Introducing A Level Retakes
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Robert Masters, Former Headmaster, The Judd School, Tonbridge

I’m delighted to see the results of Judd students retaking A levels at RIC and offer my congratulations to the five students who did so this year. We do recommend RIC to our students who are looking for further support and need to retake A levels.

Robert Masters, Former Headmaster, The Judd School, Tonbridge

Students underperform in A level examinations for many reasons: lack of confidence, lack of commitment and illness are a few of the most common. However, the invariably awful disappointment on the day the results are issued often leads to the most important step on the road to improvement which is an absolute determination never to go through it again. Students usually decide to retake before they go off to try a university course but sometimes the decision comes after a disappointing start in Higher Education.

The one thing to remember is that retaking A levels does not diminish your chances of attending a top university and, through the years, RIC has enabled retake students to actually improve their future academic prospects as students leave us to start degree programmes they initially thought beyond their reach before joining us. The effect of a retake course can be truly transformative.

At RIC students often combine retaking A levels with fresh one year courses to target their first choice university and make their academic gap year more engaging. RIC offers full UCAS support for students retaking A levels to ensure that their new application is carefully put together. It is usual for students retaking A levels at RIC to receive five Russell Group university offers.

Most universities are impressed by the determination retake students show by taking a year out of their lives to prove themselves by retaking. The study skills gained on a retake course are so valuable at university- at Rochester we like to hear when our students graduate, we’re not cramming or spoon feeding students into university but hopefully helping them to develop the good habits and confidence to succeed long after they leave us.

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Sasha, joined RIC from Simon Langton Grammar

I hated English at my old school but at RIC the teachers prepared me for the exams, inspired me and made me love English again. I went from a D to an A.

Sasha, joined RIC from Simon Langton Grammar

Class sizes are extremely small on A level resit courses, usually numbering around six to eight which means that every student has individual attention.

Improvements of five or six grades are by no means unheard of even on an A level resit course, however, improvements of two or three grades are more common.

We encourage our students to see their year retaking A levels at RIC as a university preparatory course rather than an A level resit one and previous students often comment that their time here was the most enjoyable and productive of their secondary education. It can be very reassuring to join A level resit classes with students from different schools all of whom are in the same position and have made the decision not to compromise and aim for their first choice university courses.

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Good Schools Guide

Many students transfer here after poor progress at AS or A level and the effect can be dramatic. It’s a sound investment- among the retakers all got into university and three-quarters won Russell Group places.

Good Schools Guide
Ric Resultsidris

A level Retakes: A Student Perspective

Underperforming in public exams is a painful experience. Disappointment in the faces of your parents, family and teachers, coupled with your own sense of regret (the ‘could haves’, ‘would haves’, ‘what ifs’ of revision and exam taking, time invested in your facebook newsfeed rather than your copy of ‘The Great Gatsby’) all contribute to a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. It was hard for me. Harder still was accepting that these grades truly reflected my academic capabilities. As difficult as it was, I can truly say that, certainly for me and other students in a similar position, failing proved a blessing despite the initial feeling of “the end of my life”.

I was in a far stronger position to take my exams the second time around. I fully understood the gravity of the exams. These were the labels with which universities and society labelled us, and the fear that the grades of my first attempt were permanent, motivated me to perform to a level which did me justice at the second attempt. This degree of pressure was healthy enough as it provided the spark which was missing the first time around as I coasted aimlessly to my inexorable fate of bad grades. I wanted to succeed.

Retaking A level provides you with valuable experience with the application process to universities. A degree of my initial failure can be attributed to the fact that I was not convinced as to what I wanted to study and where. This uncertainty was reflected in my work ethic as I did not commit myself to any subject or to any goal. So I missed my grades. During the retake year however, I was in a far stronger position to apply to university: I was familiar with the UCAS process and I had had enough time to commit to an academic pathway. The fact that my friends were enjoying their university life further fuelled my drive to achieve my grades.

Many people claim that universities do not give out offers to retake students. This fear-mongering should not be heeded. The new found focus delivered by the extra year in education is reflected in the personal statement and the reference by your teachers. For the majority of the other retake students I knew and myself, university offers were being given regardless of the fact we were retaking.

I can claim confidently that retaking your exams will produce a higher grade the second time around. The lingering scars of disappointment from last summer’s results day provide the motivation, the extra year of maturity provides the work ethic and the experience of the UCAS system ensures you have a goal to which you focus your studies. For many of my friends, going from very disappointing grades, they now see themselves at highly competitive universities studying well-respected degrees. And you always have the confidence that if you underperform in your retake (maybe your sleep was interrupted by an earthquake in Folkestone measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, or you could not concentrate because your train driver was on ‘strike’ against the scarce 3G coverage between Ebbsfleet and Stratford) you get to keep your grade from the previous year.

Idris, now studying Architectural Engineering at Bath

Fast track A level retake courses at Rochester Independent Sixth Form College

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This is just to say a very big ‘thank you’ to all of my son’s tutors at Rochester Independent for your superb guidance, expert management of the retake application for Law, unfailing kindness, patience and brilliant teaching. You taught him to think properly, to write clearly and fulfilled every promise you made to us. I wish you all continued success and many more students to benefit as he has done.


Obviously no one plans to need to retake A levels and missing offers and having to do so is disappointing. After this initial disappointment however students often report looking back on their A level retake year as a positive experience that properly prepares them for university.

Some students we first meet at this time of year look upon the prospect of an extra year at school and retaking with as much enthusiasm as visiting the dentist. A lot of students want to be planning their move to university, or looking forward to the Reading Festival rather than thinking about retakes.

We also start the consultation process with a detailed discussion of what has gone wrong, particularly if a student has only narrowly missed their offer. We always encourage students to look carefully in Clearing and not to underestimate the hard work and commitment that is involved in a retake or a one-year A level programme. We don’t just wave a magic Rochester wand. It is sometimes the case that students simply haven’t worked hard enough first time around or didn’t have the discipline or study skills to succeed. The most successful retakers are those who honestly assess why things haven’t worked first time round and take responsibility for making sure the outcome at the end of their academic gap year is a more positive one.

Most of our retakers at Rochester have pretty decent grades when they start, it’s quite normal for someone with ABB who has lots of university options in Clearing to opt to retake. We had a student recently who’d missed his Imperial Engineering offer by one grade but was offered a place at all of the other London colleges. He was determined though to come and retake though as he wasn’t in a rush to get to university and thought the rowing was better at Imperial as well as the course! He was also keen to do a lot more Maths prior to university and worked through all of the different Further Maths modules and STEP papers to prepare for his degree, it’s sometimes as much about preparing for the academic content of your chosen degree as actually getting the grades.

At Rochester our average grade improvement at A level is 2, so if you come with three Cs three As is a realistic prospect ad three Bs could be 3 A*s. Sometimes the improvements can be even more dramatic.

These upgrades open up a much broader range of subjects rather of course also being important when students graduate and are entering the job market where A level grades are used by companies and graduate schemes to screen applicants. It’s worth saying actually that not all of the students who retake their A levels at Rochester are doing so for university, some are aiming for degree apprenticeships which at the big firms can be as competitive as the top universities and also require grade As.

How to retake your A levels

RIC’s bespoke A level resit courses now run January-June or September-June depending on individual circumstances. Our teachers can offer retake courses for all examination boards and options. It is possible to study through the year part time, i.e combining retaking one or two subjects with paid work experience or internships or to combine a short intensive January-June resit with gap year adventures between September and January.

Why retake A levels at Rochester Independent College?

Small classes and the easy accessibility of staff ensure that students receive a great deal of individual help and attention. Regular tests under examination conditions are designed to help those who suffer from `examination nerves’ and prepare them for public examinations. Teaching time is plentiful meaning that the courses are more structured than is often the case in school.

Based in historic Rochester in Kent the College welcomes students each year from elsewhere in the county including Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury. Each year there are several students who come and board while retaking their A levels from London, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire and Berkshire as well as from further afield and overseas.

Exceeding expectations and retaking A levels in Kent as a day or boarding student

Resitting examinations can be a very positive experience (yes, really). It is a second chance at many things and students consistently gain tremendously in confidence and maturity having made what is always a very difficult decision. The retake year is positively approached as a university preparation course rather than bleakly revisiting old material. At Rochester Independent College we are keen to ensure students leave us with the academic and organisational skills that will help them get the most from their university life.

The teachers at Rochester Independent College cannot do all the hard work necessary for improved results, but they can provide a new and stimulating environment in which students can build or regain lost confidence and explore their subjects in a new and more adult manner, bringing their own ideas and experiences with them, not just passively regurgitating an old and tired syllabus.

Class sizes are extremely small, usually numbering around 6 to 8 which means that every student has individual attention. Problems can be quickly diagnosed and tackled.

Improvement is often rapid and grade improvements as large as 5 or 6 are by no means unheard of, however, improvements of two or three grades are more common.

Will I get a place at university if I retake?

Sometimes students worry that putting down the lower grades they achieve first time around will stop them getting offers, that’s not our experience. This year our retakers have offers from universities like King’s London, Durham, Edinburgh and UCL. Bristol and Exeter are the most popular universities amongst our retakers or have been in recent years. Exeter’s admissions policy is quite clear: “All applicants retaking a qualification will be considered for all programmes. The University does not discriminate against applicants who have re-taken part or all of a qualification.” You have to be tactical though and do your homework and make sure the university and sometimes the department- as at some universities it can differ from course to course- are ok with retakes. UCL says: “Resits are generally considered for a majority of our programmes" but is particularly strict for Law saying: "The entry requirements of A*AA must be fulfilled in the same sitting. A*AA awarded over two different years, for example AA in one year and an additional A* the following year will not satisfy our entry requirements.” We aim for the UCAS forms to be sent off before Christmas, the UCAS deadline is not until January 15th and you’re guaranteed equal treatment until then. We like to get to know our resit students so that we can make credible, evidence based grade predictions based on their performance here. It’s not unusual for students applying with low A level grades but good retake predictions to have 4 or 5 Russell Group university offers.

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Emma, Parent of Sam, Joined RIC from the Judd School

Thank you so much for enabling Sam to get his 2As and a B for Manchester. We are really thrilled he has been able to fulfill his potential in this way but know that it wouldn’t have happened without the excellent quality of teaching, guidance and pastoral care that you provided.

Emma, Parent of Sam, Joined RIC from the Judd School

Maximising potential with A level retakes at Rochester Independent 6th form college

Students join RIC to maximise grade potential in the academic A level subjects demanded by top universities.

Research demonstrates the competitive edge independent 6th forms can give. The Russell Group of leading universities report that private school students are three times more likely to gain straight As than those at state schools. While independent schools represent only 7-8% of the school population just under half of all Science A grades are from them. The Sutton Trust found that private sector students are four times more likely to apply to a top university than those from further education colleges.

RIC specialises in quality university application advice and a curriculum geared towards entry to elite institutions. Despite being non selective, the top 5 student destinations over the last 8 years are Leeds, Nottingham, Sussex, Cambridge and Imperial. Last year three students won places at one Cambridge College- Trinity.

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The Spectator

Students are more likely to do better at a university they are proud to attend. And when you consider the earning power of a Russell Group alumnus with a first, investing in a few retakes becomes a no-brainer.

The Spectator

Retaking A levels, Informed choices and the Russell group

All RIC retake students who applied to Russell Group universities received at least one, and in many cases up to five offers, from this group of the UK’s leading higher education institutions.

What gives Rochester Independent College’s A level retake students the competitive edge when reapplying for university is that they often add new A level subjects completed as one year intensive courses alongside their A level resits to properly prepare them for their chosen course of study and demonstrate their academic potential to universities who may otherwise be sceptical if faced with a reapplication from a student who is only prepared to retake the odd module or two. Rochester Independent College offers a range of one year A level courses that can be successfully combined with A level resits.

While candidates who need to resit are often disqualified from medical school applications most other courses at most universities welcome those who retake and reapply. Students should always check with individual universities and departments that resitting, or taking a combination of intensive courses and resits is acceptable. Sheffield University’s advice is typical:

“Applicants who are re-sitting AS units or A2 exams and are, as a result, taking longer than two years to complete their qualifications, may be set a higher entry requirement than is standard. Alternatively, applicants applying for highly competitive courses may not be considered equally when compared with those who are not re-sitting. In all cases, we may ask for further information about the reasons for re-sitting to inform our overall review of the application. Each case is considered individually.”

Lancaster says similarly: “Our admissions tutors will normally consider applicants who are re-taking A-levels however they may adjust the offer conditions to reflect the retaken examinations.”

Edinburgh University likewise warns that the bar may be set higher for retake students: "Students resitting or taking A Levels over more than one sitting may still be considered, but any offer made may be based on grades above those usually required.”

Some universities, or departments within universities have more strict criteria when it comes to offering places to retakers and it pays to do your homework before wasting a UCAS application. St Andrews for example says: “The University will normally consider only those results that have been achieved at the first sitting and in a single diet of examinations. Grades achieved across more than one diet, or through resits, will only be considered where there are extenuating circumstances.” The LSE candidly states: “We prefer students who have achieved high grades in their AS and A2 examinations at their first attempt”. Even within universities there can be variation in approach to retakers. Bristol’s Law department makes clear that: “The Law School does not accept resits of the entire A level or the final A level examination, unless there are exceptional circumstances” while the Zoology department says only that: “Candidates taking their A levels in more than one sitting may be at a disadvantage.”

UCL's current advice is: "Resits are acceptable in principle, however, we would typically require higher grades if the overall time taken to do A levels exceeds the usual two years. Especially for Mathematics and Further Mathematics A levels, taking more than two years for these subjects will put your application at a disadvantage. We normally view applicants who take more than the usual two years to complete their Mathematics A levels to an acceptable standard as being unsuitable for our two most competitive degrees: GLN0 & LG13."

Resitting A levels - a university style boarding alternative for retakes and academic gap year programmes

As many A level retake students at RIC opt to board there is still the opportunity to leave home at the same time as peers and live in a residential environment that is designed to be a stepping stone between school and university rather than a traditional boarding school. A 6th form boarding college is a real alternative to a central London tutorial college.

With the cost of weekly boarding in Rochester cheaper than being a day student at some London sixth form tutorial colleges for A level resit courses it’s not surprising that some opt to retake away from home and prepare for university.

A level resits- combine part time retake courses with work experience at Kent’s only specialist 6th form tutorial college

It is also possible for students to combine resitting A levels part time September-June with strengthening their work experience portfolios.

RIC A level retake students reflect on why it was worth resitting:

“I had got really fed up with my previous school and looked around for a new place for my A levels. Leaving school gave me a real feeling of freedom and with that has come the ability to achieve despite being dyslexic. I am hoping to build a future career in corporate branding. A spell of work experience in London clinched the idea of pursuing Graphics at Leeds. I would like to go to California to work. The small classes here and friendly atmosphere helped me settle in. I don’t think I’d have got this far without coming here.”

“Having spent rather more time on playing rugby than doing homework, I did not do too well in my A levels last year – well, disastrously really! I knew I was going to do badly, but it was still a shock to get the results. Having thought about various options, I decided I did want to prove I could do better and so decided to retake. It has been hard work, but taking Film Studies as well gave a bit of contrast which helped – I had the chance to decide whether or not I wanted to take an AS or just do it for interest.”

“I did not do well in my AS examinations at my previous school and I would not have been able to carry on to A2 in the subjects I wanted to. Although I had always been in state schools for my education, I looked at going to an independent school for my last year. I knew I could do much better than I did at AS – I just didn’t do enough work. It has been much easier than I imagined studying at Rochester Independent College. I think the small classes are a big help and the fact you are allowed to develop at your own rate. I would still be failing had I not made the move and could never have got so far without the help I’ve received here.”

“It was a difficult decision to retake my A levels but now I know it was the best thing I could have done with my gap year. I have found all my teachers inspiring and enthusiastic and they have given me the confidence I needed to achieve my potential. I have the skills and confidence to go and do well at university.”

“I have taken a year course at Rochester retaking Maths A level and studying some additional A levels which I felt would improve my chances of getting into university. I didn’t get any interviews last year, but this year, not only have I been interviewed, I have actually been given an offer by the Royal Veterinary College in London even though I am retaking one subject – I can hardly believe it!”

“I suffered a compound fracture playing rugby and found that I lost confidence in almost everything and lack of motivation followed. My family has given me this chance to make up lost ground and it’s working. You are made to work here, much more so than at school and it brings results. I am now focused and self disciplined. I retook Geography after a term in January and I am now finishing a year course in History, Sociology and Art. In October I start a Business degree and then I am off to the States to make my fortune. I can only speak highly of the staff here.”

“I didn’t apply to university last year as I was really unfocussed. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. Instead of a Gap Year, I retook my A levels this year and it has given me a breathing space, a time to think. This College really helps you to focus on your objectives and I am now looking forward to a really interesting career in nutritional dietetics – a subject becoming more important as health issues in preventative and recuperative medicine take on a more important role in the medical field.”

“The disappointment of not achieving to my full potential in my A levels forced me to reappraise my choices and has further stiffened my resolve to realise my ambition. Therefore, determined and focused, I enrolled at Rochester Independent College to ensure that I achieve to my best ability. The college has provided me with purposeful belief in myself; the cultivating of independent learning aided with acquiring more in depth subject knowledge has allowed me to yet again thrive in an educational experience and hopefully this additional year will only go towards improving me individually and providing an exceptional foundation for a career in veterinary medicine.”

“I want to be a physiotherapist and have my sights on, Liverpool FC as a future employer! I came to Rochester Independent College to improve grades and now have an offer for Physio at Keele University. The college students are very motivated, which means no one is allowed to shirk. My essay writing has greatly improved with the help of the History teacher who really worked with me one to one. In Biology I was given a test every week to get up to exam standard. The atmosphere is informal, so you absorb your subject and the relationship between the tutors and students is interactive.”

“Part-time work experience at a local Medway Hospital convinced me that I didn’t have any interest in office administration. I want to be a teacher. My first A-levels were not as good as I hoped; like many people, I had a mental block with exams and it was really upsetting, as my overall standard was high. My schoolteachers recommended Rochester Independent College as an excellent alternative to anything they could offer and I have never looked back. With constant mock exam practice I’ve achieved the confidence I needed in exams. A place at the Royal Holloway at Egham, part of the University of London is now waiting for me. Not only have I conquered my exam problem, but the time I spent here has let me see how all my friends have settled at their universities and it made me positive about being a teacher. I’ve matured here.”

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