National Qualifications

What are National Qualifications?

National Qualifications are one of the most important types of qualification in Scotland, and almost everyone leaving school or college today has one or more National Qualification. They are mainly taken by learners in the senior phase of secondary school (S4 to S6) and learners in colleges, including adult learners.
They cover a range of subjects and are designed to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed beyond the classroom; whether progressing to other SQA qualifications, training, employment or university. Find out more at

What skills do learners develop when studying National Qualifications?

As well as developing subject-based skills, learners studying National Qualifications will also develop the following broad skills:

Practical skills – such as data collection and team-working Core Skills – which include literacy, numeracy, communication, information and communication technology (ICT) and problem solving. Skills for Learning, Life and Work (SfLLW) - such as employability, independent thinking, and enterprise and citizenship.

View more information on skills development in National Qualifications.

How do learners develop their literacy and numeracy skills?

Learners will develop literacy and/or numeracy skills across all their National Courses. How they develop these skills will vary depending on the subject area. National Literacy Units and National Numeracy Units are also available. These units are a required part of some National Courses; however, learners can also complete them as separate qualifications.

View more information on our Literacy and Numeracy webpage.

Why do learners in some schools study 5 or 6 subjects in S4, while others study 7 or 8?

SQA does not specify the number of qualifications that schools should deliver. The number of subjects that learners study in S4 is decided locally by the school or local authority.

How are National Courses assessed?

National 2, National 3 and National 4

In National 2, National 3 and National 4 courses, learners complete unit assessments throughout the year. National 4 courses also include an end-of-year assessment called an added value unit.

These assessments are marked internally by the teacher, lecturer or training practitioner. National 2, National 3 and National 4 courses are assessed as ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ and are quality assured by SQA.

National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher

In National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, learners complete a course assessment towards the end of the course. This will usually involve one or more of the following:

  • Exam
  • Coursework (such as an assignment, project or portfolio)
  • Performance
  • Practical activity

Exams and coursework are submitted to SQA for marking. Depending on the subject, performances and practical activities will be marked through one of the following approaches:

  • The teacher, lecturer or training practitioner will mark the assessment and it will be quality assured by SQA.
  • The assessment will be marked by a visiting examiner appointed by SQA.
  • The assessment will be marked in collaboration between the teacher, lecturer or training practitioner and a visiting examiner appointed by SQA.

National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses are graded A to D or ‘No Award’.

How are National Courses graded?

National 2, National 3, and National 4 courses are not graded — the units that make up these course are assessed as pass or fail.

Courses at National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher are graded A-D.

Is a grade D at National 5 worth more than a pass at National 4?

Yes. National 5 Courses (which are graded A – D) are worth 24 Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) credit points at SCQF level 5.

National 4 Courses (which are not graded) are worth 24 SCQF points at SCQF level 4 and have a lower level of demand and challenge compared with National 5 courses.

Why are there no exams in National 4 courses?

National 4 courses have been designed to provide flexibility in timetabling and assessment. Internal assessment is more suitable for courses at National 4 level and will help to build learners' confidence in preparation for National 5. Learners do a National 4 Added Value Unit assessment instead of an exam, and the Added Value Unit assessment allows them to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout the course.

Do qualifications that are assessed internally by schools, colleges and training providers hold less weight than those with assessments marked by SQA?

No. All internally assessed qualifications are subject to robust quality assurance by SQA, to ensure that schools, colleges and training providers are assessing the qualifications to the national standard. More information is available from our Quality Assurance webpage.

National 4 also follows a similar model to other qualifications such as the Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND), which are both internally assessed by colleges and quality assured by SQA. Many people use HNCs and HNDs to progress into employment or to get into higher education, often with advanced standing (where the university accepts the qualification as credit towards completing an undergraduate course, enabling the student to enter the course at a more advanced stage, for example entering at second year instead of first year).

Do all learners sit prelims?

Individual schools, colleges and training providers will decide whether to hold prelims. Prelims are not part of the formal assessment process for National Qualifications and are not a requirement.

SQA does not produce or mark prelim papers. Prelim papers are set and marked by the school, college or training provider.

Do all learners get study leave to prepare for exams?

Study leave is a matter for individual schools, colleges and training providers to decide.

What support is available for disabled learners or learners with additional support needs during exams and assessments?

SQA can allow assessment arrangements to be made for learners in their exams and assessments. For example, a learner who experiences difficulties with handwriting can use a laptop to write up their work. We allow many kinds of assessment support, such as using sign language, human readers, scribes or prompters, or allowing extra time to complete assessments. We can also provide adapted question papers, including Braille question papers, digital question papers, large print question papers and question papers that printed on coloured paper.

Schools, colleges and training providers are responsible for making an ‘assessment arrangements’ request to SQA on behalf of the learner. We will then work with them to find the most suitable arrangement for the learner to complete their assessments. In most cases, the school, college or training provider has already identified the learner's needs and is providing support for them during their studies.