Many pupils who sat Standard Grade and Higher exams earlier this year struggled with basic skills, according to Scotland's exams board.The Scottish Qualification Authority has highlighted the problems in annual reports summarising the performance of candidates.Examiners found many had difficulty with spelling, punctuation and following instructions.The Scottish government said literacy was improving.Every year, the SQA published external assessment reports for each individual subject at Standard Grade, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher level.The SQA said many candidates performed well, particularly in subjects such as Standard Grade science.But examiners raised concerns that in maths at Standard Grade level some struggled to use calculators correctly or to multiply by 100.In English, knowing when to start a new paragraph and use a comma or apostrophe caused problems for some candidates, said the report.Examiners said others were not confident about spelling, and using a computer spell checker often resulted in more mistakes.The report also said many struggled to understand English texts, and to express themselves.These reports are used by teachers and candidates to help prepare for future exams.Hazel Kinnear, depute head teacher of Drummond Community High School, in Edinburgh, said more work needed to be done with pupils in the early years."I would like to see more happening in nurseries and in early years," she said."By the time young people come to secondary school, if the foundations are not there, if they are not able to read by the time they come to secondary, it becomes very difficult to access their subjects across the curriculum."Really, we need more to be happening in early years, and there is a real drive towards this."Schools Minister Alasdair Allan said there was clear evidence of improvement in literacy at both secondary and early primary level.He added: "We certainly recognise as a government that unless problems with literacy are tackling early on, then apart from the human cost, there is an enormous financial cost in trying to deal with those problems. We take the issue of literacy very seriously."I would emphasis that all the evidence points to the fact that teachers are making a difference on this."