The new super A-levels were added to the Government's A-level reform package at the last minute after critics in independent schools said they feared the changes would lower standards in the 18-plus exam.
Tests to be offered in 13 popular academic subjects are expected to be used by leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, to help them decide admissions.
The new Advanced Extension exam (AE), to be tested in a few schools next summer, will be available nationally from summer 2002 in English, maths, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, French, German, Spanish, Latin, religious studies and economics. Exams will be graded distinction, merit or ungraded and will be based on the main A-level syllabus.
Ministers also intend to launch world-class tests for the brightest pupils aged nine and thirteen, which may be used to decide which children attend government masterclasses.
Head teachers said yesterday that they were delighted that ministers had decided to broaden the range of subjects.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We would say that 12 subjects is an absolute minimum."
He hoped the new tests would prevent universities setting their own entrance tests. Cambridge has said that it may consider using the new tests instead of its own. Ministers aim to make the new exams comparable with standards abroad where most exams for 18-year-olds involve a broader range of subjects and give a more detailed picture of students' abilities.
Mr Dunford was scathing about the tests for 13-year-olds , saying they would place too much pressure on youngsters.Reuse content