When A levels go wrong: Clearing or Retakes?

It’s now only one week until CIE A level results are released. If you’ve chosen to apply to U.K. universities, you’ve already applied through UCAS, you’ve got your firm and insurance offers confirmed, so what happens if you don’t make the grades?

First of all: don’t panic! You’re not alone – over 60,000 students missed their offers and went through Clearing last summer.

There are a number of options available to you depending on your specific circumstances, but they boil down to choosing between going through Clearing to find an alternative course, or retaking one or more of your A levels in order to re-apply for university next year.

Which option applies to your personal situation?

If you have missed the offer from your first choice university by a few percent on one of your subjects, it’s worth contacting the university immediately to see if they will accept you anyway. Even Oxford and Cambridge have been known to accept students in this position, but if you don’t call you definitely will not get a place. In this scenario, you can also apply to have these marks reviewed and re-counted, which can sometimes lead to your final grade improving enough to meet your original offer. However, in the majority of cases, the grade does not change, so don’t rely on this to get you into your university of choice.

If you have significantly missed the offer from your first choice university, but have still achieved the grades for your insurance offer, you need to establish whether you really want to go to your second choice institution. You’re not obliged to take up your place as long as you have not accepted the offer on UCAS. Think quickly, though – this is the time to check Clearing for better course and university offers that match your confirmed grades. The places will start being allocated at 6am, and the best ones will be snapped up quickly.

In extreme cases, you may find that your grades are well below what you or your school expected, and you’ve missed both your UCAS offers. This may be for medical reasons, due to periods of high stress during your exams, or it could be completely out of the blue. Whilst Clearing is obviously available in this instance, we would strongly recommend retaking some or all of your A levels. If your achieved grades are significantly lower than you were predicted, they clearly don’t demonstrate your academic ability, and any course you find through clearing that matches the grades you’ve received will not be a good fit for you.

Retakes: a second opportunity to get your first choice

Retaking one or more A levels is increasingly popular for students who miss their university offers. Degree courses are expensive, so it’s important that you feel the money you spend on three years or more of higher education gets you the best possible degree. There is also an element of personal pride – A level results follow you for the rest of your academic or professional career, and you want them to reflect your true ability.

Retaking your A levels in a tutorial environment can provide the ideal combination of intensive study in small classes and preparation for university. Retakes can be hard work – students find they have to push through frustration at going over previously-covered subjects when their friends have gone off to uni – however the results speak for themselves. Not only do students significantly improve their A level grades the following year, but they also find they have learned other vital skills such as personal responsibility, time management, and self-motivation. Making such a huge improvement takes dedication, but it’s worth it!

In such an intensive environment, some students take entirely new subjects instead of or in addition to retaking their previous A levels. This can be a great way of demonstrating to universities that you are a dedicated and academically able student, whilst also ensuring you have plenty of completely new things to learn to keep your interest up throughout the year.

Before you apply to retake your A levels, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Make sure your preferred university or course accepts retakes. Medicine and Law degrees in particular discourage retakes, so it’s best to speak to the relevant admissions offices to find out their views.
  • Think about what may have caused your grades to be lower than expected before you make your decision.


6 August 2019