The Curriculum for Excellence- Exams and Qualifications

The Curriculum for Excellence- Exams and Qualifications

In 2013, a new set of qualifications, called Nationals, were introduced to support the Curriculum for Excellence. These aim to help young people demonstrate the knowledge and skills they developed at school or college, enabling them to prepare for further learning, training and employment.

August 2014 will be the first year that the new Higher qualifications will come into action and Advanced Higher will be available from August 2015.

The new exams associated with these qualifications move away from multiple choice questions and the need to commit facts and figures to memory, and instead place an emphasis on what has been called “deeper learning” – a chance for students to apply their knowledge and show how much they understand a subject.

What are the new qualifications?

The new qualifications that replace the previous/existing National Qualifications are as follows:

SCQF Level 1 – National 1 (replaces Access 1)

SCQF Level 2 – National 2 (replaces Access 2)

SCQF Level 3 – National 3 (replaces Access 3 Standard Grade)

SCQF Level 4 – National 4 (replaces Standard Grade Intermediate 1)

SCQF Level 5 – National 5 (replaces Standard Grade Intermediate 2)

SCQF Level 6 – Higher (replaces previous version of Higher)

SCQF Level 7 – Advanced Higher (replaces previous version of Advanced Higher)

Will pupils get the chance to choose their subjects?

Learners will be able to choose the subjects they wish to study at each level from National 2 up to the Advanced Higher Level.

How will these new qualifications be assessed?

At levels S1, S2 and S3, pupils will undertake their respective National 1, National 2 and National 3 qualifications. These will be assessed through internally marked unit assessments. These qualifications are not graded but a teacher or lecturer will give a pass or fail. Learners need to pass all the units in order to achieve the qualification.

At level S4, students will start to commence with the National 4 qualification. At National 4 there will be no formal, graded external exams. Instead, pupils will be assessed throughout the year by their teacher or lecturer using SQA assessments. The course is made up of a number of unit assessments and is marked internally. A pass is required for all units, including an Added Value Unit, to achieve the National 4 qualification.

The Added Value Unit tests how well pupils have retained knowledge and understanding from across the course, assessing breadth (range of knowledge), challenge (depth of knowledge) and application (how their knowledge and skills can be applied to different situations).

At level S5, students will begin their National 5 qualification. For National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, the courses are made up of units (including an Added Value Unit) and a course assessment.

The course assessment consists of an exam question paper and/or coursework, which includes assignments, portfolios, practical activities, and so on. The course assessment exam and most coursework will be graded externally and will be awarded a grade from A to D or ‘no award’. In order to achieve the qualification, all unit assessments and the course assessment need to be passed.

What happens if a pupil fails a qualification level?

If a learner receives a ‘no award’ result, the student will still receive credit for the units they have achieved and this will appear in the Record of Attainment section of their certificate pack, along with SCQF credit points.

At the discretion of the school a learner may chooses to re-sit units the following year. Here, they will only be required to complete the parts of the course that they did not pass before. Learners that achieve a ‘no award’ for National 5 may be able to achieve the course at National 4 upon completion of the Added Value Unit for National 4.

What are the Higher levels?

The Higher qualifications, studied at level S6, are what are normally needed for entry into a university in order to study for degrees and Higher National courses (such as HNCs and HNDs). The Higher is aimed at learners who have successfully completed a National 5 subject and can be studied at school or at a college.

The Advanced Higher is an optional qualification for learners aged between 16 and 18 who have completed the relevant Higher. The Advance Higher is effectively the equivalent of a first year at University and can be used to help entry into a University in the second year or as a qualification for a particular job. To qualify for entry to an Advanced Higher, the student will need either a programme of national units appropriate to the course they want to study, two or more passes at Higher level, or an equivalent qualification.

Check out our blog post about the Curriculum for Excellence

For further reading take a look at our education page