RETAKES: A second chance

Resitting your A-levels can be demoralising, but it is often a means to a much brighter end
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The Independent Online

If you're thinking about retaking one or more A-levels, the vital first step is an honest, warts-and-all look at what went wrong. There are many reasons why students don't do as well as they hoped, from illness and problems at school or at home, to sheer laziness. Your teachers are ideally placed to help assess your chances of significant improvement, even if you wouldn't dream of taking your re-sits at school.

If you're thinking about retaking one or more A-levels, the vital first step is an honest, warts-and-all look at what went wrong. There are many reasons why students don't do as well as they hoped, from illness and problems at school or at home, to sheer laziness. Your teachers are ideally placed to help assess your chances of significant improvement, even if you wouldn't dream of taking your re-sits at school.

Paul Redhead, principal of the Cambridge Centre for Sixth Form Studies, points out that while it's perfectly possible to improve by a couple of grades, it is also possible to go down. "A lot depends on the individual being able to answer two questions: is this really less than I could have achieved – and if so, what went wrong? Sadly, the prospects are least good for students who have done everything right, who weren't ill and were well prepared. And the student has got to balance the possible benefits against the costs of resitting – not just the financial cost but the 'opportunity cost' – what else you might do with the time." So before you make the final decision, consider all the alternatives, such as a different degree course, an HND or a gap year. It may be worth getting objective advice from an educational consultant, who will assess your long-term goals and help work out how to achieve them.

If you do decide to go for resits, you need to decide where and when. You don't have to go back to school – sitting in classes with the year below could be demoralising. Private tutorial colleges run courses which are geared up to sharpening your exam skills in small classes, but they charge independent-school-level fees: about £1,000 per term per subject. Further education and sixth form colleges are free until you're 19, and offer a more adult environment, but also support and guidance if you need it.

Resits can be taken in January or June. James Burnett, principal of Mander Portman Woodward colleges advises: "If you only need to retake two subjects, it's usually more effective to work to a target of January, and then do something else with the rest of the year. But with three subjects the workload is too great – then it's a good idea to spread them out, perhaps taking one in January and two later. Picking up a totally new subject can make life more interesting."

Under the new AS A2 system, it is now possible to resit just one or two units rather than the whole A-level – an option that more students are likely to choose. It's important to check out all the possibilities with the colleges you're interested in. Also check whether the college does the same syllabus and if not, how they will cope with the differences.

Above all, remember that although resitting may seem like a grim prospect now, ultimately it can have real benefits. Paul Redhead says: "Ideally, at the end of a resit course a student should feel that they will be a better university or college student. Many people end up feeling that if they'd gone to university or college the previous year they would have flunked it anyway. But because they've had a stumble and come through it they've learnt a lot about themselves en route. And they're much stronger as a result."

CASE STUDY

Phoebe Cronk

Last summer Phoebe Cronk, 19, got an A in art A-Level, plus two Cs in chemistry and maths. She was initially rejected by Leeds, where she had an offer to read maths, and planned to resit chemistry and maths at Mander Portman Woodward tutorial college in West London – her first experience of private education. In the end, she decided to put all her energies into resitting maths in January, when she got an A. She's off to Leeds in September to read maths.

"I knew I was capable of doing better because it wasn't the work I found difficult: I had to reorganise my priorities. Resitting was the hardest thing I've had to do so far. When I was struggling I got extra tuition and a lot of support from classmates. The results were such a relief. It was like it's all OK now, I can start again. But I really felt the retake was worth it anyway because it had taught me so much."

FURTHER INFORMATION

* For information on private tutorial colleges: CIFE (Council for Independent Further Education). Tel: 020-8767 8666 email: enquiries@cife.org.uk

* Further education colleges: try your local library or education authority or the learndirect helpline: 0800 100 900 (open 8am-10pm seven days a week) or www.learndirect.co.uk

* For educational and careers advice: Gabbitas Educational Consultants, 126-130 Regent Street, London WW1B 5EE (phone consultations minimum fee, £60; in person, £155)

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