The ‘back door route’ to get into university even if you failed your exam

fail an exam
It is normal to feel sad and disappointed when you fail an exam. Source: AFP

As you prepare for university you will be filled with excitement and anticipation. Travelling abroad, making new friends, exploring new subjects and discovering new cultures can be exhilarating. 

However, to enter university you must first pursue a pre-university course. These create pathways for you to prepare for your desired course. Here are some popular pre-university courses:

  • International Baccalaureate (IB): The IB programme has a challenging curriculum that emphasises critical thinking, intercultural understanding and holistic education.
  • A Levels (Advanced Levels): A Levels are subject-based qualifications focusing on in-depth understanding and specialisation in chosen subjects. They are highly regarded by universities worldwide.
  • SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test): The SAT is a standardised test widely used for college admissions in the US. It assesses mathematical, reading and writing skills.
  • AP (Advanced Placement): AP courses offer college-level curriculum and assessments to high school students. 
  • Foundation: Foundation programmes provide a bridge between high school and university, offering intensive study in specific subjects to prepare students for their undergraduate courses. 
fail an exam

If you fail an exam you may get rejected from your dream university. Source: AFP

Reasons you might get rejected 

However, before you begin planning, remember that there is a possibility that your application may get rejected and it’s important to prepare for that possibility.

There are a number of reasons why you might get rejected from a university. 

Here are some common reasons:

  • Incomplete application: If your application is missing key details, has errors or fails to meet the criteria requirements set by the university, it may be rejected. This also includes submitting an application past the deadline.
  • Not meeting minimum grade requirements: Many universities have minimum grade requirements for admission, and failing to meet these requirements can lead to rejection. 
  • Competition: Sometimes, even if you meet the minimum grade requirements, you may still be rejected due to high competition for limited spots in the programme. Courses like medicine have high competition, and you may be rejected because other applicants have higher grades, more work experience or stronger personal statements and references. 
fail an exam

Turn to your professors, family and peers for support when you fail an exam. Source: AFP

How to deal with rejection

Getting rejected from your dream university can be frustrating and disappointing. But it is important to remember that it isn’t the end of the road. 

Here’s how you can deal with rejection from a university application:

  • Allow yourself to feel: It’s normal to feel upset or disappointed when you get rejected. Bottling up your emotions can make things worse. 
  • Stay positive: While challenging, try to be positive and understand that rejection does not define your worth or capabilities. 
  • Get feedback: Reach out to the university to find out why you got rejected. Understanding the specific areas where your application fell short can help you in the future.
  • Evaluate your options: Take the time to reassess your goals and consider alternative pathways. Research other universities, programmes or courses that align with your interests and strengths. 

Here’s what you can do if you fail an exam

Keep calm and consider your options

When you fail an exam, it is normal to feel upset or frustrated. However, despite how difficult it may be, staying calm is one of the best things you can do at the time. 

Here’s why: 

  • Clear mind: When you’re calm, your mind works better. You can think more clearly and make better decisions about what to do next. Panicking or getting upset might cloud your judgment and make it harder to decide about your next step.
  • Reduced stress: Keeping calm helps reduce stress. Stress can affect your focus, memory and performance. 
  • Solve the problem: Instead of dwelling on your failure, staying calm lets you focus on finding solutions. You can evaluate your options and choose the best course of action for the future.
  • Positive mindset: A positive attitude is linked to better performance. By staying positive, you’re more likely to bounce back from your failure and succeed. 

Just like athletes who perform better when calm, it was found that students who could regulate their emotions and stay calm during exams performed better academically. 

So remember to take a deep breath, stay positive and focus on the future. 

fail an exam

If you fail an exam you may get a second chance and be allowed to retake your test. Source: AFP

Retake your test 

After failing an exam, you may wish for a do-over. Luckily, in some cases, you are able to retake your test. 

This means you get another chance to prove yourself. However, it’s not always the best choice for everyone.

Before deciding to retake a test, it’s important to understand why you didn’t do well the first time. Maybe you didn’t study enough or didn’t understand the subject fully. Take this as a learning opportunity to study harder or to ask your teachers and peers for help. your study habits or seek help from teachers or tutors.

Remember that retaking a test requires time and effort. You’ll need to dedicate more hours to study and prepare for it. Make sure you’re willing to put in the work to improve before you make this decision. 

Here are some major exams that allow you to retake it if you don’t pass the first time:

  • SAT/ACT: If you didn’t score the first time, this college entrance exam allows you to retake it and improve your score. 
  • AP exams: If you don’t pass an AP exam, you can retake it the following year.
  • A Levels: You can retake this a few months later or the next year.
  • GMAT: These are graduate school entrance exams required for admission to many graduate programs. If you don’t achieve the score you need, you can retake this entrance exam after a certain period.

Remember, failing a test doesn’t define your future. It’s just a temporary setback. You can bounce back and achieve your goals.

Speak to your teacher 

If you’ve failed an exam, it can feel really disheartening. But don’t lose hope just yet. Speaking to your teacher or lecturer about extra credit could be an option worth considering.

Here’s how you can approach it:

  • Start by acknowledging your performance and express your disappointment. Teachers appreciate honesty, so don’t try to make excuses.
  • Instead of immediately asking for extra credit, ask for advice on how you can improve. This shows that you’re willing to put in the effort to do better.
  • Let your teacher know that you’re really interested in the subject and that you’re eager to improve your grade.
  • Then ask about the possibility of extra credit assignments or opportunities to make up for your low exam grade.

However, remember that not all teachers offer extra credit options, and even if they do, it might not be enough to change your grade. But it’s still worth a try.

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UCAS Extra gives you a second chance to apply for courses if you didn’t receive any offers. Source: AFP

Apply to a new course through UCAS extra

When you fail an exam, it might feel like the end of the world, but there’s still hope. 

If you’re applying to UK unis, one option you can consider is applying for a new course through UCAS Extra, which is provided by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 

It gives you a second chance to apply for courses if you haven’t received any offers. They say when one door closes, another opens. Take this as a fresh start to explore other options and find a course that is a better fit for you. 

UCAS Extra allows you to explore many courses and universities that you may not have considered before. You might discover a new passion or interest you hadn’t considered before.

Universities and colleges often provide support services for students applying through UCAS Extra. This may include guidance counsellors, admissions tutors and career advisors who can offer advice and assistance throughout the application process.

This year the Ucas Extra application period runs fromFebruary 28, 2024 to July 4, 2024.

Find a course through Clearing 

If you haven’t received an offer by July 4, you can go through Clearing. 

Clearing is a system in the UK that helps you find university courses if you didn’t get the grades you need to get into the universities of your choice.

If you fail an exam and don’t get accepted into the university you wanted, don’t panic. Clearing typically begins in July after A-level results are released in the UK. UCAS publishes a list of courses with available spaces on their website. This year it will be fromJuly 4 until Oct 21.

Start looking for courses that still have spaces available. You can do this online or by calling universities directly. Make a list of options that interest you.

Once you’ve found courses you’re interested in, contact the universities. You’ll speak to their admissions team and explain your situation. 

They might ask you a few questions or even give you a mini-interview before offering you a spot.

Once you’ve accepted an offer, the university will confirm everything officially. Then, you’re all set to start your new journey. 

Around 67,990 students have found a place using Clearing. And the best part is that some even end up loving their new courses more than their original choices. 

fail an exam

Choosing to take a gap year and travel after you fail an exam can help you clear your mind and make you more motivated to succeed when you get back. Source: AFP

Take a gap year and reapply 

Taking a gap year and reapplying after failing an exam allows you to regroup, refocus and come back stronger. 

While failing an exam can be a setback, it also gives you time to reflect and identify the areas you need to work on. 

You can take this time to study harder, build on your skills, gain experience and decide your next step. During a gap year, you can pursue internships, volunteer work or part-time jobs. This enhances your resume and will give you time to understand yourself better, your interests and your goals. 

Did you know that the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk took a gap year before beginning his studies at the University of Pretoria in South Africa?

During this time, he travelled in Canada and the US, working various jobs to support himself and gain experience. This included working on farms, cutting logs, cleaning boilers, etc.

fail an exam

The “back door” allows you to enter a year-long foundation course with lower entry grades and then apply for progression to an undergraduate degree. Source: AFP

“Back door” route

The “back door” route to getting into a UK university undergraduate programme refers to alternative pathways for you to gain admission that are not through the standard application process.

The “back door route” includes options like foundation courses, access courses, or even clearing. These are alternative paths for those who may not meet the standard entry requirements.

Reasons for choosing the “back door” route when you fail an exam:

  • Didn’t meet requirements: You might not have achieved the grades or qualifications required for direct entry.
  • Change in plans: You may have decided to go in a different direction and pursue a different career, but the necessary qualifications.
  • A second chance: You may have failed an exam and are looking for a second chance to prove yourself and perform better. 
  • Foundation courses: These are preparatory courses designed to help you meet the requirements of your chosen undergraduate programme.