Ministers have ordered a last-minute notice to be sent to all schools and colleges, to be read out to candidates before each paper. It will inform them that new emphasis is being placed on use of language and on presentation.
The move follows criticism that some marking schemes do not penalise candidates heavily enough for badly-written work.
The exam boards have carried out the instruction but have dismissed the action as unnecessary, saying that bad spelling and grammar should be tackled in primary schools, not at A-level.
The new rules form part of a code of practice for A-levels, which will be fully implemented from next year, but John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, has insisted that extra attention must be paid to grammar from this year.
Examiners will be told to deduct marks for poor use of language, although there will not be a set 5 per cent for this element as there is in GCSE.
The new code of practice is intended to standardise the methods of the different exam boards and to ensure that there cannot be any difference between an A-grade in one area of the country and in another.
A similar code has already been introduced for the GCSE exam, and the A-level code will be in place for the 1995 exams.
In future, A-level syllabuses will state clearly that students will be marked on their spelling and grammar as well as on the clarity of their written work.
It will say that the maximum amount of coursework in any syllabus should normally be 20 per cent, although for some subjects this will not be possible. For example some French or German oral examinations, which are marked by teachers, could take the amount of coursework in these subjects to more than a fifth of the total mark.
Exam boards have welcomed the code, which they say merely confirms existing good practice, but they say the new emphasis on the use of language is unnecessary.
George Turnbull, spokesman for the Associated Examining Board, said that it was pointless to start testing students on their spelling and grammar at the age of 18.
'The problem doesn't lie in degrees, A-levels or GCSEs. It lies further down in the schools and the National Curriculum is now addressing that problem, which has been neglected for a long time. It should be taken as read that by the time students get to these exams they can use spelling, punctuation and grammar properly.
'If you do it at A-level you have to do it at university level, and 40 per cent of graduates can't spell,' he said.Reuse content