What if I retake A-levels and get lower grades? And other exam questions

Thousands of students will find out their A-level and vocational results today.

It’s the second year running when – because of the pandemic – they haven’t been determined by exams.

Instead, A-levels have been determined by teachers’ estimates – a situation likely to prompt many questions.

Experts Joanne Elliott from the National Careers Service, UCAS’s Courteney Sheppard and Eddie Playfair and Catherine Sezen from the Association of Colleges answer some of them below.

You can send them a question using the form at the bottom of this page.

Experts Joanne, Courteney, Catherine and Eddie (l-r)
Experts Joanne, Courteney, Catherine and Eddie (l-r) are on hand to answer your questions

If exams are sat in autumn and the higher of either the Teacher Assessed Grade or the exam are allowed to be used, will the lower result have to be declared on UCAS university applications? – Rachel Jones, Tyne and Wear

Courteney Sheppard from UCAS says:

In England, exams will be held in October under normal conditions.

Any student can take one of these if they were originally due to take the exam in the summer. The university or college looking at your application will base it on the higher of the two, if you submit your application after both results have been received.

However, if you haven’t received your autumn exam grades, you need to list the grade you achieved in summer, and list your autumn grade as “pending”.

UCAS will then pass on the new grades once they have been received by the awarding body. Once you have received the grades from any exams taken in October, you will then need to contact your chosen university or college.

What happens to students who are taking subjects that include coursework? – Ali Hamza Rasheed, Manchester

Joanne Elliott from the National Careers Service says:

Teachers and tutor have taken an evidence-based approach this year. They will base grades on students’ performance, using evidence such as coursework and other assessments done in class.

Students will only be assessed on content that they have been taught. So if you missed something because you had to isolate you will not be graded on that work.

Catherine Sezen from the Association of Colleges says:

Vocational technical qualifications such as BTEC or OCR Technical include a mixture of coursework and exams. They also had adaptations this year, including teacher assessed grades.

The results for these qualifications at Level 3 (the same level as A Level) are being announced today. The Level 2s will be announced on Thursday alongside GCSEs.

Results for other practical qualifications will come throughout the summer.

How do children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) figure in this picture? Is the evidence chosen individual to each child in order to reflect their individual ability? – AB, London

Eddie Playfair from the Association of Colleges says:

Exam centres take into account students’ educational needs and disabilities in adapting both their teaching and assessment processes and the results have been analysed for SEND learners as part of the equalities analysis.

For A Level, it looks like there may have been a small increase in the grade gap between SEND and non-SEND students, once prior achievement is taken into account. We need to find out more about this to be sure whether this is a one-year effect or a worrying trend.

I have a question for you on behalf of my daughter. If she doesn’t get the required grades, and wants to re-take her A-levels, how will the fact that she did not complete the full curriculum due to the pandemic be taken into account by the exam boards? – James Pritchett, Salisbury

Eddie Playfair from the Association of Colleges says:

If your daughter chooses to retake in the autumn, the exam papers will be pretty much as in a normal year, so it is possible that she may be questioned on content she might not have covered.

If she re-takes next summer, the position is likely to be very similar, although there will probably be some measures taken to mitigate for some of the disruption – in different ways for different subjects.

The details of these changes are still being finalised but the Department for Education has suggested this may include some optional elements, advance notice of topics to be examined and additional support with formulas and equation sheets.

Will teacher assessments mean that my exam results will be less effective compared to someone who has sat their A-level or GCSE exams? – Abdullah, Birmingham

Joanne Elliott from the National Careers Service says:

Absolutely not! All that has changed is the assessment method. Teachers and tutors have been provided with guidance from exam boards on how to most effectively assess your grades.

Teachers will be asked to base your grades on work you’ve done during the whole of your course. It could be argued that this is much closer to what happens in the working environment, I don’t know many people who have to do exams as part of their job (unless they have taken part in training)!

Eddie Playfair from the Association of Colleges says:

Your centre will have applied the same standard and grade boundaries as for exams.

Once you have received a confirmed grade from the exam board, this will have the same value as if it had been awarded after external exams and should be treated as equivalent to the same grade from previous years.

Getting a lower grade in a subsequent retake does not cancel out your achievement the first time round.

Boy looks at his results

Can you get disqualified in your GCSE/A-level results this year without doing any official exams? – James Taylor, Durham

Eddie Playfair from the Association of Colleges says:

If your centre submitted a grade for you and this has been confirmed by the awarding body, the only way it can be changed would be as the result of an appeal.

How have the results been moderated between different schools to allow the fairest possible final comparisons? – Martin Bough, Solihull

Eddie Playfair from the Association of Colleges says:

Centres were thoroughly briefed about the standards to apply and the type of evidence to use, and every centre had to provide a sample of student assessments.

In some cases, the exam board may have asked a centre to take another look at their process and re-submit their grades. All of that checking was completed well before today.

Source: BBC