A Level and GCSE retakes: Everything you need to know

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  • A-level and GCSE retakes are a legitimate option for those who believe they can achieve better results. 

    It’s been another frustrating year for children in education with the pandemic leading to the cancellation of school exams in 2021, including all GCSEs, AS and A levels.

    In January of this year, the government announced that grades will again be based on teacher recommendations. Meaning students should expect a different GCSE and A-Level results day in August.

    Whilst we hope the majority of pupils will be happy with their grades, there will be those who feel that they could have achieved better had they sat the exam. Which is why England’s exams regulator Ofqual has announced that a full set of A-level and GCSE retakes will be available to students from Autumn 2021.

    Compiling all the current information and advise available, we explain the process and all important things to consider before deciding to take an exam later this year…

    Why might you consider retaking GCSES or A-levels?

    Exam results are important for getting into universities, applying for jobs, apprenticeships and even getting onto A level courses. If students feel that they haven’t done as well as they could have done in their predicted results or mock exam results, exam retakes might be a good option to consider

    GCSE

    Students in England whose GCSE results are below a 4 (previously a C) in Maths and English have to continue these subjects further, in line with government legislation. Most schools and colleges will let pupils resit Maths and English GCSEs alongside other courses. With other subjects, it’s always worth checking if students do actually need to retake them as many colleges will take students without a full set of grades and encourage them to resit GCSE whole studying for A-levels (or equivalent).

    A levels

    With A levels, if students need the grades to get on to a particular course at university then it could be worth resitting. However, this year, universities have been told that if students miss out on entry requirements but their school is appealing, to hold their place on the course until the appeal has been decided.

    Clare Marchant of the UCAS admissions service also told the BBC, “Those near-miss candidates, if they’ve dropped one or two grades, universities are being super-flexible about that,” which should calm the nerves of those heading into results day.

    If they’re not sure they can improve their grades it might be worth looking at other options as we explore below.

    How do you retake GCSEs or A-levels in autumn this year?

    Those students not happy with their predicted or mock exam results this year will be offered the opportunity to sit their exams in any subject.

    AS and A-level exam retakes will commence first –  running from Monday 4 October to Friday 22 October 2021. Whilst GCSE retakes have been scheduled between Monday 1 November and Friday 3 December 2021.

    If your child decides to sit these exams they will have to submit their entries ahead of time. With Wednesday 8 September being the deadline given for A level students. And Monday 4 October 2021 for GCSE retakers. But further information on this will be available to parents and kids on their results day.

    You can check the timetable for Autumn GCSE retakes directly via the exam boards AQAOCR and Pearson Edexcel.

    Theses exams will have to take place in the school, college or exam centre where the child’s original exam would have otherwise taken place. And it’s expected that 9am will be the start time for morning exams, whilst the second round of exams will take place at 1:30pm.

    man studying for his GCSE retakes with a laptop and note pad

    Credit: Getty

    If your child decides to sit these exams they will have to submit their entries ahead of the exams. Information on this will be available to parents and kids on their results day.

    It’s also thought that like last year’s A level and GCSE retakes, students will be able to keep whichever grade was the highest from either their calculated grades or their autumn exam grade.

    By doing this, the government hopes that all students will be able to attain the grades they deserve to move on with higher education or other routes, such as apprenticeships or employment.

    This was stressed in a statement by education secretary Gavin Williamson, who said: “This year it is important that students have the opportunity to sit an exam if they wish to improve their teacher assessed grade. The government’s policy is, therefore, that there needs to be a full series of GCSE, AS and A level examinations held in the autumn and I expect Ofqual to make provision for this.”

    Whatever the format of these exams, it is certain that they will be optional. If you are happy with the teacher-assessed grades that you’re issued in August, you don’t need to think about the autumn exams at all. They are simply being provided so that students can be graded on their real-life exam performance, if they choose to do so.”

    Is it free to take an exam this autumn?

    In short, yes it is free to take an exam this autumn. As with regular exam seasons that take place in a school or college, students won’t have to pay to resit an exam this autumn.

    Normally, schools pay for students to take exams and there is no exception to the rule this year.

    A close up of a student's GCSE retakes exam paper

    Credit: Getty

    Government guidance states that “schools and colleges will also be able to claim funding through the service if their autumn fees exceed any fee savings that awarding organisations are returning to them, following the cancellation of summer exams.”

    We expect schools and colleges to pay fees for all students who were due to sit exams in the summer, rather than passing the cost on to students or their families.”

    This means that as per normal, the school or college is liable to pay for pupils to take exams this year.

    However, if you or your child is educated privately at home or externally outside of a school or college, then you will have to pay to take any exams this autumn.

    When will the autumn GCSE and A-level exam results be released?

    Whilst the dates may vary according to exam boards, it is thought that A level retake results will be shared in December 2021 and GCSE in February 2022.

    AQA have specified that A level students retaking exams assessed by them will receive their results on Thursday 16 December 2021. Whilst AQA GCSE results will be made available on Thursday 24 February 2022.

    This is not too dissimilar to last year, with those who undertook autumn exams receiving their results in late winter. In 2020, A-level retake results were shared with students on 17 December. Whilst results for GCSE retakes were varied. Those who sat exams for GCSES in subjects like English Language, Functional Skills, AQA Certificate and the Level 3 Extended Project, got their grades on January 14 2021. All other GCSE subject results were released on February 11 2021.

    boy finding out his exam results with parents

    Credit: Getty

    The lapse in time between exams and results is because it takes time to mark the exams and conduct quality checks on the marking – to ensure that students get the grade they deserve.

    If you plan on attending university in September but want to take an autumn exam, it could still be possible to take your place as planned. Though the results will take time to come out, the Department for Education encouraged students last year to get in touch with their university to discuss whether they want to take their place as planned or delay by a year and wait for the results.

    What’s more, there’s no minimum grade to retake exams as far as exam boards are concerned. And in some rare cases, schools won’t allow students to retake. If this happens, you could try and find another school or college to retake the exams in if you really think you can improve the mark.

    Deciding whether to take autumn exams

    As this year is unlike any other in history, it’s important to think hard about whether you should go for any autumn exam retakes.

    These are some of the things to consider before deciding on A Level or GCSE retakes this autumn:

    What is the predicted grade at the end of the exam?

    The first thing to do is to talk to the subject teacher of the exam that you might want to retake, as they will be able to give you some insight into whether you could achieve a higher grade.

    If they don’t think it’s possible, you’re still free to go ahead with the exam re-take in most cases.

    What else will be happening in autumn? 

    If you are starting at a new school or even at university in the autumn term and have to take an exam alongside this, it’s likely to be added stress. So it’s important to consider whether, if you have your place at the college or university of your choice anyway, it’s actually worth retaking the exam.

    Why do you want to retake the GCSE or A-level? 

    Understandably, if you’ll lose out on a university or college place by not retaking the exam, then it makes sense as to why you might want to retake. However if you already have all your ducks in a row, think about why you might want to retake the exam.

    And think about why it didn’t go so well the first time. If it was because you didn’t get your revision tactics quite right then what will you do to make sure that the same mistake isn’t repeated this time? If it’s a subject they really struggle with, be realistic as to whether retaking will product a better grade.

    If they do retake, however, their final grade will be the highest of the ones given so if they do retake and it doesn’t go well, then they just remain with their original grade.

    Childline has the following advice for young people considering exam retakes:

    • Don’t panic if you don’t get the results you were hoping for.
    • You may have to make some tough decisions but remember you always have options and you can get help.
    • Everyone is different so try not to compare your results to your friends or classmates.
    • If you’re disappointed with your results it can help to talk to a teacher or someone you trust about how you’re feeling.