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Assessment in general upper secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary Education

6.3Assessment in general upper secondary education

Last update: 29 March 2024

Student/pupil assessment

In upper secondary education science-humanities courses, assessment is organised into three different forms:

  • Diagnostic – designed to facilitate student integration and support academic and career guidance, as well as strategic readjustments.
  • Formative – continuous and systematic, using various tools to collect information, appropriate to the diversity of the teaching and learning processes regulating the process, helping teachers and students identify and overcome difficulties, plan and take decisions.
  • Summative – deals primarily with grading and certification and is graded on a scale of 0-20. It can be internal (done by teachers and schools), or external, in a set of subjects of grades 11 and 12, undertaken on a national level by central services of the Ministry of Education. It is intended to guarantee credibility and objectivity.

At the beginning of the school year, in line with guidelines laid down in steering documents, the pedagogical council defines assessment criteria for each subject and grade, as proposed by the different subject departments in upper secondary education.

Internal summative assessment is the responsibility of the class council after the contributions of the different subject teachers. Students are internally assessed at the end of each term/semester and school year.

Teachers are also responsible for developing information gathering processes through the use of specific techniques and different tools to assess their students, in accordance with the methodology guidelines of the curriculum documents in effect and the characteristics of the students (e.g., written tests, experimental work, projects, portfolios, research, etc.).

To successfully complete upper secondary education, students must pass all subjects covered in the study programme of the course they attended, with a minimum grade of 10. Students of science-humanities courses must also sit final national exams in four subjects: in Portuguese, in their triennial subject and in two of their biennial subjects that are part of the specific educational component of each course.

In the 2022/23 and 2023/24 school years, considering the effects of the pandemic on the regular development of learning, students are exceptionally not required to take these national exams to complete upper secondary education (Decree-Law No 22/2023, 3 April).

It should also be mentioned that new rules for completing upper secondary education and gaining access to higher education were implemented following the publication of Decree-Law No 62/2023, 25 July

For more information, consult Subchapter 14.2 Reforms in school education.

There is also the possibility of sitting a national exam in philosophy, which is optional, and may replace the exam of one of the biennial subjects of the specific educational component.

The upper secondary final national standardised exams also serve as entry exams to higher education.

Progression of pupils/students

Internal summative assessment, which is the responsibility of teachers and the school’s pedagogic council, leads decision-making on grades, on whether the student passes a particular subject, on progression in continuing subjects, transition to the next grade, enrolment, and the successful completion of upper secondary education. 

From the 2018/19 school year, assessment grades for physical education are included when calculating the final average in upper secondary education (Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July).

Moral and religious education is not considered for the purpose of student progression.

The citizenship and development course is not subject to summative evaluation.

Students are retained in the same grade and/or stage if they have grades below 10 (on a scale of 1 to 20) in more than two subjects, which will have to be repeated. In addition to this, they can also improve their grades in the other subjects.

Parents or legal guardians are not consulted during the decision-making process; however, they may appeal if they object to the decision to make their child repeat the grade. In addition to this, and under certain exceptional conditions, they may also ask the school that the child remains in the same grade (i.e., grade retention).

Upper secondary school students can adopt their own training pathway by constructing a study plan aligned with their interests, replacing one of the two-yearly subjects of their course’s specific component with another from another course.
With Ordinance No 306/2021, 17 December amending Ordinance No 181/2019, 11 June, there is greater flexibility when designing upper secondary education and training provision, as pathways can be created at school level, using all the options of the specific component subjects of the existing courses.
Upper secondary students may also decide to redirect their education pathway. This process is regulated by Legislative Order No 29/2008, 5 June, which introduced changes to Legislative Order No 36/2007, 8 October. The changes introduced aim to refine the existing system through more flexible solutions and increasing diversity of the current of upper secondary education provision – focussing mainly on:

(i) Verification of final results obtained in each subject, by means of transferability and equivalence mechanisms.

(ii) Attendance of an upper secondary course upon completion of another.

(iii) Accreditation of modules successfully completed on original course.

The progression of students covered by universal and selective learning and inclusion support measures occurs under the terms defined by law. The progression of students covered by additional measures to support learning and inclusion (according to Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July, in its current wording, Article 29), occurs under the terms defined in the technical-pedagogical report and the individual educational programme.


Students complete upper secondary education (science-humanities courses) if they have passed in every subject of the respective study programme. 

Course completion is certified via the award of a:

a) "Diploma" means a personal and non-transferable document that certifies the completion of upper secondary education and identifies the course completed, respective qualification level (according to the NQF) and the corresponding EQF level. When applicable, it certifies vocational skills or professional activity for which the qualification was obtained, as well as the final classification.
b) "Certificate", means a personal and non-transferable document that certifies the completion of upper secondary education via provision that does not award dual certification. It details the characteristics of the course taken, the level of qualification (according to the NQF) and the corresponding EQF level. It shows the final classification, as well as student participation in peer representation, activities and citizenship and development projects.

In the case of students who have followed a school pathway with significant curricular adaptations (in accordance with Decree-Law 54/2018, 6 July, in its current wording), the certificate must include the cycle or level of education completed and the relevant curricular information from the individual educational programme, as well as the areas studied and experiences throughout the implementation of the individual transition plan (Article 30).

The issue of diplomas and certificates (Ordinance No 194/2021, 17 September) is the responsibility of the administration and management bodies of school clusters or non-clustered schools.

Through its website, the Directorate-General for Education informs schools about the model and procedures to follow for issuing diplomas and certificates.

Qualification levels are defined in the National Qualifications Framework, under the terms of Ordinance No 782/2009, 23 July, linked to the European Qualifications Framework of the European Parliament and Council Recommendation, 23 April 2008 (2008/C 111/01).