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A-Level Retakes: Everything you Should Know


Sitting your A-level or equivalent exams are stressful for anyone at the best of times, and it’s common for this to mean that people don’t make the grades they might have hoped for. If you’re identifying with this situation, then you might be wondering what to do next. This is where this blog comes in handy! Here we’ve brought together our top advice and pieces of knowledge concerning retaking exams; when to consider retakes, where to organise them, and how retakes might impact your university applications.


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Where can I retake my exams?

Not every school offers the chance to retake your exams if you didn’t get the grades you wanted, so the first step is to check with your school whether they offer retakes or can help you organise them. If this isn’t a option open to you, begin making enquiries at other local colleges and sixth forms, or consider enrolling in an independent college that specialises in retakes with more focused teaching, such as Rochester Independent College. A-levels are sat once per year in the summer, so make sure that if you are enrolling in a new school that you do so in plenty of time.

If you feel like you’re capable of studying by yourself and don’t need external teaching or help with revision, it’s also possible to apply as a external candidate. This gives you more independence but can also be more expensive, so if you want to go down this route then make sure you’ve researched the costs fully in advance. Self-taught students will, of course, have less support than those who choose to study with a teacher or tutor, so if you’re going to go for this option then make sure you’re confident in your ability to identify what went wrong the first time round and that you’ll be disciplined enough to stick to a rigid revision timetable.


How many times can I retake my exams?

Under the current system, you can only retake each exam once. In 2012 the biggest British exam board, AQA, found that the number of A grades achieved rose significantly after retakes, with one student even sitting the same module 29 times. It was partly due to this issue that the government decided to move away from the module system so that the A-level wasn’t broken into smaller chunks that could be resat several times. This linear system means that, in most cases, you will have to retake the entire A-level even if it was only one exam that you were unhappy with. The system as it stands at the moment is certainly more difficult to retake and improve your grade compared to previous iterations, so really think about whether it is the best option for you.

Students taking the International Baccalaureate

As with A-levels, you can retake any and all of your IB subjects if you wish. Exams are taken in November and May, and each exam can be taken a maximum of 3 times. This means that for a candidate who originally sat an exam in May, they can resit the exam the same November and the following May. Be sure to speak to your IB programme coordinator before you make a decision about resits, as they can advise you on your specific situation.

Can I still get into a top university?

Almost all universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, officially accept exam resits, meaning that there’s no chance of being barred from applying. However, the university will be aware that you’ve achieved the grade by resitting, and so may affect your chances of receiving an offer. Universities may ask that you explain the situation behind your resits and to give extenuating circumstances as to why you didn’t achieve the required grades the first time around. For example, Oxford Undergraduate Admissions ask candidates to state in their personal statement or in their school reference as to why resits where necessary so that they can take the reasons into consideration. Examples of legitimate extenuating circumstances may include:

  • A significant disruption caused by a change of school
  • Severe discontinuity of teachers
  • Bereavement
  • Serious illness

Similarly, Cambridge states that “there would be concern about an applicant’s potential to be successful at Cambridge if their application had indicated a need to resit numerous exams.”

It’s important to bear in mind that universities are all about offering places to the best candidates, so it’s in their best interest to understand fully how your grades may have been affected by circumstances outside of your control. Of course this is a positive thing if you’ve got good reason for your retakes, however if there are no such circumstances then retakes might be taken into account against your applications.

Always remember!

Before rushing into retakes after seeing results that you’re not completely happy with, A-levels or otherwise, always remember that getting your paper remarked is also a good option for many students who didn’t get the grade they wanted. You should consider getting your paper remarked particularly if:

  • You are very close to a grade boundary. For example, if just a few points would take you from a B to an A, it may be a good idea to ask for a remark since it’s unlikely you will be marked down a grade, but you may well jump up into the next grade.
  • If you feel like the examiner has made a mistake. There have been a not insignificant number of cases in which examiners have made big errors, resulting in enormous grade jumps following a remark. If you think you’ve done well in an exam and are seriously confused as to why you got a certain grade, it’s vital to speak to your teacher about whether it’s worth requesting a remark.

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