Student Advice


Ben Maples  · Aug 5th 2021

The Scottish Qualifications Authority known for short as SQA is the national Scottish body responsible for accrediting educational awards.


The SQA provide public examinations for Scottish state schools and will deliver assessments and exams to test a student’s knowledge on a specific subject and award educational qualifications.

SQAs are an essential part of the Scottish educational experience and are studied at the same level as A Levels and GCSEs in England.

What are SQAs?

What is SQA?

SQA stands for Scottish Qualifications Authority. SQA is a departmental body in the Scottish government. They are responsible for accrediting educational awards.

The exams that you sit, will be accredited by the SQA, in the same way as Edexcel and AQA might do in England. And as with AQA and Edexcel, there are plenty of SQA past papers available on their website, you can also view your SQA results, the SQA exam timetable there and even edit your SQA timetable.

Teachers will also find help for their modules with SQA understanding standards on their website and the SQA Academy too.

When will I study SQAs?

While at secondary school you will study National 4, and National 5 qualifications, each of these qualifications takes one year to complete, and you can then progress to study Highers. For some, a further option of Advanced Highers is available on completing Highers or alternatively you can leave school with any qualifications to enter into full-time employment.

Highers and Advanced Highers will be awarded a Scottish Qualification Certificate (SQC) during your time at secondary school or college and is similar to an NVQ. You can always do SQA past papers as well, your study period may not have begun, but that doesn't mean that you can't be proactive in this area.

For National 4 and 5s, the number of subjects you will study will vary between schools and will be decided by your local institution. You may study anywhere between five and eight Nationals. After sitting either N4 or N5s, you may choose to progress to study Highers or Advanced Highers (these are not too dissimilar to a Certificate of Higher Education).

A student is usually recommended to study between three and five Highers. To continue to study at a university within Scotland, Highers are accepted, but to study in England, Advanced Highers are the more recognised qualification.

If you are unsure about how many subjects to study it is worth talking to somebody you feel comfortable with at your school. It is not worth studying too many and becoming overwhelmed.

Once the SQA are satisfied with your exam and unit marks, the results will be released.

How should I choose what to study?

At Higher and Advanced Higher level there are numerous study subjects to choose from (much like with A-Levels), and this can be overwhelming when trying to decide what to study.

You should firstly look at the subjects you have previously studied and play on your strengths. If there are some subjects that stick out as ones you perform higher in, it could be a good idea to continue to study this subject.

You should also think about what interests you. You will be studying this subject more intensely than during your National grades and having an interest or passion for the subject is essential. Always choose a subject for you and not because your friend is studying it, or because your parents have told you to.

If you know that you want to go to university it is wise to choose subjects that will relate to what you are likely to want to study. If you are likely to go straight into a career or an alternative study route, again choose subjects that may relate to what you want to pursue. However, if you are unsure of what you want to do after studying, there are several broader subjects that will enable you to have a good base for any career or further study, such as maths, science or any language subjects.

You will always be able to find a career adviser or even a friendly tutor at school or college that will be able to offer you some advice based on your previous grades and interests, but ultimately the decision should be up to you.

What you can expect on SQA results day

How are SQA qualifications assessed?

National 4 qualifications will be achieved through coursework and assessments marked within a school. National 5 will also include coursework and assessments and will be completed with an exam that will be marked externally by the SQA. When studying for Highers or Advanced Highers, your ability will be judged by three assessments undertaken throughout the year and a final exam; you are required to pass all three unit assessments and the final exam.

The SQA exams are typically held internally within your school at the end of each year and are sent off for external marking. The exams are designed to test you on your knowledge on a specific subject and to see how well you can use the skills learnt.

It is up to you to make sure you know what time an exam is, where it is to be taken and what equipment is allowed or required for each exam. It is important that you know your Scottish Candidate Number (SCN) when entering the exam and correctly write this onto the exam booklet. A computerised system will then add up all of the marks awarded to calculate your final result.

When studying for any level of qualification that requires final exams, you may have mock exams in January or February to give you a taste of the final examinations and to check your current performance.

What is a Scottish Candidate Number?

You will be given a Scottish Candidate Number (SCN) which is personal to you and is your lifetime SQA identification number, all of your results will be recorded with this number. You can find your Scottish Candidate Number (SCN) under your name on your SQA certificate.

You are permitted to take an SCN card into an exam hall, and it is recommended that you record all your personal information correctly onto this card as it will be used on all final exam certificates.

Once you have your SCN, you should also register to My SQA online; this will allow you to check on any previous results and qualifications.

Creating a MySQA account is also beneficial to check that your personal details are correct and access SQA secure and SQA connect.

SQA secure is a website that contains National Assessment Bank materials and information, SQA connect is an online portal that has a number of schools, employers and colleges which can offer students operations support for qualifications.

The exams that you sit, will be accredited by the SQA, in the same way as Edexcel and AQA might do in England.

How are my results graded?

National 4 results will be awarded either a pass or fail. National 5, Higher and Advance Highers will be awarded on an A-D scale. A being the highest awarded and D being the lowest. No award will be issued if you fail to reach the minimum D grade.

The SQAs roughly translate as National 5 being GCSE level, Higher an AS Level and Advance Higher an A Level. UCAS awards points for university applications accordingly. UCAS Tariff points are very important!

SQA results

Once the SQA are satisfied with your exam and unit marks, the results will be released. SQA results are sent via first class post in August to the address registered to you at your school or college.

What time do SQA email results and what time will SQA results arrive by text?

The Scottish Qualification Certificate (SQC) received through the post will confirm the final qualification awarded, if you are too impatient results can be obtained from 08:00am through text or email if you have signed up in advance for this option online at MySQL.

Can I retake my SQAs?

If you receive a no award result, you are only required to pass the units or parts of the course that you have not passed the first time around. It is however up to your school or college to decide if they wish to re-enter you for resit.

If you receive a no award at National 5, an arrangement called Recognising Positive Achievement may mean you are eligible for a pass at National 4 instead. If either situation arises, the best thing to do is to contact your school or college as soon as you can after receiving your results to discuss your options.

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