From as early as 1998, A-level and GCSE candidates could find themselves unable to take lists of useful formulae into maths exams.
The same restrictions could apply to copies of set texts in English exams, dictionaries in foreign languages and atlases in geography.
The moves come amid widespread concern over standards in A-level and GCSE exams.
Education traditionalists believe that the continually rising pass rates - with more than 85 per cent of sixth-formers successful this summer - means that the exams are getting too easy.
Education Secretary Gillian Shephard last year approved an inquiry into exam standards over the last 20 years, to be undertaken jointly by school inspectors and government exam advisers.
The inquiry was intended to settle the exam standards row once and for all, but it has now run into difficulties over evidence.
Many exam boards have not kept exam answers. And in their absence, the inquiry has been forced to concentrate largely on changes in course content. Sources close to the inquiry say it has come to no clear overall conclusion.
In mathematics, the evidence is understood to show grounds for believing that A-levels have become easier for the brightest students.
But in chemistry and English - despite significant changes in content - standards have been judged to be roughly the same, or better.
The inconclusive findings have strained relations between the two organisations which are currently co-operating on the inquiry, the Office for Standards in Education and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.Reuse content