N5 Course Assessment Changes

  • Darren Brown

    No units to do for N5, externally marked 31%/50 marks course assignment project with longer exam 69%/110 marks, cannot re-mark N5 course assignment project against N4 AVU


    My thoughts – apologies for the length, discuss…

    – New CS courses were already very stringent in nature of theory, programming, database, web development all required. More so than most other new CfE subjects
    – Still too much content and we did not get exemplification and explanation last May, some content added was surprising with no basic intro or background in course. No units will free up around 3-4 weeks of course for teaching
    – Coursework externally assessed by SQA will save me many hours although I feel the tasks will have to be more directed, consistent and have clear exemplars to make it fair for marking. SQA reliability of marking is not necessarily a given
    – Exam already long and stressful with 90 marks in 90 minutes including programs to read and think through to write, 110 marks seems a lot and will it go to 2 hours in length?
    – A 90 minute exam with 90 marks, usually around 32 pages long with around 50 different question parts surely can sample enough of the course content without 20 more marks worth added
    – What from the unit assessments leaving is not already in the exam so it needs added in? For me areas like explaining data/code, test data, hardware, software, user, security, environment, laws… etc. from unit assessments were already in exam?
    – I feel there is an attempt to make us still have to 2 N5 units or 3 N4 units due to the fact all externally marked means we will be gambling on lots of pupils getting N5 with all marking unknown to us. Currently a pupil with 35% of the exam can pass the course with a decent project and this is how around a quarter of my pupils are making N5, this cut-off guestimate will have to go up to around 45% from a prelim to continue at N5 and we will also be working with a guesstimate project score. I won’t be doing any other units, the whole point of this move is to free up time to teach, so many more will be entered for N4 reducing uptake in CS and some will end up with nothing if they fail
    – I presume the current coursework tasks will be reduced and will have the common 2 sections and same development areas, I’m not sure how you can argue that the N5 course assignment, with N4 AVUs staying the same, won’t cover N4 level anymore to pass. Obviously pupils would need the other 2 N4 units but why can we not “recognise positive achievement” anymore from N5 project to N4 AVU?
    – Making course easier for teachers but even harder for pupils, in a subject already seen as difficult by all, numbers dropping and exam scores low in comparison to other subjects. Even hard working pupils not getting access to subject earlier cannot come in S3 or even S4 to manage subject. This seems to be making Computing Science even more inaccessible and unattainable to the majority of students. If anything pupils need a leg up to make Computing Science as easy to access as possible as so many are starting late and we have jobs to fill.
    – Call me cynical but all this work and changes seem to be a vindictive move as it is seen teachers have lost SQA money by forcing units to be removed. I don’t know anyone who cares SQA “points” are lost to pupils with no units, it is all about exam grades

    Skip Sommerville

    The Death Shot! I think this is crazy, I have played catch up over the past 3 years (having been OS) the changes from SGrade to Nationals were crazy together with Cfe. I have set up a brilliant program for my school and just about their (Computing Nirvana). Now what!


    My first immediate thoughts are similar to this:

    “Making course easier for teachers but even harder for pupils, in a subject already seen as difficult by all, numbers dropping and exam scores low in comparison to other subjects.”

    I’m lucky in my school in that we change from S3 into S4 at the beginning of May. The extra month has made a big difference in the last two years to getting through the course content in a timely fashion.

    I guess we’ll need to see how this plays out in terms of results next year. Perhaps the SQA will suggest we go back to a 2 year course model (standard grade)

    Enrico Vanni

    I have to wonder which strident voice desperately clinging to the last vestiges of Outcome Based Education with the SQA saw this as the best compromise.  100 marks for the exam and 50 for the coursework would have made more sense, but this definitely looks once again like a pound-of-flesh move by the thin-skinned apparatchiks, sneaking in changes of their own want on the backs of reforms they have been asked to make by their bosses, who actually listened to the chalk-facers.  Give with one hand but take with the other, and this time very much to the detriment of the candidates.


    Not the first time they have done it and probably not the last.  The implications of the statement “The weighting (%) of the question paper and coursework has been adjusted to enhance the reliability of the course assessment” are unsubtly obvious – they simply don’t trust the amount of marks being awarded for practical tasks.  The net result of these two changes will be a drop in marks because of a drastic change in the assessment standard – candidates with pre 2018 N5 Computing Science will effectively have a different qualification to those with post 2018 N5 Computing Science but on paper employers and FE will be unaware of the implications.


    It is ironic though that (as we have identified before) in a course whose own guidance documentation is mired in boilerplate and has been criticised for being paperwork heavy the coursework tasks as they currently are offer 1/3 of the marks for students successfully completing the practical element and 2/3 of the marks for completing the accompanying bureaucratic paperwork.  If the tasks were to revert to the 50/50 model of marks for actual computing skills compared with essay writing then I might be a bit more amenable to these changes.  Candidates should be rewarded for practical skills in what is after all supposed to be a practical subject.


    Somehow I doubt the apparatchiks will be able to bring themselves to such a common sense approach as it just doesn’t sit with their culture of paperwork.  I guess we will have to wait and see what we are getting when that fait accompli is presented to us.

    Enrico Vanni

    PS.  The removal of the remarking of the N5 Coursework to cover N4 Added Value outcomes has to be one of the most cynical moves ever made by the SQA.


    No fall-back means that effectively EVERY Computing Science candidate (N5 and N4) will have to complete N4 unit assessments and AV to avoid the risk of ‘leaving with nothing’ if they fail the exam/coursework.


    SQA had no doubt projected their revenues for the National courses on every candidate completing 3 units/tasks with the schools of course paying the SQA to rubber-stamp these passes, and the removal of units from N5 courses threatened that guaranteed income.


    The no fall-back change has at a stroke protected that revenue stream (unless of course a school is willing to take the risk of leaving a borderline N5 candidate with nothing).  Way-to-go guys!!


    I had a quick look at some other subjects updates. There seems to be a general pattern across subjects of less marks assigned to the coursework and more marks in a longer exam.

    Marc McWhirter

    The no fall-back change has at a stroke protected that revenue stream (unless of course a school is willing to take the risk of leaving a borderline N5 candidate with nothing).  Way-to-go guys!!

    @Enrico Vanni I agree that this is the motivation behind the move. They are likely counting on the fact that management will not want to take the risk and will strongly suggest that N4 units are completed in all departments, essentially wiping out the reduction in workload / assessment burden.

    Mrs Janet McDonald


    Can someone please find / send me an example of an SQA flowchart for a program which includes a fixed loop? I can only find examples for conditional loops and I’m struggling to work out how I would represent a fixed loop with the ‘standard symbols’ that the SQA have given me.

    I realise that I’m probably being dense, but I would appreciate an example.

    Many thanks

    Janet McDonald

    Iain Purdie


    Link below to a photo from the SQA “Resources to Support…” document. As far as we can tell, this is a fixed loop, even though there’s a condition in it to check the counter value. Also note, no ides if it’s important or not, that the loop goes back to a link between two boxes, not to the “Get age…” box as you may expect.


    Richard Scott

    Hi Janet,

    It’s a shame there does not appear to be a simpler way. If there is maybe someone will let me know! Here is the way I do a fixed loop in a Flow Chart:
    Fixed loop in a flow chart


    PS. c.f. an example from the arrangements document
    PPS sorry about the sketchy drawing!

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