More teenagers than ever scored grade As in their A-Levels this year as pass rates continued to rise, national results showed today.
But the rise in the overall pass rate was lower than many had expected this year.
Examiners awarded about 178,700 A-grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - up by 0.4% to 22.8% of all A-Level entries this year.
It was also the 23rd year in a row in which the overall A-Level pass rate increased, with 96.2% achieving at least a grade E this year, up slightly from 96% in 2004.
For the second year in a row, boys narrowed the gap with girls, although girls continued to score better grades than their male classmates overall.
The results come amid a continuing debate about the future of the "gold standard" exams and renewed arguments over whether A-Levels have been dumbed down.
Headteachers have warned that so many teenagers now score A-grades that it was becoming impossible for universities and employers to distinguish between the brightest students.
And other critics said it was now easier to get good grades than ever before.
But Dr Ellie Johnson Searle, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which published the national figures, insisted the results reflected the "hard work" of students and their teachers.
"The entries for A-Level this year show students and teachers clearly building upon the strengths of previous years," she said.
The results are evidence of "the hard work of students, teachers, schools and colleges" and the "strength" of the exam system, she said.
But while many results improved, there was a sharp drop in the number of students studying French, German and physics.
The continuing decline in French and German is expected to alarm language teachers and business leaders.
The CBI gave a warning this week that the continuing decline in language studies could put Britain's future economic competitiveness at risk.
Popular A-Level subjects this year included religious studies, which saw exam entries increase by 16.9% on 2004, and political studies, up 9.8%.
But there were also increases in what are often called "soft" subjects, including psychology, up 6.6%, and media studies, up 5.1%.
So-called "harder" subjects fared less well.
In addition to the decline in traditional languages, sciences were down 0.7% overall, with physics entries falling 2% from last year.
Maths entries rose by only 0.2%.
The biggest drop in entries was in computing, down 14.7% on 2004.
For about 265,000 students around the country, it was the end of a long wait for their results.Reuse content