What are the options if you don't get the grades you expect?

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Aug 23, 2023

Parent consoling a child reading a letter

Unhappy with your GCSE results? We’re sharing the options available if your grades are lower than expected

GCSE results day 2023 will take place on Thursday 24th August. With hundreds of thousands of pupils preparing to receive their grades that they’ve waited months for, it’s completely natural to feel anxious. But with reports that 300,000 fewer top grades could be awarded this year, as Ofqual returns to the pre-pandemic grading system, there are likely to be even more pupils wondering what they can do if they don’t get the results they’d hoped for.

If you’re disheartened with your exam results, we’re going to share some useful tips, resources and advice on the next steps you can take. Before we get to that though, it’s important to be kind to yourself if you experience results day disappointment.

Remember, your grades do not define you or your success. Whilst that might sound easier said than done, it really does speak true. Three friends of Happiful share their experience of unexpected results and how they’ve gone on to succeed.

“...those results are just part of a bigger picture of you. It's just as important to be an interesting person, to show a good work ethic, to be interested in your subject, and to read up around it.”

I didn’t get the results I expected, what next?

Discuss your options

The first thing you should do is discuss the options with your teachers and the college or sixth form that you applied to. Your teachers will be there to support you on the day and help you work through the options available. Even if you didn’t get the grades you thought you needed for your college, it’s important that you discuss your results with them as they may still accept you with lower marks. If you don’t get accepted, try not to panic. There are likely to be other colleges that will accept you onto your chosen course with the grades you have.

Top tip: Bring your offer letter with you on your results day so you can see exactly what you need and be ready to contact the relevant people.

Re-sitting your exams

Not everyone will get the results they want the first time around. In this instance, you may have the option to resit exams. In the UK, if you didn’t achieve at least a grade 4 in Maths and/or English, you will need to resit them in November. You must legally continue to study maths and English until you pass or reach the age of 18. Most colleges and sixth forms will allow students to resit these exams whilst studying for their A-levels, but it’s best to check this with your school directly.

Generally, if you pass maths and English but you would like to retake the exams to improve your grade, you’ll need to pay for this. You’ll also usually have to pay for any other subjects you wish to retake. Most of these exams are sat in the exam period of the following year, but there may be an opportunity for you to take them earlier in November or January.

Absolutely anybody can retake their GCSEs (even if you’re older and have been working). You can only retake an exam once (unless resitting maths and/or English) and your final result will be your highest mark. If you’re considering resitting an exam, it’s worth assessing what subjects are really necessary to retake, as you’ll find that many courses don’t require resits. Think about what it is you might want to do in the future and what’s going to be the most relevant to you. This will save extra work and unnecessary stress.

Re-sitting an exam can feel daunting but it shouldn’t be seen as a failure. Instead, think of it as a chance to improve your grade. You can find out more information about resitting exams at

What if I think my results are wrong?

If you feel that your grades are incorrect and something has gone wrong, you may want to appeal your results. The most important thing to do is to speak to your school and get appropriate advice. Consider that if your exam is re-assessed, there is a chance that your grade could be lowered or stay the same. If the result doesn’t change, you’re likely to be charged a fee. There are different guidelines and processes depending on where you are in the UK. Find out more about appealing a grade on the Government website.

What other options are available?

  • Changing subjects or courses. If you didn’t get the grades you needed for your first choice course or subjects, you may wish to consider your other interests and if you are able to change your pathway. Discuss this with your college to learn more about the options.
  • Consider a different route. You may not need to go to college or sixth form and complete A-levels to get to where you want to be. There are so many different options available from apprenticeships, vocational qualifications or moving into part-time work. The Student Room has a useful guide for what you can do when you finish school.

How to deal with results day disappointment

We get that results day disappointment can cloud your day and leave you feeling unsure of what the future might bring. Here are some tips for ensuring you can make the best of the situation:

  • Reflect on your achievements. When experiencing results day disappointment, it can be easy to fall into a trap of negative self-talk. Instead, try to focus on what you’ve achieved (remembering that this doesn’t have to be numbers on a page). What have you learnt about yourself whilst studying? What are you most proud of? These questions will help you to recognise your core values and strengths and help you navigate your next steps.
  • Be flexible. Not getting the results you want might mean you have to change the path you had initially set out to take. This might look like taking up a place at a different college or sixth form or changing your route entirely. As Zig Ziglar said, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” You may encounter some stumbling blocks along the way, but being flexible will open you up to more opportunities, and who knows where that might lead.
  • Remember that success is not linear. Success ebbs and flows and we are often unable to succeed without experiencing a setback along the way. Rather than dwelling on your results, try to see this as a chance to grow from it.
  • Be proactive. You’re much more likely to stand out to potential future colleges or employers if you advocate for yourself and demonstrate your determination to bounce back. Reach out to people that can provide help and support and research all your options.
  • Take care of yourself. The most important thing you can do at this time is look after yourself and your wellbeing. Try to take some time for yourself to unwind from all the emotions you’re likely to be experiencing. This might look like going for a walk or writing down your thoughts in a journal.
  • Seek mental health support. If you’re struggling to cope with your unexpected grades and you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, you may find it helpful to talk to a professional - such as a coach or counsellor.

Useful resources:

  • If you need a helping hand on results day, whether you just want someone to listen or you’re looking for advice, you can contact the National Careers Service.
  • The National Careers Service’s Exam Results Helpline can be reached on 0800 100 900
  • Youth Employment UK offers tools and support to help 11-30-year-olds fulfil their potential.
  • Young Minds offer mental health support for children and young people across the UK.

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