A Level Retakes: Advice on Resits
Share article posted on April 12, 2017
Summer is an anxious time for many students as they wait for A level results day on Thursday 17 August 2017 and to hear whether they have secured a place at the university of their dreams. The big day comes, and you find you have not met your conditional offers for your firm or insurance university choices….. What do you do?
Before you jump off the deep end and accept a Clearing offer, take a long deep breath and ask yourself if a degree in Ergonomics (which is a course you hadn’t even heard of before you discovered it in Clearing) is really what you want…. Would it be better to retake your A levels? Half your friends are probably taking a gap year anyway, and taking the time to improve your A level grades could be the best decision you ever take. Here we hope to answer your questions and provide advice on resitting your A levels.
Your current school may allow you to come back and resit your A level exams next summer. It is also possible to retake exams as an external candidate at various colleges, including our own, where all exam boards are offered. If you are just going to resit your A level exams you need to be absolutely confident you can manage without any further support and that you can keep all the material fresh in your head for another year.
Another option might be to drop back a year and study the whole of Year 13 again at your school, but not all schools allow this and the thought might be just too unappealing. With the A level reforms it is also possible the year below you might not be studying the same course.
You could also consider a fresh start and come to a private sixth form college which specialises in offering retake courses. Most of these colleges are former tutorial colleges and have extensive experience in offering A level retakes as well as being exam-focused and offering support on UCAS applications.
Most of our prospective retake students are devastated when they first visit us having just got their A level results, but by the following summer they invariably say it has all been worthwhile. Often they are looking forward to going to an even better university than they had first planned and have a glowing set of A level results which will impress on their CV for years to come.
Some A level retake courses, including ours, are offered one-to-one or in very small groups which means tutors are able to identify and fix the problems that got passed over by your busy school teachers and tripped you up the first time around. Sorting out issues with essay writing, time management, revision and exam technique are often at least as important as the academic subject matter, and developing your independent study skills will be a huge benefit once you go to university.
Another benefit of doing A level resits at a sixth form college is that it is often possible to study in a more mature environment, which is great preparation for university. Instead of calling your teachers ‘Sir’ you will be on first name terms with highly qualified tutors, enabling you develop the confidence to interact and engage with people who have impressive academic credentials and from whom you can learn a great deal if you are bold enough to pick their brains!
The kind of A level retake course each independent sixth form college offers varies so it’s important to research what is best for you. Some will only offer their chosen exam board for A level retakes but this kind of course can be good if they do offer your A level board and you feel you need to go back over everything. Some will offer complete one-year intensive A level courses, but place their retake students in their regular Year 12 and Year 13 classes with students who are taking the subject for the first time. This can be confusing if you need to understand the AS content properly before you do the A level content so make sure you understand how your course will be delivered.
Another factor to check is how many students will be in your class. If you got left behind in a large class at school, it’s a good idea to check this is not going to happen again. The class size and how closely your independent sixth form college follows a rigid school routine will vary immensely, with many of the larger sixth form colleges operating in exactly the same way as school, giving you less opportunity to transition to a more mature and flexible environment.
Other independent colleges such as ours stay closer to their tutorial college origins and offer A level (and Pre-U) retake courses for all exam boards, as well as the opportunity to focus on the specific units that you require. In some units you may only need revision and exam practice; whereas in other units you may need to cover the course again as you never really got to grips with the subject matter. This targeted approach to A level retakes often turns out to be cheaper and less time-consuming as you are only charged for whatyou study.
This kind of flexible retake course also gives you more of a chance to think about getting work experience, or paid work, or even to think about a ‘mini gap’ once your UCAS application has gone out. We often schedule a ‘mini gap’ for our students over part of the Easter term, and we can also offer timetables which allow you to work part-time for a couple of days a week. All of this means that your extra year doing A levels also involves doing lots of new, positive things rather than stepping backwards, as you first feared.
Other important questions to ask A level retake colleges are about all of their students’ A level results and UCAS destinations, as many only publish their ‘success stories’, ie those who achieved top grades and went to the best universities, but this does not give you the full picture of their overall success rate. Since you are spending the time and money, you need to be certain that the college you have chosen will help you get into the university of your choice.
One last thing to check is the number/ proportion of non UK/EU students who are likely to be in your classes. Some colleges may have a majority of international students in lessons for certain A level subjects, and while this is an exciting opportunity to meet students from around the world, their needs are often very different to students from the UK. In Maths and the sciences, the international students may be at different and sometimes higher levels; while in the arts and humanities teaching may need to be adapted for the students who are still studying English alongside their A level courses.
Some schools will redo UCAS applications for their students the following year, but others will not. Overall, it is also better for your UCAS reference to be supported by the sixth form college where you are doing your A level retake course – after all, your new tutors are the ones who are best-placed to discuss the improvements you are making as well as being the ones with authority to make new predictions. In addition, some private sixth form colleges can offer many years of expertise in making successful UCAS applications and it is quite likely they have more experience than your former school.
Our approach is to let our retake students settle in and get detailed references and predictions around the October half term. We combine these with requesting your UCAS reference from your former school. While schools are often unwilling to share references with the students they are always happy to send it directly to us.
One final thing that really worries retake students is that their UCAS application will be affected if they are resitting A levels. It is true that Oxbridge, one or two other top universities and very competitive degree courses such as Medicine are unlikely to make offers to A level retake applicants unless there are strong mitigating circumstances for the results the first time around.
Other than this, the picture is much more positive. Almost all of the Russell Group universities will make offers to students who are retaking A levels, although one or two might ask for an increase in one A level grade. While this might seem complicated for a novice, we are able to provide specialised guidance for retake applicants and will guide them through researching university choices so that they have a strong UCAS strategy. Each year well over half of our students go on to the top Russell Group universities so we really do know what we are doing!
This year’s A level results day is perhaps more nerve-wracking than most, with many students awaiting results from the reformed A levels which have never been examined before. It is possible that grades will drop as all exams for the new linear A levels must be taken at the end of Year 13, although students should be comforted by the fact that everyone doing that A level subject will be in the same boat.
When it comes to retaking the new, reformed A levels you have to resit all of your Year 13 A level exams (except courseworks or science practicals), which means you need to take the whole A level all over again.
In contrast, the old specification A levels are modular, meaning that you only need to retake your weaker units, and even if your A level is the last year of the old specification, the exams are offered for retake students only for one more year.
This is another reason for considering a sixth form college which offers flexible A level retake courses and can provide expert guidance on the most appropriate course of study for you, and perhaps they might even be able to suggest a different and better course of action that you had not even thought of!