Mock, shock and appeal: your A-level crisis kit

A-level results day is a rollercoaster even in the best of times, but with the summer series of exams cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic and pressure on Westminster to address concerns about unfairness in England’s results, it’s likely to be particularly challenging for many of the 250,000 students expecting results this year. Hopefully this will help you stay calm and consider your options.

Can I go to school to pick up my results?

It’s a rite of passage, turning up at school to pick up your results and share the joy/disappointment with your classmates. This year, because of the pandemic, things will be a little different. Check with your school. Some are doing it remotely, via email, others are inviting some – or all – pupils in, but the usual public health measures will apply to avoid transmission of the virus so celebratory hugs will not be encouraged. With around 40% of teacher assessed grades downgraded by the regulator’s standardisation process, there will be lots of upset students and lots to talk about. Teachers will be on hand to advise.

My results are lower than I expected. What do I do?

Don’t panic. Talk to your school in the first place, who will now be able to tell you your centre-assessed grade (CAG), which is the assessment provided to exam boards by your teachers, so you’ll be able to see if and how far it has been marked down during the moderation process and decide next steps. Don’t beat yourself up. Bear in mind this is happening to thousands of other students up and down the country, because there were no exams and the alternative system they’ve arrived at is far from ideal.

My results are not fair. Can I appeal?

This is proving to be a bit of a moving picture. Up until recently the exams regulator, Ofqual, seemed to be making it as difficult as possible for pupils in England to appeal. Only schools were allowed to lodge appeals, and then only on rather narrow, technical grounds, and there was no opportunity for individual pupils to appeal against their grades on academic grounds.

Earlier this week however, following Scotland’s decision to allow students to keep their CAGs in response to public outcry, ministers decided to allow students in England to use their mock exam results as a possible route of appeal. There are lots of doubts about this proposal among the experts, but you don’t have to worry about that. If your result has been downgraded and your mock result was better than the result you receive on Thursday, you can ask to appeal through your school. It’s not an entirely straightforward process – the mock result will need to be validated – but teachers will be keen to help you get the best result possible.

What if I didn’t sit a mock, or it can’t be validated?

The exams regulator Ofqual will outline further details on how the mock route of appeal will work next week. But if that route is not open to you, you still have the option to actually sit your A-levels exams later this year, if you think you can do better than the grade allocated. Ask your school or college to enter you if you want to take an exam, and make sure to take all the papers in your chosen subjects, then use which ever result is higher when applying for university or jobs.

What do I do if I haven’t got the grades I need for university?

Universities have been urged to be as flexible as possible this year. They are also keen to recruit domestic students because they are concerned that their international students might not turn up in such great numbers in September because of the Covid pandemic, reducing pressure on places. Similarly, because there are relatively few 18-year-olds in this cohort, your chances of securing a place at university may be better than in other years.

So talk to your university of choice. They may be happy to admit you, even with slightly lower grades, in what everyone recognises is a difficult year, or if not on your first choice of course, they may offer you an alternative course which you might consider. And if you decide to appeal, universities have been asked to hold places open for students in your position so you won’t be at a disadvantage. Failing that, don’t forget clearing. Last year 70,000 students got places through the university admission service Ucas’s clearing system which matches students with vacancies.

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