Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 13:42 UK

Got your exam results: now what?

By George Turnbull
Ofqual exams doctor

students comparing exam results
The arrival of the results can be a turning point in people's lives

Short of a grade or two - or done better than expected?

Sitting exams is not exactly a bundle of laughs at the best of times - but waiting for the results does not bring much to laugh about either.

But now the waiting time is all but over - and for some that hunt for a university place begins, when grades fall short or surpass expectations.

And that will not be so easy this year, with a 10% increase in applications or about 50,000 extra people looking for places.

If you are sorted and got your first or insurance-offer place - then congratulations and have fun.

If you have read to this point then you probably need read no further - unless you have better-than-expected grades and want to move up the university pecking order.

You can do that now and there is a process in place. There is no guarantee that you can make that dream move, but there is a system there to let you try, if you are quick off the mark. You have a five-day period in which to act.

Scotland publishes its results almost two weeks ahead of the A-level results this year and some of those early birds will have more time to choose and be chosen. So do not hang around if doing A-levels.

And if you are thinking of going on holiday when the results are published - do not. Or at least have a plan B in place to take action should this be necessary.

If grades fail to impress?

A-level results will be sent to your school and published on 20 August, with GCSE results a week later. Teachers should be on hand to advise, but unfortunately this is not always the case.

Universities get the results earlier than this. So do not be surprised if you hear from one of your preferred choices even before you collect your results. It happens.

If you do not get a place, then you can move into Clearing and track progress through the admissions service, Ucas.

There will be plenty of courses on offer - diploma and foundation as well as degrees - so think carefully before you accept any change to your original plans.

Know what the alternative courses are about, visit the university and the department - there will be open days arranged - and make sure you are going to be happy with the place and the town where you will be based for the next three years or so of your life.

Do not grab at straws. They give little support.

Gap years

Hurriedly arranged gap years might seem a good idea at the time, but to improve your grades you need to resit, and there are limited opportunities for that this year too.

New courses have mostly replaced this year's A-level syllabuses so if you go off for a year you will have missed out and will have to start A-level again with new syllabuses.

And any gap year is only as good as what you do in it. Sunning yourself on an Australian beach might be fun, but it will do little to enhance your CV.

So if medicine was your goal, for example, working in a hospital for a year on your home patch would be much more convincing of the seriousness of your intentions.

It is the beginning of the rest of your life. Lots of famous people got off to a bad start before becoming millionaires. The same could happen to you. Time to take stock.

If you did not quite make it this time round, was that because you did not put in the effort?. If so, then you know what to do if you still want to follow that same career path.

Or maybe you need to look at other courses or career opportunities. It is make up your mind time. You are at one of life's crossroads.

Could the examiners have made a mistake?

Yes. But the system is truly professional in its operation and independently regulated by Ofqual. It has the interests of students at heart - and fairness. No stone is ever left unturned - and that's a fact.

But only your school can raise an enquiry about your results (as the process is called).

One mark can make the difference between an A and a B, or any other grade, if you are at the top or bottom of a grade band. Grades can go down as well as up in an enquiry.

See if your school will support such action and raise an enquiry on your behalf. Let the university know that this is being done. They will hold your place open for a limited period.

But move fast, as priority re-marks are available until 28August only - for those with places at stake - and all other enquires must be raised by 20 September, for A-level.

You can have your scripts re-marked, a clerical check to see that everything has been marked and the totals are correct. And you can even have your scripts, or a photocopy, returned so that you can see how the examiners marked them.

There is a charge for these services but the money will be refunded if your grades are changed.

What else?

As with all rules and procedures there are exceptions, so discuss your options with your teachers and others - or go to the free phone line for clearing and/or similar advice: 0808 100 8000. Experts are there to help. Lines are open from 5 August.

And if your questions relate to issues about examinations, then you can contact me at for a personal and detailed response.

Good luck and I wish you well.

George Turnbull spent almost 30 years in a senior position with the UK's largest examining board and is now Ofqual's Exams Doctor. Ofqual is the new government regulator on examinations.

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