Standard Grade

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Standard Grades (Scottish Gaelic: Ìre Choitcheann) were Scotland's educational qualifications for students aged around 14 to 16 years. Introduced in 1986, the Grades were replaced in 2013[1] with the Scottish Qualifications Authority's National exams in a major shake-up of Scotland's education system as part of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework overhaul.

Scottish Standard Grades roughly matched the English, Welsh and Northern Irish General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations in terms of level subject content and cognitive difficulty.[2]


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 were taken over a student's third and fourth year in secondary education. Exams were taken at the end of the 4th Year (around May), with preliminary examinations taken several months earlier in November. (However, certain subjects may have been "fast tracked" at some schools (for example Dalziel High school, which 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 meant that 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.)[citation needed] The exams were provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which also offers the more recent National Qualifications on the Scottish Qualifications Certificate.

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

Levels of award[edit]

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 New Qualification SCQF Level
Credit Level 1 and 2 National 5 SCQF 5
General Level 3 and 4 National 4 SCQF 4
Foundation Level 5 and 6 National 3 SCQF 3
Course Failed 7 N/A N/A

Higher Still[edit]

The Scottish Government Authorities responsible for Education decided to slowly phase out the Standard Grade system in favour of the Scottish Qualifications Authority's Higher Still system[3][4] as many students and teachers felt that the jump from Standard Grade to Higher was 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 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 progress to Intermediate 2 or Higher level in 5th year, as students already do each year.

Standard Grade exams were replaced progressively by the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) system. But – unlike Standard Grades – the CfE does not involve external exams for the majority of levels. The new curriculum involves 5 levels; National 1, National 2, National 3, National 4, and National 5. National 1 to National 4 are awarded on the basis of coursework and tests generated and marked by the school, whereas students can achieve National 5 by passing examinations externally set by the SQA.

Standard Grade subjects[edit]

Compulsory subjects[edit]

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

  • English (4 hours per week minimum)
  • Mathematics (4 hours per week minimum)
  • Science (At least one from: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, General Science) (3 hours per week minimum)
  • Social Sciences (At least one from: History, Geography, Modern Studies or Classical Studies] (3 hours per week minimum)
  • Physical Education (PE) * (1 hour per week minimum)
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Education (RMPS) * (1 hour per week minimum)
  • Education for Personal and Social Development (PSE)* (1 hour per week minimum)

* 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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What qualifications can you take in Scotland?". BBC News: Scotland. 6 August 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Standard Grades to be axed in exams shake-up". The Daily Record. 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
  4. ^ "UK | Scotland | Scottish exams shake-up announced". BBC News. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2011-10-14.

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