From a historical perspective, the point of public education is to provide everyone with the knowledge and tools to become contributing members of society.

Not so long ago, academic instruction was strictly the purview of the wealthy; those that could afford to would send their sons to school. In those days, even the universities were sparsely populated.

In 1833, Parliament voted to fund schools for poor children. That initial political action married education to the government and the two have remained (uneasy) bedfellows ever since.

The bonds of their union are often tested and never so publicly as during major reforms.

Revamping the school-leaving exams (changing them from O-Levels to GCSEs) and changing the structure of A-Levels from modular to linear are two prime examples of such.

And today, the former education secretary who is best known for introducing the exams we now know as GCSE says their days are numbered because students are required to attend school until they are 18 years old.

He is right: what’s the point of taking school leaving exams if you’re not to leave school for another two years?

Regardless of how the political debate rages, today, students are still required to sit GCSEs and a substantial portion of them go on to sit A-Levels.

So, as exam season gears up, Superprof wants to help prepare you for results you might not get, re-sits that may benefit you and the convoluted framework of rules that bind them together.

Coping with Exam Failure

You might think it strange that a school support organisation like Superprof would even consider exam failure a valid topic for discussion. After all, aren’t we here to support school pupils?

And why would we raise the spectre of failure just when revision timetables have you studying at fever pitch?

In a very real sense, the exam process is adversarial: it pits you against the exam boards and, indeed, against your entire future. The best way to overcome adversity is to be prepared for it.

Your first step in preparing for possible exam failure is to take a pragmatic approach to them.

The GCSE grading system can leave you in despair
You should have a coping strategy in case your GCSE exam results leave you feeling like this Image by Pexels from Pixabay

You may well earn a place on the lower end of the grade scale but by no means does that imply that you are a failure or that your entire life is doomed.

Likewise, if you achieve a grade that far surpasses any of your peers, that does not guarantee you a life free of struggle and uncertainty.

By their very nature, exam grade boundaries are arbitrary, as demonstrated by the recently reformed GCSE grading scale and by the conversion of A-Levels from modular to linear.

None of that means that you can let your studies slide or worse: not study or sit your exams at all. This is just to put things in perspective a bit.

Your life is not over if you somehow fail to earn decent GCSE grades.

And, if you do somehow fail to get the GCSE results that you need for the apprenticeship you want or university course you intend to apply for after A-Levels, you have several options to you.

You may decide to re-sit some of all of the exams you showed poorly in or, after talking things over with your caregivers and teachers, decide instead to earn vocational qualifications.

And, if you sat 10 exams and earned poor marks in only one or two of them, you can simply drop those GCSE subjects; most employers (and universities) look for only a handful of good GCSE results.

The exceptions are GCSE Maths and English; if you show poorly in those two subjects, you will have to re-sit them no matter which direction you choose for your life.

Now, isn’t that an amazing stress reliever? How about discovering more exam coping strategies?

Exam Retake Policies for GCSE and A-Levels

One unfortunate side effect of the ‘education for all’ policies enacted nearly 200 years ago is that it has rendered academia competitive.

Today, with more students vying for available spots in further education institution and on the job market, the imperative is achieving the best possible marks. That leads to substantial stress and inevitable failure.

Not of any specific individual but of those whose exam results do not fall within the desired range. In a sense, you could say that the failure lies with the system that drives the competition, not with the individuals who compete.

To level the playing field between ‘successful’ and less successful exam takers, our DfE has established a policy of exam re-sits, allowing those who feel they could attain better results to have another go.

Attainment is the point of your GCSE courses
Your Key Stage 4 exams offer plenty of chances to get a better grade Image by silviarita from Pixabay

GCSE candidates have a bit more latitude in their exam re-sits than do A-Level candidates.

GCSE students sit more exams and their exam results can have life-altering consequences. On the other hand, because s/he might (should!) sit up to ten GCSE exams, such candidates can afford a bad result or two… but probably no more than that.

For A-Levels, things get a bit dicier.

Most students will select up to five AS exams and drop two academic subjects in their second year of study, a formula that yields the three-grade result needed to satisfy most university entry requirements.

However, because A-Levels serve a specific purpose – they serve as qualifications for university enrolment, it is imperative to make the grades you need lest you be denied a place in the study programme you want.

For all that A-Levels serve a specific purpose, those students also have options for improving their grades; a resit being just one of them.

Rather than taking the exam all over again, some pupils request a recheck of their exam papers if their grades fall just short of university requirements.

The chances of a strong pass using this method are a toss-up: for as many who have received the needed grade bump, the same proportion found they lost a few percentage points due to a calculation error.

Whether you are hurtling towards your general certificate of secondary education or your university entrance exam, keep in mind that, before planning any re-sits, you should talk with your teachers.

Sometimes, no matter how determined you are, re-sits are not the best way forward and nobody is better positioned to advise you than your teachers and tutors.

Your turn to chime in: what are your thoughts on retake policies for GCSE exams and A-Levels?

How to Re-Sit A-Levels Privately

You may find a private school whose fees include tutoring
Many private schools for A-Level revision provide a free tutor Image by Nicholas Jackson from Pixabay

To some, the DfE’s penchant for exams seems a bit like the film Groundhog Day: first, you sit GCSEs. The next year, around the same time, you sit AS exams, followed by A-Levels the year after that.

And, while GCSE results are decidedly impactful on one’s future – from finding work to how much one might earn, since A-Level reforms eliminated AS scores from the final grade tally, what purpose do they serve?

That would be a fascinating topic of discussion; you’re welcome to express your views in the comments section below.

The downside of the recent reforms means that AS grades no longer impact your overall A-Level score; the upside is that, if you feel you need to re-sit any of your A-Levels, you won’t need to undergo the full two years of study.

The downside to that is that you must re-sit the entire exam, not just the modules you performed poorly in.

Some A-Level students opt for a year of further study before taking the exam again while others prefer to have the low-marked exam paper rechecked rather than decide straightaway for an exam retake.

Still others will check their prospective university entrance requirements to see if their grades, while not optimal, would be acceptable.

If you anticipate re-sitting your A-Levels, the best way to go about it is to talk with your teachers.

Some colleges and sixth forms permit re-sits while others don’t have the resources to allow it. If your college is tight on funds, they may recommend you to other schools that have the means.

One critical aspect of re-sits if you do go to another facility is making sure they use the same exam board.

Nothing could be more disastrous than studying OCR past papers, sitting an OCR exam and then, come time to resit, facing an Edexcel exam that you are absolutely not prepared for!

And, as you only get one retake at this level, it would be best to make sure it is with the awarding body you already have materials for.

That non-negotiable rule applies whether you are studying at the same sixth form college, a different one or whether you opt for revising online. Yes, there are online programmes for A-Level revision!

The main difference between studying online and in a school is that you will have to register for your exam on your own and pay your fees – for the exam and for your spot in the testing centre ahead of time.

Your Superprof has compiled everything you need to know about re-sitting A-Levels privately in a separate article.

Good luck with your exams!

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.