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What Happens If You Fail Your GCSEs?

What Happens If You Fail Your GCSEs?

If you’re asking what happens if you fail your GCSEs, you’re not alone.

In Summer 2023, GCSE students in the United Kingdom had a fail rate of 31.8%, surpassing all fail rates since 2019. 

Given these circumstances, it is common for students to worry they might fail as the exam result season begins to approach.  Maybe your exam did not go well, or perhaps you like to consider all possibilities. 

Whatever the case, we have compiled this comprehensive guide just for you — to help you realise that failing your GCSEs may look like a significant setback, but it is not the end of the road.

Read on to find out what happens if you fail your GCSEs and what you can do to take back control of your future.

What Happens If You Fail Your GCSEs?

In practicality, if you fail your GCSEs — nothing happens. It is up to you to decide what happens next. But before we get to that, let us first explain what failing your GCSE actually means.

Grade-wise, getting a grade of 4 or less means you have failed.

If you get that grade, the first thing to do is collect yourself. Let your emotions flow, sit with them and accept reality.

The reality in this case is that you have failed your GCSE, and that does not mean your life is over. At this time, your foremost priority should be to pick yourself up again and prepare to come back stronger. 

What To Do If You Fail Your GCSEs?

OK, you failed. What next? There are plenty of options that you can explore. Here’s a list of everything that you can do:

  1. Request a copy of your exam paper.

If you feel like you deserved a higher grade or that you were mistakenly marked, especially in compulsory subjects like English and Math, your first step should be to request a copy of your exam paper.

For the AQA board, this is a free process, and they send a copy of the paper over to you within six weeks.

However, for other boards, a small fee is applicable.

Requesting a copy of your exam paper will help you understand where you lost marks, which will consequently help you improve your grades in the future.

It is also important to remember that understanding the notes and comments on checked exam papers is difficult unless you are proficient with marking schemes. Therefore, we suggest asking your school, college, tutor or coach to help you.

Since teachers have years of experience working with marking schemes, they can easily decipher and explain to you the comments left by the examiner — thereby allowing you to use the exam paper copy to its full potential.

  1. Apply For Paper Remarking

If you are confident there has been an error with checking, you can apply for paper remarking.

If you are not a private candidate, inform your school that you want to opt for a recheck, and they will take it from there. 

However, if you are a private candidate, you will have to directly appeal to your respective exam boards. 

Before you do that, first look at the options your exam board offers for paper remarking. For example, OCR and Edexcel offer two recheck options: clinical and standard full remark.

A clinical recheck looks at only the marks given by the examiner — whether or not they were tallied and added up correctly. 

Clinical rechecks work great if you have only lost a couple of marks. However, if you’ve lost a lot of marks, go for a standard full remark.

Keep in mind that this is a paid process, and the cost varies according to the exam boards— £38.35 at AQA, £42.40 for Edexcel, and £57.50 for OCR.

But, it is also important to note that some exam boards will refund this payment completely if your grade goes up after the recheck.

Watch this video for a step-by-step guide on how to apply for paper remarking.

You are required to apply for a remark within 30 days of receiving your result, but we suggest applying as early as possible so that your next steps do not get delayed.

Please visit the Ofqual Student Guide for 2023 or the official site for your exam board for more information regarding paper rechecks.

  1. Resit Your GCSE Exams 

Retaking the GCSE exams is perhaps the most desired option for students who fail their compulsory GCSE exams.

That’s because almost all colleges and sixth forms allow students to re-sit their failed GCSE exams while studying for A levels. Most schools allow students to re-sit failed examinations, and if you reappear within one year from the same school, resits will usually be free. 

However, if you want to reappear as a private candidate, you must pay a fee of about £40-£50. 

For subjects like English and Math, you can appear in November and get your results in January. For other subjects, you will have to reappear the following year and get your results in August.  

On the safe side, always double-check the exam schedule with your school. Keep in mind that you will have to re-sit all components of a subject. 

Well, all of this sounds fine, but how do you ensure that your grades will improve in the next attempt?

First of all, identify what went wrong in your first attempt. What caused you to fail?

One common reason is exam anxiety and inadequate practice. To combat that, we suggest appearing for GCSE mock exams and practising more than you did before. 

Another issue might be poor learning methods — what works for another student might not necessarily work for you.

It is possible that studying in a classroom or on a set timetable did not work for you. In that case, we suggest you take your second attempt at GCSEs as a private candidate and get help from a qualified coach who can tailor your learning experience according to your needs.

Fortunately, we specialise in just that. You can book a free 30-minute consultation session here.

Note that as a private candidate, your schedule and exam timetable will not differ from other GCSE candidates. However, you will have to arrange a location to sit the exams yourself. 

To do that, contact local schools and colleges and ask if they can accommodate your request. 

  1. Go for one-year GCSEs

If a retake does not sound like a doable option, you can opt for an accelerated GCSE program. 

This program allows you to appear for your exams within one year after three terms. The course is usually a mix of IGCSE and GCSE along with a few additional, and the option for this is available in many schools and colleges specialising in intensive exam preparation.

The benefit of going for this program is that you can get the grades you need in a relatively short amount of time. 

  1. Consider an alternative qualification.

If you’ve failed and realised that GCSEs are not your cup of tea, you may consider an alternative qualification altogether. While A-levels may sound like the most viable and logical next step in your academic life, it may not necessarily work out for you. 

Consider qualifications that better suit your needs, like vocational qualifications or BTEC. Both these qualifications usually have lower entry requirements and are popular amongst students who are steadfast on their chosen career path.

  1. Consider a different college. 

If you failed some, but not all of your GCSEs, you may want to check out other colleges around you. 

Some colleges have lower entry requirements, and you may still be able to pursue your desired subject in another college with the same grades. 

Alternatively, you can switch your course to one that generally has lower entry requirements, or you can opt for a foundation year before starting the full course.

With a foundation course, students no longer have to study and retake multiple GCSEs, and that appeals to many students. 

So, you can look for colleges that offer a foundation course (almost all colleges do).

How to Prepare for GCSE Resit if You Fail Your GCSE Exams?

If you have opted to resit your failed GCSE Exams as a private candidate, your next step should be to make an action plan for your studies. 

First of all, find online resources that help you study on your own. These include:

  • Exam board websites: Almost all of them have free resources like past papers, marking schemes, revision guides, specimen papers, etc.
  • YouTube: There are a lot of channels that can help you understand and cover the syllabus at your own pace.
  • Online Coaching: With GCSE Exam Revision Coaching, not only will you be able to revise your subjects, but you will also receive personalised help to support your academic needs. 
  • Past Papers: Nothing helps as much as practice does. Search for past papers online, set timers, and try to attempt as many past papers as you can. It is also a good idea to attempt topical past papers for topics that you are weak in.

Closing Notes

Not receiving the grades that you wanted and failing your GCSEs, is a difficult experience. 

However, you mustn’t let it become a roadblock in your educational journey. Rather, use it as a stepping stone to learn and not repeat the same mistakes. Use this as an opportunity to come back stronger.

There are plenty of pathways that you can take should you fail your GCSEs.

First, we suggest looking at what you can do with what you already have. Check for colleges that may still accept you with the grades that you have — colleges with lower entry requirements. 

If you fail to find any college that is ready to accept you, then you must check and see if any alternative course or qualification interests you.

If that does not work out either, then it’s time to turn to what you can do with GCSEs.

You can go for a recheck, and if that improves your score, then you can continue with your A levels. If rechecking doesn’t help, you can ask for a copy of your exams, learn from your mistakes, and resit your exams or go for one-year GCSE exams.

Remember, you mustn’t give up hope, and you don’t let this setback limit your potential for success. 

Good luck, and all the best!


What grade is a fail in GCSEs?

Earlier, Cambridge followed an alphabetical grading system. 

Now, it has shifted to a numerical 9-1 grading system, in which 9 has assumed the value of A* and 1 has assumed the value of G.

Any grade below the number 4 in the grading system will be registered as a fail in GCSE.

What happens if you fail all your GCSEs UK?

If you fail all your GCSEs in the UK, you will have to re-sit the required subjects and then continue with the next steps.

Most colleges and sixth forms in the UK allow you to continue with A levels while studying for GCSE resits, so it does not have any negative effect on your academic future.

What happens if I get a 3 in my GCSE?

Scoring a grade less than 4 means you have failed your GCSE. What happens next depends on your study pathway. If you will be studying full-time next year, a resit is mandatory.

However, if you will be studying part-time (less than 540 hours), then you may proceed with a functional skills qualification instead of GCSE.

What is the hardest GCSE to pass?

There is no specific answer to this question, as difficulty levels may vary from student to student.

However, subjects like Modern Foreign Languages (like Arabic and Mandarin), Mathematics, History, Sciences, Economics and English Literature generally have a high fail rate.


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