GCSE pupils in Wales are celebrating after another year of improved results.
Almost two GCSE pupils in three landed an A-C grade
Figures show that the overall pass rate is almost 98%, with almost 61% of those attaining A*-C grades - some 1.5% more than England and Northern Ireland.
Assembly education minister Jane Davidson claims the results show the commitment to high standards by pupils and teachers alike.
The Welsh Joint Education Committee said the improvements was down to hard work and not easier examinations.
The 2004 GCSE pass rate of 97.8% is a fifth of a percentage point above the 2003 pass rate.
But the peak year for GCSE achievement remains 2002, which was 0.1 point - the smallest amount measurable - ahead of this year's figure.
A total of 17% of Welsh school leavers in 2004 have achieved A and A* grades, a fraction (0.2) more than pupils in England and Northern Ireland.
The overall figure for A*-C grade passes was 60.7%.
Ms Davidson said: "As with last week's A and AS results, today is a time to pay tribute to all these pupils for their hard work in maintaining the successes achieved at GCSE over the last few years.
"These results show that we are maintaining the high standards achieved in Wales and they compare very favourably with the national picture.
"These results show clearly that Wales is a learning country where all pupils, students and young people have the opportunity to give their best and achieve their best."
Ms Davidson dismissed claims that the high pass rate suggested that the school exams were getting easier.
She said: "Show me the evidence they are getting easier and I will deal with it, I am
an evidence-based minister."
Wednesday also sees the first pupils pass the Welsh Baccalaureate - a core curriculum in addition to gaining a number of vocational Key Skills and equivalent to GCSE A*-C grades.
Eleven of the 101 pupils taking part in pilots of the new qualification have passed after just one year of the exam. It is expected be a two-year course.
Ms Davidson said: "So there's another first for Wales and a real success for Wales."
Celebrations at Lewis Girls School in Ystrad Mynach
Girls in Wales are still outperforming boys with 20.9% getting A* or A grades compared to 14.2% of male pupils.
But Huw Foster Evans, head of Ysgol Morgan Llwyd in Wrexham said that the gap had narrowed at his school.
"Girls have done slightly better than boys, particularly at the top grades, but it's not as big a gap as we've seen in the past," said Mr Evans.
"It's important to be aware of the differences, that boys and girls learn in different ways and to look at how they work."
At Eirias High School in Colwyn Bay, two pupils gained a GCSE in Chinese.
Derek Stockley of the WJEC exams board said that GCSEs were still an important education milestone and were like an education "passport".
"They represents the end of compulsory education still and they enable students to study a broader range of subjects than they will in later years," said Mr Stockley.
"They also prepare pupils for further study, are a good progress check and give recognition to students' achievements."