What to do if you're disappointed with your GCSE results

Students looking at exam results

If you didn't get the grades you wanted, you still have options

When results day doesn't go quite as you hoped, it can be upsetting and confusing.

But the good news is that all is not lost, and you can move forward positively whatever your grades.

If you find yourself without the grades you need for your future plans, here's some advice on what to do next.

If you haven't passed Maths or English language

When you first look at your results, GCSE English and GCSE Maths are the key qualifications to look out for. In the GCSE number grading system a 4 is roughly equivalent to an old C and is likely to be requested as a minimum by schools and colleges if you want to move on to study at a higher level. Some courses may ask for higher grades so check carefully.

If you missed out on the grade 4, especially if it's by a narrow margin, the first thing to do if you find you haven't passed one or both of them is to speak immediately to the head of the sixth form or college you hope to attend. 

You might want to consider applying for a review of marking, otherwise most schools and colleges will require you to resit your exams alongside your post-16 studies.

Most schools and colleges will offer classes to prepare you to retake these GCSEs or they will offer alternative courses. If classes are not available, it may be worth checking with other local colleges to see if they offer additional classes.

If you haven't got the grades you need for college

Again, the best course of action is to speak to the head of the sixth form or college you have applied to. Many colleges give you an offer where you'll need certain grades to be able to enrol. 

In some cases the entry requirements may be 'informal', and so the college may let you in regardless. But this isn't always the case.

If you have missed your college requirements, there are a number of different paths you can take. You may retake one or more subjects to help boost your overall grade, or if you think there was an error with the marking of your paper you can apply for a review of marks. 

What are retakes and reviews of marking?

Retaking exams or getting your paper reviewed are two methods to potentially improve a GCSE grade you're not happy with. 

In the past, it used to be that you could retake only one modular exam. However, this will no longer be the case due to the new 100% terminal rule. The new terminal rule states that to get a certificate in a subject you must take all the exams in one sitting. 

This means that, if you retake, you have to retake all the units in the next exam season in order to be awarded a new grade. 

GCSE exam retakes usually take place in the next available exam season; next summer.

A common question asked is, 'Which retake mark will count?' Due to the new terminal rule, you will receive more than one certificate and so will be perfectly entitled to say that you achieved whatever your highest grade was in the subject. 

But you will have to declare all marks to universities via UCAS as you will need to declare all certificates.

Reviews of marking are available for a short period of time after you have received your results – but please note that once you have received a grade from a review, it is final. Your original grade will not count, even if it is higher.

Should you choose a retake or a review?

Whether or not you apply for a review of marking or to be entered for retake should depend on a number of different factors. 

Opting for a review is costly and may result in your mark going down as well as up. Also, the way reviews now operate means that marks will only be adjusted if there is a 'significant error' by the original marker. 

Because of this, reviews are best used when you feel you did much better in the exam than your mark suggests. The best advice is to discuss your options with your subject teacher who will be able to give you the best advice.

Here are a few possible scenarios below along with the suggested actions:

  • I didn't perform as well as I could have done in my exams due to outside circumstances 
    A retake is likely to be the best option for you, providing you feel that studying for the exam would not have a negative impact upon any other studies.
  • I found my original exam extremely difficult, and I didn't understand the content very well 
    In this case it is especially important to speak to your subject teacher. They may advise you to focus on your other exams rather than retaking or they may be able to offer you extra sessions to prepare you for a resit.

Paying for retakes and reviews

You usually have to pay a fee to either retake an exam or to have your paper reviewed, although your centre may choose to pay these fees for you. The cost of retaking or reviewing is dependent on the exam board in question, so you should speak to your examinations officer to make sure you have all of the information you need. You can find further information about fees direct from the exam boards at the following links:

Further information on post-results services

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has published its guide to post-results services. It contains comprehensive information on the possible actions that can be taken once you have received your results and can be found on the JCQ post-results services page. 

If you have any questions that have not been answered in this guide, please ask in the GCSEs forum where you should find your answers. Good luck! 

If you don't think further education is for you

Not sure you fancy going into further education? If you decide to take an alternative route, there are a number of different options for you to explore. 

You might do a vocational course (such as construction, childcare or engineering) rather than completing A-levels. Alternatively, you may want to go straight into the world of work and get an apprenticeship or seek employment. 

Here is our guide to all of the post-GCSE routes and options, from academic to vocational and occupational qualifications.

You can get some great advice on Apprenticeships and Careers and Employment in the forums.

How much do GCSE grades matter?

Collecting your GCSE results is a nerve-wracking time; you'll probably find yourself surrounded by grinning mates who have aced their exams – but there's always likely to be a few people frowning over some less-than-ideal results.

People often find there are one or two subjects where their GCSE grades have slipped a little. If that happens to you, try to focus on the positive grades you've got. English and maths aside, having one or two lower GCSE grades is unlikely to hinder you in the future.

If you performed below your expectations overall, again you shouldn't worry. As long as you get into the courses and sixth form of your choice, it's time to look forward rather than dwelling on your results.

If your results went well... Congratulations! It's time to celebrate, relax and plan for what comes next. Either way, good luck on GCSE results day.

More useful links

GCSE results day 2019: When it is and what to expect
When do GCSE results come out?
How to read your GCSE results slip
More advice on GCSE results day
Getting ready for A-levels

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