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2021 Modern Studies assessment arrangements announced

2021 Modern Studies assessment arrangements announced

This afternoon (7th October 2020), Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney MSP, announced the current Scottish Government and SQA planning for how National Qualifications will be certificated in 2021. The changes are based on the SQA’s consultation in August, as well as the recent Priestly Review.

Among the headline announcements was a confirmation that National 5 exams will not take place, and will instead be replaced by the use of Teacher estimates. Meanwhile, exams for Higher and Advanced Higher are being planned for during a later-than-usual exam diet in late May, early June. This will be kept under constant review, with Teacher estimates being planned as a contingency option.

Looking to Modern Studies, there will be National 5 Question Paper, will the SQA has confirmed that they will not assess coursework, meaning the Assignment has been cancelled for 2020-21. Instead, the SQA is currently liaising with stakeholders to develop an alternative certification model, allowing Teacher estimates to form the basis of candidate certification.

As part of the consultation with stakeholders, the SQA can published guidance on producing estimates during the 2020-21 session on the website, while a new SQA Academy course is available for Teachers and Lecturers across Scotland to enrol in. Further subject-specific guidance on producing estimates is set to be released over the next few weeks.

Higher Modern Studies, in a similar modification to National 5, will also have no Assignment in the 2020-2021 session. However, a modified Question Paper is being planned for.

Under the current planning, Higher Modern Studies would continue to have two Question Papers. Paper 1, as usual, will last 1 hour and 45 minutes, with candidates still expected to complete three extended responses (2 x 20 mark essays, and 1 x 12 mark essay). Paper 2 will remain the same – 1 hour and 15 minutes for candidates to address three source questions, totalling 28 marks.

However, in a slight modification to Paper 1, the SQA has confirmed that further optionality will exist for candidates in all sections. These modifications will see candidates offered a choice four (rather than three) questions in Section 1 (‘Democracy in Scotland and the UK’) of the Question Paper, while Sections 2 and 3 will each have three questions (rather than two each) for candidates to choose from.

Finally, in Advanced Higher Modern Studies, the SQA’s current planning will see little changes for candidates. The 50-mark Dissertation goes ahead as usual, with the approved 2020-2021 titles list already available on the SQA website, while a 3-hour SQA Question Paper is also being planned for.

The only adjustment to Advanced Higher Modern Studies will be in the Question Paper, were each topic area will now feature a choice of two extended response questions, with candidates continuing to answer two questions from separate topics. The methodology and source questions will remain unchanged.


The Modern Studies Association (MSA) is the professional body for Modern Studies Teachers, in Scotland. The MSA uses its position to consult with members and relay feedback to relevant bodies, such as Education Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Membership of the MSA is free and open to all Modern Studies Teachers.

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