Every year, thousands of students across the UK sit their A-Level exams. This is a significant milestone in any student’s life, having been working towards these exams for two years. As well as this, their next steps – whether that be university, an apprenticeship or something else entirely – will likely depend on their results. Of course, much as we would like everyone to get the grades they are aiming for, this isn’t always the case.
Some students choose to take a gap year in order to resit one or more of their A-Levels, hopefully improving on their original grades. However, exams are unpredictable, and it is possible that their grade does not change the second time around – or even goes down. This is one of the questions students have when deciding whether or not to retake A-Levels – what happens if you do worse in the resit?
If you resit an A-Level, whether you do better or worse, you will simply have two grades, and two exam certificates for that subject. The lower grade will not replace the original one, and you cannot choose which one goes on your educational record. Most universities and employers will look at the higher grade. However, doing worse in the resit does make it more likely that you will need to change your plans for the future – if the university you want wouldn’t accept your original grade, they are not going to accept a lower one.
Keep reading for plenty more information about what happens if your A-Level resits do not go to plan, including how universities and employers view this, advice if you are deciding whether to resit an A-Level, and what next steps to consider if this does happen to you.
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What happens if you do worse in an A-Level resit?
Nothing unique happens if you do worse in an A-Level resit, compared to if you get the same or a higher grade as before. In all these situations, you will have two A-Level grades for that particular subject.
In official records of your education, including a UCAS application, you are required to declare both the original grade, and the resit grade. This can be both positive and negative if you have done worse in the resit.
As mentioned, this means you unfortunately can’t choose to tell universities or employers just your highest grade. However, having two grades is better than your new, lower grade simply replacing your original grade. You still took the full set of exams the first time around – they aren’t going to take that grade away from you!
Still, getting a lower grade in a resit exam is not going to be what the student had hoped for. They will typically have spent an extra year or more of their time studying towards these exams, and it can be disappointing to say the least when your hard work doesn’t pay off.
In fact, many people choose not to resit A-Levels as they are worried about not improving their grade. Have a look at this article by Tutor Chase, to learn more about what happens if you do worse in an A-Level resit.
If you are considering retaking one or more A-Levels, but aren’t sure whether it is the right choice, have a look at this complete guide from Think Student, which will tell you more about the process of retaking an A-Level.
There are lots of questions you may have about doing worse in a resit. Are you still able to access the university or apprenticeship course you were planning on? How will your resit be viewed by universities and employers? What are your other options?
Whether you had been hoping for those higher grades for university, an apprenticeship, or a dream job – keep reading for plenty more information!
Do all universities look at A-Level resits?
Every university has a slightly different view on retaking exams. Officially, every university will accept A-Level retakes, including Russell Group universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
As ever, there are a couple of exceptions to this. For example, while Cambridge allows resits, they state here on their website that they would be ‘concerned if you have to retake a lot of exams’.
Additionally, for some of the more competitive subjects such as Medicine, some universities will ask for all three of your A-Levels to be taken in the same year. Have a look at this article from The Medic Portal for more information about how each Medical School in the UK views resits. As you can see, some will consider resit applicants along with everyone else, while others will not accept any A-Level resits.
Generally speaking, though, most universities will accept resits, and look at whichever is your highest grade for that subject – even if that is the original grade. Unfortunately, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Will universities look at your best A-Level grade if you resit?
Firstly, the most common reason for retaking A-Levels is because your original grades were not high enough to get you into the university or course of your choice. So even if these higher, initial grades are the ones universities look at, that won’t be enough to get you a place to study with them.
Secondly, as mentioned, the second qualification doesn’t cancel out the first – you will have two grades for that A-Level. You can’t choose which of these grades universities see, as UCAS requires you to put all of your exams on the application, including any resits you plan to take in the coming year.
This means that universities will know that you are retaking one or more A-Levels, and they will know if you do worse the second time around. Although universities accept resits, having your grade go down instead of up will naturally bring about some questions from the people looking at your application.
A resit where the grade has improved is likely to be more appealing to an admissions tutor than one where the grade has dropped, even if the highest grade achieved is the same. This is the kind of thing universities will be looking at when comparing similarly qualified candidates for a limited number of places. You can find more about this in this article from Academic Underdogs.
For both these reasons, if you do worse in an A-Level resit, you will likely need to adjust your university goals. This doesn’t at all mean giving up on going to university – you may just need to consider different institutions or related courses, with lower entry requirements. There is more information later in this article about what your next steps might look like if you do worse in an A-Level resit.
Will apprenticeship employers look at your best A-Level grade if you resit?
Whether you need the grades for an apprenticeship or a university place, the situation is similar. You will likely have to get in contact with individual companies offering apprenticeships, as there are a huge number available, and they may all have different policies about A-Level resits.
With universities, you are more likely to find this information on their website, although I would still recommend contacting them directly if it is unclear.
Even if they do accept resits and will look at your highest grade, the same problems remain. If your original grades were too low, they will not accept you with your lower resit grades.
However, once again, this doesn’t mean you can’t get onto an apprenticeship scheme you will enjoy. Although you may have to reconsider your original plans, there are still plenty of options available to you – more on this later.
Will future employers look at your best A-Level grade if you resit?
It is harder to know exactly what future employers will be interested in, given the huge range of jobs, qualifications and experience possible. Some may not look at your A-Level grades at all. They may be more interested in your personality if it is a job that requires lots of social interaction, for example.
Additionally, if you have gained further qualifications since your A-Levels, such as an undergraduate degree, employers will generally be more interested in how well you did in this than in your previous exams.
Employers are also less likely to be concerned about a lower resit grade because they usually do not ask for candidates to have specific A-Level grades as a requirement for the job. That being said, many employers will still want to look at your education history, to check, for instance, that you have passed GCSE English and Maths.
They will therefore be able to see that you have retaken an A-Level, and that you got a lower grade the second time around. It is always worth reflecting on this experience in case it comes up in a job interview. Perhaps there were circumstances that prevented you from reaching your full potential that you feel the employer should be aware of.
Alternatively, you could talk about what you learned throughout the A-Level and resit process, and how you have since put that into practice. It is likely that your ‘soft’ skills such as resilience developed, having to bounce back from two disappointing grades, and you could give an example of when you have used this skill since.
For more information about this, check out this Think Student article on the importance of A-Levels.
What should you do if you have done worse in an A-Level resit?
We’ve discussed that you may need to reconsider your plans for the future if you do worse in an A-Level resit. Fortunately, there are still lots of routes you can take.
My advice would be to explore similar paths to your original plan, but with lower entry requirements. For example, if you had needed 3 A grades for a certain university, have a look to see if other universities will accept you for the same course, with lower entry requirements.
A great tool for this is UCAS Clearing, which you can access as soon as you receive your resit grade on results day. Universities use this to fill up remaining spaces, and at this stage, it is very likely that they will look at your highest grade.
For a complete guide to UCAS Clearing, have a look at this Think Student article.
Similarly, explore apprenticeship options that may accept you with your current grades. This apprenticeship search tool from the government website may be helpful.
If there have been extenuating circumstances that you think have affected your results, make sure universities or employers are aware of this. Almost all of them have policies in place to make sure you still get a fair chance, even if situations outside of your control have prevented you getting higher grades. For example, this page on the University of Nottingham’s website has a guide to what they consider extenuating circumstances.
You may research your available options and decide to change your plan entirely. You could go straight into the world of work or apply to get a different sort of qualification to the one you had originally planned for, such as an NVQ. Check out this article from Career Pilot for advice on your post A-Level options.
Can you resit your A-Levels again?
Another possible option is to resit your A-Levels again. Although this is a less common route, there is no limit to the number of times you can resit an A-Level. However, it is a tough decision to make – it will require another year of study, and still doesn’t guarantee that your grade will improve.
Whatever you choose, with a bit of resilience, research and hard work, you can certainly overcome the hurdle of doing worse in an A-Level resit. For more information about this, check out this Think Student article.