Scottish higher

Higher Still is a system of educational qualifications that were introduced by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in 2000.

The system has a number of different levels;

Access 2 and 3; Basic, entry level qualifications

Intermediate 1 Now National 4

Intermediate 2 Now National 5

Highers; Required for entry to Universities. New highers have now been introduced from August 2014.

Advanced Highers; Required for entry to high-competition courses such as Medicine, Vet Med and Dentistry, or for level-2 entry into some Universities. Some Universities require AHs for level 1 entry.

Each level is offered in a variety of subjects. NABs (National Assessment Bank tests) must be sat at the end of each unit and a final exam before a grade is given in a subject.

What is Higher equivalent to in the English exam system?

Standard Grades are equal to GCSEs; Highers are equal to AS Levels; Advanced Highers are slightly harder than A2 levels.

Course Summaries

Below are general summaries of the most popular Higher courses (English, Maths, Chemistry, Human Biology, Biology, Physics, History, Geography, Modern Studies and French). Further information on specific subjects can be found in the arrangements documents on the SQA website.


- The course consists of 3 units:

  • Language Study - Close reading NAB and Writing NAB
  • Literary study - Textual Analysis NAB
  • Personal Study - Personal Study NAB (The personal study is now no longer a mandatory part of the Higher course but remains as an optional unit.)

NB. There are 4 NABs for English

The final exam is worth 100 marks in total and consists of 2 papers:

Paper 1 is a close reading paper (2 unseen passages of non-fiction with questions accompanying each) and is worth 50 marks. (1hr 45mins)
Paper 2 presents a choice of essay questions, and the candidate is required to write 2 essays from different sections. Each essay is worth 25 marks. (1hr 30mins)

Writing Folio

The writing folio consists of two pieces written by the candidate and has replaced the Personal Study section of the course. These pieces usually consist of a personal and a discursive piece of writing. The personal piece may range from a variety of topics such as a poem, dramatic monologue, or typical personal/reflective essay.

The Writing folio is given a weighting of 20% of your final grade and is marked out of 50 - 25 for each piece.

To study English at Higher, it is recommended that you have a Credit pass at Standard Grade or an A or B at Intermediate 2.


1. Unit One
a. The Straight Line
b. Functions and Graphs
c. Differentiation (Basic Calculus)
d. Recurrence Relations

2. Unit Two
a. Quadratic Theory
b. Integration (Basic Calculus)
c. Calculations in 3D and Compound Angle Formulae
d. The Circle

3. Unit Three
a. Vectors
b. Further Differentiation and Integration (Further Calculus)
c. The Wave Function

To study Maths at Higher, it is recommended that you have a Credit pass at Standard Grade or an A or B at Intermediate 2.

The final exam is worth 130 marks and is split into 2 papers:

Paper 1 is 'non-calculator' is worth 70 marks and consists of 2 sections.
Section A, which consists of 20 multichoice questions worth 2 marks each.
Section B, which is worth 30 marks in total.
Paper 2 allows the use of calculators. It is worth 60 marks.


1. Energy Matters

  • A look at the enthalpy of combustion, solution, etc
  • A look at hydrogen and Van der Waal's attractions in the atom

2. The World of Carbon

  • A look at carbon compounds

3. Chemical Reactions

  • A look at processes in a chemical reaction such as equilibrium

For each unit, there are 3 prescribed practical abilities (PPA's) One of the Unit One PPA's must be passed and submitted to the SQA when the school is being moderated.

The final exam is 2.5 hours long and is separated into two sections, one multiple choice and one extended answer questions, where short written answers/calculations are required

To study Higher Chemistry, it is recommended you have a minimum of a 2 (KU2, PS2) at standard grade or a B at Intermediate 2.

Human Biology

1. Cell Function and Inheritance

  • the role of enzymes in cell metabolisms
  • protein synthesis
  • energy transfer
  • cellular response in defence
  • inheritance

2. The Continuation of Life

  • reproduction
  • development
  • transport mechanisms
  • delivery of materials to cells
  • removal of materials from the blood
  • regulating mechanisms

3. Behaviour, populations and the environment

  • nervous system and memory
  • behaviour
  • population growth and the environment

The Human Biology examination is a single paper consisting of a booklet of questions in three sections. Section A – 30 multiple choice questions (30 marks) Section B - Structured questions (80 marks) Section C – Extended response: two essays worth 10 marks each

Having studied Human Biology you can still do AH Biology (at no great disadvantage compared to those who studied Higher Biology) - there is no AH Human Biology.


Unit One - Mechanics and Properties of Matter

  • Vectors
  • Equations of Motion
  • Newton’s Second Law, energy and power
  • Momentum and Impulse
  • Density and Pressure
  • Gas Laws

Unit Two - Electricity and Electronics

  • Electric fields and resistors in circuits
  • Alternating Current and Voltage
  • Capacitance
  • Analogue Electronics

Unit Three - Radiation and Matter

  • Waves
  • Refraction of Light
  • Optoelectronics and semiconductors
  • Nuclear Reactions
  • Dosimetry and Safety

External Assessment - 2.5 hour exam including both multiple choice and extended answer questions. 

To study Higher Physics, students are expected to have passed SG Physics with a 2 in KU and PS. Higher Physics involves a reasonable number of calculations so candidates need to be fairly confident of their mathmatical ability.


In History, unlike most other subjects, there is a choice of topics, although this is usually decided by the school rather than the pupil. All the possible choices can be seen on the SQA website.

In Paper 1, the first two topics, one of which is British history and one of which is European/World, are examined. The candidate must write one essay on each topic, from a choice of three questions for each. This paper is worth 40 marks and is allocated 1 hour and 20 minutes. In Paper 2, the candidate is examined on the third topic, which is always a Scottish topic. The candidate will be examined by 4 source-based questions (two contextualisation questions, each worth 10 marks, one comparison question, worth 5 marks, and one evaluation question, worth 5 marks). The paper is worth 30 marks and is allocated 1 hour and 25 minutes. The Extended Essay is an essay which is drafted and refined in class and at home by the pupil, with some teacher help, but with all of it being his or her own work. It is then replicated under timed conditions in springtime, with a short plan available, and contributes the final 30 marks to the pupil's overall score.


Unit 1 - Physical Environments:

  • Biosphere
  • Lithosphere
  • Hydrosphere
  • Atmosphere

Unit 2 - Human Environments:

  • Urban
  • Rural
  • Industry
  • Population

Unit 3 - Environmental Interactions (you only study two of the following):

  • Rural land Resources
  • Rural Land Degradation
  • River Basin Management
  • Urban Change and its Management
  • European Regional Inequalities
  • Development and Health

NABs: One per unit.

The Final Exam:

Paper 1 - Physical and Human Environments (1hr 30mins) Paper 2 – Environmental Interactions (1hr 15mins)

Modern Studies

In Higher Modern Studies candidates answer four questions in the examination: one from each of the three sections and one other chosen from either Section A or Section C

Unit 1 - Political Issues in the United Kingdom

  • Devolved Decision Making in Scotland
  • Decision Making in Central Government
  • Political Parties and their Policies (including the Scottish Dimension)
  • Electoral Systems, Voting and Political Attitudes

Unit 2 - Social Issues in the United

  • Wealth and Health Inequalities in the United Kingdom

Unit 3 - International Issues

  • The Republic of South Africa
  • The People’s Republic of China
  • The United States of America
  • The European Union
  • The Politics of Development in Africa (with the exception of the Republic of South Africa)
  • Global Security

Modern Languages (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Urdu, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin(Traditional), Cantonese)

Assessment: Speaking (Internally Assessed) - 25%

Reading (Externally Assessed) - 30% (20% of which include general comprehension questions, 10% is based on a translation which is divided into 5 sense units. Students are given two marks for a good translation of the sense unit, one mark for a satisfactory attempt, and zero for an unsatisfactory effort.

Directed Writing (Externally Assessed) - 15% - Based on a scenario in which you stay in France for a period of time (as part of an exchange visit/to work etc). Mainly written in the past tense. 150-180 words.

Listening - 20% - Heard twice. Students write their answers in English. Short Essay - 10% - Can be based on any one of the three language Units, listed below, each of which are subdivided further. Usually related to the topic discussed in the Listening. 1. Lifestyles 2. Education and Work 3. The Wider World

Like all other subjects (except English which has four) Candidates must pass 3 assessments before the exam. These are at a minimum competence level. They are referred to as NAB's (National Assessment Bank Material) The examination consists of two papers. Both allow use of a dictionary. Paper 1 is 1h 40 mins long and consists of both the reading and directed Writing. Paper 2 is 1hr long and consists of both the listening and short essay elements.

The course consists of two Units, the mandatory "Language" Unit and one of "Extended Reading/Viewing" or "Language in Work."


The national course Higher Biology is divided into 4 parts: three national units and one external assessment. The three units are:

Unit 1 – Cell Biology

  • Cell Structure in Relation to Function
  • Photosynthesis
  • Energy Release
  • Synthesis and Release of Proteins
  • Cellular Response in Defence

Unit 2 – Genetics and Adaptation

  • Variation
  • Selection and Speciation
  • Animal and Plant Adaptations

Unit 3 – Control and Regulation

  • Control of Growth and Development
  • Physiological Homeostasis
  • Population Dynamics

The Higher Biology Examination is a single paper consisting of a booklet of questions in three sections.

  • Section A – 30 multiple choice questions (30 marks)
  • Section B - Structured questions (80 marks)
  • Section C – Extended response: two essays worth 10 marks each



Higher Economics is divided into three units: Microeconomics, The UK Economy and The International Economy.

Unit 1 -

  • The Basic Economic Problem (Nature, Opportunity Cost, Resources, Choices, Production Possibility Curves)
  • Demand (Economic behaviour, theory of demand, determinants of demand, Price and Income elasticity of demand)
  • Supply (Cost relationships, Theory of supply, determinants of supply, elasticity of supply)
  • The operation of markets (Nature of markets, price and output determination in a competitive market)
  • Market Intervention (Effects, types and characteristics of markets, profit and pricing in markets)

Unit 2 -

  • National Income (National Output, Income and Expenditure, Use of NI statistics, Problems in measuring NI, Multiplier effect)
  • Inflation and employment (Reasons/effects of inflation and unemployment)
  • The role of the government in the economy (Macroeconomic objectives, Economic Growth, Microeconomic objectives)
  • Government Economic Policies (Fiscal, monetary and supply-side policies, market failure policies)

Unit 3 -

  • International Trade and Payments (Specialisation, Protection, Balance of Payments, Exchange Rates)
  • The International Economic Environment (EU, International trading and monetary organisations, developing economies)

Exam -

As well as a completing and passing a NAB in each of the three units, students will also sit a final exam. The exam is 2 hours 30 minutes long and has 100 marks. There are two sections to the paper, Section A and Section B. Section A is 50 marks and consists of two questions. Both questions are compulsory and are split into many parts. Parts are usually worth 1-6 marks each. Section B is also worth 50 marks and there are six questions. Students are only required to answer two questions of their choice, each being worth 25 marks. Questions are split into 3-4 parts worth 4-10 marks each. This part of the paper allows students to answer 'essay' type questions on topics they might be stronger in.