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New directions with retakes at RIC

Retake, refresh and rethink

RIC class 1

Students underperform in A level examinations for many reasons: lack of confidence, lack of commitment and illness are a few of the most common. However, the invariably awful disappointment on the day the results are issued often leads to the most important step on the road to improvement which is an absolute determination never to go through it again. Students usually decide to retake before they go off to try a university course but sometimes the decision comes after a disappointing start in higher education. 

The one thing to remember is that retaking A levels does not diminish your chances of attending a top university and, through the years, RIC has enabled retake students to actually improve their future academic prospects as students leave us to start degree programmes they initially thought beyond their reach before joining us. The effect of a retake course can be truly transformative and open up new paths. 

At RIC students often combine retaking with fresh one year courses to target their first choice university and make their academic gap year more engaging. RIC offers full UCAS support for students retaking A levels to ensure that their new application is carefully put together. It is usual for students retaking A levels at RIC to receive Russell Group university offers.

Most universities are impressed by the determination retake students show by taking a year out of their lives to prove themselves by retaking. The study skills gained on a retake course are so valuable at university- at Rochester we like to hear when our students graduate, we’re not cramming or spoon feeding students into university but hopefully helping them to develop the good habits and confidence to succeed long after they leave us.

Class sizes are extremely small on A level resit courses, usually numbering around six to eight which means that every student has individual attention. With a team of expert tutors all of which are skilled at delivering intensive resit courses you’ll be in safe hands. Whether you need a pep talk before an exam or a shoulder to lean on when the going gets tough, RIC's got your back. 

Improvements of five or six grades are by no means unheard of even on an A level resit course, however, improvements of two or three grades are more common. 

We encourage our students to see their year retaking A levels at RIC as a university preparatory course rather than an A level resit one and previous students often comment that their time here was the most enjoyable and productive of their secondary education. It can be very reassuring to join A level resit classes with students from different schools all of whom are in the same position and have made the decision not to compromise and aim for their first choice university courses. With a team of expert RIC's retake course is designed to help you plot your course, steer clear of obstacles, and reach your academic destination with confidence.

Student perspectives on retaking

Underperforming in public exams is a painful experience. Disappointment in the faces of your parents, family and teachers, coupled with your own sense of regret (the ‘could haves’, ‘would haves’, ‘what ifs’ of revision and exam taking, time invested in your facebook newsfeed rather than your copy of ‘The Great Gatsby’) all contribute to a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. It was hard for me. Harder still was accepting that these grades truly reflected my academic capabilities. As difficult as it was, I can truly say that, certainly for me and other students in a similar position, failing proved a blessing despite the initial feeling of “the end of my life”.

I was in a far stronger position to take my exams the second time around. I fully understood the gravity of the exams. These were the labels with which universities and society labelled us, and the fear that the grades of my first attempt were permanent, motivated me to perform to a level which did me justice at the second attempt. This degree of pressure was healthy enough as it provided the spark which was missing the first time around as I coasted aimlessly to my inexorable fate of bad grades. I wanted to succeed.

Retaking A level provides you with valuable experience with the application process to universities. A degree of my initial failure can be attributed to the fact that I was not convinced as to what I wanted to study and where. This uncertainty was reflected in my work ethic as I did not commit myself to any subject or to any goal. So I missed my grades. During the retake year however, I was in a far stronger position to apply to university: I was familiar with the UCAS process and I had had enough time to commit to an academic pathway. The fact that my friends were enjoying their university life further fuelled my drive to achieve my grades.

Many people claim that universities do not give out offers to retake students. This fear-mongering should not be heeded. The new found focus delivered by the extra year in education is reflected in the personal statement and the reference by your teachers. For the majority of the other retake students I knew and myself, university offers were being given regardless of the fact we were retaking.

I can claim confidently that retaking your exams will produce a higher grade the second time around. The lingering scars of disappointment from last summer’s results day provide the motivation, the extra year of maturity provides the work ethic and the experience of the UCAS system ensures you have a goal to which you focus your studies. For many of my friends, going from very disappointing grades, they now see themselves at highly competitive universities studying well-respected degrees. And you always have the confidence that if you underperform in your retake (maybe your sleep was interrupted by an earthquake in Folkestone measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, or you could not concentrate because your train driver was on ‘strike’ against the scarce 3G coverage between Ebbsfleet and Stratford) you get to keep your grade from the previous year.

Idris joined RIC from King's Canterbury and went on to study Architectural Engineering at Bath

I joined RIC in 2019 to resit my A levels. I remember the stress of not getting into university and trying to plan what to do next, and all I can say is that I am so relieved I made the decision I did. The teachers here are so different to any others from my previous schools, they are inspiring. It’s a whole different experience being taught by people who are so passionate about their subjects. I came to RIC with B C D grades in maths biology and chemistry, and left after only one year with A* A* A respectively. I am so grateful for the welcoming and safe environment the school provided me with, and I can say with completely confidence that it was solely due to the teachers and staff at RIC that I was able to do as well as I did, and I thank them for helping me to reach my full potential. I knew from reading the website myself before I joined that resit students at RIC often come out with a huge improvement but it seemed unbelievable that I could achieve the same. I can tell you honestly that this school has changed my life, not only academically, and I am only sorry to be leaving so soon.

Daisy moved on to study Medicine at Sheffield. 

I came to Rochester with CDD grades, but I still had a desire to do medicine. My tutor helped me through the entire application process. I’ve learnt the value of hard work and dedication.

Dillon joined RIC from Caterham school and won a place to study Medicine at Sunderland. 

I could have gone to university with the grades I had last year and that makes it even harder when you know all your friends are settled on degree courses. But I knew I could do better. It is particularly hard at first when all your mates are already at university but I have matured a lot this year and appreciate the need for hard work much more than I did before.

Charlie joined RIC from St Olave's Grammar and went on to study Economics and Politics at Bristol

Planning retakes around the Reading festival

Obviously no one plans to need to retake A levels and missing offers and having to do so is disappointing. After this initial disappointment however students often report looking back on their A level retake year as a positive experience that properly prepares them for university.

Some students we first meet at this time of year look upon the prospect of an extra year at school and retaking with as much enthusiasm as visiting the dentist. A lot of students want to be planning their move to university, or looking forward to the Reading Festival rather than thinking about retakes. 

We also start the consultation process with a detailed discussion of what has gone wrong, particularly if a student has only narrowly missed their offer. 

We always encourage students to look carefully in Clearing and not to underestimate the hard work and commitment that is involved in a retake or a one-year A level programme. We don’t just wave a magic Rochester wand. It is sometimes the case that students simply haven’t worked hard enough first time around or didn’t have the discipline or study skills to succeed. 

The most successful retakers are those who honestly assess why things haven’t worked first time round and take responsibility for making sure the outcome at the end of their academic gap year is a more positive one. 

Why retake at RIC?

Small classes and the easy accessibility of staff ensure that students receive a great deal of individual help and attention. Regular tests under examination conditions are designed to help those who suffer from `examination nerves’ and prepare them for public examinations. Teaching time is plentiful meaning that the courses are more structured than is often the case in school. 

Based in historic Rochester in Kent the College welcomes students each year from elsewhere in the county including Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury. Each year there are several students who come and board while retaking their A levels from London, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire and Berkshire as well as from further afield and overseas.

Resitting examinations can be a very positive experience (yes, really). It is a second chance at many things and students consistently gain tremendously in confidence and maturity having made what is always a very difficult decision. The retake year is positively approached as a university preparation course rather than bleakly revisiting old material. At Rochester Independent College we are keen to ensure students leave us with the academic and organisational skills that will help them get the most from their university life.

The teachers at Rochester Independent College cannot do all the hard work necessary for improved results, but they can provide a new and stimulating environment in which students can build or regain lost confidence and explore their subjects in a new and more adult manner, bringing their own ideas and experiences with them, not just passively regurgitating an old and tired syllabus.

Will I get to a top university if I retake?

Sometimes students worry that putting down the lower grades they achieve first time around will stop them getting offers, that’s not our experience. This year our retakers have offers from universities like King’s London, Durham, Edinburgh and UCL. 

Bristol and Exeter are the most popular universities amongst our retakers or have been in recent years. Exeter’s admissions policy is quite clear: “All applicants retaking a qualification will be considered for all programmes. The University does not discriminate against applicants who have re-taken part or all of a qualification.” You have to be tactical though and do your homework and make sure the university and sometimes the department- as at some universities it can differ from course to course- are ok with retakes. UCL says: “Resits are generally considered for a majority of our programmes" but is particularly strict for Law saying: "The entry requirements of A*AA must be fulfilled in the same sitting. A*AA awarded over two different years, for example AA in one year and an additional A* the following year will not satisfy our entry requirements.” 

We aim for the UCAS forms to be sent off before Christmas, the UCAS deadline is not until January and you’re guaranteed equal treatment until then. We like to get to know our resit students so that we can make credible, evidence based grade predictions based on their performance here. It’s not unusual for students applying with low A level grades but good retake predictions to have 4 or 5 Russell Group university offers. 

The situation with Medicine and Dentistry is more complicated for retakes and is covered in a separate page, see below. 

Most of our retakers at Rochester have pretty decent grades when they start, it’s quite normal for someone with ABB who has lots of university options in Clearing to opt to retake. We had a student recently who’d missed his Imperial Engineering offer by one grade but was offered a place at all of the other London colleges. He was determined though to come and retake though as he wasn’t in a rush to get to university and thought the rowing was better at Imperial as well as the course! He was also keen to do a lot more Maths prior to university and worked through all of the different Further Maths modules and STEP papers to prepare for his degree. It’s sometimes as much about preparing for the academic content of your chosen degree as actually getting the grades. 

At Rochester our average grade improvement at A level is 2, so if you come with three Cs three As is a realistic prospect ad three Bs could be 3 A*s. Sometimes the improvements can be even more dramatic.

These upgrades open up a much broader range of subjects rather of course also being important when students graduate and are entering the job market where A level grades are used by companies and graduate schemes to screen applicants. It’s worth saying actually that not all of the students who retake their A levels at Rochester are doing so for university, some are aiming for degree apprenticeships which at the big firms can be as competitive as the top universities and also require grade As. Whatever your chosen direction, we’ll help you make the grade

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