Mr McCormick, aged 60, spent 34 years with the BBC where he began in educational broadcasting, rising to become secretary of the corporation in London before returning to Scotland in 1992.
A former history teacher, Mr McCormick will hold the part-time pound;12,645-a-year post for four years. He takes over from Sir John Ward, the leading businessman who played a key role in steadying the SQA ship before moving on to chair Scottish Enterprise.
Peter Peacock, Education Minister, said Mr McCormick had been chosen for his experience in managing a complex organisation and because he is an "excellent communicator". Attracting a high-calibre chairman demonstrated that the SQA "has not only turned the corner but is looking to the future with confidence".
The new SQA chairman was a member of Strathclyde University court and is a governor of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.