The proportion of A-level students receiving top grades is the lowest for more than a decade, official figures show.
The data also revealed that for the first time, there were more entries from girls than boys for A-level science subjects, while Spanish overtook French as the most popular foreign language to study.
The figures were published as around 300,000 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland learned their results, which will help them decide their next steps.
Overall, 25.5% of UK candidates were awarded an A or A* grade, the lowest proportion since 2007 when it was 25.3%.
Girls narrowly took back the lead in terms of top grades with 25.5% receiving at least an A, compared with 25.4% of boys.
Boys took the top spot in 2017, following a long period in which girls had been ahead.
However, boys still outperformed the girls based on A* grades alone, with 8.2% of entries getting the highest result, compared with 7.5%, respectively.
Girls are now more likely to take a science A-level than boys, the data shows.
For biology, chemistry and physics A-levels, there were 84,111 entries from girls this year, compared with 83,133 from boys.
The difference was due to more girls taking biology and chemistry, with boys still far more likely to take physics – 30,159 entries compared with 8,799 from girls.
In languages, there were 8,625 entries for Spanish A-level and 8,355 for French.
Dr Philip Wright, of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) which compiled the figures, said: “This year’s pass rates are stable across all A-levels and it is particularly encouraging to see the rise in young women being inspired to take science A-levels.
“For the very first time, female entries have overtaken male entries in science.”
The statistics also revealed:
- 801,002 A-levels were awarded – the lowest number since 2005
- 7.8% of entrants received an A*, down from 8% last year and the lowest level since 2013, when it was 7.6%
- 75.8% received a C or above, down from 77% in 2018 and the lowest level since 2010
- The most popular subject this year was maths, being taken by 91,895 entrants but down 5.9% on last year
Just hours before the results were revealed, leaked documents showed that students needed only an overall score of 55% to get an A grade in this year’s maths A-level exam.
Meanwhile, separate figures from the university admissions service UCAS showed fewer students had been accepted on to UK degree courses this year.
A total of 408,960 people from the UK and overseas have had places confirmed, down 1% at the same point last year.
While overall acceptances have fallen, a breakdown shows that record numbers of international students are taking up places.
In total, 33,630 students from outside the EU have found places, UCAS said, driven by a 32% rise from China.
There was a small increase in the number of EU students accepted, with 26,440 so far confirmed.