Retaking GCSE or A-level exams

If you don’t get the exam results you were expecting, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the story. Even though it may not be your first choice, retaking GCSE or A-level exams could be exactly what you need to get the future you’ve been dreaming of. The Mix explains.

A young man is standing. He is thinking about retaking a levels. This is a wide-angle image.

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. Remember, these exams aren’t a reflection of you. They’re a snapshot of three hours of your life without any context. So try not to be too hard on yourself. 

Now, you have quite a few options. These include retaking your A levels or GCSEs to get better grades, talking to a careers advisor about making the best of what you’ve got, going through clearing or doing something completely different, e.g. applying for an apprenticeship.

Thinking about going through clearing? You can learn more about it in our article, ‘what is uni clearing?’.

You can retake GCSE or A-level exams at local colleges

Rob Farrow from Huddersfield failed his Maths GCSE the first time round. So he decided to resit at a local college while working part-time. He’s now studying for an MA in graphic design and is on track 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.” On top of giving him the grades he needed to get onto his course, the resit helped him regain some confidence. “I felt really dejected when I failed the first time, but when I finally got my results it gave me back some self-esteem.”

Unfortunately here at The Mix, we’re not able to arrange exam retakes for you. But by reading the information below you can find out more information about how to retake GCSEs and A-levels.

When should I retake and when should I move on?

Before you sign up for more exams, it’s always worth checking whether you need that qualification. For example, it’s becoming increasingly common to retake AS exams since this can improve your overall A-level results. Plus, 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.

On the other hand, if you’re not sure you can improve your grades, it might be a better idea to start looking at other options. So if you need certain grades to get into uni, research clearing first instead of jumping straight to choosing to study the same stuff again and retaking your A-levels.

Where can I re-sit my exams?

You can retake your exams practically anywhere. In fact, 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 for a year (usually from September to June) and study the course as if it were your first time. Another, more expensive, route would be resitting A levels through an independent sixth form college. On top of all that, there’s always the option of online courses if you’re working.

Will I have to pay for retaking A levels or GCSEs?

It totally depends. 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). That’s why some people prefer to go to college instead. In which case, 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. Meanwhile, further education colleges usually let you study at home and just pay the exam fees or invigilation fees. The downside? Retaking A-levels at an independent college (with one-to-one tuition and exam coaching) can turn out to cost a pretty penny. To be more precise, the cost for private candidates to retake is generally around £6,000 per A-level.

Find out more about Education Maintenance Allowance here.

When can I re-sit my exams?

Okay, this one doesn’t vary depending on anything. Changes to the education system mean that resitting A-levels and GCSE exams can only be done in June.

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

And we’re back to having a general answer since it totally changes on a case to case basis

When retaking 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 the second time around that won’t get taken into account). However, with changes being introduced to many A-levels, you’ll need to make sure the modules you want to resit are still available and part of the overall subject. Regardless, you’ll probably work out that different qualifications have different rules, so check with your school and/or teacher about how to improve your GCSE, SQA or other qualification’s grades.

Will I still be able to get into university by retaking A levels?

For most universities, as long as you get the entry grades for the course and write your personal statement it doesn’t matter if it’s taken you two or even three attempts to get there. But we should also mention that 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 out the requirements for your chosen course before you decide to retake.

Have you had experience with retaking your GCSEs or A-levels? Let us know how it went on our discussion boards.

Next Steps

  • UCAS processes your university applications - from the very first form, right through to results day.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 13-Apr-2022