The three subjects - maths, civics and literature - were selected at random and flashed up on a computerised screen in front of a hall packed with educationists, journalists, television cameras and hundreds of pupils.
The chair of the national pupils' council, the director general of the education ministry, and the chair of the high schools management board, took turns to push a button to activate the selection and call the exempted subjects up on the screen.
The cancellation of external exams in three subjects is an interim move prior to the introduction of formal Bagrut reform next year.
The existing Bagrut system comprises seven compulsory subjects, but the need for points means pupils cram for anything up to 13. All subjects include an externally-assessed exam, and the pressure on pupils is intense.
The education ministry's reform, to be implemented over 10 years, will limit the number of subjects to nine.
* More Israeli senior sixth-formers are gaining school-leaver matriculation certificates, according to statistics for last summer's examinations, released by the Israeli ministry of education last week.
Last year, 34 per cent of all 17 and18-year-olds left school with a Bagrut certificate, up from 32.5 per cent the previous year. The proportion of those being entered for the exam increased from 56.4 to 60.4 per cent, and the staying-on rate rose from 73.1 to 74.6 per cent.
The results will come as a welcome boost to Amnon Rubinstein, who wants to see 50 per cent of the age group gaining a Bagrut certificate by 2000.
But the overall figures mask significant differences between the Jewish and Arab school sectors. Jews (79,500 pupils within this age group), Arabs (20,800) and Druze (only 2,200) study in separate frameworks for linguistic, cultural and geographical reasons.
Nearly 83 per cent of Jewish children in their age group made it to the senior sixth form, compared with 44 per cent of Arab youngsters, and 61.23 per cent of Druze.