A-level retakes: the right option for you?

Your grades are not your destiny: they’re just letters and numbers which rate how well you performed in one artificial arena, once.” Charlie Brooker

So you’ve got your A-level results and they are not what you need to get into your chosen university. Where do you go from here? What are your options?

Talk to your chosen university

If there are extenuating circumstances for your low grades or it was a pretty near miss, then you may still be accepted by your chosen university. Call up university admissions, talk things through and see how you can progress. If your chosen course isn’t oversubscribed then you may still be in with a chance. If resitting your A-levels seems to be the sensible option and your heart is set on that university, then you might like to check what their policy on retakes is. On the whole retake grades are accepted (and often commended) but in very rare cases some universities may not accept retake grades or they may ask for higher grades at retake than your original offer. Arm yourself with this information early on so that you can make an informed choice.


Don’t make a snap decision

Not getting the grades you are anticipating can be heartbreaking. After years of hard work, it can feel pretty bleak – especially when your peers get the A-level grades they need. Don’t make any rash decisions. Take some time to think things through and talk through the options with your parents, teachers and friends. There are options available such as clearing, but signing up for a course that didn’t make your heart sing to start with might only lead to more stress and disappointment. It’s important at this stage to know that you have options, then take the time to carefully consider which option is right for you. There will be reasons why you went for the course you did, and committing to a different course (because it was available through clearing) may make the next few years incredibly difficult. Getting a good degree is inevitably hard work, but it will be even harder if you don’t have the enthusiasm in the subject to start with.

Be honest with yourself over why you failed

Was it lack of knowledge? Lack of confidence? Were you simply not ready? Did you not put the work in? Many students simply feel unprepared for their exams. Now you know what to expect, you can properly prepare next time and get the results that you truly deserve. Some students do not get the grades they deserve because they were unwell or missed too much school. You may have the depth of knowledge but lack the skills required to answer the questions. Retaking your A-levels gives you the chance to learn exam technique and independent study skills.


Resitting your A-levels shows maturity

With the immense pressure that students are now put under, not getting the grades that you were hoping for can feel like a massive blow. It’s important to remember that the university you apply for will respect your dedication and tenacity. By retaking your A-levels you are showing a level of commitment and maturity that proves you are ready for university.

It’s only a year

Although many of your friends will be going on to university, there will be others that take a gap year or go into work. There will also be plenty of people from your 6th form who also need to retake their exams. As well as resitting your A-levels it is worth using the year to your full advantage. Could you also volunteer or do work experience in a field that would support your choice of degree? What could you do with the year that would really make you stand out to your chosen university? What would help you feel ready for taking a degree? It can also be helpful to have friends who go to university before you. You can visit them on campus and get a feel for student life which will really pave the way ahead for your own university experiences.


Should I go back to my old college for retakes?

The benefits of going back to your former college (it is familiar, you know what to expect, it is no doubt close to home, it is more affordable) are often outweighed by the opportunities that arise when you go to a fresh college for retakes. Many students find that starting somewhere different, where the focus is on resits yields much better results. It can feel quite demoralising to sit through the same lessons with younger students. You might prefer to see this as an opportunity to try somewhere new and ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes again.


You’ll learn more than how to ace your A-levels

The majority of A-level students who opt for a resit to improve their grades, find they take more from the experience than improved exam results. The impressive reviews from the popular retake option Rochester College talk about confidence and becoming more of a well-rounded person. Their intensive A-level retake course is set on engaging students and bringing out the best in them. They only accept students for resits if they know it is the best option for them at that time. Places like Rochester Independent College offer the perfect stepping stone in preparing students for university, not just academically but students are given more respect, without limiting rules or uniforms. They call their teachers by their first names and are encouraged to think for themselves and discover more about who they are. The class sizes are tiny, meaning you’ll be given more attention and support. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by people who are in a similar position to yourself. Colleges that specialise in resits really value the importance of learning exam techniques and independent revision skills. These skills will not only help you to succeed in your A-levels but will serve you well throughout the rest of your academic career. You can find a list of college that offer retakes here.

How do I go about retakes?

Once you have decided that retaking your A-levels and aiming for that coveted university place is your best option, you need to officially decline any university offers by 20th September so you can start the process of retaking. The option to retake exams in January is no longer there, so you will have to take them in the summer. You will also need to rewrite your personal statement if you decided to reapply to university through UCAS. This is a great opportunity to explain how your retake year has shaped you as a person and highlight what you have learnt through the experience. Get in touch with your chosen retake college and they’ll be delighted to offer you support and guidance. The courses start in mid-September so you still have some time to relax and recharge for the rest of the summer.


Above all, don’t beat yourself up about not achieving the grades you had hoped for. Give yourself time to process it, find the best options for you and move forwards towards a bright and positive future. 


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