Disappointed icon of a student who has failed an exam on a purple background. Text: "What to Do If You Failed GCSE English"

What to Do if You Fail GCSE English

Results day is a very stressful time for most students. It makes sense. After all, you’ve spent two years building up to this moment. We’re all worried that we might not meet our personal goals. You want all of that revision and hard work to pay off! For many students, the biggest source of stress or frustration is the fear of failing their maths or English GCSEs.

Whether you’re stressing before results day or you’ve just found out you’ve failed, you’re not alone. There are plenty of students who are in the same boat as you. If anyone ever told you that maths and English are easy, they lied to you. They’re difficult subjects, and you’ve done very well to come as far as you have.

I’ve tutored and taught English since 2015. In that time, I’ve worked with hundreds of students who had the same struggles you do. Many of them are now at uni or have amazing careers they adore! You might feel like this is a setback in your life, but it really doesn’t have to be. You can rise up and succeed just like they did.

So, let me help you. Take some time to tend to your completely valid sadness and disappointment. Then, follow this guide to help you take the right steps. It’s aimed at students who have failed their English GCSE, but most of it applies to maths, too!

Good luck, and try not to stress too much!

Don’t Stress or Beat Yourself Up

First of all, I want to say one very important thing: failing your English GCSE doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent.

If I could shout that from the rooftops, I would. Seriously. I have met way too many intelligent, hard-working students who give up because they think a bad grade means they have no brain power. That is not the case at all.

There are plenty of reasons why a smart student might not do so well:

  • Going through mental or physical health struggles during the exam period.
  • Not getting enough feedback from teachers and tutors.
  • Not getting enough practice in exam conditions.
  • Events in your home life that took your time, attention and energy.
  • Events in the school that reduced the quality of teaching.
  • Missing lots of school time and not catching up.
  • Not revising as soon as you maybe should have.
  • Not vibing very well with the way you were taught.
  • Lacking the one-to-one support you needed.
  • Having an undiagnosed SEND or neurodivergence that you didn’t get special accommodations for.
  • Not having the correct resources or information for the exam.
  • Not having enough writing stamina to sit a full exam because of the lockdowns.

For most of these things, they are not your fault. They’re things that you had little or no say in. You can only take steps to make sure they don’t affect you too much in the future and hope they never happen again. They weren’t your fault, though. They say nothing about your intelligence.

For the things that were in your control, beating yourself up about them now won’t change anything. We all procrastinate. We’ve left revision to the last minute at least once. Right now, it’s much more useful for you to focus on what you can do in the future.

Check Your English Literature Results

According to the government, you don’t need to resit your English language GCSE if you’ve passed English literature. So, if you’ve got one of your English GCSEs, you don’t need to worry about the other one.

Government requirements on resitting

As long as you get a grade 4 in one of those subjects, you’re fine. You only need to resit if you’ve failed both. If you have, though, you need to keep resitting GCSE English language until you pass it. You don’t get to choose to do literature, instead.

Of course, schools and sixth-form colleges will have their own requirements. Some might have a condition that everyone who fails their English language GCSE has to retake – even if they’ve passed literature! It’s not government mandated, though. So, you’ll be able to find a school that will take you –unless you’re trying to do A-level English!

For some students, you might stop reading now. So, you don’t have to retake English after all! What a relief! If that’s you, congratulations!

However, as I said in my blog post about compulsory subjects, an English language GCSE is very valuable. Many universities and employers expect you to have passed it. So, if your school gives you the chance to have another go, I recommend trying. It’s worth it in the long run!

Plus, the English language GCSE doesn’t require the hours of revision and memorisation that you need for literature. It’s a skills-based exam that asks you to explain how writers make their readers think and feel specific things. If you get a little practice every week, you could pass!

So if you’re really close to a 4, it might be worth having another go. Don’t do it if it’s going to add too much stress to the next stage of your education, though.

Check If You Can Appeal the Result

If you have failed both of your English GCSEs, the next step for you is to check if you can appeal your result.

Appealing is when you ask the exam board to check your papers for marking mistakes. It’s a chance for you to challenge your examiner and claim that they marked you too low.

This option is good for students who are close to getting a grade 4. If you’re a mark or two away from passing, there’s often no harm in trying to appeal and get them to re-mark your papers. It could be all you need to leave GCSE English in the past!

However, there are some things to consider when deciding if you should appeal:

  1. The grade could go down as well. The appeal could find that your examiner has been too generous with your marks and drop your grades even more. So, if you know you messed up your exams on the day – or you barely scraped your grade – it might be worth leaving the mark as it is.
  2. They rarely make a major correction. Unless your examiner has forgotten to mark one of your questions, it’s unlikely that your grade will go up too much. So, it’s best for people who are close to the grade boundary.
  3. The appeal costs money. Many schools only pay the cost of an appeal if your teacher has decided it’s a good idea. If your teacher doesn’t want to appeal, you’ll have to fork out the £100+ to get the re-mark.
  4. There is a time limit. Every exam board has a time limit for appeal. So, if you’re going to do it, you need to get on top of it straight away.

Only appeal if it’s right for you personally.


Talk to Your School or Sixth Form College ASAP

Lots of schools and colleges have entry requirements to study in their sixth form. For example, you might have to pass maths and English GCSE. So, it’s important that you talk to them to make sure you can still attend.

Many schools have provisions for students who failed either GCSE maths or English. They’re happy to accept you to study your chosen course, but only if you agree to resit the GCSE until you pass or graduate. They have the funding and resources to do this.

Other schools will have stricter requirements. For example, my school required all the students to have 6 As – including in the A-levels they chose. Check what those requirements are and talk to them. They can help you.

If you failed both maths and English GCSEs, your chosen school might not be able to take you. However, there are colleges that specialise in retake GCSEs. They’ll usually be able to put you in touch with a great one if you talk to them.

Whatever happens, you need to talk to your school ASAP. They can come up with an action plan with you so that you know what you’ll do next. There are many options! For example, staying with them and going to their retake classes, committing to tutoring, or going to a college for retakes.

There are even other, less common options! For example, a student who has a good reason and a commitment to work hard might be accepted even if their grades are low. Or, they might agree to let you split your time between them and the college for retakes!

Just get in touch immediately. Explain the situation and ask them to help you.

Don’t Think About English For at Least a Week

Once you’ve taken all those initial steps, you’ve done everything you can do at the moment. You’ve taken the right steps. Well done!

However, failing your English GCSE isn’t easy to deal with. Your mood is probably pretty low right now. Tensions might be high at home. You’re probably quite disappointed with yourself. Lots of students stress, cry, or even feel like punching something because they have to keep taking English – just when they thought they had escaped it!

The next steps are going to require you to have a level head and come to terms with the fact that you’re stuck with English for a little bit longer. While Step 1 was all about not stressing, it’s easier said than done. Actually, it’s going to take you more than an hour or two to make sure you’re not making emotional decisions.

So, take the time that you need to recover from the shock of failing your GCSE. Don’t spend time stressing on social media, either. Go out with friends. If you have a dog, take it out for a walk. Read a book in the park. Basically, enjoy the last few days of your summer holidays as much as you can. Unwind and relax.

This is an important step because it allows you to return to the situation with fresh eyes. Plus, you’ve done all you can before the start of term. If you appealed the exam, you’re waiting for the decision. The deadline to recall scripts is usually in September, too. You don’t have to worry about it right now.

Since there’s nothing else you can do, obsessing over it won’t be productive. Unless, of course, you’re going to get a tutor right now! More on that later, though.

Then, Reflect on How You Could Have Done Better

Once you’ve taken the time to make sure you have a level head, you can now think back to your exams, revision and studies with fresh eyes.

This step is going to require you to be mature and critical but fair to yourself at the same time. You’re going to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was I in the right frame of mind to take an exam? If not, what stopped me from being that way?
  • Did I read the question thoroughly, or did I just rush ahead with writing?
  • Was my time used wisely during the exam?
  • Did I revise enough?
  • Were my revision strategies good enough?
  • Did I listen well in class?
  • Did I do all my homework?
  • What could I have done to make sure the lessons stuck better?
  • Did I attend all my lessons?
  • If there were lessons I couldn’t attend, did I contact the teacher and catch up?

This stage is not a chance for you to complain about all of the things that other people did wrong. It’s a chance for you to think about what you have control over and how you can make your own life easier.

It’s human nature to fixate on all the ways that other people or situations out of your control screwed you over. However, there are always going to be things that go wrong. Your reaction to those things will shape whether you do well or let others bring you down.

Of course, point out where things outside of your control went wrong. But then, leave it to the people whose job it is to deal with it. The most successful students – and people in general – are the ones who focus on improving themselves.


Get Ready to Resit

Now that you’ve reflected on how you could have done better, it’s time for you to put that into action. There’s no point in being so self-critical if you aren’t going to take the time to improve yourself. Resitting in October is the perfect time to do that.

The October resit is very soon after you return to school. How nice would it be to pass then and get English over and done with for good? Then, you can focus on the subjects you care about and leave English behind.

You can fix some of your problems from the June exam one by one. Start with revision and attendance. Take the following steps:

  • Make yourself a revision timetable.
  • Try out all the exam practice you can (you can find some on my shop, including one for free).
  • Attend all resit and tutoring sessions.
  • Communicate with your teachers and tutors if you’re struggling.
  • Let teachers and tutors know if you can’t come to a class and ask for catch-up work.

If you can do that in October, you’ll have a lot less work to worry about in the long run. So, it’s definitely worth it for you!

Don’t stress if you fail the GCSE resit in October, though, either. You’ve had a long summer holiday where you haven’t touched anything to do with English. You haven’t flexed those muscles for months. It’s normal for it to take you a while to get used to using them again.

The real goal is the summer retake. That’s when you should be throwing your all into it.

Recall Your Exam Script

If you have appealed the exam, you should receive your new grade in early September. You might discover that they’ve changed the grade, and you actually passed. If so, well done! You can stop here and never look back. However, if the result is still a fail, it’s time to recall the GCSE script.

The good news is that most exams don’t charge anything for you to get your script back with the original marker’s comments on it. So, it’s not going to require you to fork out any money. Plus, the deadline is usually at the end of September – well after when you get the appeal results. So, you don’t have to think about recalling the exam until after you’re sure you need to.

The bad news is that you can only get the script through the school where you sat the exam. So, if you’ve changed schools, you’ll have to go back and ask them to recall the paper for you.

If you can get your script back, it is a great way to figure out how you can do better next time. You’ll know what you did well on, so you don’t spend unnecessary time on the good stuff. Plus, you’ll know exactly where you dropped the marks.

With a teacher or tutor at your side, you can use this information very well. You can put together a bespoke, personalised plan on how to improve. That will do you a lot more good than a generic revision structure. Plus, it saves time that a tutor might need to use to make you do a full paper so they can understand your needs.

Even if you’re studying for the resit on your own, it will help you to improve your work. Using feedback to rewrite an essay or exam answer is actually one of the most effective ways to improve your grades!

Check if You Can Be Put Down For Typing

I’ve had over 50 students come to me after failing their English GCSEs. Out of those students, I’d say that 75% of them were already capable of passing.

The problem wasn’t ability. They had all the right thoughts in their heads to get a grade 4, 5 or even higher. When we talk through the exam together, or I give them plenty of time to do the paper, they pass easily. The problem here is timing. They just weren’t able to write enough in time.

The truth is that lots of students struggle with writing by hand right now. They don’t have the writing stamina or speed. Plus, they’re so used to being on phones, laptops, and iPads that putting pen to paper is alien to them.

Combine that with the fact that we were locked indoors with COVID for practically two years. Lots of people have gotten out of the habit of writing. I know I get wrist pain way quicker than I used to!

When it comes to a subject like English, having poor writing speed and stamina can have a huge impact on whether you pass or fail.

That’s why typing in an exam can be such a huge help.

According to Ofqual, who are responsible for all the exam rules in the UK, your school or college doesn’t need to prove you have a disability or learning need to get you typing in your exam. They get to choose who gets to type on their own.

Ofqual’s rules around typing in an exam.

It just needs to be your normal way of working, which is easy to prove! So, the only thing stopping your school from giving you typing is whether they have enough laptops set up with the right software.


Do Some Typing Exercises

If you can type for your exams, this is a big success. With some practice, most people can learn to type way quicker than they write.

But you do need to practise. It takes some time to get used to where all the buttons are and learn how to touch type. That’s how you’re going to make sure that typing will actually improve your grades.

Plus, you won’t be able to use autocorrect or spellcheck on the day. Those functions will be turned off. So, you need to make sure that you’re still practising your spelling.

In fact, there’s an added layer to spelling on a keyboard when compared to writing with a pen: typos. Make sure that you get used to looking for them. You won’t have a red squiggly line telling you that a word is wrong.

There are plenty of great apps and games out there designed to help you with typing. Here are some for you to check out:

There are also some great apps for phones and iPads. Be careful with those, though! Typing on a laptop is very different from typing on your phone. Make sure you practice with an actual keyboard as much as you can.

This website lists all the best apps and websites to get typing practice for the secondary school age group. Try them out and find one that suits you.

See if You Can Get Some Extra Help from a Tutor

Some students don’t see the point in resitting English again and again. They wonder, “If I failed the GCSE the first time, what’s going to change this time?” Well, a lot can improve in the space of a few months! It all depends on how much work you put into it and how much changes in your environment.

Sometimes, you just need to hear the message from a different source. That’s not to say that your teacher was bad. Most teachers are great! The problem is that you just might not have vibed very well with the way your teacher explained things. Maybe the class sizes were too big. Or, maybe you just needed a little bit more accountability than they could offer.

Whatever the reason, a tutor can be just what you need. They are helpful for a few reasons:

  • One-to-one or small group sessions mean the tutor can spend more time with you. They are more likely to know when you’re struggling without having to wait for you to do an essay or homework.
  • Many tutors are very experienced in helping students who have failed the GCSE in English.
  • Dedicated sessions outside of school hours force you to do revision that you might not have done on your own.
  • Hearing the same piece of information delivered in different ways is a good idea. It’s called dual coding, and it’s easier to achieve that when you get the information from more than one source.
  • It’s a tutor’s job to also give you the confidence to do well. Many students who fail English the first time around lack confidence, which a tutor can help you with.

If you’re looking for a tutor with experience of helping students to pass their GCSE in English, my doors are always open! You can contact me to book in a weekend session where we can improve your grades together!

Good luck!

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