Coping with low GCSE or SQA results

If you didn't get the results you wanted in your GCSEs, you're probably feeling like it's the end of the world. It isn't - you've got loads of options.

Girl opening her exam results

She's never dreaded seeing a few letters of the alphabet before.

I feel really stupid

Look, you’re not thick. Exams are just a very narrow way of measuring someone’s intelligence and everyone has occasional set-backs. You’re allowed to be upset though. Take a moment to rant to your best friend, have a cry, eat something indulgent and make sure you don’t get too stressed. Then start thinking about your options and what you’ll do differently next time exams come around.

Can I resit my GCSEs or SQAs?

Yes. Here are some things to consider before you decide what to do.

  • Most schools and colleges let you resit GCSEs/SQAs while doing other courses. This may help you to keep moving forwards while getting the qualifications you need.
  • Maths and English are key to most further study and career options, so if you reckon a C grade is within your grasp, then go for it. You can sometimes do resits as early as November.
  • Think carefully before taking a large number of resits. If the reason you didn’t do so well in the first place was that you hated coursework and exams, then it’s not going to be so different this time round. If it was just exam nerves, it’s probably worth giving things another shot.

I was going to do AS-levels or Highers. Is that still possible?

In Scotland, you usually need a credit level Standard Grade (also called grade 1 or 2) to take a subject at Higher level. In the rest of the UK, sixth forms and colleges typically want five A-C grades at GCSE for AS-level students. But these are just guidelines – there’s no harm asking around.

If you did badly at GCSE/SQA because of illness or family problems, your college may be sympathetic – it’s worth asking. If you’re coming back to education after a few years out you may be given special dispensation, but don’t rely on this.

Even if you can’t do AS-levels or Highers, it doesn’t mean university’s out of the question, if that’s a long-term goal. Plenty of people get there by taking vocational qualifications.

What’s a vocational qualification?

These are practical courses, like hairdressing, catering or engineering. Some of them you do in the workplace, others at a further education (FE) college. No matter how poorly you’ve done at GCSE, you should be able to get a place on a beginner’s level course. Once you’ve started, you can work your way up.

Can I do an apprenticeship?

If you’re fed up of classrooms and you have a good idea of the kind of work you want to do, an Apprenticeship could be just the thing. You learn on the job, get a recognised qualification and pocket at least £3.50 per hour if you’re under 19 or aged 19 in your first year. Anyone over 19 is entitled to the full minimum wage. Learning a trade can take up to four years – it’s a big commitment. So if you haven’t quite decided what direction to take, a general qualification may be a better bet.

Can’t I just go out and get a job?

Of course, but always ask your employer about the training and studying opportunities they offer. Or think about working part-time and studying part-time. If you take a job just to boost the bank balance, keep sight of your long-term goals and plan your next move.

Who can help me make the right decision?

  • Careers Advisors: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own careers service helplines – perfect if you need to chat to someone in a hurry. Better still, fix a meeting with a local adviser. They’ll know all about schemes in your area.
  • Teachers: Even if you didn’t always see eye to eye, teachers know a lot about you. Don’t be afraid to ask them which style of learning would suit you best.
  • FE College Guidance Officers: FE Colleges have people who will find a course to suit you. They’re on your side. If they don’t have anything that’s right, they’ll say so and point you in another direction.
  • Friends and family: The people who know you best. Just talking things through can throw up new ideas. But don’t be afraid to do your own thing.

Next Steps


results day


Updated on 29-Sep-2015