Fewer than one in 10 foreign-based exam candidates passed their Higher in English for speakers of other languages (Esol).
Only nine out of 103 candidates went on to pass. All had sat the exam in China, many in the hope of going on to a UK university.
The pass rate was much higher, however, among candidates who sat the exam in Scotland, with 67 out of 90 candidates passing, or 74 per cent. There was a similar tale for candidates sitting the Intermediate 2 Esol, although the difference was not as marked.
Candidates presented within Scotland achieved a pass rate of 56 per cent, while those outside Scotland again, all in China could manage only 32 per cent. Unit results for about 40 China-based Intermediate 2 candidates have still to be submitted, so that number may rise.
A Scottish Qualifications Authority spokeswoman said some candidates may not have been at the appropriate level for the exam, and that this would be addressed. She added that the same standards were applied to students abroad as to those based in Scotland.
The Esol exams were offered for the first time in 2007. Many candidates were adult learners Edinburgh's Stevenson College and Glasgow's Anniesland College are two of the main providers although some were younger, including asylum seeker children.