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What Happens if You Fail Your GCSEs? 😬

What Happens if You Fail Your GCSEs? 😬

You’re probably reading this article because like many students, you’re wondering whether your life will be over if you fail your GCSEs. Luckily, we’re here to tell you it absolutely won’t be! Failing your GCSEs can be extremely distressing, but it is important to remember that you do have options, and this isn’t the end of your dreams.

Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of They Are The Future has some great advice for students who are still processing the news:

“To start, allow all emotions. Anger, resentment, anxiety, or sadness. These are all acceptable and okay. You may feel like this for a few days or a few weeks but at some point, these feelings will start to pass.

Your exam results don't define you. This is not the end of the road for your career plans either.

You don't need to have all the answers as to what comes next. Over the next few weeks and months, options will unfold for you and you will be able to make the best decisions for your future, even if this involves a slightly different (or longer) path than you had originally planned.”

With the help of a panel of experts, we have put together a guide brimming with options for students who have failed one or all of their GCSEs.

  1. Review your exam paper and seek feedback

  2. Apply for your GCSE exam paper to be remarked

  3. Resit your failed GCSE exams

  4. Consider an alternative qualification

  5. Research colleges that may have different entry requirements

If you have just received bad A-Level results, check out our separate article full of help and advice for students in your situation.

Review your exam paper and seek feedback

Did you know you can request a copy of your GCSE exam paper? This can be extremely useful if you fail an important subject such as maths, English, or science. It may cost you a small fee, however it means you’ll be able to see exactly where you missed out on marks.

AQA actually allows you to request your exam paper for free, and it is super easy through their online portal. They aim to have it sent over within six weeks!

Bear in mind that in most cases this won’t be the original exam paper - it will be a copy, as the exam board needs to keep the original on file.

Get the most out of your feedback

There is no guarantee that a marked exam paper will be returned to you full of easy-to-understand comments and notes. For someone who isn’t well versed in marking exams, it can be tough to unpick.

This is why we would recommend contacting your school or college to make an appointment with a teacher to talk you through it. They will have much more experience in deciphering comments left by exam markers, and will help you get the most out of it.

Another option is to find a tutor seeking help from a tutor who is an expert in that subject. Many of our tutors are actually teachers or even exam markers themselves, so their input can be extremely valuable.

female teacher helping young male student with exam feedback

Apply for your GCSE exam paper to be remarked

Some exam boards such as OCR and Edexcel offer a clinical recheck as well as a standard full remark. A clinical recheck ensures that all of the marks on each page were tallied up correctly and that the final total reflects this. If you only failed by one or two marks, this could definitely be an option to consider.

If you are wanting something more thorough, you can pay for a full remarking. The cost varies by exam board, with AQA being the cheapest at £38.35, OCR offering this service for £57.50, and Edexcel charging £42.40.

On the plus side, some exam boards will reimburse you for the cost of the remarking if your paper goes up a grade. On the downside, there is a chance the remarking might actually lower your grade. However, if you have already failed your exam, this is a chance you might be willing to take!

Is there a deadline to apply for a paper remarking?

Typically, you have to apply for your GCSE exam paper to be remarked within 30 days of receiving your results. It is better to apply for a remarking as soon as possible so that your next steps aren’t delayed, for example if you are relying on a new grade to get into sixth form

How do I know it is worth submitting my paper for remarking?

Good question! If you’re wondering what to do when you’ve failed your GCSEs, remarking can be a good option, but it comes with pros and cons. You’re not only taking a gamble by paying the cost of the remarking service knowing that it might not make a difference, you’re also subjecting yourself to weeks of waiting and getting your hopes up.

We got in touch with Samar, a Dietitian at Health Keeda, to hear about the positive outcome he had when they he a GCSE and submitted it for remarking:

🤯 The First Strike: Failing my GCSEs was a shattering blow to my hopes and self-confidence. But something inside of me grew fierce and compelled me to fight the urge to let this failure define who I am.

🏃‍♂️ A Leap of Faith: I took a leap of faith and opted to have my paper commented on and remarked because I was determined to convert my setback into an opportunity. I realised that sometimes it only takes one chance to change everything.

💪The Power of Perseverance: I focused my concentration on bettering myself while I waited impatiently for the commenting process to start.

🤞A Second Chance: I was shocked and delighted to learn that my grade had greatly increased, giving me the pass I had been fervently hoping for.

🧐 A New Path: I began investigating different routes to success after being motivated by my own experience and looking for possibilities that matched my interests and ambitions.

🥳 Embracing Success: Realising that failure had not constrained my potential but rather had guided me towards a path more in line with my strengths, I experienced a renewed sense of purpose and excitement for the future.

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Resit your failed GCSE exams

If you have failed GCSE drama but your dream is to become a biomedical scientist, you might not need to panic as long as you have enough GCSEs to get you through to the next stage of your studies.

If, however, maths is one of your failed subjects, resitting it might be your best option.

When can I resit my GCSEs?

Some GCSE resits take place in the autumn, usually in November, so just a few short months after receiving your results. This is only true if you’re resitting your maths or English GCSE - any other subjects will usually need to be retaken the following year at the usual exam time.

teenagers sitting examination with teacher overseeing in a school

When do GCSE resit results come out?

If you resit your maths GCSE or English GCSE in November, you will get your results in January. If you have had to wait until the summer exam period the following year for your resit, your results will be available in August.

Who can resit a GCSE exam?

Absolutely anyone can take a GCSE exam! There are no prerequisites and there is no age limit, however there may be a cost depending on when and how you choose to resit them.

How much does it cost to resit a GCSE exam?

As long as you are resitting your exam at the same school or college, and within a year of your first attempt, it is usually free.

If you choose to leave education and take the exams privately, do an online course, or take a few years out before resitting, there will often be a cost involved. Luckily that cost isn’t too extortionate - to privately sit a GCSE exam we’re talking between £40-£50 on average!

If you do choose to resit your exam, help from a qualified tutor could be invaluable. They can help you focus on the areas you struggled with, and ensure you’re on top form ready for your resit.

Is it worth resitting an exam?

If you arm yourself with the right tools, resitting can be a brilliant option for someone who has failed a GCSE exam.

Get a copy of your exam paper, see where you went wrong, focus on those areas, and try again.

Don’t just take it from us though, Faisal Nasim, Director of Exam Papers Plus told us about the huge wealth of benefits that can come from retaking a failed exam.

“I’ve found that failure can sometimes be the greatest teacher. My educational mission, especially in tutoring for the examination system, has always been to empower students to see beyond a single exam or a solitary score. Because let's face it, who we become is rarely defined by the grades we achieved in school.

I remember a particular student of mine who unfortunately didn't pass his GCSEs the first time around. Like many of us, he felt that his future had come to a sudden and daunting standstill.

Yet, in the following months, something truly transformative happened. He took his failure not as the end, but as an opportunity to learn and grow. He retook the exams and, lo and behold, passed with flying colours. But more than the improved grades, his newfound confidence and resilience truly marked his victory.

Such a transformation isn't exclusive here. In my career, I've seen time and again that failure can often be the spark that lights the way to success. GCSEs, while important, are not the be-all and end-all. They can be retaken, and during the process, valuable lessons can be learned about perseverance and fortitude. These qualities, I assure you, are more sought-after by employers and educational professionals than perfect grades."

Consider an alternative qualification

If you were banking on getting good grades on certain GCSEs in order to get onto your A-Level courses, failing one of your exams can put a serious dampener on your plans.

GCSE exams are tough, tense, and rely on regurgitating information in very stressful conditions. However, the reality is that some people just don’t test well!

This could be for many reasons - some students don’t handle the stress of exams well, others may struggle with putting down the right information in order to get the marks. Failing an exam doesn’t always mean that you don’t have the knowledge, sometimes you just didn’t write exactly what the examiner was looking for.

Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawns told us about his experience of being a self-confessed “poor test taker”:

“As someone who's been a poor test taker my entire life, I was able to find success by pursuing entrepreneurship and ultimately working for myself. It's important to remember that your ability to take tests is not an accurate reflection of how smart or competent you are. Testing, in my experience, tends not to be a very good measure of creativity, ingenuity, ambition, or guts—all of which are things that are essential in entrepreneurs.”

If you are a poor test taker, but there are exams standing in the way between you and your dream, check out our guide on tips for exam day.

What other options are available?

If applying for a GCSE paper to be remarked, or resitting your failed exams don’t seem like your best options, you could always consider switching from A-Levels to a different type of course.

Often students opt for A-Levels because it is the next logical step in their educational journey, however there are courses out there that may be much better suited to their individual needs!

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What is a vocational qualification?

Vocational qualifications are a great solution for students who have a solid idea of the career they want to pursue. They can help you get the skills and experience you need in order to secure your first job in that sector, or open the door to further education.

Here are a few examples of the subjects you can seek vocational qualifications in:

  • Animal care

  • Construction

  • Engineering

  • Food technology

  • IT

  • Manufacturing

Young male vet running an animal care college course demonstrating to two young female students

What is a BTEC qualification?

BTEC stands for the Business and Technology Education Council. BTECs are a type of vocational qualification that combines practical learning with theory and study.

They are very popular amongst students who already have a chosen career path in mind, and often have lower entry requirements than A-Levels, however this can vary by college.

Why should I do a vocational qualification?

There are over 2,000 different subjects to study as vocational qualifications, therefore there really is something for everyone. They can help you go onto further study such as getting a degree, and can offer you a great head start in your chosen subject.

Many employers value vocational qualifications, and therefore you may even be able to go straight into work upon completion. There are routes to further study in your chosen field that you can undertake alongside employment.

Vocational qualifications are a great alternative to A-Levels for people who are seeking something a little different to the school-like classroom experience. They are also less heavily reliant on exams, so great for those who don’t test well. Check out the colleges in your area to see what courses they offer - failing your GCSEs might just be the best thing that ever happened to you if it sets you on a new and exciting path.

Youssef Fawsi, Co-Founder of a startup consultancy, told us his thoughts on pursuing a different path after failing GCSEs.

“In my view, failing GCSEs does not have to be the end of the world for children. It is important to remember that there are always other options available. For example, if a student has failed their GCSEs, they may be able to retake them or take an alternative qualification such as a BTEC/vocational course.

Additionally, they may be able to pursue an apprenticeship, which can provide them with valuable work experience and a route into a career. It is also important to remember that GCSEs are not the only measure of success. Employers are increasingly looking for candidates with a range of skills and qualities, such as interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and resilience. These are all skills that can be developed regardless of academic achievement. Therefore, I believe it is important to encourage children who have failed their GCSEs to

focus on their strengths and look for other opportunities. With the right advice and support, they can still achieve their goals.”

Research colleges for different entry requirements

You will usually need at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4/A* to C in order to get onto an A-Level course. If A-Levels are your absolute dream, then head back to the beginning of this article to find out the different ways to get there.

If you have applied for a vocational course but missed the entry requirements or if you’re open to switching out A-Levels for something a bit different, read on.

Consider another course

Just because you didn’t quite get the grades you needed for the course you applied for doesn’t mean that you’re out of options. It could mean that you might need to do a foundation year before you start your full course, or that you can switch to a slightly different course altogether.

As long as you’re determined and you can see your goal clearly, there will be steps that you are able to take in order to get there. One year of doing a foundation course may be much more appealing to some students than studying for and retaking multiple GCSEs.

Consider another college

The great news is that for most courses, not all colleges have the same entry requirements. It may be worthwhile checking out other colleges near you to see if they have the same or a similar course with a lower entry requirement. You will still learn many of the same skills and it could open the door to other opportunities you might not have considered.

So, what should you do if you fail your GCSE exams?

The ball is completely in your court. Ask for a remark, book a resit, or change your path entirely - the choice is yours. Just remember, getting less marks on a bunch of tests doesn’t define you. You can still reach your goals, you might just have to take a longer or different path.

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Kirstan N

Kirstan N

3rd Jul 2023