Tips & Tricks blog

Should you retake year 12? (or continue on with year 13)

Sep 26, 2022

Many students underestimate the jump from GCSE to A-level, achieve low grades in their AS level exams and don’t get the predicted grades they want. If you’re in this position, what can you do? You can either retake AS exams or move on to year 13.

Step one is to make a final decision on what university and course you want to go for. It’s impossible to move forward without making this decision.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence for several months, this is the time to pick a university route and commit to it fully. Then and only then, can you decide between retaking year 12 or year 13.

Here are the most common questions (and our answers) related to the topic of A-level retakes.


Why do I need to choose a university/course before deciding to retake year 12 or not?

Admissions tutors for some courses outright do not accept applications from students who have retaken year 12 or year 13. Others frown upon those who retook a year and got their grades over 3 years, and look favourably on students who got their grades within the regular time span of 2 years.

So, is it bad to retake year 12? If you want to go to a G5 university, or pursue a very competitive course (think medicine), then retaking year 12 is not a good idea. You are probably better off cracking on with year 13. Of course, you will need to drastically improve your study habits and actually get the grades you need. Yojana will give you an idea of how much work you’ll need to do each day to achieve your goals.

If you go on to achieve top grades, then all you need to do is take a gap year and re-apply. No big deal. If you fall short again, then it’s probably time to lower your expectations and apply to a less competitive course.

What if I want to go to a university that doesn’t care about retakes?

If you want to go to a non-G5 university that has high grade requirements (think Warwick), then you are better off retaking year 12. In other words, in most cases, achieving 3As across 3 years is better than achieving 3Bs across 2 years.

Also, the additional year combined with the sting of last year’s bad grades should hopefully provide the edge you need to succeed.

What if I don’t know what to do at university?

First, make a real effort to narrow down your university course choices down to 2 or 3. List out the pro’s and con’s, talk through these options with your parents or advisor at school, meditate over it – do whatever you need to do to make a final decision.

After all that, if you still can’t decide, then crack on with year 13. At least then, if you nail your exams, you still have the option to apply to G5 universities and/or competitive courses in your gap year.

I've decided to retake year 12 or year 13. Should I change subjects?

Regardless of the route you choose, changing subject can sometimes make sense. This is especially true if you discovered a “knack” for a particular type of subject. For example, if your AS grades were ACC (A in Economics, C in Biology, C in Chemistry), this may indicate a natural aptitude towards social sciences. You may want to replace Biology with Government & Politics or Psychology. Then replace Chemistry with Maths (to pair up with Economics).

Again, the above is only true if these subject choices are in line with your university ambitions. If you are hell bent on doing medicine, then the above won’t make sense. If you are 50/50 between medicine and economics at uni, then the above approach is rational.

If I crack on with year 13 and smash my exams, can I get into a top university through clearing?

Many courses offered by G5 universities (i.e. Oxbridge, Imperial, LSE & UCL) and highly competitive courses like Medicine and Dentistry don’t participate in clearing. However, many Russel Group universities do offer places.

So, if you achieve AAA or higher, there will be lots of options out there for you in clearing. But, why bother when you could to better? We advise our top performing students to take a gap year and re-apply to more competitive courses that offer better career prospects.

I want to do medicine or dentistry, but I absolutely failed my AS exams. Should I retake year 12?

In our view, no. As mentioned earlier, most admissions tutors for competitive courses like Medicine and Dentistry look unfavourably on retakes.

Let’s take two identical students (A and B) who got CCC for their predicted grades, but want to pursue a competitive course at university.

Student A retakes year 12, and 2 years later, secures AAA.

Student B continues with year 13, gets BBB. Retakes year 13. Then scores AAA.

Both students ended up with the same grades over the same time span of 3 years, but took different routes to get there. Who made the correct choice?

Unfortunately, as both students retook a year, they probably wouldn’t be able to get into a highly competitive course. But, we believe Student B got it right. This is because, even though they didn’t achieve the grades they wanted over 2 years, at least they gave themselves the opportunity to do so.

Hopefully this article answered most of your questions and made it easier to make your final decision. However, from experience with working with thousands of students, everyone has a unique situation and various factors to consider.

If we haven’t answered your question, please do post it in the comments below (we usually respond very quickly). I can almost guarantee that we’ve come across your situation before and should be able to help.



Yojana, our personalised study strategy, shows you when, what and how to achieve top grades in each of your subjects. Give it a go below!