FOI20/21 127 Grade Boundary Process

Date published: 03/11/2020

FOI reference: 2020-21 127

Date received: 07/10/2020

Date responded: 03/11/2020

Information requested

I am writing to complain about the response to my FOI request. I had asked how the SQA had previously used information to calibrate results in previous years. In particular I was interested in how a pupils school or where they live impacted that calibration.

The response I got denied that the pupils school or where they live impacted the calibration. However the response did not answer how and what information is used. Instead it simply included a link to an SQA document which essentially said that quantitative and qualitative data is used. This does not answer my request. What is the quantitative and qualitative data that is used?

Additionally at one point the document says the process takes into account the impact on an individual but again does not detail what that is?

The response is wholly unacceptable. Can the SQA please provide the detail I originally requested please?



SQA does not calibrate results.  And a pupil's school or where they live has no impact on the Grade Boundary process.

SQA has a responsibility to individual learners and to the wider community to ensure that the standard of our qualifications is set appropriately and maintained over time and across courses.  SQA provided you with information about the Grade Boundary process in response to your request to understand the methods that the SQA have used over the last decade to moderate exam results.  We provided you with the published information about the Grade Boundary process. 

SQA is responsible for writing the exam questions they are not responsible for how they are answered. SQA sets the exam questions each year and has expectations on how they will perform.   Grade boundaries are set in line with this intended demand of the assessment ie the accepted norm is that 70 and above would be an A Grade. If however the assessment did not function as intended, the grade boundaries are adjusted appropriately.   Grade Boundary meetings are for the moderation of the assessment demand.   They cover all subjects and all levels.  Click the following link: 2019 Grade Boundary tables   

Select Grade Boundaries 2019 for a list of the marks for each grade boundary in 2019.  

Course Reports are produced each year.   These are written up each year after the Awarding Meetings (details of these are provided in the document A Guide to Setting Grade Boundaries which was provided in our previous response to you).  The Course Report provides information on the performance of the year's cohort and is provided as a guide for those who may be preparing candidates for future assessments in this subject.  Here is a link to the Course Report for National 5 English in 2019.   If you are interested in the Course Reports for other subjects here is a link to the National Qualifications pages.  Select the subject and then the required level and the Course Report is listed on this page.

You have also asked about the qualitative and quantitative data that is used.   This data allows the Awarding Meetings to judge whether the assessment has performed as expected.   And this is the qualitative and quantitative data referred to in the Guide to Setting Grade Boundaries.

The range of qualitative information that the Awarding Meetings takes into consideration relates to:

  • The setting of the assessment — was there any change in the team(s) involved in setting the question paper and/or coursework, has there been a change in course structure, components, the length of the examination, the maximum marks, the grade descriptors or intended demand of the assessment?
  • The marking of the assessment — was there any change to how marking was carried out (for instance, a move to central marking)?
  • Assessment performance — did questions and/or coursework tasks perform as planned?

The range of quantitative information relates to the full cohort for that year.   The key point to note here is that no individual candidate or centre information is considered as part of this process.

The key statistical information which SQA uses to judge assessment performance for each subject and level contains information such as the average mark nationally for each assessment component.   The 2019 Component Marks and National Mean Marks can be accessed here.   The Awarding Meeting will also look at a statistical item analysis of the performance of each question. 

This combination of qualitative and quantitative data allows the Awarding Meetings to judge whether the assessment has performed as expected.