The assumption that lies with some people is that those who retake a year of A-Levels are entirely to blame. They probably did not try hard enough and therefore have found themselves in this position. However, this stigma may stem from the lack of information surrounding A-levels and retaking. There are several factors in a students’ life that leads them to make this decision and it is not an easy transition. As someone who is retaking Year 12, I feel it is my duty to provide more information about retaking in the UK school system and share experiences of students for you to get a first hand account.

In the UK, the first A-level examinations were sat in 1951, with the grading system only being a pass or fail. However, over the years the guidelines have changed dramatically. During 1963, a five grade system was introduced to A Levels. Over the late 20th century, there were many changes made to the A-Level system, and in 2000 the difficulty of the modules was taken into consideration. Due to this, the government decided the first year of study (AS) would go towards 50% of the final A-Level grade. In spite of this, in September of 2015, a linear structure was introduced where A-Level exams take place after two years (AS exams has no impact on the final grade), making these recent years having some of the hardest exams yet.

So, what are the reasons for people retaking? Usually, it is due to failing exams therefore an extra year may allow people to understand the content more and learn from mistakes. However, subject choice was a significant reason to retake for many. Shailen Purohit, is currently in Year 13. His choice for retaking was due to his disinterest in Economics, he said, ‘I could not imagine continuing Economics for another year, I hated it.’ The idea of retaking had been planted in his head after his summer exams as he felt a, ‘gut feeling,’ that he would have to retake. Although he felt there was not enough information regarding retaking available, he had support from a few teachers who guided him through this process. Nevertheless, Shailen chose to make a rash decision to retake one week before the new academic year and he ‘hasn’t looked back since.’

The social side of this transition could be seen as harder than the academic side of retaking. A sudden new environment where all your friends are not at the same stage as you, and being a year older than everyone else could make you feel out of the loop. Shailen felt very anxious in the beginning of Year 12, and he found making friends difficult. He said, ‘if you’re put in a room with strangers, you’re going to be too wary of everything you do.’ Shailen stayed at the same school to retake therefore he had his friends from the older year, this may have been good but Shailen felt he became too dependent on them and did not push himself to talk to his current year at first. In spite of this, over time he became more open and made many friends in his year, but patience and time was vital.

My own A-Level journey began in September of 2017. I had chosen Biology, Chemistry and Psychology and soon realised Science was not for me. Throughout the year, I had struggled a lot with mental health and found myself trapped by staying at the same high school for Sixth Form. At times I became very distant from the people around me and stopped doing all the things I used to enjoy. I was always someone who done fairly well academically and to be getting constant U’s and E’s was hard for me to cope with. From January 2018, the idea of retaking was arising within me but this decision became final when I received my predicted grades in summer and I knew that I could do better.

Throughout summer, I was still in a confused state. I was brought up with the motto of, 'if you start something you finish it.’ I couldn’t help but feel as though I was a disappointment and I was going back on myself. I questioned whether I should simply continue to Year 13 and finish it, despite what grades I got. I would only be unhappy for one more year I thought. Then it hit me, I did not want to be putting 50% of my energy in what I was doing and continue in something I had no passion for.

I knew I did not want to stay in my previous school. A change was vital for me and I knew it would be hard for me to physically see my old friends leaving at the end of the year. Although Hatch End High School was my first option for several months, in the week before the new academic year, I had gotten an offer from Woodhouse College and without much hesitation I said yes. But I did not do enough research, I had never gone to the school before and when I arrived I found it hard to adjust to. I had not taken into consideration how far away it was from home and how unprepared I was. Luckily, Hatch End High School still had a place to offer and I quickly accepted it.

Inevitably, the first month or so was particularly nerve-wracking in Hatch End High School. I had changed my subjects to Economics, Sociology and English Literature. I had made it my aim to attempt to keep on top of my studies and really push myself out of my comfort zone socially. I did feel uneasy, as I felt I had to constantly state that I was retaking and I was a year older because otherwise I would be deceiving people. Perhaps it would have been easier if I had retake written across my forehead. Fortunately, Hatch End was extremely welcoming and I feel I’ve settled in comfortably. I met many other people in my position and realised I was not a rare case. It has been nearly a year since my move, and already I am preparing for my summer exams.

As the academic year will soon draw to a close, many people will be faced with the option of retaking, but there are some things you should know. Shailen felt people had to know that, ‘It is not a taboo or against the law. The government pay for three years of your A-Level education as they are aware people retake.’ As you have a second chance, you need to think carefully about where you choose to go, journey time and subject choices. This is only a section of your career, life goes on and Shailen is looking forward to studying Civil Engineering at university. 

Life is not a straight path and there will be many detours and obstacles in your journey. I am proud of how far I have come and I am glad I retook because I challenged myself in ways I had never done before. It is okay, to say no to a decision you have already made if you gain no happiness from it, everyone makes wrong decisions. I feel as though people forget this is your life and you have the power to do what you desire. It is time you are more pro active about what you truly wish to do in your lifetime whether it be academic or beyond that and I hope you find what you are looking for.