Exam retakes

Not happy with your exam results? The Mix helps you work out whether you should re-sit, how much retakes cost, and how you can organise them.

people doing an exam

You're not alone - lots of people retake exams.

My exam results weren’t as good as I’d hoped, what do I do now?

Firstly, take a deep breath and don’t panic. You have several options: retake your exams to get better grades, talk to a careers advisor about making the best of what you’ve got, go through clearing or do something completely different.

Rob Farrow from Huddersfield failed his Maths GCSE first time round and resat at a local college while working part-time. He’s now studying for an MA in graphic design and hopes to become a teacher. “When I retook my GCSE I got a much higher grade than I did before,” he says, “so it was definitely worth it.” Aside from allowing him to get on his course, Rob believes resitting gave him a chance to pat himself on the back. “I felt really dejected when I failed first time, but when I finally got my results it gave me back some self-esteem.”

When should I retake and when should I move on?

Before you sign up for more exams it’s worth checking whether it’s actually necessary to retake. It’s increasingly common to retake AS exams as this can improve your overall A-level results. When it comes to retaking A-levels, if you definitely need the grades to get on to a particular course, or to boost your maths and English then it’s worth it, but if you’re not sure you can improve your grades it might be worth looking at other options. If you need certain grades to go to university, consider going through clearing before you sign up for retakes.

Where can I re-sit my exams?

You can retake your exams almost anywhere. Most schools and colleges will let you resit your maths and English GCSEs alongside your other courses. You can also take them at a FE college, but you’ll probably have to enroll on a year’s course (usually from September to June). A more expensive route would be through an independent college, and there’s always the option of a distance learning course if you’re working.

Will I have to pay for retakes?

This depends on where you take them. State schools only tend to allow retakes in special circumstances (such as bereavement or illness) or with other courses (such as GCSEs alongside A-levels), so some people prefer to go to college. Costs vary. If you’re living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you might be eligible for an Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which certainly helps. Further education colleges may let you study at home and just pay for the exam or invigilation fee, but resitting at an independent college (with one-to-one tuition and exam coaching) can turn out to be very costly indeed – around £6,000 per A-level.

When can I re-sit?

Changes to the education system mean that resits can only be done in June.

Do I have to retake the whole course to change my grade?

This depends on the subject and level. With A-levels you can usually just retake the units you need to improve. The exam board will take the best grade for each unit (so if you do worse second time around that won’t get taken into account). With changes being introduced to many A-levels, you need to make sure the modules you want to resit are still available and are part of the overall subject. You’ll find different qualifications have different rules, so talk to your teacher about how to improve your GCSE, SQA or other qualification, grade.

Will I still be able to get into university if I retake my A-levels?

For most universities, as long as you have the grades required for the course it doesn’t matter if it’s taken you two or even three attempts to get them. However, certain universities have adopted a ‘retake ban’ for the more competitive courses (such as University College London’s medical school and Bath University’s architecture course), so it’s worth checking this before you decide to retake.

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Picture of people taking an exam by Shutterstock.