Map Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

So, the results are in and they’re not pretty. Or, at least, not the shining list of A grades you had been expecting or, perhaps rather, hoping for. Your top choice university looks out of reach. Once the initial disappointment has subsided, the imagined prospect of happy familial visages greeting you on results day celebrations forgotten, the champagne surreptitiously returned to the fridge, you will likely begin to ask yourself a question.

What now?

Fortunately, all is not lost; there are good options still available to you. While many will be thinking of going into Clearing, for many people, A Level retakes will be a better option.

The first option you will likely consider is Clearing. The UCAS Clearing process has become more popular in recent years and there are many options available for less competitive courses. Your school may be able to advise you on the best options available but the key will be to speak to universities early. For most universities, Clearing is first-come-first-served so call in the morning to secure places. Don’t commit to the first university to make an offer though - get the offer by email and you will still be able to ‘shop around’ with other universities.

Clearing is not the best option for everyone, however. When applying to Russell Group universities and competitive courses such as Medicine and Engineering, you may well find places are not available or, alternatively, that your grades are just not good enough. You may also simply not want to accept a place at your second, third or twelfth choice university.

Some universities will look to sell you on their foundation courses. While there can be benefits to these, such as direct transfer onto their degree course, foundation years are not transferable or universally accepted as A Levels are and you can end up trapped at a university or course you are unhappy with.

In these cases, your best option will often be to resit A Levels.

Just as you reach the end of two years of study, retaking those same qualifications all over again may feel like the last thing on earth you would want to do. However, many students leave at the end of the year saying that A Level retakes were the best choice they made in education. With expert guidance, another year in the Sixth Form is likely to open up far more possibilities both for university and beyond as you are able to improve the grades that stay on your record long after your school years are forgotten. For many, it is also the best year of their academic life.

When looking to retake A Levels, it is important to seek out expert advice and guidance. Simply resitting while changing nothing else is unlikely to be successful. It is important to consider what didn’t work first time around and to have the right support in place to ensure things are different during your resit year. You will likely want to consider your subject choices. Often students take on subjects they are not well suited for and which are not required for their course. This can be an opportunity to realign your subjects towards your interests at the same time as strengthening your chances of achieving As and A*s and making your application more attractive to universities. And yes, it is entirely achievable to sit a new A Level in one year and achieve top grades - at RIC it happens every year.

Whether you decide to take on a new subject or not, you will likely need to look at study skills, metacognition, and exam technique. Again, a good school will provide you with support in these areas in order to improve your prospects. It is through this attention to the detail of every aspect of your academic approach, not just expert teaching, that has led Rochester Independent College to be in the top 2% in England and Wales for progress at A Level. After more than two years of disrupted education and a generation who didn’t have the opportunity to hone these skills during formal GCSE exams, learning more about how you learn and what works for you is essential for success.

Another element you will be considering during your retake year will be your university choices. Unlike Clearing, resitting A Levels does not limit your options for university; almost every university accepts resit students as if they were sitting exams for the first time. You will, however, want to consider again your choices and whether your needs or preferences have changed over the preceding year. You may have made choices primarily based on a course you have now decided is not right for you, or without too much research, particularly in these years when university visits have been difficult. I had an A Level retake student several years ago whose original university choices had been Leeds, Liverpool, Loughborough, Lancaster and Leicester. I imagine you can determine exactly what ‘process’ she followed in deciding these. After several discussions in tutor meetings, she determined that Exeter would be her first choice and she won her place there at the end of the year. You are likely to have thought more carefully about your choices than this student, but nonetheless reviewing university options with a more shrewd eye will likely open up options to you.

There are some courses for which particular attention to detail will be needed when considering your retake pathway. Retaking for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Medicine is a feasible option for many who fall short first time around; on such competitive courses, it is not necessary to give up on your hopes of becoming a doctor, dentist or vet.

Rather than accepting places on alternative courses, retaking A Levels in order to re-apply for Medicine and related courses is now a common and successful route, and will likely become more so as medical schools continue to respond to the over-allocation of places during the height of the pandemic. While subject choices are more fixed for Medicine (Biology and Chemistry are a must), there is still some flexibility for your third choice subject and taking up a new subject can be a good strategy to maximise your chances. More importantly still, choosing the right universities is essential. In 2021-22, 22 of the UK’s medical schools accepted retakes, but for 15 of these, at least Bs were required in the first sitting. Once this has narrowed down your choice, you will need to consider whether you will be better served by the UCAT or BMAT, MMI or panel interview, and the strength of your GCSE profile. With specialised support with your choices, your chances of success can increase significantly. Every year, students at RIC retake A Levels and head onto Medical programmes so do not fear that not achieving the grades first time around means the end of the road.

So, as you sit with results in your hands and wondering about the future, remember there are still positive options open to you. You do not need to accept a place at a university or on a course you are unhappy with - retaking your A Levels could just be the best decision you make this year.

If you have A Level or GCSE results below your expectations, or things are not going as planned, call or email us at Rochester Independent College for an informal conversation about options for you.

Ian Pay
Vice Principal
Rochester Independent College

About Rochester Independent College, part of the Dukes Family

Rochester Independent College is an Independent Schools Council accredited co-educational, private day and boarding school established in 1984. It combines academic rigour with a creative buzz, offering over 40 subjects at A Level in traditional two year, one year transfer and intensive one year and retake courses. Through a combination of small classes, expert teaching and expert university advice, the college is in the top 2% of schools in England and Wales for progress from GCSE to A Level. 

If you would like to discuss the possibility of retaking or transferring, call us Rochester Independent College on 01634 828115 or email [email protected]

Get in touch

For more details about how we can support you in your application, email [email protected], or call us on +44 (0)20 7499 2394.

Admissions Tests Resources

Many of Oxbridge courses require applicants to take an admissions test. Read our definitive guides...
Learn More


Read the latest from our blog. We take great pride in providing you with free,...
Learn More
Oxbridge Applications Logo

Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.00 pm from Monday to Friday, with additional evening availability when requested.

Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

Added to cart

View Cart