Mandatory unit assessments are being removed from both National 5 and Higher exams, with a pupil’s grades instead determined by final exams and coursework which will be marked externally.
Mr Swinney said the changes will “significantly reduce teacher workload” as well as cutting bureaucracy and over-assessment in schools.
With the unit assessments being removed from National 5 exams from 2017-18 and then from Highers the following year, the Education Secretary added: “They will ensure that teachers in Scotland have more time to teach in the classroom and make the significant contribution they can to reducing the attainment gap, delivering excellence and equity in Scotland’s schools and maintaining the credibility and integrity of our qualifications.”
The EIS teaching union hailed the move as a “victory for common sense”, adding that the change had been brought about after industrial action by its members.
In June, teachers in the union voted by 95 per cent to 5 per cent in favour of taking action short of a strike because of workload concerns.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Since the introduction of new National qualifications, pupils and teachers have been placed under an excessive and unnecessary assessment burden during the senior phase of secondary, leading finally to EIS industrial action.
“The agreement to remove mandatory unit assessments as a requirement from all N5 and Higher courses is a victory both for common sense and for that campaign of action carried out by EIS members in secondary schools across Scotland.”
The union will consider suspending its programme of action at a meeting of its national council next week.
Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith welcomed the removal of the unit assessments but said it had “taken far too long”.
She added: “Their removal should allow teachers to concentrate more on coursework and on preparation for SQA examinations. That has to be a good thing and will be welcomed by teachers, pupils and parents.”
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray stated: “Any move to reduce workloads on our teachers is a welcome one but this is a big climbdown by John Swinney, who had previously said this could not be done without compromising the integrity of the National exams.”