England outshone by Wales and Ulster
A-level students who took their exams with the Ulster and Welsh boards were also more likely to be awarded high grades than their English counterparts this summer.
More than a quarter of students who took the Northern Ireland board's examinations achieved A grades, a rise of three percentage points since last year. In Wales, more than one in five pupils gained top grades, compared to a national average of 17.8 per cent, not including Scotland.
Nearly 94 per cent of Ulster and Welsh candidates passed their A-levels, even higher than the national pass rate of 89.1 per cent.
Welsh examiners believe that pupils' higher performance is due to the increasing proportion of modular examinations in Wales. They believe the step-by-step assessment of modular exams has boosted pupil motivation and allows them to improve their rades by re-taking modules if necessary.
Schools in Northern Ireland are continuing to "mix and match" domestic and English examination boards. Despite a small increase in candidates taking exams with the Northern Irish Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the number of CCEA exams sat is continuing on a downward trend. A total of 1,200 fewer papers were completed this year, compared with 1998.
"The CCEA has been slow to get its marketing strategy off the ground," said spokesman Robert Shilliday, "but I'm fairly confident we'll start winning students back over the next two years."
Every A-level student in England and Wales will be able to see their exam mistakes this summer under a scheme which allows them to ask for their marked papers to be returned. But the scheme is not intended to help those students who failed to get the grades needed for a university place this year. All urgent appeals will still be made without students or teachers seeing the marked paper.