GCSES AND A-levels are getting tougher, with sweeping changes such as a stronger emphasis on math skills and final end-of-course exams, according to education secretary Michael Gove.
Maths skills will become applied to more subjects, such as physics, geography and economics, and there will be more focus on British history and the geography of the UK.
But science practicals will no longer count towards A-level grades, but will become a separate test.
The announcements of the changes by the education secretary and the exam regulator included the content and assessment of GCSEs and A-levels, which will be phased in from 2015 and 2016.
From September 2015 science will include at least 12 practical experiments in chemistry, biology and physics, and history will cover at least 200 years rather than 100 years.
GCSEs, to be taught from September 2016, will include “cutting-edge” science content such as human genome in biology.
Gove said the reforms would address the "pernicious damage" caused by "dumbing down".
He said: "Our changes will make these qualifications more ambitious, with greater stretch for the most able; will prepare young people better for the demands of employment and further study."
The announcement comes amid persisting concerns about the performance of black students.
In pervious years, statistics have shown them performing below the national average. GCSE figures for 2011/12 revealed that only 54.6 per cent of black children achieved five or more A-Cs including maths and English. The national average was 58.8 per cent.