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Sitting A-levels after missing GCSEs

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

I answer questions from students on Quora enquiring about different aspects of the GCSE courses as well as current issues in education. This question was asked by a student concerned about the repercussions of the corona virus on his academic progress.

Q. Having not sat GCSEs due to coronavirus, will I find A-levels much harder without the practice?


This is a reasonable question and in fact it’s something that hasn’t been discussed very much. I think there is a sweet spot when it comes to exam practice and only sitting one exam at the end of A-levels may end up being a little light. My worry would be that A-level students may feel slightly overwhelmed when they get to sitting their papers, never having sat a public exam before. There are certainly ways to deal with this issue but I think it is a valid concern.

One of the secondary purposes that GCSEs serve is that they prepare students for the more challenging examinations that will come in the following years. It’s difficult to fully replicate this in mock exams which are very much an internal affair. Your mocks are selected and marked by your school teachers, whereas the real exam is set by an independent board and your scripts are marked anonymously by people who know you only as a candidate number. These two dynamics are very different. Strangely, I remember feeling a great sense of freedom knowing that it would be an external examiner marking my work and not the teachers that I worked with on a week-to-week basis. I felt like the chance to show what I had learnt and engage with something interesting in a more high-stakes environment, not just another boring school test. I’ve heard other students make similar comments over the years.

I wouldn’t be overly concerned that you’ll find A-levels much harder than otherwise would have been the case. The material will be more challenging anyway. The issue is more that you may take a little while to settle into exams when it comes to sitting them. In most cases, you should get used to the process within a couple of sittings anyway.

Perhaps one option to prepare mentally for the challenge of sitting public exams is to mentally compare the situation with other challenges that you have faced in life so far, perhaps in sport, music or drama. Those experiences serve students well as they offer the opportunity to practice performing well on an important occasion. Different people deal with these situations in different ways. I found from football that I either needed to be extremely relaxed or extremely hyped up in order to get the best out of myself - anything in between didn't seem to be as effective. Hopefully students will have some experiences like this to draw upon when it comes to sitting A-levels, even if missing the GCSE exams does mean that they are less seasoned in sitting exams.

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