NATIONAL figures show the A-level pass rate has dropped for the first time in more than three decades.
A decision to scrap the January exam session, which has cut the chances students have to re-sit papers, coupled with a move by students to opt for traditional subjects favoured by universities, is likely to have had an impact on results.
In total, 98 per cent of exams scored at least an E this summer, down by 0.1 percentage points - the first time it has fallen in 32 years say officials.
Just over one in four - or 26 per cent - of exams were awarded an A* or A grade, down 0.3 percentage points on last summer.
The proportion of A* grades rose to 8.2 per cent, up 0.6 per cent on 2013 and the overall number of exams handed the very highest grades has risen.
Boys out-performed girls at A* grade for the third year running according to the official data, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
Exam board bosses said the decline in pass rates could be fuelled by more students deciding to take “facilitating subjects” - traditional subjects often favoured by top universities - even if they are less likely to perform well in them.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said: “There is that slight shift towards facilitating subjects, and that we think can have an impact.
“The students choosing to do some of the facilitating subjects in the past may have taken one of the other subjects.
“These students may find that, for them, the facilitating subject they have chosen is harder.
“It is harder for the individual, not a harder A-level.”