SQA fights back as exams branded “easy”


By Zoë Keown

SCOTLAND HAS often been referred to as one of the ‘best educated societies in the world’.

The value of the county’s qualifications are now however being called into disrepute, as thousands of students are passing exams with scores as low as 24 per cent.

At Higher level, key subjects like English, chemistry and biology can be passed with marks below 50 per cent.

And at Standard Grade, graphic communication candidates have secured foundation passes with a score of just 24 per cent.

At 74.6 per cent for Highers and 98.5 per cent for Standard Grades, the number of students passing Scottish exams this year, stands at a record level.

Coupled with shocking pass scores, these impressive statistics may also lead to the supposition that exams have become easier.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, believes that the results call for an overhaul of the examination system.  

He said: “It seems clear that the desire of politicians and educationalists to fool the public into thinking they are producing ever-improving standards is overriding the need for rigorous qualifications that everybody can have confidence in.”

And these pass marks are also tarnishing the country’s acclaimed standard of education.

Seaton added: “If this continues, Scotland will lose the worldwide reputation it once enjoyed for high academic standards.”

David Watt, of the Institute of Directors in Scotland backs up this claim.

He said: “It is vital to retain the standing and images of the Highers as being a robust test of academic knowledge. A lower pass rate threatens to undermine that position.

“If Highers are to stay relevant while young people get brighter, they must get tougher, not easier.

“They need to stamp real achievement on somebody who passes them.”

Seventeen out of the 65 subjects offered to students at higher level can be passed with scores of fewer than half marks – with subjects like biology and chemistry just requiring a score of 44 per cent and English, 47 per cent.

Furthermore, a mark of 64 per cent is enough to warrant a grade ‘A’ in English, and 68 per cent in biology.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has however rejected criticisms that exams have become easier.

A spokesman said: “Dumbing down is a charge that seems to have leveled every year and it is not true.”

“Each year, our experts meet to agree grade boundaries so as to ensure that year-on-year direct comparisons can be made and that, over the piece, pass rates remain stable.”


  1. I am currently sitting my higher exams this year and can assure you that the exams themselves are not getting easier but are in fact getting harder and as a result a lower percentage of people are passing them. especially for highers where students have only a year to be taught all the criteria, which is ever exapanding in size.

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