GCSE and A-Level exam retakes: Everything you need to know about resits

If your teen is disappointed with their AS level and A level results, or GCSE results, there's always the option for them do exam retakes.

It’s important to know the facts around exam retakes so you can help your son or daughter decide if resitting their GCSEs, AS levels or A levels is right for them.

Here, we explain what they need to consider before deciding to retake an exam.

Why would they do exam retakes?

Exam results are important for getting into universities, applying for jobs, apprenticeships and even getting onto A level courses. If your teen feels that they haven’t done as well as they could have done, exam retakes might be a good option.

GCSE

Students in England whose 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 you resit your Maths and English GCSEs alongside your other courses. With other subjects, it’s always worth checking if they do actually need to retake. If they’re thinking of retaking GCSEs to get a place in college, find out if the college will take them anyway – and check if they could retake the exams while studying for A levels (or whatever qualification they decide to do next).

A levels

With A levels, if your teen needs the grades to get on to a particular course at university then it could be worth resitting, but check if the university will accept them anyway, or if they can apply to another university through clearing.

If they’re not sure they can improve their grades it might be worth looking at other options. Our guide to GCSE results and A level results has more information on this.

Exam retakes

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How do they retake?

If your son or daughter is unhappy with their results, they should talk to their subject teacher first. The teacher will be able to say whether they think your teen could achieve a better grade.

When they’ll be able to retake depends on what level of qualification they’re taking, what exam body it’s with and what the subject is. GCSE English and Maths can be retaken in November, and many other exams can be retaken in January. If not, all exams can be retaken in the following June.

Some schools will pay for the retake, others will want you or your teen to cover the costs, which is usually around £35 per exam. Though, you’ll need to speak to the school to find out how much it would cost.

There’s no minimum grade to retake exams as far as exam boards are concerned, but in some cases, schools won’t allow students to retake. If this happens, you could try and find another school or college where your teen could retake the exams if they really think they can improve the mark.

If you need more information about retakes, CIFE, is a body of sixth-form experts who can offer advice to parents and teens in their final years of school education.

Deciding what exams to retake

Subjects are made up of different modules – and most are made up of a mixture of exams and coursework.

Your teen’s results certificate will have a breakdown of how many marks they got in each module – so they can decide to retake ones that think they could make a big improvement.

Remember that some exams are worth more than others – so your teen could make more of a difference to their grade if they can improve the marks of an exam which makes up a high percentage of the overall grade.

Things to consider regarding exam retakes

Talk to your teen about whether it’s worth them retaking. If they have to wait until July before they retake, it might add extra stress to them if they’re taking other exams at that time.

Even if they can retake in January, they’re likely to have coursework due in around that time – will they cope with revision too?

Talk to them and their teachers about the reasons they didn’t do so well. If it was because they didn’t work hard enough, will they 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, the exam board will always take the highest mark of all the attempts – so even if they do worse in the exam, it won’t do any damage to their overall 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.