National Qualifications explained

What are National Qualifications?

National Qualifications (NQs) are one of the most important types of qualifications in Scotland. Almost everyone leaving school or college has one or more National Qualification.

NQs are taken by students in secondary schools and colleges (and some training centres). 

Qualifications sit at various levels allowing learners to progress from one qualification to the next.

Select the level you wish to find out more about.

National 1 units are stand-alone and do not form part of a course of study.

Each subject consists of one or more units; units can be passed separately to gain a National 1. National 1 units are assessed as pass or fail by a teacher or lecturer.

National 1 units are designed for learners who require additional support for learning.

National 1s may progress on to other National 1 subjects or to a range of subjects at National 2 level

National 1 information and subjects

National 2 courses are made up of units which are assessed as pass or fail by a teacher or lecturer.

Each course consists of one or more units; some units are mandatory and provide the building blocks for learners to achieve more units at National 2 within the same subject area. 

Learners need to pass all units to achieve the qualification.

National 2 subjects

National 3 courses are made up of units which are assessed as pass or fail by a teacher or lecturer.

These Units require learners to develop:

  • basic knowledge and understanding of the subject
  • apply skills to a range of simple tasks in familiar contexts, with guidance from teachers.

Learners need to pass all units to achieve the qualification.

National 4 courses are made up of units, including an added value unit which assesses learners' performance across the course.

The units are assessed as pass or fail by a teacher or lecturer and learners need to pass all units, including the added value unit, to achieve the qualification

Broadly, National 5 courses are taken in secondary schools (S4-S6) and in further education colleges.

National 5 courses are assessed through a question paper (exam) or coursework, or both - most of which will be marked by SQA. In some subjects, coursework is marked by a teacher or lecturer.

The courses are graded A to D or 'no award'.

Broadly, Highers are taken in secondary schools (S5-S6) and in further education colleges.

The course assessment involves a question paper (exam) or coursework, or both -  most of which are marked by SQA. In some subjects, coursework is marked by a teacher or lecturer.

The courses are graded A to D or 'no award'.

Some learners leave secondary education with Highers and progress to further/higher education, training or employment.

Highers are the standard entry requirements for higher education in Scotland.

Broadly, Advanced Highers are taken in secondary schools (S5-S6) and in further education colleges.

The course assessment involves a question paper (exam) or coursework, or both - most of which will be marked by SQA. In some subjects,
coursework is marked by a teacher or lecturer.

The courses are graded A to D or 'no award'.

They provide good preparation for learners progressing to further and higher education.

Scottish Baccalaureates are available to learners in S5 and S6.

There are Scottish Baccalaureates in Expressive Arts, Languages, Science and Social Sciences.

They are awarded as a pass or distinction.

The Scottish Baccalaureate contains an Interdisciplinary Project which allows learners to develop and show evidence of initiative, responsibility, and independent working. Skills which help make the transition into higher education or employment.

Skills for Work courses introduce learners to the demands and expectations of the world of work.

The courses offer learners a chance to work on practical skills.

Learners may spend some of their time at a local college, training provider or employer.

Skills for Work courses

National Course creation

These documents detail the purpose and scope of National Courses and units. Many aspects of the courses and units originate from the design principles.

Assessment in National Courses and units

Our approach to the assessment of National Courses and Units. It outlines the principles which underpin the assessment and provides important information on Course and Unit assessment.

SCQF levels

The SCQF levels range from level 1 to level 12. This covers a range of learning from National 1 to a doctorate. All National Courses and Units are benchmarked against the SCQF.

SCQF credit values

  • units at National 1 are 6 SCQF credit points each - at this level there is no course
  • courses at National 2 and 3 have 18 SCQF credit points - at these levels, the courses are made up of units only
  • courses at National 4 have units totalling 24 SCQF credit points - 6 of these points are for the Added Value unit
  • courses at National 5 and Higher total 24 SCQF credit points
  • courses at Advanced Higher total 32 SCQF credit points

Learn more about SCQF