A-level agony: What to do if your results are a surprise

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image captionWhat if your results don't make you feel like this?

For anyone whose A-level results have fallen short this year, we have experts on hand to answer your questions.

Eddie Playfair, a senior curriculum expert at the Association of Colleges, and Which? University editor Helena Poole offer personalised advice on what to do if your grades are not what you were hoping for.

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image captionHelena Poole and Eddie Playfair offer personalised advice on what to do next

Your questions answered

I didn't get into the economics degree course I wanted, but they have offered me a foundation year. I don't know if it's worth taking it or going straight to a apprenticeship elsewhere and starting work?

If you're really set on the economics degree, the foundation year would be a good way to build your skills and knowledge to make a real success of the degree course a year later.

It also means you would get into university study habits, get to know your lecturers and get to grips with the expectations of the degree course.

However, this is an extra year of study and the work option, if you get a job. would mean you'd be earning a wage immediately.

If you're lucky enough to get an apprenticeship in the sector you're interested in, you could get your feet on to the career ladder while also keeping the potential open of a higher level apprenticeship linked to a university.

I think ultimately your decision should depend on whether you're most enthused by the idea of study or work at this stage in your life - and also the jobs market of course!


It's definitely worth checking what the chances are of you continuing at that same university for your undergraduate degree course after the foundation year. Ask them how many foundation year students have gone on to do this. Is it seen favourably?

A foundation year is a worthwhile option if you're slightly on the fence about studying that particular subject. You may find after a year that you want to do something (a little or completely) different.

If you're really keen to get cracking on that economics degree, use our search tool to look in clearing to see what economics courses there are that match up with your achieved grades.

A degree apprenticeship is an excellent alternative to traditional university study, combining lectures with employment in an actual company/organisation. Plus, your tuition fees are paid for by your employer and you earn a small salary, plus practical experience.

However, you'll need to look around to see what degree apprenticeship opportunities are out there. Also bear in mind that, unlike university applications, apprenticeship applications open and close at different times of year.


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My daughter had an offer from Nottingham to read biology. She's got a C in this and Nottingham have revised the offer to say she can take the course.

She doesn't really want to take biology now as she has a relatively low grade. Is it possible to see what other courses are available before accepting or rejecting the Nottingham offer?

If your daughter has definitely changed her mind about studying biology, then she can decline the offer she is holding from Nottingham and maybe also her insurance offer and go into clearing in the hope of finding a course she does want.

The risk with that is she may not find something that really motivates her and she may then want to consider re-taking or pursuing other options.

Her starting point is to reflect on what it is that really enthuses her and what she thinks she would like to be studying for the next three years.


It's great the university has revised the entry requirements and offered your daughter a place but it also sounds like her results have knocked her confidence. She should certainly search the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) for courses still available, before declining her current offer.

She can call other universities with vacancies but they might ask for her clearing number. Your daughter will need to decline her offers to get this.

Is biology a subject she enjoys and would be excited to spend three years studying? If so, she might consider accepting the offer - but if not, it's certainly worth weighing up other options (of which there are many).

Did she do relatively well in her other subjects? If so, switching courses at Nottingham (where she already has an offer) to do a joint honours degree with another subject could be an option.

But perhaps your daughter's grades have confirmed a niggling feeling that biology isn't something she wants to pursue.

If she really wants to go to university this year, she can use our A-level Explorer to see what other degree subjects she could potentially study, based on her A-level subjects.

It could also be worth her taking some time out to reconsider what she really wants to do. Taking a gap year to get some work experience or travel can be looked upon favourably by universities and having "known grades" could also put your daughter in a strong position for next September.


Chiara, Berkshire

I have secured a place at my second-choice uni but am very disappointed with my A-level English result. I predicted my other grades accurately but was expecting an A or a high B, based on my previous work and feeling on how the exams went, but got a C and only 17 [out of ] 40 on my strongest paper. I am thinking of asking for re-marks. I want to understand what went wrong rather than go for a higher grade but is it worth it?

You're wise to query your mark, especially if it was significantly lower than expected - this can help you in your future career. Talk to your teachers or head of year at school to get their thoughts, given that they know you best from an academic point of view.

However if you're happy to go with your second-choice university, I wouldn't worry too much about querying this right away. Other students who are appealing grades because they have a uni place on the line will probably appreciate it.


Hi Chiara,

You can apply to the exam board to have a review of results, which can be either a review of marking or a clerical check, but you should discuss this with your college or school first to make sure they support your view that the result is unexpected.

They may also be able to get more information about where you lost marks in your paper. Bear in mind that with a review of marking, your grade can go down as well as up and there is also a charge, although this is refunded if there is a grade change.

In the meantime, if you are planning to progress to higher education, you need to do so on the basis of the grades you've actually been awarded. Good luck with whatever you decide.


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Hi, Shelley here - in a very tense household where [my] son has just got his results: A* in maths, A in philosophy, B in further maths.

He has apparently lost his offer at Durham, who require three As. My question is: Is there any possibility of Durham still taking him with these grades?

It is quite possible that Durham could still offer him a place as he's very close with one subject above and one below the offer. They may need a little time to see where they are with their numbers.

If they say categorically: "No", then he should be guaranteed a place at his insurance university, assuming he has met their offer grades - fingers crossed that he gets the place he most wants.


Your son is doing the right thing by calling up his first choice to see whether they can still honour the offer. Hopefully they can - but if they can't, there are still plenty of options open to him.

He can choose his insurance choice or ask his school about the possibility of retaking the further maths A-level and re-applying again next next year.

I understand this must be disappointing but A*AB are still fantastic grades, so I have no doubt he will find himself on a course that he loves.


I got an offer of ABB for sociology at Birmingham but declined and chose my firm and insurance offers elsewhere.

Today, I received ABC, with an A in sociology, and saw that the University of Birmingham had places for sociology in clearing. However, although on their website they state the "typical" (not in clearing) offer is ABB, they have put the clearing grades up to A*AA. They said they could not offer a place for ABC, although one grade below their "typical offer", and also stated they would not be lowering the A*AA requirement in clearing. What can I do?

Well done on your results. I'm sorry to hear that the university you'd like to go to can't offer you a place.

Have your firm or insurance choices offered you a place? If they have and you no longer want to go there, you need to be released to enter clearing.

If you haven't been offered a place or you have chosen to decline your offers, you might want to look at other universities offering sociology in clearing - were there any in your Ucas top five that you might want to revisit?

Taking a quick glance at the clearing vacancies suggests that a number of universities have places (including ones in Birmingham) available for this subject. You could also consider doing a joint honours degree with sociology and another subject you enjoy. Universities might be more flexible on their entry grades when it comes to joint courses.

Do some research and try calling more universities to suss out what your options are. We hope you find a course at a university that will make you happy.


Hi and well done for getting ABC. That's a really good set of results.

It does seem harsh for Birmingham to be ramping up the entry requirements like this during clearing.

You haven't said whether you've met the offer requirements for either your firm or insurance places - but if Birmingham are saying that they can't offer you a place through clearing based on your grades, it would be wise not to decline any other offers you are holding on to. Good luck in finding a suitable degree course.


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Sally, Dorset

My son applied to study product design at Brunel University but his results weren't good enough for his original offer.

So, I was wondering if he could still apply to them through clearing, even though he has just been rejected by the main Ucas system because of his results.

We would suggest that your son calls the university in question to discuss his situation. For instance, if he narrowly missed his grades, they may be able to offer alternatives such as a place on a similar course that still has spots.

However if they've already rejected him, it might be worth spending this time looking at courses at unis that do match up with the grades he's achieved. He can search for courses quickly by entry grades on Which? University.


Hi Sally,

There may be a completely different course at the same university that has places and could offer him one - but he would need to speak to the university concerned.


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My son is very down. He only achieved C (business) C (history) E (maths) and he does not think any university will take him with these grades and we are worried that he won't get an apprenticeship with these grades either. Are we right to be worried? What should we do?

As cliched as it sounds, he really does have so many options still open to him. It's most definitely not "The End", even if it might feel like that.

It's worth him taking a look on Which? University to see what courses are still available that match up with his achieved grades.

If there were mitigating circumstances that may account for underperforming in his exams, it might be worth mentioning it to a university on a clearing call, so they're aware of the full picture. And if these grades were much lower than predicted, it could also be worth appealing.

A university may suggest alternative courses or even a foundation year before progressing on to an undergraduate degree course.

Another option would be to speak to his school or college about resitting to boost his grades and re-applying next year.

Regarding degree apprenticeships, yes these can be competitive but applications take place all year round, so he'll have a little more time to assess his options.

Have a look at Ucas's apprenticeship search tool to see what's available now. This should give you some idea of whether an apprenticeship will be feasible with his current grades.


Your son has passed all three of his A-levels and this is really not a bad set of results and he has a range of options available to him.

He mustn't feel pressurised to make any snap decisions but spend a bit of time reflecting on what he most wants to do.

There should be options for him within clearing and he can also investigate job or apprenticeship options in the field he is interested in but these are not always easy to come by.

A conversation with a careers adviser at his college or school would be a good starting point and he can explore his options without making any irreversible commitments on the spot.


My son has just received his A-level results and they are not what he needed to get into the university of his choice. With a C in economics and business and a D in maths, what are his options if he wants to study economics or accounting at university?"

CCD is a very creditable set of results and if he is in clearing, your son will be able to see what degree courses are available in economics or accounting and research the choices available.


Your son shouldn't lose hope just yet. Get him to use our search tool to look for economics and accounting courses that meet his entry grades,

He can also consider resitting if he really can't find a uni place based on his current grades.


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