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Every September many students join RIC directly into Year 13 for their final year of sixth form or for an extra year of sixth form to retake their A levels. RIC is able to offer teaching on all exam boards for most subjects so switching schools can be done with ease. Our university destinations list is dominated by entries to the older and more prestigious Russell Group universities.

Ric Ian

A level Retake Advice: History

by Ian Pay, Head of History, Rochester Independent College

The first step is to take an honest and critical look at why you have not achieved the grades you hoped for. A good way to do this is to get your exam scripts back and go through them with one of our teachers.

History at A Level requires a unique combination of deep knowledge retention and complex skill application and is therefore a difficult but highly valued and rewarding subject to study. There are many reasons for underperforming in your A Level History exams. Lack of effort, poor quality (or too little) revision, teaching that didn’t ‘click’ with your learning style, difficulty learning the sheer depth of knowledge required. All of these are reasons for poor performance and it is likely that some or all of these played some part, and should be addressed in your retake year. However, the area in which students most regularly fall down on is their exam technique.

There are different techniques required for different exam boards, papers and even questions. However, technique all relies on the way you respond to the assessment objectives for History.  The assessment objectives will be combined differently on different exam boards and for different units but all provide a good chunk of the grades over the entire A Level so you will need to engage with and apply the skills for them all. All these skills can be learnt; it only takes time, practice, and a bit of guidance. We will work closely with you on your exam technique as this is the simplest and quickest way to significantly improve your marks.

When retaking A Level History, you will need to think about how many and which units you should retake; this is something we can discuss with you if you pop in to see us. This choice will depend on your circumstances and exam marks but as a general rule, you should avoid only retaking one unit except in extreme circumstances as this concentrates your risk. Under the current A Level system, you study four units: two at AS and two at A2. As AS exams are generally taken at the end of year 12, they are assessed at a lower level. It is therefore often wise to retake one or both AS exams, even if you have done well in them. You may be able to pick up essential marks here that will help push you over the grade boundary. Taking new units that you haven’t studied before may seem daunting but is often the best route to getting the best grades out of your retake year.

Deciding whether to retake your coursework is often one of the most difficult choices to make when retaking History. You will have put a lot of time and effort into your research and writing and will not want to lose that. Fortunately in most cases you don’t have to. As long as your task fits within the board-set requirements, you can build on what you have already written. The coursework unit is often the easiest way to improve your marks significantly – with a close focus on the skills required to get the marks and some extra research you can go into the exam with marks in the bag. Sometimes it will be easier and more valuable to start again on a new task and we can advise you on this but, unlike many schools with much larger classes, we will make this decision based on what is best for you, rather than what is easiest for us.

Finally, see this as an opportunity. It can be a horribly demotivating experience to not reach the grades you have aimed for but this is your chance to look at your learning style, technique, and relationship to your studies and build new and better approaches which will put you in a stronger position for your university courses. At Rochester Independent College we work closely with you to develop these skills, while building the independent study skills you will need to succeed at university. Our small class sizes and flexible approach means we can find out exactly what you need to work on and our regular assessment helps you to work on it and get regular feedback on your development.

Missing your A Level grade may just turn out to be the best thing you’ve done in education so far.

A level Retake Advice: Chemistry

"Should I re-sit my chemistry A-level?” is a frequently asked question. The answer of course depends on the individual student and their circumstances.

You should consider whether you need to improve your A level Chemistry grade for your preferred university course or whether you should revise your ambitions according to your achievements to date. You should also understand how your university will look on re-sits and whether they will raise their entry requirements as a result.

You will need to be clear in your own mind as to why you did not achieve the grade you hoped for previously.  Contributing factors might include:

Many students feel that they simply did not work hard enough during the year or revise early enough for the exams.   If so, ask yourself why it should be any different on a re-sit course – you will need to be honest about what you can realistically achieve which will also depend on having a clear motivation for study if the subject is not central to your ambitions.  We will push you hard at RIC but only you can do the learning.

Not everyone has the academic aptitude for top grades in chemistry – you should have some evidence from your module grades or from related science subjects that you can work at the level you aspire to even if you don’t always get there.   With small classes we can give a good amount of individual attention to students to help them to reach their potential.

Occasionally there may have been a problem at a previous school with personalities or teacher sickness or (unlikely) competence. At RIC we have an experienced team working in a supportive environment where you should be comfortable and confident.

A few students will have suffered from serious illness or family problems that can have had a serious impact on their studies. RIC can be an opportunity to recover academically from such a situation.

Teaching is in small groups and students are expected to contribute to discussion, articulate their understanding of the concepts of chemistry and to constructively criticise the limitations of each other’s ideas. Graded problems are tackled, often by student pairs, in class and individually for homework and regular testing provides an indication of progress and of remaining areas of weakness.

Our students, regardless of by how much they have improved their grades, frequently feed back to us the feeling that they have come to understand chemistry much better than they had done previously at school.

Julian Cass graduated from the University of Cambridge and took a research degree at the University of East Anglia. He began his teaching career at RIC and then spent twenty years teaching A level chemistry in further education and sixth form colleges before returning to RIC in 2012. He is also an assistant examiner and coursework moderator for the OCR examination board.