How to retake GCSEs – Guide for adults

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GCSEs are one of the most well-known qualifications in the UK. They are usually the first important national exams students sit, and the results are often important no matter the future career you decide on. For instance, it is compulsory to resit Maths and English Language GCSE if you fail the first time. Most commonly, these exams are taken in Year 11 of school, when you are aged 15 or 16. However, there is no actual age limit to taking GCSEs, or indeed, retaking them. Whether you want a career change, or feel your current GCSE grades are holding you back, there are plenty of reasons to come back and retake GCSEs as an adult. But it’s hard to know how exactly to go about doing this – after all, most of the information about GCSEs is aimed at school-age students.

This article will be a full guide to retaking GCSEs as an adult, including the different paths you can choose, a breakdown of costs, and more!

Can you retake GCSEs as an adult?

The first thing to clarify is that yes, you can indeed take GCSEs as an adult. There is no age limit on taking or retaking these exams, which you can read more about in this helpful article from Think Student.

This means that you can take GCSEs at an earlier or later stage than the normal, which is the at end of Year 11. In fact, the oldest person to pass a GCSE was 92 years old!

Even though you might not hear about it very often, taking GCSEs after leaving school is actually not that uncommon.

Most people don’t know what sort of career they want to go into when they are taking their GCSEs the first time around. Later in life, they might realise different GCSE subjects or higher grades in current GCSEs may be beneficial to their career. Retaking GCSEs is definitely an option for these people.

What are the entry requirements to retake GCSEs as an adult?

As mentioned, GCSEs are often the first formal exams taken by students, so they don’t really have entry requirements, unlike higher-level qualifications like A-Levels or university degrees.

The same is true of GCSEs even if you are sitting them years later. You won’t be expected to already have certain grades, or indeed any other qualifications.

That being said, you might need to show other things as part of your application, particularly if you want a place at a college. We’ll talk more about this later, but as an example, they might interview potential joiners, and be looking for a good work ethic.

However, these are soft skills, rather than things you need a qualification to prove – you can read more about soft skills in this Think Student article. Don’t worry that your current qualifications, or any lack of them, will stop you from retaking GCSEs.

How do you retake GCSEs as an adult?

There are actually a number of different pathways you can choose for retaking GCSEs as an adult, which this article will take you through step-by-step.

First, you will have to decide what subject or subjects you want to retake. This will depend on your current GCSEs, and your career goals.

Then, you choose how you want to study the GCSE course – in person at a college, online via distance learning, via a private tutor or company, or self-studied. You enrol on your chosen course, and begin studying!

Keep reading for details about each of these steps.

How do you pick which subject(s) to retake?

There are around 60 GCSE subjects available, out of which most students take around 9, and most adults will be retaking just one or two. So how do you decide which ones to go for?

The most commonly retaken subjects are Maths and English Language. This is because most employers require a pass grade in each of these subjects to even consider your application.

Therefore, if you don’t have a pass in both these subjects and are looking to apply for jobs, it’s really useful to retake and pass them. This will definitely increase your chances of success.

Science subjects – Biology, Chemistry and Physics – are also popular subjects to retake. These subjects are often required by employers if you want to go into a scientific or medical field.

You might be looking to improve your grade, even if you passed the first time. This is less common as most employers will only ask for a pass, but it is definitely still possible to retake them, as you can read about in this Think Student article.

Other more specific subjects may be retaken if you want to go into a specific career. Just remember that there are very few subjects that employers will be specifically looking for.

For instance, instead of doing GCSE Economics, which not many students have taken, it might be more beneficial to improve your Maths grade. If you haven’t passed GCSE Maths, employers are unlikely to take into account whether or not you have and economics-specific qualification.

This article from Online Learning College has more advice about GCSE retake subjects.

How do you retake GCSEs in a school or college?

Once you have decided which GCSE course or courses you want to retake, you have to decide how to study them. One way is to enrol in a college and attend classes in a similar way to how school-age students do at GCSE level.

The main difference is that, as an adult, you will have to apply to particular colleges that are open to mature students, rather than a standard secondary school. For instance, you can have a look at BMet college’s GCSE courses for adults on their website here.

This can be a great route to take because it is very structured. Once you enrol, your college should take care of teaching, lesson plans, timetabling, entering you for the exam, and so on.

However, this means it’s less flexible than some of the other options, especially if you have other responsibilities like a job or childcare.

Although part-time options are normally offered by these colleges, much of the teaching will still take place in the daytime. Additionally, because teaching will normally be in-person with a full class of students, lessons are much harder to rearrange if they clash with another commitment.

Sometimes, the application process can put people off from choosing this route. It often involves an interview, which can be intimidating – but don’t let that stop you from applying!

They are just looking to see why you are taking this course, and will often ask about your general interests and future plans. It’s also a chance for you to ask questions about the course, and decide if it’s the right fit for you.

You can have a look at this page from BMet college for more interview information and advice.

How do you retake GCSEs as a private candidate?

Alternatively, you can choose to study GCSEs independently, then enter for the exams as a ‘private candidate’ – someone who hasn’t been studying associated with a particular college or company.

You might choose to do this completely self-studied. You can borrow textbooks from libraries, or use free online resources like BBC Bitesize.

This is likely to be the cheapest option, although you will still have to pay exam costs – more on that later. You might also choose to subscribe to relatively cheap resources like Save My Exams.

Alternatively, you can hire a private GCSE tutor. These are often expensive, but you’ll get 1-to-1 support, and much more flexible timings than in a college.

For both these options, you will need to book with a local exam centre – most schools and colleges accept private candidates. You can get in touch with the Exams Officer there and book the exam. You can’t take the actual GCSE exams remotely, even if this is how you are studying.

How do you retake GCSEs using distance learning?

The final route to studying for GCSE retakes, and one that has become much more common in recent years, is studying online. You’ll still apply to a course from an online provider, such as the Open Study College.

However, instead of attending physical, timetabled classes, the course content is all online. You will normally be able to work through it in your own time, so it is great to fit around other commitments like a job.

You should still have access to a tutor to guide you through the process. Additionally, the provider will usually be in charge of booking your exams, and organising practical sessions for subjects that need it (like sciences).

This is therefore a great middle-ground option. It’s more flexible than an in-person course, but you get much more support and structure than if you were to try to completely self-study a GCSE.

You can find more information about how distance learning courses work from the Open Study College website.

How long does it take to retake GCSEs as an adult?

When studied in school the first time around, you will normally spend two to three years studying a full set of GCSEs. However, retake and adult courses should be a lot shorter, because you are most likely taking fewer subjects, and already have some background knowledge from your school years.

On average, it will take 6 to 12 months for your GCSE retakes. It might take a little longer if you are retaking lots of subjects and only studying part-time, or shorter if you are only taking one and are able to study full-time.

There are a few key dates to be aware of. The GCSE exam itself has to be sat on particular dates set nationally. For most subjects, this is just once a year, in May or June. For Maths and English retakes, there is another sitting in November.

For instance, if you are aiming to complete a Chemistry retake in 6 months, but start in July, you won’t actually be able to take the exam until the following summer.

You will also have to be aware of deadlines for entering the exam. For the GCSE summer series 2024, the deadline is 4th April 2024. You can read more about this and other key dates from Pass my GCSE, on their website here.

How much does it cost to retake GCSEs as an adult?

As GCSEs are a compulsory part of education for students at state schools in the UK, it’s free when you first take them. However, retakes are the student’s choice, so they normally come with a cost.

Exactly how much it costs depends on how you choose to study the GCSE. Obviously, self-studying with free online materials is a lot cheaper than hiring a private tutor, who will normally charge by the hour.

Online courses normally charge a set fee, which is in the realm of about £500, for example, you can browse courses from the Open Study College here.

Colleges will normally also have fees for adult learners, although there is normally financial support to help with this if you need it. For instance, you will likely to be eligible for the Advanced Learner Loan, which you can read more about on this page.

Finally, if you are studying as a private candidate, there will an exam entry charge, which is normally around £50 as seen on this document from AQA. That being said, there may be an admin fee charged by your exam centre, so make sure to double check this with them. If you are studying in a college, the exam entry fees are normally included in any tuition fees.

What can you do after retaking your GCSEs?

The main reason to retake GCSEs as an adult is to improve your CV for job applications. Hopefully, having done your GCSE retake exams, you have passed and achieved the grades you wanted. You can then go on to use these in your planned career path.

However, this isn’t the only option – you may want to continue studying and gain more qualifications. For example, this article from Open Study College has more information about taking A-Levels as an adult.

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