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If I fail in my exams, what do I do?

Whether your exams have gone disastrously wrong, or you have that glass-half-empty feeling ahead of exam day or getting results back, it's not the end of the world.

Whatever the outcome, there are always options - so don't panic. Below we run through your options if things don't go to plan...

Resit an exam

A couple of silly mistakes may have dragged your mark down. Provided you learn from these and are confident you can do better, consider re-sitting your exam.

Find out from your school or college when they offer resits as soon as possible. You will have to pay an entry fee for each subject or module you retake (around £40-60 for an AS or A2 qualification, if we look at AQA as an example).

You can also retake an exam the following year as a private candidate. You don't attend classes, just take the exam at a local, approved school or college. However, as well as the fees to pay, you'll have to keep yourself motivated. 

Repeat a year

You can retake a whole year if you stumbled in several areas but are still determined to stick to the same path. This requires some thought as it can be an odd year:
How confident are you that you will actually do significantly better by re-sitting?

Are you sure you're happy to devote a further year to academic study or in effect to tread water for a year, when you could be moving on to the next level academically or spending a gap year doing something you really want to do? 

Have you thought of other courses or careers, or other universities, that might actually suit you really well or even better?  Alan Bullock (Careers Adviser),
Think carefully about how it will feel to stick around for another year, while your friends head off in different directions. You can retake at another local college or sixth form, although this brings its own hurdles.

On the other hand, if you struggled to focus first time round due to mitigating circumstances (such as a personal or family illness), this fresh start might be welcome! You can pick up other subjects which interest you along the way to fill in your timetable, as well as work and get paid while gaining experience in an area you want to pursue. 

As with re-sitting an exam, make sure you're not repeating any mistakes.

How do universities view retakes?

In most cases, retakes will be acceptable:

We take a very open view to students having to resit or retake their A-levels. We recognise that, for a whole host of reasons, students may not achieve the grades they wanted first time round. Often students can benefit from retaking a year, it can really strengthen their resolve and ambition. We encourage students to really look at their options and if that means they decide to resit some exams and apply to us again, then we view that positively. Rob Evans, Head Of Admissions At University Of Sussex
Broadly speaking we would be happy to consider applicants who have retaken an exam or a whole year and this should not put applicants off from applying. I would advise such individuals to check the specific guidance for their chosen course(s) or contact the University directly. Where there are mitigating circumstances relating to the retakes we strongly advise applicants to highlight these in their personal statement so they can be taken into account when their application is reviewed. Nick Hull, Head Of Admissions At University Of Southampton
If something significant did affect your original performance, be upfront about this; especially if you're applying to a very competitive course like medicine and law, or top universities like Oxbridge, where retakes may not be typically considered.

Enter Clearing

If you don’t get the grades you need for your university course, you can find an alternative with lower entry requirements through Clearing. While Clearing kicks off properly in August when you get your results, universities begin publicising courses with empty spots in July. 

So if you walk out of a horrendous exam, start work on your back-up plan and begin looking at alternatives straight away. Start with courses that were in your top five Ucas choices or ones you shortlisted previously. This way if you do have to enter Clearing, you'll be prepared.

Take a gap year

Perhaps a gap year could be just the break you need to figure out a few things about your future. You can then apply again to university the following year or take another path. 

Just make sure you use this year out wisely. When you reapply, universities won't be interested in your beach selfies; they'll want to know how you used this time to develop yourself. While a gap year can involve some globe-trotting, you can also spend time working, participating in placements or volunteering.

All of this can contribute towards a stronger Ucas application next year.

Consider something different

There are an increasing number of schemes for school-leavers who want to move into a particular area or sector, but don't necessarily want to sit in lectures for three years. Most involve practical learning within a real organisation, earning while you learn.

A higher or degree apprenticeship, for example, combines this with some academic study, but you'll find that companies are more likely to be looking at you and the skills you could bring and develop than solely your exam results. Well-known brands and organisations like Ford, John Lewis, Santander and Rolls-Royce all took on higher apprentices in 2016/17. 


Feeling better?

Hopefully we’ve helped put things in perspective, and that exam which was giving you sleepless nights doesn’t seem so terrifying. Even if your results weren't what you were hoping for, it's not the end of the world.

Good luck!

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