Aug 30

Exam resits

Post exam can be a tense time for GCSE and A level students and their families. In an ideal world, every hard working student would secure the grades they needed to go to their first choice university or sixth form and study the subjects they are interested in and not face failure.

But for some, it may not go to plan. In fact, research suggests that the majority of the cohort might experience a bump in the road, to a greater or lesser degree. According to a study by University College London, Institute of Education, around 75 per cent of university applicants have their A level grades over-predicted by their school.

In the run up to results, this might be a statistic that parents can share with their expectant children to demonstrate that dropping a grade, or even two, is actually fairly common and not a definition of failure. It might also be a good time to set straight any misconception that the young person might harbour that they are letting their parents down if there is a blip in their academic record.

Dealing with Disappointment

Teenagers who have missed the entry grades for their preferred university are bound to feel disappointed and anxious, as are their parents. But they need to be aware that they have options and the future is still bright. Parents can also help bolster the wellbeing of their fragile and probably confused offspring by staying calm and being supportive. Helping them devise a plan of action to avoid post exam failure can overcome inertia and the risk of a downward spiral, with less than pleasant outcomes.

Some university courses will overlook a slipped grade and these lucky candidates may still get an automatic confirmation that their place is secure. If this does not happen, university hopefuls need to brush themselves off, take a deep breath and be prepared to ring their first choice institution and plead their case. While they are unlikely to feel positive and upbeat, trying to sound enthusiastic will work in their favour.

Options – Moving on from Post Exam Failure

Clearing is the next option, which will involve a wider ring around, or reaching out through social media.

Record numbers of students are now going through the process to secure a university place – some 66,865  last year, an increase of more than 3 per cent on the previous year.

Clearing has also become a normal part of the recruitment process for the Russell Group of leading universities. Some 16 out of the 24 members made course places available though the eleventh hour process last year. What young people need to take time to establish, which is not easy in the frenetic scramble of clearing, is how content they would be studying the course they have been offered at the university that is offering it. Pros and cons lists come in to their own here.

For young people who are dead set on a specific path, whether it be Oxbridge, medicine or any other highly competitive option, retaking one or more A levels is an avenue to explore.

Private tutoring services such as Fleet Tutors or tutorial colleges can take students through resits. Before taking this step, students need to establish that a second attempt grade will be acceptable to the university/course they have set their heart on. A forensic look at the student’s exam performance is also vital to pinpoint what the issues were the first time around and to ensure that the sought-after grades are a realistic objective.

Undertaking this exercise is also a good idea for 16 year olds who think it might be worthwhile for university application purposes to retake a limited number of GCSEs during their time in sixth form.

Of course full-time academic study is not the only path available to young people. A growing number of leading employers, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, British Airways, Network Rail, Vodafone, Unilever, Siemens and John Lewis, are actively recruiting young people straight from school, some at age 16. Financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP, for instance, hired 70 A level school leavers in 2017 – almost four times the number it 2011.

The best apprenticeships, some of which will take apprentices right up to a degree, are hard to get on and require good grades. Nevertheless, they are an increasingly attractive and popular option, particularly for young people who might already have an idea about the career they want to pursue.

In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’


Wyness, G. (2016). Predicted Grades: Accuracy and Impact: A Report for University and College Union. [online] University College London, Institute of Education. Available at:, (2018). Applying Through Clearing. [online] Available at:, (2017). UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle Report 2017. [online] Available at:, (2017). School Leaver In-take on the Rise Says Grant Thornton UK LLP., (2018). Entry Requirements for Apprenticeships in England. [online] Available at:

GOV.UK, (2018). Find an Apprenticeship. [online] Available at: