The functions and duties of the SQA are set out in the 1996 Education (Scotland) Act, as amended by the 2002 Scottish Qualifications Authority Act. Before their merger, the SEB (Scottish Examination Board) and the Scottish Vocational Education Council were the two main Scottish examination authorities (SCOTVEC). The former granted the exams at the school level, then called Regular Grade, Higher Grade and Sixth Year Studies Certificate (CSYS). The Authority's headquarters, the legacy of its two precursor bodies, remain divided into two locations, one in Glasgow and one in Dalkeith.
Under a major overhaul of Scottish exams (the National Qualifications or "Higher Still" reforms), the CSYS was replaced with a broadly similar qualification called Advanced Higher. At this time, some curriculum improvements were also made to the highest grade.
After a series of administrative and computer failures led to several thousand incorrect Higher and Intermediate certificates being sent out, the implementation of the revised exam system was criticized in the press and by the government. It took several months to address the crisis, and several management figures resigned or were fired, including Chief Executive Ron Tuck.