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What do students need to know about A-level retakes?

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After a tumultuous two years, the first (and hopefully last) set of pupils to have had their A-levels almost entirely engulfed by the pandemic received their results last Thursday. Despite grades being a predictably mixed bag, many students came away having been accepted into their chosen universities. However, no Results Day is a celebration for all and those who have found themselves faced with lower than expected grades and a subsequent UCAS rejection will no doubt be feeling more than a little lost.

An alternative to Clearing?

While it can come as a shock, disappointment on Results Day is by no means the end of the world. Plan B’s abound, perhaps the most popular being university Clearing. Clearing allows students who have received rejections from their university of choice to apply to alternative courses at the last minute and has provided a backup for numerous university hopefuls over the years.

However, there are various reasons why Clearing may simply not be the right path for some students. For one, reassessing plans for university is never easy. If a student has their heart set on a particular course, campus or town, the idea of compromising on their university of choice will understandably seem less than palatable. With fees higher than ever, it’s important that students are 100% happy with the institution and course they have chosen. 

Others may be concerned about their CV, hoping to populate it with A-level grades that reflect their true potential rather than the result of an unlucky set of exam papers (or the effects of a global pandemic). Whatever a student’s reasons for preferring to opt out of Clearing, A-level retakes are an excellent alternative to consider.

A-level retake options

A-level retakes allow students who were disappointed with their first round of grades to sit their exams again after a period of reconsolidation. But what does this block of repeated study look like, and how does it differ from the experience of preparing to take your A-levels for the first time? 

Alex Dyer, Head of Education at Tutor House, worked at a retake college for three years prior to founding his tutoring company. “Students who have decided to give their A-levels another try have several options,” Alex explains. “They can simply repeat the last year of school, although many at this point are eager to change up their school routine and find alternatives. They can also choose to study independently, taking on the responsibility of applying to resit as private candidates themselves. This is certainly the most flexible option, but many struggle to maintain the discipline needed to guarantee the results they are hoping for.

“They can also enrol in a retake college, which, as the name suggests, specialise in helping students prepare for retakes over the course of a year. Class sizes are smaller than at your average school and teachers have been trained specifically in retake tuition. But the fees can be pretty hefty, meaning many prospective resitters tend to favour other more affordable options.

“Finally, students looking to retake can sign up for A-level retake courses with tuition platforms such as Tutor House. Here students have the option to learn with a qualified tutor while working their lessons around other gap year commitments, such as travelling or internships. Students can sign up for an intensive short course, lasting just five months, or opt for a full year course.” 

How do A-level retakes work?

Due to recent changes in the retake system, students are now required to resit all exams within a subject and are no longer able to pick and choose on the basis of their previous results. Coursework, however, can be carried over, though candidates are of course free to start this from scratch as well.  

Depending on the course of study they choose, students can resit at their school, at their college or as an independent candidate. Students who have chosen the latter will need to book their exams at their local exam centre or school (for which there is a small fee). This will need to be done approximately six months in advance, so it’s important to plan ahead. Retake exams take place in May and June; there is no longer the option to resit in January.  

How do A-level retake courses differ from school?

From an academic perspective, retake courses do not differ radically from the experience students will have had at school. However, students who opt for an out-of-school approach can expect a more streamlined study experience without the padding inevitably encountered in a class of 30+. 

Retake courses are focused and efficient, targeting the areas students struggled with immediately in order to start troubleshooting from day one. Tutors are not covering the syllabus for the first time, meaning they can start teaching students how to apply their knowledge in exams much earlier on. With smaller class sizes, teaching can be personalised and allow students to focus on learning how to avoid past mistakes.

How can students make the most out of their retake experience?

Retake expert Alex explains that it’s easy for students studying for retakes to get bogged down in textbooks and content. “But the fact that you’ll have already studied the syllabus once means the material will be at least somewhat engrained before you even begin. Reinforcement of your course content is important but exam prep needs to be your main focus, as this is generally where A-level candidates trip up the first time around. This is where a retake college or tutor comes in useful. They will work with you to ensure your exam technique is being sharpened right from the beginning, providing you with the past papers, mark schemes and resources necessary to radically improve your approach to assessments. 

“And of course, don’t let past mistakes hold you back. Failing to achieve the A-level results you were hoping for can be very confronting, and choosing to get up, dust yourself off and try again is a courageous decision which you should be proud to have made. This is a new start and it’s important not to be weighed down by insecurities, regret or a lack of confidence. Take the time you need to recover from a difficult Results Day and then move forward with a fresh perspective ready for A-levels 2.0.”

Learn more about Tutor House’s A-level retake courses here

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