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Retaking GCSEs

If GCSE results fall short of expectations, you may need to think about retaking some or all of them.

This is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and what you decide largely depends on the subjects involved.

For instance, students in England whose results fall below a Grade C in Maths and English have to pursue these subjects further, in line with recent government legislation.

In addition to this, the entry requirement for taking A levels at a sixth form or further education college is generally 5 GCSEs at Grade A*-C (or now 4-9 under the new numerical system).

If you pass the core subjects of English, Maths and Science with good grades, however, and you definitely want to move on to full-time education, it may not be worthwhile retaking any GCSEs.

Feeling overloaded with additional study at A level stage is no joke, and if a retake is not really necessary, why put yourself under extra pressure? 

Choosing which subjects to retake

When it comes to deciding which subjects you want to retake, you can afford to be flexible.

So if you failed subjects such as Geography, History or IT, don't feel you have to retake them. Biology would provide a better pay off instead, or you could choose another subject entirely, such as Psychology or Law.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t manage to get a grade 4 or above in Maths or English, you’ll need to keep studying these subjects until you’re 18.

This may not be what you want to hear, especially if you struggled with these subjects, but many employers and further education courses require you to have at least a pass before they’ll even consider you, so it is worth trying again.

Try to not get too downhearted about the situation, and instead, look at this as a new opportunity. You may want to think about different ways of studying, and devise a new revision plan, or ask for extra help from a friend, relative or tutor.

Now you know which subjects you want to take, you should decide how you want to study. You can either study your GSCEs at school or college or you can study for your resit with an online GCSE course. 

Career choices

For those of you lucky enough to know what you want to do with your life, the decision will also be based on your specific career path and its requirements in terms of qualifications. Very often though, the reality is that at this age, options are still wide open, and help and guidance is vital in order to reach the right decision.

So what options are available to you if exam results prove to be less than perfect?

Let’s take a look at the various alternatives, and guide you towards a more informed decision.

#1 Full-time further education – retaking GCSEs alongside A levels at Sixth Form or Further Education Colleges

If you decide to pursue full-time further education, you should be able to retake GCSEs within a year, alongside A levels or other qualifications including the International Baccalaureate.

This route offers you a choice of moving into your own school’s sixth form, going to a sixth form department within a different school, or deciding to attend a further education college. 

Speak to teachers and college advisors to check whether retaking GCSEs is possible at their school or college, what they advise specifically for your situation, and you’ll soon be able to get a ‘feel’ for what is right.

#2 Retaking GCSEs whilst working

‘Working’ might include starting an apprenticeship, unpaid work experience following contact with local businesses, or a full-time/part-time job. There are several options available if you want to retake GCSEs whilst taking one of these routes into the workplace:

Night school – you might find that your own school offers evening classes for people wishing to retake their GCSEs. If not, GCSE courses are popular with local colleges, offering a flexible way to gain this qualification in the subject(s) you need.

Distance learning – this study method would suit somebody working in a full-time job. Distance learning courses at GCSE level can be taken online, or by receiving study materials through the post, with the exam being taken at a local approved college for which you would need to register.

Day release – depending on your place of work, there may be an opportunity to retake GCSEs via day release. This usually involves spending a working day at your local college or learning centre, and gives you the chance to improve your results at the same time as earning money.

Even if some GCSE grades are very low, if the subject isn’t relevant to what you want to do in life, it probably won’t be worth your while retaking the course/exam.

Your other grades may have been very good, so think carefully about dedicating precious time to retakes. Although it may be disappointing to get a low mark, it’s not the end of the world.

The main thing is to make sure you speak to your parents, teachers, and careers advice staff, and look online for relevant information and guidance. Only by taking your time to absorb as much information as possible can you plan for the future, and make a decision that is right for you, based on the facts.  

Resitting GCSE exams at school or college

You can enrol to resit your GCSEs at a local school or college, which means you will be given a timetable and attend classes with other GCSE students in your year.

Most places allow students to study for GCSEs alongside A levels for other subjects, so don’t worry that resitting one or two subjects will completely hold you back.

If you enjoy learning in a classroom but require more flexibility, evening classes are always another option, as we mentioned earlier. Many colleges and some schools offer these so students can work alongside their studies.

When you have completed your studies, you will then sit your GCSE exam(s) in exactly the same way as you did the first time around with the people in your year group.

Resitting your GCSEs online

If you're not fond of a classroom setting, you can retake your GCSEs by studying online.

This can give you greater flexibility as you’re not stuck with a set timetable. This means you can easily schedule your studies around your work, family and social life. You can even study for A Levels online alongside your GCSE resits.

Online courses also allow you to study at your own pace, and spend as much time as you would like on the areas you struggle with, rather than having to study what the other students are doing in the classroom.

The presence of a personal tutor means you'll get plenty of one-to-one support, without trying to get the teacher's attention in a classroom.

You’ll still sit your exam in person at the same time as all other GCSE students, although you will have to organise this yourself.

About six months before you want to sit your exam, contact your local schools and colleges to see if they’ll let you sit the exam there as a private candidate.

Please note that there’s a fee to sit the exam, which you will pay directly to the exam centre. The exact cost of this will vary depending on which centre you chose.

Preparing for your GCSE exam(s)

Hopefully you feel better about resitting your GCSE(s), now you know more details about when, where and how you can resit them.

To help you succeed in your exams, remember it's important to:

  • have a quiet, comfortable space to study
  • make a comprehensive revision plan
  • practice with past papers
  • take sufficient breaks and treat yourself after a hard day of studying!

For more help and advice, take a look at our GCSE Revision Tips and these top tips over at our blog. Happy revising!