Students unhappy with A-level grades warned against taking autumn exams

Students should be wary about taking exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with their A-level grades as there will be a “narrower” choice of university courses, the head of Ucas said.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of the admissions service, has advised students to “move on” with the grades they receive this week if they still allow them to progress into higher education.

Speaking ahead of A-level results day on Thursday, the Ucas boss said only a limited number of universities will offer courses that start in January for students sitting exams in the autumn.

“I don’t think we should kid students that there’s as much choice in January as there would be for an autumn start date at a university. There’s a much narrower choice,” Ms Marchant said.

It comes after this summer’s exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools submitted the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers, alongside a rank order of which students they believed would do best within each grade.

Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years’ and the value of students’ grades are not undermined.

Students in England who would like to improve their grade, or for those who are unable to receive a calculated grade this summer, have the opportunity to take exams in October.

But speaking to a Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) webinar, the Ucas boss urged caution over rushing to sit an exam, rather than accepting a university place or appealing results.

“If you’ve got a result and you can move on, move on,” she said.

On the autumn exams, Ms Marchant added: “It will be right for some students but they’ve got to be really clear that there’s not an option for them to progress to HE without doing that.

“I do think for the vast majority either they will get what they want, or they’ll exceed it, or they may have a near-miss in which case the conversation with the university is paramount.”

The Ucas chief executive said she is expecting universities to be “super flexible” with near-miss candidates who have dropped “one or two grades”.

“I do believe universities will be more flexible than ever before,” Ms Marchant said.