Standard Grade

Standard Grades (Scottish Gaelic: Ìre Choitcheann) were Scotland's educational qualifications for students aged around 14 to 16 years, which were replaced with Scottish Qualifications Authority's National exams as part of the major shake up of Scotland's education system as part of Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework overhaul. Scottish Standard Grades roughly matched the English and Welsh General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Examinations in terms of level subject content and cognitive difficulty.[1]


Following the Munn and Dunning reports published in 1977, the Standard Grade replaced the old O-Grade qualification, and was phased in from then onwards.

Standard Grade courses are taken over a student's third and fourth year in secondary education. Exams are taken at the end of the 4th Year (around May), with preliminary examinations taken several months earlier in November. (However, certain subjects may be "fast tracked" at some schools (for example Dalziel High school, who was the first school to use this system), where the course is started in at the beginning of 2nd year and finished at the end of 3rd year (this means pupils start standard grades at age 12/13 and finish them at age 14/15) or by doubling teaching time and sitting courses over 1 year as with Highers.) The exams are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which also offers the more recent National Qualifications on the Scottish Qualifications Certificate.

Students will typically study 8 subjects at Standard Grade. Generally speaking, different subjects can be taken independently of each other, although English and Mathematics are compulsory, and most schools will structure student choices so that at least one science subject, one social science (and often a modern language) are chosen. The two main restrictions on this choice are timetable arrangements, and the fact that many less popular subjects are not offered by all schools.

Levels of award

There are three sub-levels (or "tiered" papers) at which Standard Grade exams can be taken, namely "Foundation Level" (Scottish Gaelic: Bun Ìre), "General Level" (Scottish Gaelic: Meadhan Ìre) and "Credit Level" (Scottish Gaelic: Sàr Ìre). At one sitting, students generally sit either the Foundation and General level papers together, or the General and Credit level papers together.

Students are awarded a numerical grade for each examination (which may consist of several papers) ranging from 1 (best) to 7. The table below lists the grades, the exam level and equivalence to the new National Qualification exams and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF for short).

Level Grades NQ Exam SCQF Level
Credit Level 1 and 2 Intermediate 2 SCQF 5
General Level 3 and 4 Intermediate 1 SCQF 4
Foundation Level 5 and 6 Access 3 SCQF 3
Course Failed 7 N/A N/A

Higher Still

It was decided by the Scottish Government Authorities responsible for Education that The Standard Grade system is now being slowly phased out in favour of the Scottish Qualifications Authority's Higher Still system[2][3] as many, students and teachers alike, feel that the jump from Standard Grade to Higher is too difficult, particularly in subjects such as English. Although they are not exactly the same, the Foundation Level is similar to Higher Still's Access 3 level, whilst General is similar to Intermediate 1 and Credit is similar to Intermediate 2.

In some schools which use Higher Still qualifications as replacements for Standard Grades, students are now required to take an exam at the end of 3rd year (either Access 3 or Intermediate 1), and then take the Intermediate 1 or 2 exam (depending on which exam they took in 3rd year) at the end of their 4th year. This allows them to then go onto Intermediate 2 or Higher level in 5th year, as students already do each year.

Standard Grade exams will stop for good gradually and be replaced progressively by the Curriculum for excellence (CfE) system. But – unlike Standard Grades – the CfE will not involve an external exam for the majority of levels. The new curriculum will involve 5 levels; National 1, National 2, National 3, National 4, National 5. National 1 to National 4 will be awarded on the basis of coursework and tests generated and marked by the school. The only exam which will be undertaken by students will be under the national 5 level, this examination will be externally written by the SQA.

Standard grade subjects

Compulsory subjects

The Scottish Government states that all pupils must take the subjects below. However, there are exceptions.

* Core subject

Most schools in Scotland have periods between 50–55 minutes long, although this is generally accepted as an hour of a compulsory subject.

The course choice process begins after the Christmas and New Year of S2, with the completed forms being handed in around the end of February.

All subjects

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