Results Day: what if I don’t get the grades I needed?

Meg Timbrell
Content & Social Media Manager
6 min read

Is the anxiety of results day creeping up on you?

Good grades at GCSE or A level can of course be important if this is what’s required for your next steps in your education or career journey, but they don’t define you. To read more about whether your grades matter or not, click here.

Receiving bad grades can feel like the end of the world at the time, but it definitely doesn't mean that your entire life is doomed.

Appealing for a remark

If you feel dismayed at your results and that a grade doesn't reflect the quality of work you put in, there's always the option to appeal to your school or college for a remark. This works in a similar way to how you would usually appeal, even though there are changes to the grading system (Teacher Assessed Grades) this year due to the pandemic. If an error is found, then your grade can be changed. However, the only thing to be wary of is that your grade could go either up or down. 

There’s no shame in retaking 

Taking another year out to complete your exams may feel like a huge commitment, but if you feel as though you received a bad grade due to a lack of focus and attention to your work, this might be the option for you to really prove that you can commit yourself to your studies. 

If you're nervous about what employers or universities might think of retaking exams, don't be. Retaking exams or a year can show that you're willing to work really hard to get the grades you deserve, demonstrating your perseverance. Focus on the positive aspects of your experience when talking about this to future employers or in your personal statement.

Retaking GCSEs

Achieving grade 4 (or C in Welsh, Northern Irish, or Scottish equivalents) or above in English and Maths GCSEs is important for getting into many apprenticeships or jobs, as well as getting onto certain A level courses. If you receive a grade 3 or below in English or Maths in England resits are compulsory, so you'll need to keep resitting until you pass or reach the age of 18.

For the majority of other subjects (e.g. History, French or Geography), there isn't usually any obligation to retake these, unless you particularly needed a pass in this subject to study it further down the line at A level or university.

You can resit GCSEs/Scottish Nationals at a school or college, and you'll usually have to attend timetabled lessons along with other students, or can study privately if you'd rather not go back to school! For English and Maths resits, you can often take these earlier in the year in January or November, rather than in the usual May/June time.

There may be costs associated with some of your retakes, so check with your school, college, or exam centre.

Retaking A levels

A level resits can also cost you - prices start at around £175 and range up to £400 per exam - but again, this depends on the exam centres in your area, who you'll have to contact to find out specific pricing.

You may have to resit your exams with everyone else in May/June, and there are options to either study with everyone else at a school or college throughout the year, or, if going back to school/college doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you can resit online as a private candidate - this latter option can also be much more affordable.

Many people also already take a gap year in between A levels and a job/university. You can use this time to be productive, getting a part-time job to gain some extra skills and experience, or even travelling (Covid-providing). They can be brilliant ways of making the most out of the year as well as improving your grade(s)!

Pick up a Uni place in clearing!

If you've applied to uni and you don't quite hit the grades you needed - it's always worth double-checking with your first choice university before you move on to other options. Things change rapidly in terms of university places during the big grades shake out, and sometimes universities can be more flexible than you might think. If you still don't get the place you wanted, then you can start to look at the many options available through clearing.

What's clearing?

Clearing is where students are matched to university places that haven't been filled, if students have dropped out, missed their grades, or rejected an offer. There are often loads of places available at top universities, and even if it isn't your exact first choice course, you may find something that's close (and occasionally you may be able to switch back to the course you really wanted to do later on).

If you’ve applied to a university and haven’t gotten in due to your grades, you can apply through clearing to go to another university, or to a different course that has places available at your first choice university. Speak to someone at your school/college for some advice - this might be a careers advisor if your school has one. 

If you've applied through UCAS you can use their 'Clearing Plus' system to see possible matches for clearing courses based on your application, but you don't have to choose these, you can look for courses yourself using university websites and listings.

As scary as it may seem, ringing the university you want to go to can often prove your enthusiasm and your proactiveness to them. We highly recommend picking up the phone and speaking to the university if you can. They're there to help you, and you never know where they may be able to slot you in or be able to prioritise your application, whether this is placing you into clearing or simply getting in touch with tutors in your subject department to see what they can do for you. When you make the call, you'll need your personal ID and clearing number to hand (if you've applied through UCAS, you can find these on UCAS Track).

The Uni Guide have a great article offering some helpful tips for acing the clearing process.

A change of plan

As hard as it is to hear, sometimes things don’t go the way you originally planned them to - and this is okay. If it was your plan to go to university, and particular grades were what you needed to get in, you might have to come to the difficult decision to rethink your next steps. 

Whether this is an apprenticeship, or just going straight into a job, there are so many options open to you, and who knows, you might gain some experience and come back to studying at university at a later date. If you’re not sure what options are out there, read our article ‘Should I go to university, do an apprenticeship…or something else?’. 

Share your decision with others

If you've received your grades and you're panicking about making a decision, remember to share the decision with those around who can help: friends, family, or teachers/advisors at your school/college. We know that this can feel like a very scary crossroads, and you shouldn't have to make any big decisions on your own.

If you don't feel like you've got anyone to discuss your options with, there are some great forums out there to chat to fellow students or advisors, such as TheStudentRoom.

Whatever you do, remember, you always have choices, and some of those options may end up being the best thing in the long run. Everyone's journey is different, and what may seem like a setback now will make you stronger, and may even take you down an amazing new path. Good luck from everyone in the Sort Team!

Want your voice heard or have a story for us? Get in touch with - we love hearing from you!

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