Standard Grades

It seems as though the UK government followed the Scottish government's example in making our lives more confusing. Before the GCSE shifts in 2017, there were the 2013 Standard Grade changes. Read on to find out everything you need to know about Standard Grades, Intermediates and Access Qualifications.

A group of young women are standing outside. They are thinking about Scottish Standard Grades. This is a full-body image.

What were Scottish 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, a.k.a S4 (at age 15/16). They’re commonly referred to by the rest of the UK as the equivalent to GCSEs. 

What Standard Grades could I study?

Standard Grades were mainly in ‘core’ academic subjects. There are, of course, exceptions but generally speaking all students were 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).

On top of these, students usually had a choice on some of their other subjects since the majority of people took between five and nine subjects, depending on their school’s timetable. These included graphic communication, home economics and business management. 

What Standard Grades could I get?

In most subjects, there were three different sets of exams, each of which required different skills and an increasingly higher level of ability:

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

We know this can be kind of confusing. Luckily, schools usually advised their pupils which level to go for.

What was the difference between GCSEs and Scottish Standard Grades?

Honestly they’re barely distinguishable. In fact, some people believe that GCSEs were harder than Standard Grades, and some think the opposite. And it’s hard to tell who’s right because almost nobody sat both sets of exams. Regardless, whichever one you take you’ll come out with some good qualifications.

Where would Standard Grades have got me?

Students with Credit level Standard Grades were encouraged to do Scottish Highers. If you got a General grade, Highers might’ve been an option, but many schools would’ve suggested the Intermediate II qualification as a next step. You can learn more about highers and advanced highers here.

What are Intermediates?

Access Qualifications and Intermediates are also national qualifications offered by the SQA. Here are some things you should know about them:

  • Access I, II and III are starter courses. This means that it’s possible to progress to any Access level with no previous knowledge of the subject. There’s no formal exam or grade, and you are assessed by the person teaching you.
  • Intermediate I is about the same difficulty level as a General level Standard Grade, and could be the next step after getting a 5, 6 or 7 at Standard Grade.
  • Intermediate II is roughly equivalent to a Credit level. So a lot of students take it after scoring a 3 or 4 at Standard Grade.

Both of these courses are offered in a very wide range of subjects, tested by regular ‘unit assessments’ (which can be retaken throughout the course) and exams.

When did Scottish Standard Grades change?

So, we hate to be the bearer of bad news but all the info we just gave you is kind of null and void in the 2020s (although it’s probably still good for a pub quiz on the Scottish education system). 

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

Next Steps

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Apr-2022