Standard Grades

Standard Grades have changed. Read on to find out everything you want to know about Standard Grades, Intermediates and Access Qualifications.

Surprised boy

What? Standard grades have been scrapped?

What were Standard Grades?

Standard Grades were national qualifications awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). They were assessed by exams which were normally taken by Scottish pupils in the fourth year, or S4 (at age 15/16).

What could I study?

Standard Grades were mainly in ‘core’ academic subjects. Unless there was a good reason all students were normally required to take:

  • English
  • Maths
  • At least one science (biology, chemistry, physics or general science)
  • At least one social science (history, economics, geography, classical studies or modern studies).

Less common subjects included graphic communication, home economics and business management. The majority of people took between five and nine subjects, depending on their school’s timetable.

What grades could I get?

In most subjects, there were three different sets of exams which required different skills and levels of ability:

  • Credit level leads to the top grades, 1 or 2
  • General level leads to grades 3 or 4
  • Foundation level leads to grades 5 or 6.

Schools usually advised their pupils which level to attempt.

What was the difference between a GCSE and a Standard Grade?

Some people believe that GCSEs were harder than Standard Grades, and some think the opposite. It’s hard to tell who’s right because almost nobody sat both. In fact, it’s probably safe to say they were roughly equivalent.

Where would Standard Grades have got me?

Students with Credit level Standard Grades were encouraged to do Highers. If you got a General grade, it could have been possible to take the Higher anyway, but many schools offered the Intermediate II qualification as a next step.

What are Intermediates?

Access Qualifications and Intermediates are also national qualifications offered by the SQA.

  • Access I, II and III are starter courses: it is possible to progress to any Access level with no previous knowledge of the subject. There is no formal exam or grade, and you are assessed by the person teaching you.
  • Intermediate I is similar in difficulty to a General level Standard Grade, and could be the next step after getting a 5, 6 or 7 at Standard Grade.
  • Intermediate II is similar in difficulty to a Credit level, and could be the next step after getting a 3 or 4 at Standard Grade.

These are offered in a very wide range of subjects, tested by regular ‘unit assessments’ (which it is possible to retake during the course) and exams.

When did Standard Grades change?

The Scottish Parliament phased out Standard Grades qualifications. The last Standard Grade qualifications were awarded in August 2013, and from then on students have been awarded National Qualifications instead.

Picture of boy by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015