What If You Fail Your Final Exams?

As results day approaches, it’s natural to feel nervous. 

You might have a sense that some of your subjects haven’t quite gone to plan and you may be expecting the worst, but you have more options than you think. 

It may feel like a long road, but you can and will get through this. Every unexpected turn has a lesson to learn! 

Receiving a failing grade or not getting the score you desired can be disheartening, especially if you’ve put effort into studying and are confused about where you went wrong. 

It’s important to allow yourself time to come to terms with the outcome, and then there are some practical steps you can take to being back on track for your next steps.

Own the situation

Before you do anything it is essential to take a moment to celebrate what you have achieved so far, regardless of the result. It’s painful to see expectations not match up with reality but remember that failing is part of the educational process. 

Before you make any plan of action, make sure that you take the time to process your emotions so you have a level head about what to do next. Quite often there are time-sensitive decisions to be made so remember:

"What is in the past, should stay there! All the opportunities in the world to make it right are in front of you…so don’t look back."

Assemble Your Support Group

Speak about how you’re feeling with someone you trust such as a family member or close friend. 

Sometimes parents can be the source of a lot of stress around results, speaking honestly and openly with them is a great way to forge a path forward. It is important to take responsibility and have a positive attitude towards the future.

It is natural to retract from friend groups if they are all celebrating, but it is important to reconnect with them to lift your spirits after the initial buzz. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Make a Plan 

On results day it is often a mad rush to make the next steps. Your teachers at school or college will know the best course of action, depending on your situation.

It may help to go into your school (if it's an option) and speak one-to-one with your teacher to go over the finer details of your results to see how close you are to the trade boundaries. They are all usually back in school for results day.

Your next steps will most likely be unique to your individual circumstances, but here are some common scenarios:

Failing your GCSEs

Whether you will need to retake exams depends on two factors - how many GCSEs you have attained and what you plan to do next, such as going on to study A-Levels or an apprenticeship. 

The requirements for your next course of study will determine whether you need to retake any subjects, e.g. some selective sixth-form schools require 5 GCSEs grade 6 and above and at least a 6 in any subject you wish to study at A-Level.

Some more vocational courses may have lower entry requirements, e.g. having 4 GCSEs grade 4 and above to progress to a BTEC or Cambridge Technicals. 

You are also required to have at least a grade 4 or above in Maths and English. If you don’t manage to achieve this, your options can vary, but you will be required to take them until either you pass or up to the age of 18:

  • If you achieve a grade 3 and are studying full-time next year, you must resit the GCSE. If you’re studying part-time, you can take a functional skills qualification instead of the GCSE. 
  • If you achieve a grade 2 or below, you can take a functional skills qualification instead of the GCSE. 

Many employers and further education courses require at least a pass (grade 4) in these subjects at GCSE, so it’s worth trying again. 

What are Functional Skills Qualifications?

Functional Skills are qualifications available in Maths, English and Digital Skills in Level 1 or Level 2. They boost employment chances by confirming you have achieved the fundamental level of understanding of these concepts that are essential to living and working in society. 

Level 2 Functional Skills qualifications are equivalent to a Grade 4 GCSE which is the minimum required to gain access to many higher education institutions such as colleges, universities and apprenticeships.

The skills are often learned and assessed within the context of real-world applications which a lot of people find easier to grasp than the GCSE curriculum.

Find Online Functional Skills Tutors here starting from £20 per hour.

If you have not secured the GCSEs required to go onto your desired further education course, you may wish to retake the necessary subjects. It is up to you to consider your potential options. 

You may want to retake the subjects you’ve failed, or perhaps take a different subject to get the minimum number of ‘good’ GCSEs your course or further study requires, e.g. you might have failed History GCSE and upon reflection realise that it is not for you, and study Business Studies GCSE instead. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, so it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons with help from your teacher, parents or career guidance counsellor.   

You might also wish to assess your options for further study - you can go on to do A-levels, a vocational or technical qualification or an apprenticeship, for example. It’s worth contacting your school or local further education colleges to discuss your options with the grades that you have.

GCSE resits for Maths and English take place both in November and the usual summer exam period the following year (May/June). All other subjects take place solely in the summer exam period and do not have exams in November. 

Failing your A-Levels

If you are worried about reaching the required grades on your conditional University offer, don’t panic until you hear back from the university on results day. They can often give some leniency if you do better than expected in one subject and fall short in another.

If you have failed one or more of your A-Level subjects and this has prevented you from getting into your next course of study. There is also the option to go into the UCAS clearing process. This lets you search and apply to higher education courses with spare spaces around the country by using the UCAS points you have just received in your results.

So many students are in the same boat as you and may have missed their conditional offers - so if you start UCAS clearing nice and early on results day you could end up with a similar course at a different uni.

You will have to be a bit flexible when it comes to locations and the exact courses that are available. Clearing choices are updated regularly for you to apply for September entry from July to mid-October.

It is often highly beneficial to speak with a member of staff at your school or college about the options that you have. You may wish to retake the subject to try again to get into your chosen course. A-Level papers take place in May/June, so you will have to resit during the next summer exam period, giving you the time to take a gap year. 

This may seem like a sharp change of course when your friends might be moving on to higher education, but taking the extra year can be very valuable to students. 

A gap year can give you the chance to reflect on your academic choices and career journey, allowing you to get the grades you desire so that you’re best prepared for the next stage. 

It’s also a great opportunity to work, travel and gain some life experience. Living in the adult world outside of school can really broaden your horizons and put your things in perspective. 

It’s a good idea to explore other options before you decide you want to commit to years of studying in higher education. It is rightfully not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that!

How to Retake Exams

GCSE Resits

GCSE resits can be done through your current school/institution - you should speak to your teachers directly about this to find out whether it is an option as it is certainly the easiest to arrange. 

Most subjects need to be retaken the following summer term, but some exam boards like AQA and Pearson Edexcel provide resit papers for November and/or January each year too to get them out of the way.

If you want more of a ‘start from scratch’ approach, you can enrol to resit your GCSE exams in a school or college, attending classes with students and redoing the school year(s). 

Depending on how many subjects you need to retake, some colleges will also allow you to retake GCSEs alongside studying for A-Levels or other further education qualifications - as long as the GCSEs you’re retaking don’t overlap with your A-Level choices! 

You can also choose to self-study and enter as a private candidate, where you pay an exam centre to take the qualification there. This can be beneficial if you prefer to work at your own pace or need to focus on targeted areas of the curriculum to pass.

Self-study doesn’t mean you have to face it alone though, you can always enlist the help of a private 1-to-1 tutor to help guide you to the grade you want. To retake as a private candidate, you will need to contact local schools or colleges around six months before you want to sit your exam to register and pay the exam fees. 

A-Level Resits

You can only retake the A-level exams the following year in May or June. However, you do not have to redo all of your coursework if you are satisfied with your grades.

Like GCSEs, you can register to take your A-level resit at school, at your college or sixth form or online. Speak to your school first about your options as they can help find the best one for you. 

Resitting A-levels can be a bit tricky as they often require you to be registered at a school or college past the point you were expected to graduate. This means there may be hidden costs.

There are 2 main fees associated with resits, a course fee and an exam fee. If you want to come back and sit through the classes as you did the previous year, this requires a course fee that will be proportional to any tuition fees within your school. They can be very expensive in the region £1,000-2,000 and up! 

Some institutions will allow you to just pay the fee to register for the exam and sit the paper which is generally a flat rate of around £150-200. This will essentially set you up as a private candidate.

Private candidates will not have access to the same level of support and resources as students in schools or colleges. This means self-discipline, time management and effective study skills are essential for success - especially at A-level. 

Can you have your exam paper remarked?

Yes, you can have your paper remarked. This leaves the possibility that you could get a higher grade but it is also possible the grade will go down.

There is a short window after results day where you can ask for this so make your intentions clear to your teacher as soon as possible.

The exam board usually assigns a different examiner to mark your paper again to determine if it was marked inaccurately the first time.

Depending on the exam board, an appeal can sometimes be charged £30, while others will carry out free reviews. It is exceptionally rare for grades to improve by more than a few marks - so be cautious to only do this if you are right on the cusp of a vital grade boundary. 

Finally, your grades can be appealed where you may have been unfairly marked due to mitigating circumstances (also called special consideration). 

This can be previously undisclosed acute/chronic health conditions, or family news that could have hindered their performance. Usually, this is expected to be disclosed prior to sitting the exam.

Appeals require a lot of proof and paperwork, especially acting in retrospect, but there might be the possibility to move up a grade boundary if successful and save you waiting for a resit.

Decompress & Celebrate

Once all of the time-sensitive decisions are taken care of for now, make time to celebrate your achievements. There are thousands of people that haven’t got as far as you have.

Everyone likes to decompress differently - it’s all about understanding what works for you. Stress-relieving activities can go a long way at a time like this, especially activities that you enjoy that either require your focus or you always find relaxing. 

This could be playing sports, video games, meditating, taking a bath or taking a walk in nature. You will feel more like celebrating once you have cleared your head and discussed with your parents and teacher what to do next.

Now is the time to go out for a family dinner or get your favourite takeaway, spend time with friends and make sure you end the day with a smile on your face.

Author's profile picture

Russell Kilgour

14th August

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