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Advanced Higher
Scottish Advanced Higher

This QIP refers to the current Advanced Higher.

  • Scotland

Advanced Highers are not the standard entry requirement for Scottish applicants to Scottish HEPs, but are for several HEPs in the rest of the UK.

Advanced Highers also provide access to employment, further education and training.

The new Advanced Highers build upon Highers, helping to develop candidates’ knowledge and understanding of key concepts; they are also designed to better enable candidates to interpret, critically analyse, evaluate and reflect on information.

There is also greater emphasis on skills development, including higher-order (critical) thinking skills, creativity and innovation, research and investigation skills, extended essay-writing skills and independent study skills.

The aim is to provide a solid basis for progression into higher education while developing candidates with a more mature approach to study that will help sustain success at degree study and beyond.

Education context

In Scotland, secondary school is organised into six school years, S1 – S6 (first year to sixth year).

Advanced Highers are taken in many state schools, some tertiary colleges and most independent schools in Scotland.

The new Advanced Highers have been revised in accordance with the aims and principles of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). See ‘What is Curriculum for Excellence?’ at:…

The new Scottish qualifications system will provide an opportunity for greater variety and diversity in curriculum planning, which may lead to different patterns of presentation for qualifications. The aim is to ensure an appropriate curriculum for each learner. This means that candidates may take Advanced Highers in a single examination diet or in different examination diets.

In schools to date, Advanced Highers have most commonly been taken in S6; however, under CfE different patterns of Advanced Highers provision are emerging with Advanced Highers being taken in S5 and even in S4, but in smaller numbers. In some cases, for example due to timetabling decisions or size of provider, a learner may not have the opportunity to take Advanced Highers at their school or college.

Awarding organisation
  • SQA

Advanced Highers are made up of National Units totalling 24 SCQF credit points (240 notional learning hours), usually including three Units each worth 8 SCQF credit points. However, smaller and larger Units make up some Advanced Highers, depending on fitness for purpose.

An additional eight SCQF credit points (80 notional learning hours) are achieved through the added value provided in the course award, which is the externally assessed component(s) from which the grade is wholly derived. This combines different skills, knowledge and understanding from across the course into a synoptic external assessment (which may be made up of one or more components). Students are required to pass the external assessment in order to achieve the Advanced Higher course.

The new Advanced Highers currently do not contain optional Units. For further information, see the Course and Unit Specification documents by subject at:

All Units are levelled at SCQF Level 7.

All new Advanced Highers are developed according to SQA’s Design Principles for the new National Courses and the SCQF level descriptors in order to ensure the consistency of standards, validity and reliability across subjects.

Subject areas
  • Accounting
  • Art and design: design
  • Art and design: expressive
  • Biology
  • Business management
  • Cantonese
  • Chemistry
  • Classical studies
  • Computer science
  • Design and manufacture
  • Drama
  • Economics
  • Engineering science
  • English
  • French
  • Gaelic (learners)
  • Gàidhlig
  • Geography
  • German
  • Graphic communication
  • History
  • Health and food technology
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Mandarin (simplified)
  • Mandarin (traditional)
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematics of mechanics
  • Modern studies
  • Music
  • Physical education
  • Physics
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS)
  • Spanish
  • Statistics
  • SCQF Level 7

SCQF Level 7 sits across Levels 3 and 4 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

SCQF Level 7 is the starting level for Scottish higher education on the SCQF.

Applicants to HE may be awarded direct entry to the second year at Scottish HEPs for certain degree subjects based on specified achievement in two or three Advanced Highers.


A, B, C, D


Unit assessment may be undertaken at the end of each Unit or through holistic or combined assessment across two or more Units.

Unit assessment is marked by the teacher or lecturer and is not graded. It is subject to internal verification in the centre and to rigorous external quality assurance by SQA.

Units are assessed according to the Conditions of Assessment appropriate to the subject and the level.

Where appropriate, some Units are assessed through methods such as an assignment, practical activities, performance or portfolio evidence.

Course assessment will usually have two or more components, which will be drawn from the seven assessment methods used in National Qualifications — a question paper (exam) and/or coursework (either an assignment, case study, portfolio, practical activity, performance or project).

Most components of Course assessment are wholly externally assessed, but where appropriate to the skills, knowledge and understanding being assessed, Course assessment may be made up of a combination of externally- and internally-assessed (and externally verified) components which contribute to the grade.

Course assessment combines different skills, knowledge and understanding, usually into two or more synoptic externally-assessed components which assess breadth and/or depth across the Course. The Course assessment measures retention, integration and application of skills, knowledge and understanding as appropriate. Grades are awarded on the basis of the Course assessment only.

To gain a Course award, candidates must achieve a Pass in each of the Units of the Course as well as achieve a grade D or above in the Course assessment.

The Course and Unit Specifications stipulate the nature of both Unit and Course assessment and are available on the subject page. Course and Unit Support Notes are also available for each subject:

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Grading is derived from the added value (externality and synoptic assessment) in the course assessment.

Units which contribute to the course are not graded and do not therefore contribute to the final grade.

The Course grade is based on the total marks for all components of the Course assessment, for example, a question paper (exam) and one of the coursework assessment methods, such as an assignment. There is no separate grading of components.

The weighting (marks/percentage) in the Course assessment components varies from subject to subject. See the Course Assessment Specification on the subject page for specific information:

Resit arrangements

SQA offers one annual opportunity for Course assessment.

Candidates may re-sit the Course in a subsequent academic year.

All components of Course assessment must be re-assessed if the Course is retaken.

Any Unit assessment already achieved need not be re-assessed if the Course is retaken.

For candidates who re-sit an Advanced Higher, SQA’s Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) records each achievement at grade D or above.

Resitting an Advanced Higher would historically have been particularly rare, with it only likely to have occurred if a candidate either attempted an Advanced Higher in S5 and either did not pass it or did not achieve the grade they required; or if they took a re-sit in a tertiary college after S5 or S6. However, with the advent of CfE it is possible that more candidates could take Advanced Higher in S5, for example.

Guided/notional learning hours
notional learning hours: 320 hours
Guided/notional learning hours notes

32 SCQF credit points

UCAS Tariff points

Scottish Advanced Higher

Grade Points
A 56
B 48
C 40
D 32


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Many candidates in S6 receive unconditional offers from Scottish HEPs based on their Highers results in S5.

Historically, where candidates take them, they will enter for one or two Advanced Highers, with around 70% of candidates who take them, only taking one Advanced Higher in S6. Therefore, three Advanced Highers in S6 is not the standard uptake. Local timetabling decisions and size of school may create variations in the pattern of provision; this may affect the number of Advanced Highers offered and taken at a centre.

In some cases, for example due to geography, timetabling decisions or size of provider, a learner may not have the opportunity to take Advanced Highers at their school or college.  Candidates in S6 with limited or no access to Advanced Highers may take further Higher subjects instead of, or in addition to, Advanced Highers. Some candidates may register at multiple centres within the same school year in order to access a wider range of subjects.

Under CfE, there is an enhanced emphasis on ensuring that students undertake their learning journey and the qualifications and assessment which support it, at a pace which best meets their needs, allowing them some personalisation and choice in the overall curriculum they engage with. As such, different patterns of provision and attainment stage among students are likely to emerge.

Candidates may apply to HEPs with a mixture of unreformed and new Advanced Highers.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Advanced Higher examinations are taken from late April to mid-June.

Results are published in early August.

Qualification date
This is a current qualification. (The unreformed Advanced Highers lapsed after the 2014/15 academic year and were replaced by new Advanced Highers, introduced at the start of the 2015/16 academic year. The unreformed and new Advanced Highers were not dual-run.)
Reporting and certification information

Information on the new Advanced Highers will be available once results are published in August 2016.

For the unreformed Advanced Highers, almost 20,000 were awarded at grades A–D in 2014.

For the unreformed Advanced Highers, grade distributions vary across subjects.

Entries and achievement rates for the unreformed Advanced Highers, including by age and stage, along with grade distributions and trends in pass rates by year are available at:

Further information

SQA’s National Qualification Arrangements Documents for each Advanced Higher subject are available at:

SQA’s website is:

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) website is available at:

SQA’s National Qualifications Course and Unit Specifications and other supporting documentation for each Higher subject are available at: