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What To Do If You Need To Retake Your A Levels

It’s Thursday 15 August 2019 and you’ve just received your A Level results. After a sleepless night, results day has finally arrived. You open the envelope and in shock horror realise you haven’t got the grades you need to get into university. 

However, after the pain and grief subsides, you know you want to look properly into the options – because no matter how bad the situation is with the results, what you have now is a second chance to think.

Maybe you will decide you want to try again with the same aim – many students do and invariably find that just that one extra year gives them a much better understanding of their subjects and also really confirms that their chosen course really is the one they want. 

For many others, it’s actually a chance to rethink. Maybe a bit of a shift in direction, or even a total rethink of the future feels like a more exciting option.

Most importantly, there is no reason for panic and every reason to get busy researching the huge array of options out there.

This includes re-sitting exams in the same subjects or taking new ones from scratch in the more mature environment of somewhere like RIC but also apprenticeships, gap years, earning some money or work-based training

So what are my options?

First of all, you need to ascertain how far off your predictions were (ask your school for your UMS marks and the grade boundaries for each subject) and don’t rule out clearing. 

You can check out the many places that are still on offer by going to

Clearing is not the last resort it used to be, in fact many students apply for the first time through clearing after they get their results and there is a vast array of courses at some prestigious universities right up until the end of September or even later. 

But what if you do decide to retake?

Alistair Brownlow, Principal of Rochester Independent College in Kent says: “The College began life helping students who needed to re-take.

We are good at short courses and advising students how to adjust their educational plans when they meet hurdles.

However, many people come to Rochester to re-sit their A Levels in order to improve their grades as they want to aim for their first choice university.

Sometimes our students may have very good grades to start with, ABB for example, but are retaking for courses that may require A*AA.”

Generally students approach schools such as Rochester post results, although some students visit prior to results to plan their retakes in the event of them being required. 

“When students come to us we take reports and references from their previous school” added Alistair.  “I am looking for evidence of motivation and an honest determination to work hard. In our experience most students are capable of improving their grades in the right environment however we only accept students if their proposed choice of study is realistic. Students with low A Level grades are unlikely to be successful on short January-June retake courses and instead we encourage them to re-take the full one year.”

Every student coming to Rochester is given an individual route of study which often involves them taking a mixture of new subjects and retakes.

Many successful students use the opportunity of an additional academic year to do extra subjects and therefore often present themselves to universities as better potential undergraduates than when they were applying the first time around.

The A Level retake course includes eight hours each week of contact time for each subject. Lessons are two hours long, testing is regular and individual help plentiful with resident tutors available for evening study sessions. 

“Regular testing ensures that problems are dealt with immediately and both our teaching and pastoral staff are proactive, identifying where students are having difficulties and are able to offer practical help, solutions and encouragement” said Alistair.  

Parents are also kept in the loop with regular reports and students are encouraged to keep a balance between studying hard whilst still having a range of extracurricular activities. 

Personal tutors work closely with every student to monitor progress and liaise with the College’s UCAS advisors to ensure individual support through the university application process. 

The college also offers flexible pathways with January starts or the possibility of part time study whereby studying can be combined with work experience or volunteer placements.

Results are impressive. The Good School’s Guide reviewing Rochester Independent College states: “Many students transfer here after poor progress at AS or A Level and the effect can be dramatic. 

Parents all speak highly of the pastoral care and the growth in confidence witnessed.  It’s a sound investment – amongst the re-takers all got into university and three-quarters won Russell Group places.”

Despite the increased competition and the reduction in places available to those who resit, students from Rochester often gain places at Medical and Dental and Veterinary Schools.

This year, one student even came to improve her A level portfolio after spending a year or so on another university course and deciding she really wanted to return to her original ambition to be a vet.

She now has a place at the Royal Veterinary School – perhaps one of the most competitive in this highly competitive field. 

But not everyone who retakes is aiming for university.  Some, having matured for a year, proceed onto business apprenticeship schemes which can be as competitive as top universities. 

And many also come to take a completely different set of subjects over one year.

Places achieved after such a course this year include history and politics at Cambridge gained by a student who had previously focused on Sciences, but realised his true interests lay elsewhere.

Students achieve results that far exceed their expectations after what may seem like a truly devastating blow. 

So don’t despair when the 15th August didn’t bring the news you hoped for. After all the grief perhaps this failure may be the beginning of a very successful career.

Click here for a guide to retaking options from Rochester Independent College.