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If you didn’t do well enough in your A-Levels to get into the university of your choice, and don’t want to go through Clearing and accept a place at a university with lower entry requirements, or have the rush of finding a place you might not like 100%, you may want to consider retaking some or all modules of your A-Levels. 

Before you make your final decision on this, check with the university of your choice to see whether they will still accept you. Especially if you have any extenuating circumstances, or were busy winning medals in say, a sport, you may be able to explain yourself and there’s a chance they’ll give you a place. If they don’t offer you a place, they may be able to help you out, for example give you a place on a different course, or let you in their Foundation year which gives you a solid A-level grounding in their university setting before you embark on your undergraduate qualification. 

If you’ve one module that’s significantly lower than the others, and think that you worked hard for it and did well in the exam, another thing to consider would be getting it remarked. 

After you’ve exhausted those options, you can then look into retaking your A-Levels. Consider how you are going to go about retaking carefully, as with a little effort and planning you can fit in a wealth of opportunities which will put you in good stead for the following year. 

Should I retake my A-Levels?

Most people retake A-Levels to get onto a degree course which asks for higher grades than the ones they’ve currently got.. Think about why you didn’t do so well in the summer, your reasons might include:

  • working hard and failing to do well
  • not working hard enough, with other distractions, such as sporting interests preventing you from achieving your academic potential

If you did work hard, perhaps you have to think about lowering your university sights and keep your options open in applying for somewhere you like, but which has lower entry grades. You could still retake some modules, however there’s little chance you’ll improve on these. If you feel a particular subject isn’t for you, you could try doing a crash course in another subject - this is an option if you are looking to apply for a degree which doesn’t have specific entry requirements, or where you’ve already achieved the entry requirements, for example, Law generally has not specific entry requirements, so swapping Chemistry (which you’ve found you are terrible at) for Maths won’t hurt your chances. Or a degree in Psychology might ask for a science and maths A-Level -  you might have done spectacularly well in Biology and Maths, but failed that Chemistry exam, but you could perhaps swap this for History. However, if you are wanting to apply for something like Medicine and failed that Chemistry A-Level, perhaps you should consider studying something else at university, as if you can’t get through the A-Level you are unlikely to keep up at university.

All in all, you'll want to improve on your results, otherwise you will be wasting your time and money, and repeating your mistakes. If you felt, for whatever reason, you didn’t achieve your potential and that you are confident in improving on them, then retaking is a good option for you. 

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Don't worry if your results aren't what you expected. Photograph: photos.com

Which A-Levels should I retake?

When retaking, consider what exams you are going to sit. You may choose to only retake a few modules, the ones needed to boost your overall grade or all your units. In thinking about what modules to retake, some questions you might like to ask yourself include:

  • is the module significantly lower than the others and pulling your overall grade down?
  • are you really close to the grade you want, and are you only missing the boundary by a few marks?

If you're looking at retaking a large number of modules do you have enough time to revise? And with your plan in place do you think you can improve on them enough to get to where you want to be?

You might also want to consider retaking AS modules - AS exams are considered easier, however they will also focus on material you've not studied for a while so you may need more time to revise. 

What about studying something new?

You might also want to consider studying for a new A-Level - the entire AS and A2 syllabus - in your resit year. This is be tough and will require a lot of hard work and dedication, however if you find you really can't get to grips with one of your A-Level choices this might be a better option. 

Another idea would be to change exam boards which would offer you different material and a different syllabus. There will be elements that are completely new, as well as elements which you might find you are revising. 

When can I retake my A-Levels?

With the new scheme in place, you can only retake your A-Levels in the summer months. You can still sit them regardless of whether you’ve taken them before. 

What happens to my old A-level result when I retake?

When you have finished taking all the units required by a subject specification, the best marks you obtained for each unit were ‘cashed-in‘  to give you an overall grade. Your old school will have requested that cash-in for you automatically - when you retake units and want to get a new and improved grade, you simply get the college you retake with to ask for a new cash-in. The exam board then issues you with a grade based on the best results you obtained for all your units, irrespective of when you took them. 

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Retaking means you'll have to face the dreaded exam hall again. Photograph: Project 366 #26: 260112 Turn Your Papers Over, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Where can I re-take my A-Levels?

If you’re confident about your abilities and want to self-study, your former school or college might let you resit your A-Levels as an external candidate so they are your first port of call. In this way, you sit the exam without any teaching. If not, you can take them with local colleges of further education, who offer A-Level retakes for external candidates. In this way, you’ll study for your exams at home by yourself and only have to pay for the required exam and/or invigilation fee. Sitting an exam in this way costs between £70 and £100. 

If you take your resits at a centre different from the school you took your former A-Levels in, you need to give your exams officer your candidate details from this previous exam centre - they can then link your results together. 

If you have the finances, there are also a large number of independent colleges designed to help students retake their A-Levels and get accepted into their university of choice. These costs between £6,300 for 1 A-Level to £16,200 for 3 A-Levels over the period of one year. They offer you 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. 

Several schools and colleges also offer a distance learning option. 

Do universities accept resits? 

Most universities accept the occasional retake at A-Level, however a few of the top universities, and particularly medical schools will feel that too many retakes show you will not be able to cope with the course. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular university call them up before you start your resits to make sure that they will be happy to accept you under the circumstances. Some universities may also increase their offer, although most appreciate that retaking A-Levels show that you are highly motivated and will work hard towards your degree as it’s taken more effort to get there. 

Related Information

If you’re likely to obtain ABB or better after resits your chance of getting a place at university is very high. 

Only certified A-Level grades are shown on your UCAS form, however you will have to explain why you are doing resits in your personal statement. You’ll also have to supply new references - if you’re just sitting your exams and the college is not actually teaching you, you can perhaps ask your old college to give you a reference, along with your new predicted grades, as well as the new college. 

What else can I do while resitting A-Levels?

If you are not looking to attend college full time, and are just sitting your exams, you could also look into taking some time out, perhaps joining your contemporaries and going on a gap year. 

If you have real gaps in your skills and knowledge and need to improve your grades considerably, you may have to spend the whole year preparing, and may want to introduce a completely new subject. This may mean you can’t spend a great deal of time away. 

However, if you only need to retake a few modules in one or two subjects and improve by a couple of grades you may want to start preparing in January. This means that you have the Autumn to enjoy and do something for yourself. You may be able to do something you’ve always wanted to do, go abroad, or get a work placement gaining some valuable experience for your chosen career. Once it’s time to get your books out again, you’ll feel refreshed and more positive about your impending exams. 

Additionally, if you only need to improve your results a little, and are confident you can do so, you may want to sign onto an Easter revision course and then study through to summer exams. This is a lot riskier, however it leaves you with a lot longer to do other things. 

When reapplying for university, talk about how you’ve spent your time constructively, what you’ve learnt from your experience of retaking exams and the other activities you’ve done throughout the year, and how you’ve developed as a person.  

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