this year.

We thank all those who were due to mark, for their willingness to do so, and for all the work they do for us.

We are currently planning for alternative assessment, certification and post result activities, and we may still need Markersí help and their expertise to support these activities. We hope that our Markers will be able to continue to support us, and we will be in touch with them, if their assistance in an alternative role is required.

External assessment visits/external verification visits

Are all external assessment visits, and external verifications visits, related to the NQ 2020 examination diet, cancelled?

Yes. All external assessment visits, and external verification visits related to this yearís examination diet, have been cancelled. While no further visiting assessment will take place this session, we know that some visiting assessors have already sent us marks from activities that were completed. We can confirm that these marks will not be used in determining learnersí final grades. We have taken this decision to be as fair as possible to all learners, as we do not have a complete set of data for all learners across all subjects that are marked by visiting assessors.

Entry fees/changes to entries

Are you going to charge late fees for changes to entries?

No. We can confirm that we will not be charging late fees, for any changes you make to entry levels or withdrawal of entries for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, after 31 March.

While any new entries that you make will incur the usual entry fee, we will not charge you a late fee as well. In line with our normal data management processes, SQA will continue to monitor the data submitted by centres until certification.

However, it is essential that you provide complete and accurate data by the timelines set by SQA to ensure that learners are awarded the achievements they deserve and that they are able to take their next steps into further or higher education, employment or apprenticeships.

Will schools/colleges receive a refund of entry fees because there is no examination diet this year?

The charges raised by SQA are a levy for the certification of National Qualifications rather than a direct charge based on the cost of providing that certification.

As agreed with the Scottish Government, the level of charge made is unchanged from that in 2019-20 and indeed has remained the same since 2012-13.

Having considered the financial impact of Covid-19 and school closures on the independent schools sector in Scotland, the Scottish Government is delaying commencement of section 17 of the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Act 2020 until 1 April 2021. This decision was taken to assist mainstream independent schools as they - like all businesses in Scotland - deal with the impacts of Covid-19.

The Scottish Government is also working closely with the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) in the Education Recovery Group, to ensure that the sector's concerns and specific requirements are considered in the planning for schools reopening.

Internally assessed qualifications, units and freestanding units

How should I result learners for internally assessed qualifications?

For internally assessed qualifications, you are required to determine a result for each unit. Where further progress is not possible, you should base your assessment decisions on available evidence from unit assessments that learners have already completed, or your professional judgement of other available evidence (such as class tests), or a combination of both. You must then submit these results to SQA in the normal way. Following feedback from centres, we have extended the deadline for unit results to Friday 12 June.

Please note that our process and guidance for producing estimates in session 2019-20 is for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, which are externally assessed by SQA. It does not apply to these internally assessed qualifications.

Can a learner be resulted with a pass in a unit if they have met some, but not all, of the outcomes and assessment standards?

Yes, this may be possible. Where further progress is not possible, you should make a holistic professional judgement on whether the learner would have passed the unit.  

Where full evidence to satisfy the unit has not yet been generated, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. When making assessment decisions
based on alternative evidence, you must consider a range of learner evidence with strong predictive value, such as class tests. This will give you an indication of the learnerís knowledge and skills.

If the unit is part of an internally assessed course, such as National 2 to National 4 and Skills for Work courses, and the learner has completed other units within the course, there may be transferable evidence from those units that you could use when making a holistic assessment decision.

Can a learner be resulted with a pass in a unit if they have not met any of the outcomes and assessment standards?

If the unit is part of an internally assessed course, further progress is not possible, and the learner has completed other units within the course, there may be transferable evidence from those units that you could use when making your assessment decisions.

Where full evidence to satisfy the unit has not yet been generated, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. When making assessment decisions
based on alternative evidence, you must consider a range of learner evidence with strong predictive value, such as class tests. This will give you an indication of the learnerís knowledge and skills.

If a learner has passed one or more units in an internally assessed course, such as National 2 to National 4 and Skills for Work courses, but has not started the remaining units, can I also pass them for those remaining units?

Where full evidence to satisfy the aims of an internally assessed course has not yet been generated, and further progress is not possible, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. You should consider whether the evidence from other units is transferrable to any of the remaining units. If it is, you could use it to make a holistic judgement on whether the learner has met the overall course aims. If there is enough evidence that the learner can be deemed to have met the course aims, then you can result them as having passed all units within the course.

What about freestanding units? Can evidence be transferred from one freestanding unit to another?

Yes, it is possible to result of freestanding units if the overall requirements of the unit are broadly met.

For freestanding units at all levels, you must consider the evidence that you have against the unit outcomes for each unit. This can include alternative evidence, such as class tests, where formal unit assessments have not been undertaken. This could also include evidence of transferable skills which are common across the units (such as problem-solving).

What do I do if I a learner has been withdrawn for National 5 and has now been entered for National 4?

You should review the learnerís performance/class work over their National 5 course to date, reflecting on the National 4 assessment standards. You should do this holistically for each individual candidate. You should ensure robust arrangements for agreeing the learnerís overall result, relative to the review of their National 5 work. There is no requirement this year to match candidate performance to the detailed National 4 unit evidence requirements; the approach is more about a broad comparability of overall standards. It is essential that you keep records to document this process.

What records should I keep of how I have reached my decisions on resulting internally assessed units?

You should retain all assessment evidence, and the justification for your decision making, until 31 December 2020 to enable SQA to verify the decision-making process in future.

It is advisable to keep a list of the learners you have entered and resulted for each unit and to note the following information for each learner:

  • State whether the learner is entered for a corresponding group award or doing the unit on a freestanding basis.
  • Record the result awarded for each learner, for each unit
  • State how the decision on the result was reached ó for example:
    • if you reviewed full or partial unit assessment evidence
    • if you reviewed other available evidence and/or used your professional judgement
    • if you used your professional judgment to consider evidence from other units within the same group award to determine if the learner has met the overall course or award aims

You must also include a statement or other indication of how your decisions have been peer reviewed and/or internally verified.

Here is an example of how you could collate and present this information:

What are the options for entering unit results?

When submitting unit results, you have the following result options:


The learner has met all the required outcomes and assessment standards, based on any of the following:

  • Complete unit assessment evidence
  • Partial unit assessment evidence plus other alternative evidence and professional judgement
  • Evidence from other units within the same group award, in relation to meeting the overall course or award aims


Based on the assessment evidence available, and using your professional judgement, the learner has not passed, or would not have passed, the unit.


There is no available evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support a result decision

Open entry

Leave as open entry, if it is feasible to postpone assessment to a later date.

You should enter and submit unit results in the normal way. We have extended the deadline for unit results to Friday 12 June, following feedback from centres.

Qualifications delivered in partnership between schools and colleges

What arrangements should be made for learners undertaking qualifications delivered in partnership between schools and colleges?

As part of these partnerships, schools and colleges should work together to jointly agree whether it is possible to continue with learning, teaching and assessment. These decisions must be based on the best interests of individual learners.

Where some evidence of the course already exists but further progress is not possible, college lecturers will be able to take a holistic approach, where necessary, in making their assessment decisions. This will enable colleges to use their professional judgement to assess the available evidence, including other evidence produced by the learner, and their knowledge of the learnersí progress and achievements to date.


Will these qualifications be recognised by universities and employers?

Yes. SQA is in regular discussion with UCAS, Colleges Scotland, and Universities Scotland, who are fully aware of the situation and will help learners to progress on to the next stage of their education or employment. We are also in close discussion with Skills Development Scotland, to ensure employers and their representatives are kept aware of the decisions being made.

How will SQA ensure that learners get the grades they deserve

It is vital that we base our decisions on the principles of fairness to all learners, and the safe and secure certification of our qualifications, whilst recognising the current challenges we all face.

Are there any subjects where the grade is based solely on the exam?

Mathematics and Latin do not have coursework, but we use other information during the awarding process to determine grades, including teacher estimates and prior attainment.

Can learners sit their exams next year and use whatever result is better?

Yes, as in any year, learners can sit the exams next year if they wish. All results will be listed on their SQA record of attainment.