Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Branson, Drew Barrymore, Simon Cowell, Sarah Millican, Alan Sugar…
Near results day, there are always a host of celebrities reminding us that they failed their exams and still, in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, ‘have a Mercedez Benz’.
But without the knowledge that you’re going to be a millionaire - or Einstein, who was expelled for being a ‘dunce’ - failing your GCSEs can be pretty crushing.
And with the new 9 - 1 GCSEs harder than ever before, it’s understandable if you didn’t get the grades you were hoping for.
However, with online qualifications and apprenticeships carving out new paths for school leavers, not getting the GCSEs you wanted doesn’t have to be the end of the world – even if you’re not Richard Branson.
Whether you’ve failed your GCSEs or just narrowly missed out on your expected grades, here’s what to do next.
First, speak to your teachers
Whatever you're planning to do next, they’ll be able to advise you and help arrange your next steps, whether that’s appealing your grades, resitting your exam, choosing a different sixth form, or something else.
Ask for your paper to be remarked
This is now known as a ‘review of marking’. Your grade could go down as well as up, so only request a review if you’re fairly confident there’s been an error.
You’ll generally pay an admin fee, which will be refunded if your grade changes. Roughly one in five reviews result in a grade being changed.
Your school must put the request in on your behalf. They’ll also receive the results and pass them on to you. If you were sitting the exam as a private candidate, the exams officer at the school where you sat your exam can manage the process for you.
If you need the grade for access to university, you can request a priority review of marking, which should take up to 15 calendar days. Non-priority reviews can take up to 20 days.
If your place at sixth form or college depends on your grade being changed, they might let you begin studying with them while you wait for the result of your request.
Make an appeal or a complaint
If you’ve had your paper remarked and you’re convinced that there’s still been a mistake, you can appeal within two weeks of receiving the decision.
Visit the AQA appeals page for more information.
If you’d like to make a complaint, you can do so through your school. Each school has their own process, so speak to yours to find out the best way forward.
Speak to your sixth form or college
If you’ve narrowly missed the required entry grades, they might still offer you a place, particularly if extenuating factors could have affected your performance.
They could also allow you to transfer to a different course or subject, or recommend other colleges and sixth forms which might suit you.
Resit your GCSE exams through your school
Resitting your exams demonstrates that you’re hardworking, motivated and committed to achieving your goals – desirable attributes in the eyes of any employer or university.
For Maths and English, resitting is compulsory if you haven’t achieved a pass (grade 4). You’ll need to continue studying these subjects until you either pass or turn 18.
- If you got a grade 3 and will be studying full-time (540+ hours) next year, you’ll need to resit the GCSE
- If you got a grade 3 and will be studying part-time (150 – 539 hours), you can take a functional skills qualification instead of GCSE
- If you got a grade 2 or below, you can take a functional skills qualification instead of GCSE
- If you’re going on to an apprenticeship, studying Maths and English will be part of your programme
If you achieved a pass in Maths and English, there’s no requirement to resit, but you can if you’d like a higher mark.
If you’re unhappy with your grades for a different subject, your school or college should be able to organise resits at your request.
Depending on the subject, you could be able to resit your exams in November, or the summer diet the following year. Your teachers will have this information for you.
Resit your GCSE exam as a private candidate
Studying in school not for you? You can resit your GCSE exams by studying online.
Many students report that flexibility and decreased pressure of online study helps them to manage their time and mental health better.
Plus, it’s ideal if you’re studying alongside A Levels, an apprenticeship or work, as you can shape your study schedule around your other commitments.
You could also study by yourself or with a private tutor.
However you choose to study, you’ll need to register with a local school or college as a private candidate, so you can sit your GCSE exams at the same time as students in school. You should do this well in advance of the actual exam – at least a few months.
The school or college will likely charge a small admin fee for taking the exam with them as an external candidate.
Note that if you’ve failed English or Maths, you’ll need to take these in school until you’re 18. You can study English and Maths as a private candidate as long as you’ve passed and want to improve your grade.
Make a new career plan
If you don’t want to resit your GCSEs, it’s time to make a plan for your future that takes your grades into account.
If you have a specific career in mind, research all the possible ways you could achieve it. Don’t limit yourself to university or even college courses. Think wider: apprenticeships, professional courses (which often have no entry requirements), access courses, entry-level roles, work experience, volunteering.
If you’re not sure what you’d like to do, it’s time to dig deep. Research different careers – jobs that sound boring at first can be fascinating once you know what it’s really like.
Try to think beyond the simple interpretation of what a job involves. For example, if you’re good at English, it might seem that journalism, content marketing, or teaching English would all be great jobs for you. However, if you love working on your own, teaching is out. Hate working under pressure? Journalism’s not for you. Content marketing it is!
Similarly, you might disregard finance because you didn’t do well in Maths – but as an accountant, you’ll spend a lot more time explaining financial findings in layman’s terms, talking to business owners, and writing reports than solving maths problems.
Many accountants say they’d never have considered accountancy in school as they hated Maths, and now they love their jobs! For example: sports-loving Terry, performing arts student Amy, and creative Samantha.
Try to speak to or read interviews with people who actually have the job you’re interested in. What do they like about their job? The variety? Being able to help others reach their goals? Getting to be nosy into workplace drama?
There are a huge number of enjoyable careers out there, and many don’t require any GCSEs at all. Go out and find them!
Consider studying a professional qualification
Uni not for you? Professional qualifications give you real-world skills and in some professions are valued more highly than degrees (for example, CIPD HR qualifications).
Plus, professional courses can often be studied online at your own pace, so they fit around a job and social life – no more turning down a night out to revise.
Online, you could study:
- HR and Learning & Development CIPD qualifications
- Accountancy and Bookkeeping AAT qualifications
- Procurement & Supply CIPS qualifications
- Marketing CIM qualifications
- Personal Training YMCA Awards qualifications
At the beginner level, none of these require any previous experience or qualifications.
Consider an apprenticeship
If you want to get a head start in the workplace, apprenticeships are the way to go. They allow you to get a job and earn money while studying professional qualifications that give you practical skills.
Apprenticeships are no longer just for manual jobs, as the stereotype might suggest. There are apprenticeships for accountancy, HR, management and more.
There are even apprenticeships for CEOs!
Whichever path you choose, take your time and consider all your options.
There will be thousands of other students up and down the country in the same position as you, so you’re not alone.
As a teenager, you have your whole life to build a career you love. Missing out of the GCSE grades you wanted isn’t the end of your ambitions, but the beginning of your new plan.