Retaking A Levels ? An 88.75 RP Retaker explains how

by | Oct 16, 2021

It doesn’t seem too long ago when I was staring in disbelief at my laptop screen which reflected my A-Level grades. I recall feeling numb, confused and irrevocably in shock.

For some context, these were the grades I received on 21st February 2020:

H2 Literature – C
H2 Mathematics – S
H2 Economics – B
H1 History – B
H1 GP – A

And these were my grades after retaking A levels :
H2 Literature – A
H1 Mathematics – B
H2 Economics – A
H2 History – A
H1 GP – A

After calculating my rank points with trembling hands, I came to terms with the fact that I had scored a whopping score of 69 rank points.

JC was extremely fast-paced and challenging. I was not academically gifted nor was I a star student but I always sought to put my best foot forward and was sincere in my work.

Leading up to A’s, I booked consultations with my tutors and days would be spent tirelessly doing papers in the library. As such, when I saw my ultimate set of grades, it felt like a punch in the gut, to say the least.

Yet, it is rightly said that after you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up!

While I do not consider my tale to be that of an ‘A-Level Retake Success Story’ (for the simple reason that anyone who chooses to retake already deserves commendation for their courage), I sincerely wish that this article will provide a glimmer of hope to those who may be considering retaking or are retaking A Levels as private candidates in Singapore.

Also, check out how you can score for General paper as I did.

Achievement unlocked

The days following the results felt like a blur. I remember having heated conversations with my parents regarding what should be the next step.

A huge point of clarity for me during that period was speaking to my form teacher. He encouraged me to sit for a retake, believing that I could perform better.

Though limited, I had a few options to choose from: enrolling in a private university, studying overseas or retaking as a private candidate.

I realized that I did not yet have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue in University. And although I was offered to continue as a J3 student in school, I felt that retaking A levels privately would grant me more control over my schedule and learning process.

I discontinued H2 Math as it was the greatest drag on my rank points. I never enjoyed math and neither was it value-adding to the careers I intended to pursue.

As such, I made a risky choice to take up H1 math and H2 history instead.

While I was initially scared of my decision, I knew that history is a subject I enjoyed studying and promised myself to give it my best shot!

Overall, the cost of registering and signing up for the various subjects (GP, H1 Math, H2 Literature, H2 Economics and H2 History) totalled 1k. After registering, there was no turning back.

Note that I’m a Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR) and that the cost varies depending on your citizenship status.

What is the registration process of retaking A levels like?

Once you have decided to retake A levels, your first step should be consulting SEAB to check the total sum you have to pay.

Afterwhich, there is a link you can access for a certain period of time to register as a private candidate.

Important documents such as the entry proof and your final set of results after A’s will be sent to you via mail.

How much does it cost to retake A levels?

Here is the Basic Registration Fee :

Here are the costs associated with retaking subjects examined at GCE H1 and H2 level.

My experience retaking as a private candidate

To say that I was petrified at the start of my retaking journey would be an understatement. I was unsure of my choice and thought time and again if I was doing the right thing.

That being said, I knew that I would have regretted not trying and was committed to my decision to retake A levels.

I made the choice about a week after results and almost immediately plunged into finding resources and sourcing for tutors. Here are some of my learnings which could help you too.

1.) Prioritise your subjects

My main priority was starting my revision for history since I’d have to prepare for 2 years worth of content in less than a year’s time. Furthermore, since I was still working part-time for the next 2 months, I made it a point to start revision as soon as possible.

From the get-go set your priorities straight. Get started on solidifying your foundation for weaker subjects.

This includes deciding if you need tuition and preparing your study plans. Have a rough idea of how much content you need to clear for each subject and plan ahead.

2.) Sign-up for tuition

Tuition teacher teaching student

Since we’re on the subject of tuition, I would highly recommend signing up for tuition if you’re self-studying.

Especially in June or July, it would be good to receive consistent feedback and have a set routine which tuition provides.

For arts-related subjects (eg: GP or Econs) the best way to improve is by doing more practises and receiving specific feedback.

3.) Make studying a habit

The year I retook was the year COVID-19 struck as well. While the virus has brought nothing but bouts of stress and chaos, one silver lining for me was that I was able to stay at home and focus on staying on track with my work.

While it may be hard to get back to studying after such a long break, it gets easier the more consistent you are with it.

Like the study habits of these 90 RP students, create a timetable for yourself and allocate specific time to study. After a while, you would get used to the routine and find it easier to get into the flow of studying.

Learn to take notes effectively with these note-taking apps.

Utilise effective studying techniques like active recall and spaced repetition to aid your learning!

4.) Plan your day

For the first few months, I did not stick to a proper schedule and studied as and when I found the time. However, post-June I made sure to have a to-do list daily and plan out all I had to do for the day.

A huge tip that really helped me to keep pace was to take things one day at a time. When you’re studying for the A-Levels, it often is easy to let your nerves get the better of you.

It helps to only be focused on getting through the day – clearing what you have to do for that day itself and preparing for the next. It’s ultimately the efforts you put in on the day to day that count!

How to maintain self-discipline

iPad writing notes

Photo by on Unsplash

1.) Delete your social media

It’s hard enough to be disciplined as a student attending school, let alone self-studying for A Levels on your own.

Not having the structure of a school curriculum was one of my biggest fears while choosing to retake A levels.

However, it was this very fear that motivated me to ensure that I took extra effort to stay focused and create a routine for myself. Fear pushed me to stay focused and on task.

2.) Get an accountability partner

To keep myself in check, I used to share my to-do list for the day with another friend who was also retaking as a private candidate.

We used to send each other our lists every morning and report what we’d manage to accomplish by the end of the day.

In fact, having a friend to study with also serves as a motivational boost! As such, try to get an accountability partner as you can help each other stay on track.

3.) Take a break

The A level is indeed daunting and it’s easy to think that most of your time must be spent revising or doing something productive. However, it’s crucial to remember that rest is important for your well-being.

I still carved out time to relax – I would either go for evening runs or do yoga with my best friend over zoom. Taking a break also helped me concentrate better while studying.

Retaking whilst in NS

Before I share with you my personal insights about retaking while serving NS, I would truly like to commend those who have trod this path. It’s not easy to choose the harder lane especially when you have such a demanding commitment of having to serve NS.

That being said, here are my 2 cents. If you truly believe that you can perform better if you put in the effort and are willing to make the sacrifices, then I definitely think retaking is worth a shot!

To better gauge for yourself if retaking while serving NS is something you’d be willing to do, talk to others who’ve trod the path!

I will not sugarcoat it and say it is manageable – it will require a tremendous amount of sacrifice and discipline on your part. However, if you’re dead set on trying again, there is nothing stopping you from giving your best.

Retaking A levels FAQ

Where can I access resources as a private candidate ?

For basic information about cost and signing up as a private candidate, your first stop should be the SEAB and the SEAB guide for private candidates.

Another one-stop resource you can access would be Take-Two.

Take-Two is a website created by students who have gone through the process of retaking the A-Levels.

After realising that there is a lack of resources, support and information for students who are considering retaking or are in the midst of retaking, Take-Two was birthed to be a reliable and resourceful one-stop platform dedicated to those treading this journey.

Can I juggle a part time job while retaking as a private candidate ?

The short answer is yes. It is entirely possible to balance a part-time job while revising.

In fact, it’s completely understandable for those of you who do not want to burden your parents with the added cost of registration and tuition; fund retaking by your own means.

However, you know yourself best. If you feel like the commitment hinders your study time, please do what you need to give enough time to revision.

You could also consider working part-time till June and keeping it on hold till November.

Usually, post-June is when you’ll need to switch gears and ramp up your revision. Hence, it is advisable to not work part-time if you want to fully commit to A Levels.

Should I self study or enroll in a private institution that helps private candidates retake?

Person taking a break on the bed

Both are viable options! But personally, my bottom line is this – do not go through your retaking journey alone.

If you’re self-studying, do have a tutor or reliable friend to guide you and clarify your doubts.

If you feel like you need a more disciplined structure and still need lessons to clear content, then enrolling in a private institution could be beneficial for you.

Assess your needs and choose accordingly.

Final word of advice for A level retakers

Retaking is not for the faint-hearted – it requires courage and a crazy amount of faith. Your choice to retake alone makes you a force to be reckoned with.

Should you choose to retake A levels, remember why you decided to do so and never give up! Regardless of the outcome on the piece of paper, you will be stronger and wiser for choosing the path less taken.

Alternatively, for those interested in taking a gap year, these gap year stories could help to provide more insights!

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