Pupils will be marked more generously and be warned of topics in advance under new plans for summer exams.
GCSE and A-Level students will be allowed to take study aids into some exam halls and given a second chance to sit papers if coronavirus forces them to miss their main exams.
Officials have drawn up new guidance for the 2021 exams in England amid fears students will lose out due to interruptions to schooling from the pandemic.
It comes as official figures revealed more than a fifth (22%) of secondary pupils missed school on November 26 due to Covid-19 for the second week in a row.
Self-isolating students who miss one or more exams can also still get a grade if they have completed a proportion of their qualification.
The move will dampen speculation that England could follow Wales by cancelling summer exams next year.
In Scotland, National 5 exams - equivalent to GCSEs - have been scrapped but Highers - the A-Level equivalent - will go ahead.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had continually insisted exams would take place in 2021 after this summer’s results fiasco where thousands of students saw their marks downgraded by a computer algorithm.
Ministers were forced to u-turn following a public outcry, allowing pupils to keep their teacher-predicted grades.
Summer exams have already been delayed by three weeks to give students more time to prepare.
Mr Williamson said: “I know students are facing unprecedented disruption to their learning.
“That’s why exams will be different next year, taking exceptional steps to ensure they are as fair as possible.”
Primary schools will also scrap key stage 1 tests in reading and maths, and English tests at key stage 2 for a year.
Full Ofsted inspections will not resume until the summer term and exam results will not be included in school performance tables this year, the Department for Education said.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “This announcement brings with it some much-needed relief to school leaders who have been operating in ‘emergency mode’ for most of this year.”
He added: “Whilst the Government has not gone as far as we would have liked, they have moved significantly towards the profession.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the plan would make exams “as fair as they can be in the circumstances”.
“It is not perfect - nothing can be given the fact that learning has been so disrupted by coronavirus and that pupils have been affected to vastly different extents,” he said.
“The uncertainty has gone on for much too long and they (teachers) need to be able to get on with the job of preparing their pupils for these important exams.”
But Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said the proposals were “insufficient” to ensure fairness to disadvantaged pupils, including 700,000 pupils who have no access to laptops or the internet.
She said: “Pupils and their teachers will be concerned that these changes are so different from those being made in other UK nations, when these students will be in competition for university places and jobs.”
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green accused the Government of "dither and delay" over setting out the plans, which has made it hard for schools to prepare and created huge stress for pupils.
She added: "These proposals still do not offer enough reassurance to pupils in the regions worst hit by coronavirus who have seen their learning severely disrupted.
"The government’s new expert group must urgently set out how they will make exams fair for these pupils, and what measures will be put in place now for pupils taking exams next academic year who are losing learning now.”