There were "significant improvements" in both Standard grade and Higher results in 1996, according to the final annual report from the Scottish Examination Board now replaced by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Hamish Long, the retired chief executive of the board, says the conclusions indicate "continuing achievement and proficiency".
The numbers gaining awards in eight Standard grade subjects rose by 5 per cent in 1996 while those achieving passes in three Higher subjects showed a 3 per cent rise on the previous year.
There were improvements, too, in the much criticised Certificate of Sixth Year Studies which was taken by more candidates. Rankings of A, B or C went to 77 per cent of those who sat the exam and there was a 16 per cent increase in candidates with an A award. The number with an A pass at Higher grade rose slightly to 16 per cent of the 164,701 presentations but the overall pass rate has stuck at 69 per cent since 1992.
Year-on-year rises recorded since the introduction of Standard grade, for which there were 504,098 presentations, also appear to have hit a plateau. But the board says this is partly due to the impact of early advances as pupils transferred from Ordinary grade. The exam has now bedded down and the mean grade is 3 indicating, the report states, that "the examination may have reached a stable state".
The statistics confirm the continuing improvement in the performance of girls. The gap with boys was more pronounced at Higher grade where the pass rate for girls across all subjects was 4 per cent greater, compared with a difference of 0.3 of a grade over all Standard grade subjects.
Boys were supreme in only two Standard grade subjects, physical education and science. At Higher, girls have done consistently better over the past five years in English, physics, geography, art and design, and to a certain extent in maths and craft and design. But Higher results are more difficult to interpret because it is a more selective exam and pupils specialise.
Gender also plays a part in the stubborn attachment of boys to technical and computing subjects, and girls to home economics and office and secretarial courses. The board reports a steady increase in the proportion of girls taking craft and design and graphic communication at Standard grade, but not technological studies.
The dramatic slump in the fortunes of modern languages, highlighted recently by Glasgow and by the Education Minister, is confirmed by the figures. Among fourth-year students, 88 per cent took at least one modern language, while the six languages on offer at Higher accounted for just 5 per cent of presentations.
The report reveals that the board's success in winning overseas contracts is helping to reduce the costs of running Scottish examinations. Consultancy work in Jordan, Oman, Russia and South Africa generated Pounds 290,000, with net profits of more than Pounds 100,000.
David Miller, the board's last chairman, who now heads the SQA, states: "As an industrialist, I can only comment that, if an industry conducted so complex a business to such tight timescales with such a low error rate, the country would be extremely well served."
The 1996, SCE and CSYS examinations required the appointment of 89 principal examiners, 49 senior examiners, 282 setters, 214 examiners and 12 chief moderators of short courses.
The board's 5-14 assessment unit sent 3,356,600 test units to 89 per cent of primaries and 65 per cent of secondaries, accounting for just over 1.25 million complete tests in reading, writing and maths. The figure is up by a quarter on the previous year.