Sixth-formers and college students across the country are today finding out if their hard work and effort has paid off as they wake up to their A-level results.
Around 300,000 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be heading to their schools and colleges this morning to receive their grades.
For many, success in the exams will mean a prized place at university, an apprenticeship or other training scheme, while those who achieved less than expected are likely to be considering their options.
Youngsters who do better than expected will also be deciding whether to change their plans, and “trade up” to a different university or degree course.
Last year, just over one in four entries (26.3%) scored an A* or A, down 0.3% on the year before. The fall was believed to be the second biggest drop in the history of the qualifications.
A* - the very top grade - also dipped last summer, with 7.6% of exams scoring the mark, compared with 7.9% in 2012, while the overall A*-E pass rate rose by 0.1%. to 98.1%.
The national picture also showed that boys pulled further ahead in the highest grades in 2013, with 8% of boys’ entries attaining an A* compared with 7.4% of girls. In 2012 the gap between the sexes was just 0.1%, with young men doing better.
Girls were still slightly ahead in A*-A grades combined last year, but their results dropped half a percentage point to narrow the gulf between the genders. They also continued to do better in terms of A*-C grades.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said he did not anticipate major changes in this year’s results.
“Given the change to take out the January exams and the drop in the number taking A-levels, it looks as though, if anything, the results will be a bit lower than they were in 2013.”
As part of reforms to the system, students can no longer sit papers halfway through the academic year, in January, with all exams now taken in the summer.
One union said it hoped students had not been disadvantaged by the move.
Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “We hope that Thursday is a day of celebration for thousands of young people when they get their AS and A-level results. We hope they get the grades they need to go to university, get a training place or find a good job. And we congratulate the teachers who continue to do their best for their students, despite all the upheaval in the system.
“However, we wait to see what the impact of the removal of January exams has had on students who could not take one unit early this year. This change will have put students under a lot more pressure as January exams gave them the chance to complete part of their course and track their progress.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “From discussions with members, NAHT does not anticipate dramatic variations in 2014’s overall A-level outcomes but individual schools may experience larger swings.
“A further decline in the proportion of top grades is, however, likely. The reduction in opportunities to sit modules could harm some schools but others have favoured a more linear approach to A-levels, so the effect should not be as pronounced as at GCSE.”
As the A-level results are published, youngsters who have applied for university will be finding out whether they have met the grade requirements to take up their chosen course.
Demand for university is high again this year, with more than 659,000 people applying by the end of June - up 4% on last year.
The tens of thousands of would-be students without a university place are likely to enter clearing - the annual process which allows them to search and apply for courses that still have vacancies.
Last year, 495,595 people secured a place at university or college through Ucas, the admissions service, with a record 57,100 accepted through clearing.
Under a new system, there is now no limit on the numbers of students with an A and two B grades at A-level that universities can recruit, allowing them potentially to offer last-minute places to youngsters who do better than expected and meet this threshold.
A number of leading institutions are expected to enter clearing to offer last-minute places to students with good grades above the cap.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s top universities, said: “Some Russell Group universities may still have places available in some subjects for students who have done better than expected.
“There may also be places available for highly qualified students who have narrowly missed out on their first choice. We encourage those students to get in touch with Ucas to see whether there may be places available to them.”