Tips & Tricks blog


by | Aug 22, 2022 | A-Level, UCAS, University | 2 comments

Your A-level results are in, and you realise they are not what you wanted. It happens. Not every student gets the outcome they desire the first time. For some people, not getting those straight As they anticipated might not affect their plans very much.

However, if you have your sights on a Russell Group university, then you might want to consider a resit of your exams.

Retaking the A-levels is not uncommon. Students who feel they could do better the second time around sometimes prefer resitting the exams. The RG universities don’t have exclusive requirements, but they do have high standards.

For this reason, A-level resits can be the only way that you are sure about locking in your application. The decision to resit exams is a tough one, especially given the changes in the program over the last few years. When deciding whether a resit is worth it, you have to consider the impact it will have on your UCAS admission. How will your chosen institution look at your retaken AS results?

Which are the Russell Group Universities

The term refers to a collection of universities across the UK that focus on research. Currently, the group consists of 24 schools. The university group was formed in 1994 with 17 higher learning institutions that meet at London’s Hotel Russel, hence the name.

In 2007, the group became an incorporated organisation. Over the years, other schools have joined the RG. Some of the institutions in the group include Cardiff University, University of Birmingham, University of Glasgow, Imperial College London, Oxford, Cambridge and LSE.

According to Graduate Recruiters, ten of the schools from RG are in the top 30 universities. The group enjoys an academic prestige that it had built by investing in world-class staff and talented students. So, if you are applying to one of the colleges in the group, be ready to meet their requirements, and that can mean having to resit A-levels.

How A-level Retakes Work

The point of doing your A-levels again is to get grades that will improve your chances of getting into your chosen university. Currently, A-level resits are only available in the summer, meaning you can only plan for the exams in May/June.

Before planning for resits during your gap year, ask yourself if they are for you. Do you believe that you can achieve better grades if you retake the A-levels? Not every school gives A-level retakes. If it’s the case, it would mean finding somewhere else to resit your year 13.

An independent college is always a practical alternative. Some students choose to resit privately, in which case you still have to use a recognised centre. You can opt to go through the whole syllabus or just part of it.

You might ask what about UCAS points? Universities use tariff points to gauge the capabilities of applicants. It helps them choose students of the best calibre.

Usually, a minimum number of points is set for different courses. Each grade and qualification you have translates to a number of UCAS points. You want to ensure that you accumulate as many points as you can and improving your A-level grades helps.

Can You Resit Only Some Exams?

A level and GCSE exam systems changed from modular or unitised to linear. Initially, the exams were divided into sections that made it possible for you to retake individual modules. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, in a report it conducted in 2012, that resits were resulting in a significant increase in A grades.

Students had the option of taking exams for individual modules multiple times. In one case, a student sat 29 times for the same module. Incidents like these saw the government restructure the system to be more ‘linear.’

The content of the exams did not change, but now students will be forced to resit all of the exams. It means that even if you are applying to a certain course like medicine and need to improve one grade, it may be necessary to resit the entire A-Level.

As of June 2020, students will only be able to sit for the new type of exams. Only students who took the 2019 A levels will be able to resit the modular exams available in 2020. Note that if you did the modular examination before the summer of 2019, you would have to resit A-levels under the current system. Your modular exam credits don’t apply, requiring you to take the whole exam.

Do RG Universities Consider A-Level Resits?

Almost all universities across the UK, even those in the Russel Group, accept A-level retakes. However, admission boards will usually take a keen look at retaken A-levels before deciding.

The program that you are applying to matters as well. RG universities have some stringent requirements for various of the top undergraduate programs like medicine and engineering. Of course, an applicant who attains the required grade on the first try will receive more consideration than one who had to resit A-levels in gap year.

Some universities, such as Oxford, ask students to provide a reason for retaking the exam in the UCAS personal statement. If possible, your school can also provide a note as to why you had to resit the exam.

Other institutions will require you to speak with the admissions officer when sending in your application. This statement can make a lot of difference as to how a school views your retake. Giving extenuating circumstances for the resit is always a big help.

A university will consider reasons such as bereavement, significant disruption of education and grave illness. In the matter of A-level retakes, University of Cambridge says that there ‘would be a concern’ about the potential of an applicant to succeed at Cambridge if their application showed a need to retake numerous exams.

Deciding to resit A-levels in gap year can speak favourably about your commitment. A school will see that you are dedicated and passionate about getting what you want.

Depending on how you perform and the reasons for resitting the exam, your results might boost your chances. Schools want students that can contribute positively, and that means getting the most promising ones. For this reason, RG universities don’t disqualify exam resits outright.

Some universities focus less on the AS grades and more on the personal statement while for others, especially the top ten, grades matter more. Therefore, consider the school to which you are applying carefully and do your due diligence.

The effect that a resit will have on your acceptance to a top-tier school ultimately depends on the university and the course.

Some institutions will not consider resits for medicine, while others would. Students have had varying experiences when it comes to A-level retakes and RG universities.

One student received offers from Nottingham and Bristol even after two resits. Another one retook year 13 and had an offer from Nottingham. After emailing other schools, including York, Warwick and Southampton, they said they would consider the application along with the rest.

What happens if you do worse in your resit?

Both your first grade and resit grade will need to be declared on your UCAS application. Whilst some universities, outright say that a resit will weaken your application (think – Medicine at UCL). Most suggest that the best grade out of the two will be carried forward and used.

However, we believe that acheiving a worse grade the second time round will weaken your university application. Think about it – put yourself in the admissions tutor’s shoes…

Candidate 1: First result = C. Second result = B

Candidate 2: First result = B. Second result = C

Who would you choose? Candidate 1 has improved their grade – this shows resilience and dedication. As for candidate 2, did they get lucky the first time round? We think the majority of admissions tutors would choose candidate 1 over 2.

The good news is the vast majority of students who retake tend to improve their grades. This is what we have observed from our tutees year in year out.

Those who retake tend to have a ‘don’t give up’ mindset. The sting of those bad grades motivates them to do better the second time round. This combined with an extra year of prepration usually results in better grades.

Getting accepted to a Russell Group university can open a lot of doors careerwise. However, that could mean retaking the A-levels if you don’t have the necessary grades.

Taking a gap year to resit your A-levels is a life-changing decision about which you have to be confident. Analyse every aspect of this choice from how much it will cost, particularly if you have to resit privately to how it will affect your application. Prepare with the right resources like the book, How to ACE Your A-Levels.




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