A-level agony? We answer your questions

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Catherine Sezen and Kelly FennImage source, AoC and Which?
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Catherine Sezen of the Association of Colleges and Kelly Fenn of Which? University answer your questions

If you woke up on Thursday to A-level results that are not what you want or were expecting, we have experts on hand to answer your questions.

With a lot of competition around, time is of the essence to get into university through clearing or decide on a different path into a career, so good advice is crucial.

Catherine Sezen, a senior curriculum expert at the Association of Colleges, and Kelly Fenn, manager of Which? University are offering personalised advice on what to do if you missed your grades - or, perhaps, got much better results than predicted.


I got an A in ICT, D in biology - but failed chemistry and maths. What options do I have?

Well done on receiving some good results - but commiserations on your chemistry and maths results. You don't mention if you were holding a university offer or not but if that is the case, check UCAS Track to see the status of that offer.

From there, you do have a number of options open to you. Would you consider retakes or repeating a year?

Talk to your school or college about how they can support you with this route or consider whether you'd need (or prefer) to do your retakes somewhere else.

Many universities will consider applicants who have retaken a subject and it pays to be up front and honest about whether something significant had an impact on your performance this year. Mention any mitigating factors in your future applications.

Of course, there are other options entirely and the Which? guide on starting to devise a Plan B might be a useful read.


Hello, well done on ICT and Biology.

I would suggest that you speak to your school or college about your chemistry and maths results.

They may suggest that it is worth asking for those papers to be remarked. If not, you might want to consider resitting.

Your local college will be able to advise on other options for you at this stage too.

An advanced or higher apprenticeship in an ICT related company might be an option for you. I am sure that with your good grade in ICT and a D in Biology you will be able to find a suitable course or job. Good luck!


My results were much worse than expected. I had offers of three Cs but in fact I have a B and two Us. What are my options?

Well done on achieving the B grade.

If you were expecting higher grades in the other two subjects it may be worth speaking to your school or college to ask whether they think you should ask to have your papers remarked.

Otherwise you have plenty of options. You could consider retaking the two other subjects or your local Further Education college will be able to give you information on apprenticeships for example.


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Sorting the results, the wait is over

I got two As and a C, but I can't get into my top two choices to do law. Where can I find an alternative course for law? Michael

Congratulations on a good set of results today.

If you definitely have missed out on your top two choices today (find out if you still have a chance by checking on Ucas Track, or speaking directly to the universities), then you'll be eligible to enter clearing.

This is the system that matches students not holding any offers with universities with available places on courses.

I've had a quick look at the live clearing vacancies on Ucas and can see there are law courses featured.

So, if you're willing to keep an open mind and consider some alternative universities, there are options available to you.

Clearing places get snapped up quickly, so you'll need to act fast - but try to research courses first, to check the course available is what you're looking for, ahead of jumping to take up an offer.

If you truly have your heart set on one of those original choices, it might be worth considering resits.

Think carefully about this first - remember, a C is a good pass.

I would also recommend contacting your original university choices directly to find out if they will accept retakes.


My grades are better than predicted. Do I have to accept the offers I have or can I try for a different university or course?

Congratulations, that's excellent news.

You can look for a different university of course through clearing on the Ucas website, but you need to start doing that today. Alternatively, you could try contacting universities directly.

Remember that universities will be busy, so make sure that you have key information available and spend some time looking at websites to see what might be on offer at the universities of your choice.


I got an A* in psychology, Bs in chemistry and biology. I am trying to get into medicine through clearing, at universities all over the UK. Do I have any other options?

Hello, and well done on your results.

Have you looked at the Ucas website for more information about clearing options?

As I am sure you are aware, medicine is a very popular subject.

If you can't find a place this year, it might pay you to get some relevant work experience over the next year and apply for a place for 2018.

This would mean you would be able to apply with confirmed grades and perhaps secure the place that you really want.

One way or another, I am sure that with those grades, you will find a course that suits you.


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My A-levels are truly awful. I was predicted As and A*s in maths, physics, chemistry and general studies but got D two Es and a U. Help! What can I do?

Oh dear, I am sorry to hear that.

First of all, you might want to speak to teachers at your school or college.

If you were expecting high grades but have not achieved them, they will be able to give you advice on whether you should ask for a re-mark.

You might also want to consider resitting your exams or alternatively looking at different options.

Your local Further Education college will be able to advise you on the options available in your area.

Some colleges run access course that enable students to work towards going on to university.

College will also be able to give you advice on apprenticeship options.

The important thing is to keep calm and take positive action.

There will be an option out there for you.

Good luck.


How do I go about getting a paper re-marked?

If you're not happy with an exam result and think it might be incorrect, talk first to your school or college and discuss this option with your tutors.

Any queries to examining boards will need to go through them.

It isn't something you can do directly yourself (apart from in very specific scenarios).

It's also worth discussing with other people in your year who took the same exam, to see if the marking overall was lower than expected for a particular subject or paper.

You can read more about appealing against grades in this Which? guide.

New rules on re-marking were introduced last year that state marks can be changed only if an examiner has made an error in applying the mark scheme or adding up the marks, not for differences in academic judgement between examiners.


Will my AS grades have any bearing on my university offer?

Changes to the structure of A-levels have been rolling out subject-by-subject over the past couple of years in England.

These changes effectively "decouple" the two qualifications. So in certain subjects (such as English, history and sciences) your final grade will be decided by exams taken at the end of Year 13 only.

Students taking A-levels in subjects including maths and media studies are still following the "old" system, where AS results count for 50% of your overall A-level mark.

So, it's fair to say that the changes have presented can be confusing and that's why we've summarised the A-level reforms in this Which? University guide.

That said, your AS-level grades are still important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, any universities you're applying to in the year ahead will be able to see your grades and these may have a bearing on any offer they make.

After all, your AS grades will be the most recent hard and fast, exam-based evidence an admissions tutor will have to go on. Secondly, your results will probably shape the predicted A-level grades your teachers set, which in turn will also impact the university courses you consider.

Best of luck if you're receiving AS results!


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The results are a source of celebration for many and of misery for others

How will being the first year to take the new A-levels affect the response that my grades receive from prospective employers? Rhian

Hi Rhian,

First of all, congratulations on getting your results.

The good news is that A-level grades are stable year-on-year as the exam boards use a process called comparative outcomes to ensure students taking new qualifications are not disadvantaged, so this year's outcomes should look similar to previous years' outcomes to employers.

Good luck!


What if my son doesn't get the A-level grades he needs, can he still get a place in university?

I hope your son has received a good set of A-level results.

You don't mention what grades he was hoping for, but in the event he's missed the requirements of his university offer, there are still options open to him. His first port of call is to check UCAS Track to see the status of his application.

If he's only narrowly missed his grades, then he might still have been accepted on to his first choice course or on to that of his back-up insurance offer.

If that's not the case, the UCAS clearing system will offer the potential for him to find an alternative course - and there are plenty of alternative university places up for grabs this year. Which? University has set up a survivor's guide to clearing with step-by-step help to navigate this process.


Why is there such a strong focus on A-levels and university when workplace learning and apprenticeships are equally valid and perhaps more relevant? Jonathan

Hi Jonathan,

Technical qualifications and apprenticeships are very important.

The government is reviewing the whole technical education landscape so I think you will find an increasing emphasis on these qualifications and skills.

However, some occupations require more academic qualifications than others and so university remains extremely important for many young people.