The rush to follow Intermediate courses has forced the Scottish Executive to relax the age limits on pupils taking externally-marked exams for the new school session.
Many teachers have opted to run Intermediate levels instead of Standard grade courses but have been forced to ask the Scottish Qualifications Authority to allow the young students to sit their final exam earlier than normal .
Three years ago, only 19 students won SQA backing to sit the final exam at Intermediate level at the end of S3 but last year this rose to 307. Each entry had to be approved by the authority.
After pressure from headteachers and the SQA, the Executive has conceded that schools will be able to make multiple applications for a group, class or year but only with the support of their education director - effectively devolving the decision to a local level. Independent schools, increasingly turning to Intermediate courses as a stepping stone to Highers, can also benefit from the arrangement.
The Executive is about to consult further on ending the age and stage regulations but has moved more swiftly to respond to the changes.
Francesca Osowska, head of the qualifications, assessment and curriculum division in the Executive, said: "We are aware that as schools develop more flexible approaches to delivering the curriculum to suit local needs and circumstances, there is an increasing pressure and case for changes to the current regulations, particularly in S3 and S4."
Currently, Standard grade candidates should be at least in S3 or over the age of 15 and a half. For Intermediates and Highers, students should be at least in S4 or 16 and a half. At Advanced Higher, students would normally have to be in at least S5 or aged 17 and a half.
Students can usually sit internal assessments in S3 but not final external exams. Access qualifications are unaffected as there is no external test.