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Exam retake panic? Read on, we have solutions!

A-level and GCSE retakes are an excellent option for those who believe they can achieve better grades - and according to Kent's specialist retake college - the results speak for themselves...

The count-down is on to results day for A Levels (Tues 10 Aug) and GCSEs (Thurs 12 Aug) – when grades will again be based on teacher recommendations.

Hopefully the majority of pupils will be happy with their grades, but it’s only natural that some will be disappointed. If this is the case for your child – then fear not! When the dust settles and they consider their best options they may want to take a look at re-takes. And we have one of the UK’s best re-take institutions right here in Kent. Get your child to read this for some well-timed reasurrance.

Rochester Independent College (RIC) Principal Alistair Brownlow

Rochester Independent College (RIC) is not only a secondary school for students from the age of 11 – it’s also a re-take specialist centre. So we asked Principal Alistair Brownlow (pictured above) for the low-down on everything we need to know about their re-take offering.

Q: My exam results are disappointing, can you help?

A: If you need to retake your GCSEs or A levels, either to improve grades for university entry or to move on to Sixth Form, then RIC can definitely help. Our record for improvement in grades is significant year on year.

Q: How do you achieve this?

A: Small classes – the average class size is just 8 – and the easy accessibility of staff ensure that students receive a great deal of individual help and attention. Teaching time is plentiful meaning that the courses are more structured than is often the case in school.

Regular tests under examination conditions are designed to help those who suffer from ‘examination nerves’ and prepare them for public examinations.

Plus, there’s no uniform and students and staff are on first name terms. Teachers have masses of expertise and experience and really get teenagers. It’s a place for individuals and a real alternative to traditional schools. The result? Mutual respect and students enjoy being here and are treated as young adults.

Q: Where are you based?

A: You’ll find RIC in the centre of historic Rochester, in Kent, and the College welcomes students each year from elsewhere in the county including Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury. Plus, we’re only 37 minutes by train from Central London.

The school is a one-of-a-kind urban campus at the heart of a designated conservation area. It’s a must-see for prospective families. The historic site, with listed buildings linked by award winning wildlife gardens, has a uniquely warm sense of place in which our diverse community of 345 students and 100 staff study and work.

Q: But I don’t live in Rochester?

A: Taking day pupils from age 11 – the school runs buses from Maidstone, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge as well as mnay places in between. There’s the option of Boarding too, from age 15, each year there are several students who come and board while retaking their A levels from London, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire and Berkshire as well as from further afield and overseas.

RIC offers a fresh start in a new environment very different from a traditional boarding school where you can realise your full potential.


Q: What about re-taking GCSEs?

A: GCSE grades matter. Entry to college courses, selective school sixth forms and access to some A levels depend upon them. Universities use GCSE results, which are declared on the UCAS form, to judge academic performance and potential. Some courses such as Law and Medicine specify the number of top grades applicants must offer. RIC can help you get back on track after a disappointing Year 11.

If your GCSE grades don’t cut it contact RIC and we will help you plan a way forward that works. GCSE retake course students benefit from a more adult, sixth form environment, small group teaching and a structured revision and exam preparation programme.

We find retakes can result in improved grades, restored confidence and a wider range of options for the future.

A flexible timetable means that RIC can offer the possibility of starting A level courses while improving GCSE grades.

How successful are your GCSE retake students?

A: Every year students join us with few or no grade C equivalent passes and finish the year with 6 or 7 good grades and are able to start A levels. It shows what can be done when students have the determination to improve their grades.

While most students on GCSE retake courses have failed to pass at Grade 4 level first time around RIC is also able to offer GCSE resit courses to students who have 5s and 6s at GCSE but who need to improve these to 8s and 9s for competitive university courses or highly selective school sixth forms.

The top GCSE subject for grade improvements in 2020 was English, where the upgrades were dramatic. All students who went to RIC to retake GCSE English secured a pass grade. 

Q: Can you tell me about the one year intensive course?

A: Students needing to retake most of their GCSEs join a one year intensive course where subject content is re taught and coursework and practical work redone. While resitting core GCSEs it is possible to start new GCSE subjects which are taught on one year courses. Some GCSE resit students join RIC intending to apply to other independent schools for sixth form following an intensive GCSE resit programme. Others proceed to our own Sixth Form.


Q: I’m disappointed with my A Level results – can you help?

A: Students underperform in A level examinations for many reasons: lack of confidence, lack of commitment and illness are a few of the most common. However, the invariably awful disappointment on the day the results are issued often leads to the most important step on the road to improvement which is an absolute determination never to go through it again.

Q: Can I still get into a top university?

A: The one thing to remember is that retaking A levels does not diminish your chances of attending a top university and, through the years, RIC has enabled retake students to actually improve their future academic prospects as students leave us to start degree programmes they initially thought beyond their reach before joining us. The effect of a retake course can be truly transformative.

At RIC students often combine retaking A levels with fresh one year courses to target their first choice university and make their academic gap year more engaging. RIC offers full UCAS support for students retaking A levels to ensure that their new application is carefully put together. It is usual for students retaking A levels at RIC to receive five Russell Group university offers.

You can talk directly to some of our students who have gone through the retake process at Rochester on our website.

Q: How successful are you?

A: RIC is currently top in Medway for retake improvement and in the top two per cent in England for progress at A level. In 2020 our students achieved nine University placements for Medicine, including six retakers.

But it’s not just about academic study – creative arts share equal billing with those ‘traditional’ subjects.

Q: How soon can I retake?

A: Students who aren’t happy with the calculated grades given to them in 2021 can opt to sit an exam this autumn or, more usually, a one year A level retake programme, depending on your target grade and starting point. RIC staff will be able to advise.

Q: Where do your A Level Leavers go onto?

A: Rochester Independent College A level re-takers have been successful in recent years gaining places at Durham, Imperial, Exeter, Edinburgh, UCL, Bath and Bristol, among many others. Destinations for students retaking their A levels in 2020 include Medicine at Sunderland, Medicine at Southampton, Pharmacy at Newcastle, Fine Art at UCL’s The Slade, Languages, Culture and Economics at Leeds, Chemistry at Nottingham, Natural Sciences at UCL, Physics at Manchester, Accounting and Finance at Warwick and English Literature at Bristol.

Q: When should I seek advice on my best re-take options?

A: Students usually decide to retake before they go off to try a university course but sometimes the decision comes after a disappointing start in Higher Education – so the message is don’t leave the decision too late.

While many universities are becoming increasingly flexible with entry when students miss their offers, the most competitive ones are not. Re-taking is often the only way of securing a place. RIC specialises in A level resits and we are available in the post results period for reliable, clear advice about what your options are.

Q: I’ve only just finished year 10 or year 12. What can I do if I’m worried about my progress? 

A: It’s been a very disrupted academic year with schools being closed and lessons being online for much of it. It’s understandable that we are speaking to a lot of students right now who are just entering their final exam year and worried about how they are going to catch up and prepare for A levels and GCSEs in 2022. 

Everyone is hoping and expecting that exams will go ahead next academic year but schools- and students- are still waiting for details from the government of how they might be different to reflect the disruption caused by the pandemic. Possibilities include students being given advance notice of what will be in the papers or subject content being cut from the specifications. 

It is still possible to move to RIC for your final year of GCSEs or A levels and catch up on work missed, potentially avoiding the need for that retake year. For students at other schools RIC also runs intensive Easter Revision courses for GCSE and A level preparation. 

Contact RIC now on 01634 828115 for advice on GCSE and A level retakes, as well as transferring into year 13 or 11. Or visit

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