A Level and GCSE retakes: Everything you need to know

If your teen is disappointed with their results, A Level and GCSE retakes are always an option. We talk you through what they need to consider before deciding.

A young girls taking an exam in a classroom
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A Level and GCSE retakes are an option worth considering for students who believe they can achieve better grades than those they received on results day. 

It's been another frustrating year for children in education, with teacher strikes disrupting time in the classroom. And as A Level results day 2023 saw thousands fewer students in England awarded top grades following a reversal of pandemic-era grade inflation, some students are feeling disappointed after a year of hard work.

So while we hope the majority of pupils will be happy with their grades, others may be considering A Level or GCSE retakes. Compiling all the current information and advice available, we explain the process and all the important things to consider before deciding whether to retake an exam...

A Level retakes

With A Levels, if students need the grades to get on to a particular course at university then it could be worth resitting, as almost all universities will accept resit results. 

However, it will mean you won't be heading to university until the following year, because now that January resits are no longer available, you will have to wait until next summer to retake your exam. 

Students taking exams

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In addition, there's the cost to consider. It’s usually free to retake your exams the year after you get your results, but you may need to pay if you attend a private or independent school. Research your local exam centres to make sure you get the best price.

But just because you don't get the grades you need for your chosen university course doesn't mean you need to retake. Some universities will still accept students who have missed their grades, or offer an alternative course. 

There's also the option of going through clearing to find a place at a different university, and there are many other post-18 routes to consider too, such as apprenticeships.

GCSE retakes

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 their GCSEs while studying for A-levels (or equivalent).

You can resit GCSE English and Maths in autumn, and if you still don't get the grades you need you can retake a second time the following summer.

How to retake A Levels and GCSEs

Students who aren't happy with their results this year will be offered the opportunity to resit their exams in any subject. You will likely be able to resit at your school or college, but you should speak to your teacher and check you’re able to do this as some schools don’t have an option to resit.

As with previous years' A level and GCSE retakes, students will be able to keep whichever grade was the highest from their original result or their resit mark.

A private tutor and students

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You can also pay to resit as a private candidate, if you wish to do so. You can do this by enrolling in an online course or hiring a private tutor. You'll sit the in-person exams at the same time as all the other A Level students, but you're responsible for booking a place to sit them. You can do this by contacting your local school or college to ask if they accept private candidates.

Keep in mind that you should book your exam roughly six months in advance and you should be aware that there’s a fee to sit the exam which you’ll pay directly to the exam centre. The exact cost of this will vary depending on which centre you chose.

When will resit grades be released?

If you resit an exam in the summer, at the same time exams normally take place, you will receive your resit grade on A Level or GCSE results day - the same as all other candidates.

A Level results day is always the third Thursday in August, and GCSE results day is always the following Thursday.

If you resit your GCSE Maths or English in the autumn, you will likely receive the result in January, though this date can vary. Your school or college should let you know when to expect your results.

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.

There's no minimum grade to retake exams as far as exam boards are concerned, though 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.

A group of young people looking at their exam results

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Things to consider before deciding on A Level or GCSE retakes

You will need to consider whether you realistically can achieve a higher grade. 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 this.

Understandably, if you'll lose out on a university or college place by not retaking the exam, then you'll be keen to resit. However, if you already have your next steps planned out, think about why you might want to retake the exam, and what you will achieve by getting a higher grade.

It's also worth thinking 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 produce a better 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.

Do universities accept retakes?

Yes, universities accept students with resit grades. However, you must re-apply for UCAS and university with your new exam results, meaning you will attend university the following year.

This doesn't automatically mean you will get the place you want, however, especially if you are applying to a competitive course. Make sure you still have an insurance choice, just as you would if applying before you found out your grades,

In related news, here's everything you need to know about when GCSE certificates are issued, plus the date kids go back to school after the summer.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.