Education & Family

Q&A: A-levels - expert advice 2014

Sonia Sodha/Nick Davy Image copyright Which? + AoC
Image caption Nick Davy of the Association of Colleges and Sonia Sodha of Which? University, answer your questions about A-Level results

What do you do if your grades are different from what you were expecting? Continuing changes to the education system mean the situation can be confusing.

With only a few days to secure a university place or take an alternative path, getting the right advice is key.

Experts Sonia Sodha of Which? University and Nick Davy, higher education manager at the Association of Colleges, are offering advice to readers with unexpected results.


Brighton has accepted me with two Cs and a D for a BA in sociology. Does this sound correct or have they or Ucas made an error? Louise

Hi Louise,

Well done on your results. Don't worry - you have got your university place. Once a university accepts you, you have a contract in place with them. There are a record number of university places available this year and lots of students have still secured places even if they have even if they have missed their offer grades. If you are still feeling anxious though, phone the university admissions team directly to chat it through.


I have an E in maths. Does this count as a pass or a fail? Daniel, Liverpool

Hi Daniel

Well done. Maths is not easy! This is a pass!


Can I still apply for university at this stage even if I didn't apply earlier in the year? I want to study accounting and have a BTEC level three in business with AS-maths. Kamrul

Hi Kamrul,

If you have passed you can still enter Ucas Clearing and get a place. The Ucas website explains how to do it.

It's also worth contacting colleges and universities to find out if there are places in your chosen subject and location.

Remembering that accountancy is not a graduate only profession. There are routes to full professional status through working for an employer or on a part-time course at a college or through an apprenticeship.


I got two Bs and an E and am disappointed with my grades. I wonder if you think it would be sensible to have one of the papers re-marked or whether it would be possible and a good idea to retake the paper that is an E grade in an attempt to get three Bs. I am having a gap year and haven't applied anywhere yet and am not sure if I should just apply somewhere with the grades I have or whether three Bs would give me better choices. Lucy

Well done for your results Lucy. In fact you are in a strong position.

As you are having a gap year and the government's plan is to expand the number of places in higher education, there should be even more opportunities when you decide to start university with your grades. It might be sensible to re-take and achieve 3 A-level B grades as that would give you more choices - but do not re-take if you are not going to concentrate on the re-take; getting another D or E would not look that good on the application form.

Good Luck,


My A-level results weren't anywhere near what I was expecting, much lower than both my predicted and required grades for the university place I was offered. However logging on to Ucas this morning I find out that despite my poor results I have been accepted into university. I am wondering if I should question my tutors at college about my results and if I should look at getting them remarked. Pearce

Hi Pearce,

Even if you might be feeling a little disappointed at your A-level grades at the moment, well done on getting the university place you wanted. If you are really not happy with an exam result and think it might be incorrect, it is important to talk first to your college and discuss this option with your tutors, as any queries to examining boards will need to go through them. You won't be able to do this directly.

You can read more about appealing grades on the Which? University website but think carefully about appealing an exam. You have to stick with your new grade however it comes back. It could be lower than your original mark and this could affect your university offer,

Results day can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and you might feel differently once you start looking ahead to your new university. Good luck.


My results are much worse than expected. I got C in psychology, D in biology and U in physics. So I only have two really. I am interested in life-sciences and I would like to study in or near Manchester. Are there any universities that will accept my grades or are there any other options? Sana

Hi Sana,

All is not lost. It is possible to get into university with two A-levels, including via degree courses with a foundation year.

If both your firm and insurance choice offers have been declined in Track you can then enter Clearing to search for available courses for vacancies. Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Salford and the University of Bolton are currently advertising courses in the areas you mention. Which? University offers advice on how to call universities.

You could consider retaking one or more of your A-levels and reapplying next year. Speak to tutors at your school or college to find out if you can retake there or will need to go elsewhere.

Take a deep breath and try not to worry

Calling the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000 should also help.


I was predicted AAA and achieved As in chemistry and history and B in biology. I applied for medicine last year but got no interviews and no offers. I am planning a gap year and have a contract as a science and maths tutor at a local secondary school. Will I still be able to apply for medicine last year with these results? Rochelle, Manchester


Well done on a great set of results. As you have learned, medicine is very competitive, but you do still have options open to you with your results.

The first is to re-apply to study medicine next year. You could consider applying to a medicine course with a foundation year. For example, University of Manchester's course has a typical offer of AAB.

Gaining some valuable work experience in your gap year should put you in a stronger position when applying next year. It might also be worth doing some voluntary work in a health or care environment, for example, a hospital or care home.

If you want to apply this year you will find that medicine courses are very rarely, if ever, available through Clearing, but you could still apply for a 'medical science' degree, for example biomedical sciences, and transfer to a 'fast-track' medicine degree later. There are biomedical science vacancies currently available in Clearing. Check the Ucas website for details.


These results are a joke! My brother wants to go to Cambridge and now because they decide to change the boundaries he has ended up with 2 B's and 2 C's which means Cambridge won't offer a place. He was predicted A's! If the boundaries were the same as the mock he took he should have got 2 A's and 2 B's! Now my brother feels like his dreams have been taken away from him because of a stupid system! Jack, Nottingham

Hi Jack

I understand the frustration you have for your brother - but he still has three good A levels.

The marking and grading system has not fundamentally changed this year, nor have the boundaries. A*-A level grades are only down by 0.3%.

He has several options. He could retake now that he understands the exam system better. He could ring around universities for degrees in the subject he is interested in. With those grades, unless he is looking at medicine, there should still be plenty of offers available. He could look at doing a gap year - if he does something interesting, many admissions tutors look favourably on this experience. Alternatively he could consider apprenticeships.

Good luck,


My daughter wanted to become a nurse. She went to four interviews and was told she was too young and to get some life experience. Her results were ABBC. She was so disappointed that she didn't go for Clearing. They are crying out for nurses. What can she do? Kev

Hi Kev,

These are very good results. If she still wants to do nursing ask her to enter clearing as there still might be places available for nursing - but her experience at interviews does indicate the views of nursing admissions tutors, that they prefer candidates with experience, particularly in the caring professions.

If this option is not possible suggest to your daughter that she seeks a job volunteer work in the caring sector. A gap year abroad in the right environment could be useful for a career in nursing.


I got terrible results. I worked hard all year and the highest I got was a D. The grade boundaries have risen and it's awful and so hard to compete. Ashlea


Don't worry, contrary to what you might be feeling today, this is not the end of the world.

Many very, very successful people achieved poor grades at school.

Try to turn this setback to your advantage and have a really deep think about what you want to do over the next two, five or ten years. You still have several options:

Further education colleges often specialise in providing learning geared to those who might struggle at undergraduate level. Find out what higher education options your local colleges offer both full and part time. You could also look at apprenticeships.

Not everybody is suited to academic study, many prefer a more applied style of learning by doing and problem solving. You maybe one of those people? Have a think about that issue?


I missed out on my first choice by two grades. When I phoned them to ask if there was any flexibility they told me the government fines them £7,500 per year for every candidate they accept below the offer grades. Is this true? It does not seem fair and is not consistent with the government saying it wants to lift the cap on aspiration.

Hi Sophie,

It is true that the number of students universities in England can recruit is currently capped in order to control the cost of student loans and other support subsidised by the taxpayer.

Universities that over-recruit students with grades below ABB face financial penalties. But this will change next year, when the cap on numbers is abolished to allow universities to expand their numbers. These restrictions have been eased to some extent this year with the release of 30,000 extra places. So while there are more places available overall, it is down to individual universities to recruit the correct number of students.

You were right to speak to your first choice to see if it would still accept you. Commiserations that it doesn't sound like that's the case. However, there are still options that may allow you to go to university this autumn. You've not mentioned if you're holding an insurance offer from a university or not, so this may still be an alternative. If you are not holding any other offers, you can enter Clearing to search for other suitable courses. While it's important to act quickly to secure a place, research courses carefully and try not to rush into a decision.


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