Exam guide

This text is based on the NQ Quick Guide, which is available (together with a more detailed guide) on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is used as the basis for reporting attainment. The SCQF levels are shown below for information.

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
LevelQualifications included
7Advanced Higher @ A-C
6Higher @ A-C
5Standard Grade @ 1-2
Intermediate 2 @ A-C
4Standard Grade @ 3-4
Intermediate 1 @ A-C
3Standard Grade @ 5-6
Access 3 Cluster

What are National Qualifications?

NQs are Scotland's qualifications for students in secondary schools and colleges of further education. They include Standard Grades and national courses and units at Access 1, Access 2, Access 3, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher.

Standard Grades and equivalent

Standard Grades

Standard Grades are generally taken over two years of study in third and fourth year at secondary school with an exam at the end of fourth year. There are three levels of study: credit, general and foundation. Exams are usually taken at two levels - credit and general, or general and foundation. This makes sure that students have the best chance of achieving as high a level as possible.

Credit1 or 2
General3 or 4
Foundation5 or 6
Course completed7


Introduced in 1999, Intermediate 1 and 2 are designed for students who have passed Standard Grades at general or foundation level, and for any student wishing to take up a new subject at school or college. Some schools are replacing Standard Grades with Intermediate 1 and 2 from third year.

Standard GradesNational courses/units
Advanced Higher
Standard Grade - CreditIntermediate 2
Standard Grade - GeneralIntermediate 1
Standard Grade - FoundationAccess 3
Access 2
Access 1


Highers are the qualifications normally needed for entry into university or college to study for degrees and Higher National courses (HNCs and HNDs). They are aimed particularly at students who have passed subjects at Standard Grade credit level, or who have successfully completed a subject at Intermediate 2. Highers can be studied in school or at college.

Advanced Highers

Advanced Highers are usually taken in sixth year at school or at college. They extend the skills and knowledge gained at Higher and are additional qualifications useful for entry into higher education or the workplace.

What grades are there?

To attain a course award a student has to pass all three internal units as well as achieve a grade in the external assessment. Most Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher Courses are awarded at Grades A – D.

Useful links

If you would like to find out more about National Qualifications, the following websites may be of interest:

Scottish Qualifications Authority

Information about assessment and accreditation of NQs. Includes a list of NQ courses and units, exam timetables, specimen question papers and the booklet 'Your Exams' for candidates.

National Qualifications Online
NQ Online has information and resources for teachers, learners and parents to support National Qualifications at all levels.