Should you retake? This page explains how to find out...
It’s August. You’ve got your A-level results. They’re not what you wanted and you are wondering what to do next. One option is to retake in order to get better grades, but is that worth the trouble? You will need information about retaking (see the page on FAQs about A-level retakes), and you may need expert advice. A-level retake courses at CIFE colleges may be just what you're looking for.
That’s what this page is about. CIFE colleges are experts at helping students improve their grades, and this page explains the process that CIFE colleges use to help students decide about retaking A levels. Colleges will be happy to do the same for you - just contact CIFE and ask for our help. There’s no charge, and you are under no obligation!
But first some words about urgency. Unless you already know that you will be retaking, you need to do your thinking quickly: do you accept your insurance offer, do you enter UCAS Clearing, or do you retake? If you are taking a GAP year anyway it’s tempting to leave the question until later, but don’t leave it too long: it’s better to plan what you’re doing, and you’ll need to sort out next year’s UCAS application pretty quickly anyway.
To make the right decision about retakes a good adviser will help you sort out the answers to four questions:
Where do I want to be?
What’s my ideal next stage, once I leave A levels behind? What degree course do I really want to get onto, and where? The answer may be crystal clear, or you may be pretty confused, especially if you weren’t all that sure to start with. Until you know what A-level grades you need, it’s hard to decide whether retaking is worth it.
It’s tempting to say ‘Well I need better results anyway so I’ll just get on with it without deciding exactly what I’m aiming at’, or ‘I’ll just take whatever I can get with the grades I’ve got’. But working out what you are aiming for really does help motivation (which will have taken a knock if your results were a shock), and there’s a real risk that accepting disappointment and jumping into UCAS Clearing to get whatever you can may leave you with a second-best course you regret later.
How wide is the gap?
That’s the gap between the grades you got and the grades you need for your target university. This sounds an easy question to answer, but what you really need to know is how easy it will be to bridge that gap. Working this out will involve analysing your background in some detail;
- What results did you get at GCSE and AS, and were the marks consistent with your A-level grades ?
- What were your UCAS predictions and mock exam results and how did you develop during the sixth form ?
- What did your teachers say about you - what did they feel about your work habits, skills, exam technique etc ?
- What happened to you in the exam room - did you put in plenty of practice, did you misplay the exams, were you ill etc ?
- What do your teachers say about the grades you got - are they encouraging, are they disappointed and how do you feel about their advice ?
- What do you think went wrong and what do you need to improve? You probably already know what you need to do to get better grades.
- What’s your written work like ? Take work along for your adviser to see, ideally work done under time pressure.
Taking all this into account a skilled adviser can help you work out whether you are looking at an easy task, mission impossible or something in between.
How can I bridge that gap?
Having built up a picture of your potential, and the improvements you need to make, it’s time to look at the possible patterns of study. This will involve reviewing your A-level unit marks, and helping you work out what’s best to resit, balancing workload, timescales, motivation and safety. Taking more units gives more ways of building up marks, but involves more effort and possibly a longer course. Taking the minimum leaves little margin of safety if something doesn’t go right.
Each student is different, which is why good advice is important, but what fits for you is likely to involve one or both of:
January/February to June study:
This is likely to suit you if you need to retake units in two subjects and improve by a two or three A-level grades, and if that improvement is consistent with your demonstrated ability.
September to June study:
You will need to take a year over retakes if you have major gaps in academic skills as well as knowledge and you need to improve your grades considerably. A one-year course will cover everything in detail and can enable you to take a completely new subject as part of the mix if you need to. See our one-year A levels page for more detail
What about the Easter option...
If you only need to improve results a little, in a few units, you might consider leaving it until Easter 2016 to resume studies, then take an Easter Revision course and study hard through to the summer exam. This is riskier because it leaves you less time and relies a great deal on your own motivation. Some structured support between Easter and the exam might help, though you’re unlikely to find a formal course which runs Easter to June. It’s really essential to get advice if you are thinking of doing this!
Should I retake ?
Once you have answers to the first three questions you’ll be in a much better position to answer this one. You’ll have a clearer idea of what retaking would involve in terms of time and cost, and you should also have a realistic idea of whether that is likely to be worth-while in terms of the future options you might gain.
We can help!
CIFE colleges would be glad to help you work out the right answers, and delighted to provide you with an appropriate course. CIFE colleges know A-level retakes inside out and their expertise isn't just about exam-aware teaching, it is also about helping you sort out where you went wrong last time and supporting you to make sure you don't go wrong again.
Most people are pretty gloomy at the start of a resit course, and helping you feel positive about your prospects is one of the features of effective teaching You should quickly find that you are moving forward rather than simply repeating last year's learning.
Not only will better results get you into a better course, but the experience of retaking will probably make you a better university student too.
Much of the above applies to GCSE resit courses too, and you'll find more information on our GCSE courses at CIFE colleges page.