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This QIP refers to the new Higher

  • Scotland

Highers are the primary qualification used for progression to higher education (HE) by Scottish domiciled students.

The new Highers will help 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 HE 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).

Highers are taken in all state schools, most tertiary colleges and most independent schools in Scotland.

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

In 2014–15, new Highers were introduced for candidates who had followed Curriculum for Excellence since they started primary school.

Both the new Highers and the unreformed Highers were concurrently run in 2014–15. Only the new Highers will be available from 2015–16.

In schools, Highers are currently most commonly taken in S5. However, under CfE different patterns of Highers provision are emerging, with some candidates beginning Highers during S4 and sitting the examination diet at the end of S5, for example.

Candidates may take Highers in a single examination diet or in different examination diets.

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 student.

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.

Awarding organisation
  • SQA

Highers are made up of National Units totalling 18 Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) credit points (180 notional learning hours), usually including three Units each worth 6 SCQF credit points. However, some Highers are made up of smaller and larger Units, depending on fitness for purpose.

A further six SCQF credit points (60 notional learning hours) are achieved through the added value provided in the Course award, which is the Course assessment component(s) from which the grade is wholly derived (except for Ungraded Highers).

The Course award combines different skills, knowledge and understanding, normally in two or more synoptic components which are Course assessments that assess breadth and/or depth across the Course.

New Higher Courses do not currently contain optional Units. However, they will initially appear on SQA’s MIS system as optional to accommodate those candidates who were taking a mix of unreformed Higher and new Higher Units for their Advanced Higher.

Higher Units are levelled at SCQF Level 6. Candidates may take one or more Units at SCQF Level 7 instead of Higher Units, provided that the Units have been developed to form a structured sequence within a subject hierarchy across the two levels.

All new 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.

There are two Skills for Work Ungraded Highers.

Subject areas
  • Accounting
  • Administration and information technology
  • Art and design
  • Beauty (Skills for Work Ungraded Highers)
  • Biology
  • Cantonese
  • Care
  • Chemistry
  • Childcare and development
  • Classical studies
  • Computing science
  • Design and manufacture
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Economics
  • Engineering science
  • English
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Environmental science
  • Fashion and textile technology
  • French
  • Gaelic (learners)
  • Gàidhlig
  • Geography
  • German
  • Graphic communication
  • Health and social care (Skills for Work Ungraded Highers)
  • History
  • Health and food technology
  • Human biology
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Mandarin (simplified)
  • Mandarin (traditional)
  • Mathematics
  • Media
  • Modern studies
  • Music
  • Music technology
  • Philosophy
  • Photography
  • Physical education
  • Physics
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS)
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Urdu
  • SCQF Level 6

SCQF Level 6 is equivalent to Level 3 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.


A, B, C, D.

Skills for Work Ungraded Highers are Pass or Fail. (Beauty & Health and social care).


Unit assessment may be undertaken at the end of the learning and teaching 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 two Skills for Work Ungraded Highers are based on internal assessment only. To achieve one of these Highers, candidates must pass the component Units of the Course.

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 assessments.

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 and retake any Course assessment not passed previously.

All components of Course assessment will 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 a Higher, SQA’s Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) records each achievement at grade D or above.

Guided/notional learning hours
notional learning hours: 240 hours
Guided/notional learning hours notes

24 SCQF credit points

UCAS Tariff points

Scottish Higher

Grade Points
A 33
B 27
C 21
D 15


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Highers are the standard entry requirement for Scottish applicants to Scottish HEPs and many HEPs in the rest of the UK.

Most Scottish HE applicants will have four or five Highers. A smaller number may also have Advanced Highers.

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.

Some candidates will take Highers in more than one school or college in the same academic year in order to access a wider range of subjects.

Not all schools offer full Advanced Higher provision, so some candidates in S6 may take further Highers instead of, or in addition to, Advanced Highers.

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

Timing of assessments/results for learners

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

Results are published in early August.

Qualification date
This is a current qualification. (The new Highers were concurrently run along with the unreformed Highers during 2014–15 when the latter lapsed.)
Qualification dates notes

From the 2015–16 academic year, only the new Highers will be available. This means that students holding both reformed and unreformed qualifications will be applying to higher education during this period.

SQA has confirmed that the standard of reformed and unreformed Highers and Advanced Highers is the same.

Reporting and certification information

Information on the new Highers will be available once results are published in August 2015.

For the unreformed Highers, almost 165,000 were awarded at grades A–D in 2014.

Grade distributions have varied across subjects for the unreformed Highers.

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

Almost 1,200 Ungraded Highers were awarded in 2014.

Further information

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

SQA’s website is:

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