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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
What to do if A-levels disappoint
By George Turnbull
Student exams doctor, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

student graphic
Good or bad, the moment of truth looms for a million students

It is all over bar the shouting for the estimated one million students sitting 26 million separate exams for GCSE and A-level this year.

And soon that shouting will begin in earnest when the results are published. But not all will be shouting for joy, and many a hope will be shattered - or so it might seem.

So what do you do if that university place seems like a distant dream?

Stop dreaming for a start, and get on the phone immediately.

That place may still be yours, even though your grades fall short of the mark. But if not, then look to your second choice university. And if no joy there, then you are into Clearing where you can match your grades with vacancies.

But don't take just anything. Make sure it is a course which suits you at an institution you know something about.

Check it out and visit before deciding. Don't grasp at straws. They seldom give the support you need.


The free advice line will help: 0808 100 8000 with its many experts ready to advise and listen on the day of the results, and thereafter.

Don't panic graphic
Helpline: 0808 100 8000
But could the examining board have made a mistake? And if so, then what should you do?

First, you need to speak to your teachers to see what they think. They can advise on their expectations for you, and whether they feel that an enquiry about your results should be raised with the examining board.

There are a number of options available. A clerical check could be carried out on your behalf, where the totals and grades are checked. Or you could have your scripts re-marked.

It is only your school which can raise such an enquiry, so they must support your case and the exam board will charge a fee for this service.

Re-mark marks are binding. So if you get more marks your grade could go up. But if fewer - your grade could go down. That's why your school needs your permission to raise an enquiry on your behalf.

Your marks and the grade boundaries will be known to you and your school. And photocopies of your scripts can be provided, so that your performance can be judged by your teachers, and a fast-track re-mark service is available where university places are at stake.

The closing date for that is 25 August. All other enquiries must be lodged by 20 September.

Possible mistakes

If near the top of a grade band then there is a reasonable chance that you may gain a mark or so and get a higher grade.

But if at the bottom of a band, many marks would be needed to raise your grade - and the loss of a few could easily drop you down a grade. It is possible the exam board may have made an error. There are millions of papers to be marked and around 50,000 examiners or more involved in the process.

And although one mark can make a difference to grades, that could never be regarded as an error as such.

Even with the same examiner marking a script for a second time there could possibly be a marginally different total, which might make a difference to the grade awarded.

However, there are other instances where a clerical error or a rogue examiner could affect a whole class. This does happen, although stringent procedures are in place to prevent it.


And if after the various enquiries are exhausted and you are still unhappy, then your school can appeal, in the first instance to the examining board and then to the independent Examinations Appeals Board (EAB).

But this is a lengthy and sometimes complex process. Decisions here will not affect your grades for university entrance this year.

These examinations are regulated and monitored by the independent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and others, making them the most-scrutinised examinations in the UK, with checks and balances to ensure fair play and accurate results.

And although it deals with millions of examination papers each year, it never forgets each individual and the need for them to get a true and accurate result.

So good luck. And if you don't quite make the grade on the day - then you now know what to do. Just do it - and not your mother. Otherwise, she might get a place, but you won't - and that's for sure.


You can e-mail George Turnbull directly at the QCA for help and advice, on examsdoctor@qca.org.uk.

Please note that the BBC is not responsible for the handling of such correspondence.


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