A-level Retakes

If A level results day turned out to be a disappointment, rather than a cause for celebration, try not to worry.

Give yourself time to think and consider your next step toward retaking A level exams, which can be done every year in June.

The first thing to do before anything else is to contact university admissions in case they are not oversubscribed for your course and you can get in anyway.

If you have extenuating circumstances that have hindered your performance during A levels, there may be exemptions. Universities welcome hearing from students who have had to retake A levels for personal or medical reasons.

If you find that you cannot get a place at either of your chosen institutions, read on for more advice on whether to retake your A levels.

Is it worth retaking my A levels?

This depends on several factors. First, you must identify why you failed to make the grades first time round. Be completely honest with yourself - did you really work hard for your grade(s) or did you leave revision to the last minute?

You have to be sure that second time around, you will actually be able to make some improvement and that you are capable of obtaining a higher grade, otherwise it's a waste of time retaking exams and you'll just be repeating the same mistakes.

If you put your best effort into Physics or Maths for example, but still struggled and turned out a disappointing grade, then perhaps numbers and equations aren't the right thing for you, and should consider other routes that don't require such high levels of numerical skill.

If you have a particular career path in mind, such as Medicine or Engineering, then it's worth the effort of resitting exams if you're sure it's the right career for you. Also, if there's a specific degree course you really want to take, but you need higher grades to get in, then it's certainly worth considering retakes.

Although time is short to make a decision on retaking A level exams, it's important to be wary of accepting second best by panicking, rushing into Clearing, and picking a course that will make you miserable so you end up dropping out.

This will just waste time that could have been better spent planning a year out to resit exams and get onto the course you actually want to do.

Once you have decided to retake exams, you need to officially decline the university offers you have by 20th September in order to start the process of retaking.

The exams co-ordinator at your school/college will be able to give you further advice on this.

Will my grades improve?

Yes, many candidates see their grades go up by at least one, sometimes even two or three if they have identified the areas they need to really improve on and worked hard on their revision, etc.

If you're unsure, check with your teachers whether you have the ability to improve or not - they will know you well enough to give you an honest answer. If they say you have, then you are likely to get better grades second time around.

When you retake an A-level exam you’ll get a new grade decided only by the marks you get in the retake exam – there’s no ‘carry forward the best mark’ option like there was for modular A levels in the past.

You can ask for internal assessment marks (e.g. practical endorsement grades) to be carried forward so you that you only have to redo the written exam papers when you retake an A-level.

Should I get my A-levels remarked?

There are pros and cons to asking for a remark: you might see your grades go up, but they might go down as well, and even priority remarks take time.

Go to our A-level results day guide for full details on whether to ask for a remark.

You can also ask to get copies of your exam scripts. If you retake it is certainly worthwhile doing this: the marked scripts will help you figure out where you went wrong, which will help you decide how to try and improve things next time.

Is it worth retaking my AS exams?

In linear A-level subjects, AS marks don't count towards your A-level result at all, so retaking it won’t help improve your eventual A-level grade.

Linear AS exams do count towards university entrance, but not if you’ve already got an A level in the same subject.

So overall, it's tricky to know if you should retake AS exams or not. If you have sat AS exams at the end of the first year, and the results are not great, you will face a real struggle the following year, and you may even find that your school advises you change your subjects altogether, which you might not be happy with.

In that case you might have to consider restarting sixth form, or changing to a college which will provide the extra support you need.

When can I retake my A levels?

Recent changes to the system mean that A levels can now only normally be retaken in the summer, usually in June. The option to retake exams in January is no longer available.

Speak to your Head of Sixth Form or class tutors for more details on when you can retake exams for individual subjects, or check the subject specification on the exam board website.

Where can I retake my A levels?

If you feel you can't swallow your pride and go back to retake exams at your school with a bunch of younger classmates, you can go to www.cife.org.uk.

This site lists specialist independent colleges, such as Rochester Independent College, that aim to help students with A level retakes so they can get into their chosen university.

The downside is that they cost from between £6,500 for 1 A level, and £16,500 for 3 A level subjects, over a period of 1 year. For this you will receive one-to-one tuition, a large number of contact hours, very small class sizes (usually no more than 4 or 5 people), and a strong focus on exam technique.

However, if this option is too expensive, you can also contact your local college of further education, who offer A level retakes for external candidates at a much lower cost.

This means you can study for your retakes at home, and just pay the required exam and/or invigilation fee.

How much does it cost to retake my A levels?

The costs of resitting your A levels will depend on the subject but you will have to pay two separate fees: the course fee and the exam fee.

In some circumstances, the college or school may support with the costs, so check with them for further information. Prices can vary with fees around £175 and course and exam fees together costing up to £400 at some centres. It's important to note that if you're planning on retaking more than one A level, then the costs will increase further.

How long will it take to retake my A levels?

Unfortunately you will have to retake the entire A level course in order to resit the exams at the end. This means it will take a minimum of a year, with exams taking place the following May or June.

However, if your A-Level involved coursework and you're happy with the grade you received for this, then you won't have to re-do this assessment.

The exam boards will post their exam timetables later on in the year on their websites, so it's worth checking these every so often to see when you will be resitting your exam(s).

Will universities frown on me if they know I've retaken A levels?

No - as long as you approach the situation in the right manner. Declined A level grades are not shown anywhere - only certificated grades will show as your results.

A few universities might increase their standard offer, but many will like the fact that you are motivated enough to retake your exams and work through your initial disappointment.

Those who retake their A levels usually work harder, so universities are keen to take these students on!

Although reapplying to university through UCAS will mean you will have to write another personal statement, this gives you the chance to explain why the dates on your application form show it's taken longer than usual for you to complete your A levels.

Write about how you are going to constructively spend your time before and after your retakes, what you have learnt from the experience of taking exams again, and how it's helped you develop as a person.

Be aware though, that if you are applying for extremely competitive subjects such as Medicine, Physiotherapy and Veterinary Science, most universities will not accept those that have taken 3 years to complete their A levels, unless there are extenuating circumstances for having not achieved the minimum grades required first time around.

Planning a gap year that involves retakes

Taking a gap year that includes retaking A levels doesn't have to be a hassle or a wasted period of time.

In fact, it can provide the opportunity to do something really worthwhile, and still easily fit in plenty of time for study.

Depending on how much time you feel you need to spend revising for your retakes, it may be possible to combine it with a work placement, either in the UK or abroad, and save up for a gap year trip

You can revise, save money, sit the exam and then treat yourself to some well-deserved time off over the summer by going travelling in South America or signing up for a volunteer project in Africa until you go to university later on in the year. 

Alternatively, you could take a complete break from studying and go travelling abroad for a while, or find a job that is relevant to your chosen career to gain some experience.

Hopefully, once it's time to get the text books out again, you will feel refreshed and more positive about your resits.

Best of luck with your retakes, and for more tips and advice, please see the rest of our A-levels area.

Further information

For more tips and advice, please see: