straight from bbc.co.uk
Students receiving A-level grades
Two years' work leads up to the moment the results are opened. The results of hundreds of thousands of A-level exams taken earlier this year are being published. Last year 24.1% were awarded the top A grade - up 1.3 percentage points and an improvement for the 24th year in a row.
Ministers defend standards but are making changes so the exams will be challenging in future, with the very best papers getting a new A* grade.
Some universities have said that exam grades are no longer sufficient for them to use to select undergraduates.
Exam officials are stressing the hard work and determination that students have put in to earn their results this year.
The chair of the Institute of Educational Assessors, Kathleen Tattersall, said A-levels made greater demands on students today.
"Syllabuses now demand skills and knowledge which were once the exclusive preserve of the university sector, examined through sophisticated and well researched assessment techniques which give more information about the overall abilities of our young people - in this modern day - than was ever the case through the hit-or miss one-type-fits-all essay approach of years gone by."
She added: "And as to that Golden Age of yesteryear when standards were unquestionably high - as rumour would have it - then that period is purely a figment of fading memories".
The Liberal Democrats are calling for a review of A-level standards.
Pre-empting criticism that standards are not what they used to be, the institute published examiners' comments from the 1950s complaining about the standard of candidates' writing.
The Times Educational Supplement of 5 February 1954 reported: "It must be held disquieting that all eight examiners, independently, reported that a very high proportion presented the fruits of their study of acknowledged English classics in a written form that was, to some serious degree, illiterate.
"The word is not used lightly. The widespread ignorance or indifference about the most elementary points of reputable English usage was distressing in itself; in the context of the candidates' reading and their pretensions to discuss it, this evidence was frightful and frightening."
Students themselves have also been making their feelings known.
Laura Palmer, from Warwick, wrote to the BBC News website to say the boom in A grades was down to students taking "much easier subjects like media studies or flower arranging" not maths, economics or history.
"There is also the fact that the soft options that are available now, were not available 40 years ago - I wonder whether the pass rate differences between now and then would be so great if there had been the opportunity for some people to study the softer options?
"As a student who has studied for three tough academic subjects I find it very disheartening when my hours of study are effectively written off as my qualifications are seemingly worthless."
The A-level results relate primarily to exams taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, though a small number of people in Scotland also sit them rather than Highers.