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This QIP refers to the unreformed Higher

  • Scotland

Highers develop subject knowledge and skills (and other transferable skills, as appropriate).

Highers have a long history of facilitating entry to higher education and also of providing access to employment, further education and training.

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.

Candidates may take Highers across more than one school year to be sat in a single examination diet or in different examination diets.

Both the new Highers and the unreformed Highers were ‘dual run’ in 2014/15. Only the new Highers will be available from 2015/16. This means that students holding both reformed and unreformed qualifications will be applying to higher education during this period. SQA has indicated that the standard of reformed and unreformed Highers and Advanced Highers is the same.

The new Highers have been revised in accordance with the aims and principles of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

While the unreformed Highers were most commonly taken in S5, they were also widely taken in S6 in addition to, or instead of, Advanced Highers.

Curriculum for excellence introduces greater flexibility in the provision of qualifications. This means that there may be a more diverse pattern of delivery for Highers, with some beginning Highers at some point in S4 and sitting the diet at the end of S5, for example.

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 externally assessed component(s) from which the grade is wholly derived. The course award 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 Higher.

Most Highers do not contain optional Units, but a small number do (see the Arrangements Documents by subject at for further information).

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

Subject areas
  • Accounting
  • Administration
  • Architectural technology
  • Art and design
  • Biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Beauty (undgraded higher)
  • Building construction
  • Business management
  • Cantonese
  • Care
  • Care practice
  • Chemistry
  • Classical Greek
  • Classical studies
  • Computing
  • Dance practice
  • Drama
  • Early education and childcare
  • Economics
  • English
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Fabrication and welding engineering
  • French
  • Gaelic (learners)
  • Gàidhlig
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • German
  • Graphic communication
  • Health and social care (ungraded higher)
  • History
  • Home economics: fashion and textile technology
  • Home economics: health and food technology
  • Home economics: lifestyle and consumer technology
  • Hospitality: professional cookery
  • Human biology
  • Information systems
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Managing environmental resources
  • Mandarin (simplified)
  • Mandarin (traditional)
  • Mathematics: mathematics 1, 2 & 3
  • Modern studies
  • Music: performing
  • Music: performing with technology
  • Personal development (ungraded higher)
  • Philosophy
  • Photography
  • Physical education
  • Physics
  • Play in early education and childcare
  • Politics
  • Product design
  • Psychology
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS)
  • Retail travel
  • Russian
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Technological studies
  • Travel and tourism
  • Urdu
  • SCQF Level 6

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


A, B, C, D.

There are three ungraded Highers (Beauty, Health & social care and Personal development).


Unit assessment is usually taken at the end of the learning and teaching of each Unit and is not graded.

Assessment of Units is usually through closed-book assessment under supervision.

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

Course assessment 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). 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. Students are required to pass the course assessment in order to achieve the Higher course.

Course assessment may have one or more components, which may include, for example, an external examination paper and an assignment or performance piece. 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.

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

The three ungraded Highers are based on internal assessment only. To achieve one of these Highers, candidates must pass the component Units of the course.

The Arrangements Documents specify the nature of both Unit and course assessment 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 and a project).

Where there is more than one course assessment component, the weighting (marks/percentage) between them varies from subject to subject. See the subject Arrangements Documents for specific information:

Resit arrangements

SQA offers only one annual opportunity for course assessment.

Candidates may resit the course in a subsequent academic year and retake any course assessment not passed previously.

Any Unit assessment already achieved need not be resat if the course is being retaken.

All components of course assessment must be resat if the course is being retaken.

For candidates who resit 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 have Advanced Highers.

Under the current system, local timetabling restrictions and size of school can create variations in the pattern of provision on offer, affecting the number of courses, subjects taken, timing and type of qualifications candidates take.

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

In some schools some candidates may take some Highers in S4 or S6 instead of all in S5.

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.

Some courses, such as medicine and dentistry, often stipulate that a candidate must have a GCSE equivalent entry requirement, such as a National 5 qualification in English. In the event that an applicant has bypassed their National 4 and 5 qualifications, the university or college will normally require that the qualifications are achieved at Higher or Advanced Higher.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

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

Results are published in early August.

Qualification date
Until 30 Jun 2015 (This is a legacy qualification. Both the new and the unreformed Highers were being ‘dual run’ in 2014/15.)
Qualification dates notes

Only the new Highers will be available from 2015/16. 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

Almost 165,000 Highers were awarded at grades A – D in 2014.

Grade distributions vary across subjects.

Higher entries and achievement rates, including by age and stage, along with grade distributions and trends in pass rates by year are available at:

Further information

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

SQA’s website is: