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I Failed My A Levels – What Next?

I failed my A levels - now what?
Image credit: Jeff Djevdet

If you’re reading this, you’re either at the stage where you have already failed A levels or you’re just wondering what to do if you fail your A levels.

Either way, you should know that it won’t be the end of the world. If it’s any consolation, many others who once failed A levels have moved on to greener pastures. In my line of work running a tuition agency, I have met some of these people while they were on their journey towards retaking A levels. I look up to them because they faced their disappointment with courage, overcame their setback, and left the dark episode in their distant past.

That’s how I know that you will too.

What if I failed my A levels?

Before even jumping into the question of “what if I fail my A levels” or “what to do if I fail my A levels”, you should ask yourself what is your definition of a failed A levels.

I know some overachieving students who would moan “I failed A levels” simply because they cannot qualify for any course in NUS. (As expected from one of the best universities in the world, qualifying for NUS based on A Levels is not an easy feat, especially if you’re eyeing a competitive major.) While I understand the anxiety of these students, that is not quite what most people would consider the definition of a failed A level exam.  

University Hall NUS
Image credit: alex.ch

Now, if you are unable to qualify for your preferred universities based on your grades for A levels, therein lies the conundrum more pertinent to the topic at hand. You probably failed some of your A levels subjects and now you don’t know how to move forward.

The first step is to understand the options if you fail A levels.

Perhaps your head will clear if I laid out the three most possible scenarios that are about to happen. From there, you can pick your desired outcome and work backwards to determine what you need to do.

1. You will go ahead and obtain a university degree

There may be only six autonomous universities in Singapore, but there are many more private education institutions and not to mention overseas universities where you can further your studies. Even if you failed a few subjects, you might still be able to find a course that fits your interests, budget and qualifications.

If you are unable to find a good match but still feel determined to obtain a degree, you will be retaking A levels – be it as a JC2 student or as a private candidate.

2. You will pursue other upgrading options

Yes, you might think it’s a bummer to re-route into a polytechnic after spending two years in a junior college, but it’s an option that you might come to fully appreciate.

Apart from polytechnics, you could also look into institutions providing industry-specific programmes or post-secondary education in the arts.

3. You will join the workforce

In Singapore’s competitive workforce, it’s not advisable to stop your educational journey with an A level certificate (which is considered to be a pre-university education), especially since you should be able to gain admission into polytechnics based on your O level results. Holding on to a post-secondary education such as a diploma or degree will afford you greater opportunities.

However, kickstarting your career in the workforce can be a strategic move, especially if you have budget constraints that are hindering you from furthering your studies. There are employers that will recognise your A level certificate and remunerate you based on it.

When the time is ripe, you can go back to school for that coveted diploma or degree.

Now that I’ve briefly answered the question of “what happens if I fail my A levels”, let’s go into the fine details about what to do if you fail A levels.

What are my university options?

There are thousands of reputable universities out there. Don’t get so focused on one that you lose sight of excellent alternative possibilities.

Local public universities

Image credit: ProjectManhattan

It’s natural to be dismayed when you receive an S or a U grade for any subject in the A levels. There goes your dream of studying at a prestigious public university – or not! Getting a bad grade for one (or even two papers) does not mean that you’ll have no chance of entering your desired university.

For example, if you had failed your General Paper (GP), you can still apply for admissions in universities like NUS, NTU and SMU. Of course, there are certain courses with a minimum GP grade that you will not qualify for (eg. law). In other cases, the universities will consider your performance in other A level subjects. You might be also called up for an interview as an additional round of screening. So do look carefully at the minimum entry requirements of the courses rather than assume that all hope is gone.

On top of that, these three universities can offer up to 15% of their places to talented students through their Discretionary Admission Scheme. This goes in line with MOE’s move towards encouraging students to pursue their interests in non-academic areas. It gives you an alternative route even if you do not meet the cut-off point for the course you applied to. So do look into NUS DA, NTU DA and SMU DA.

Now, I am writing with the assumption that most of you were aiming to gain admission into the three public universities mentioned above (i.e. NUS, NTU and SMU) as they are generally considered to be the best universities in the country. Other autonomous universities you should also consider, if you haven’t already, are Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and the Yale NUS College.

Local private universities

Getting a cert from a local public university is usually an advantage if you’re eyeing jobs in the government and civil sector. However, do keep in mind that joining private universities can be a sensible move especially if they have a good industry reputation related to your desired course.

There’s an extensive range of private education institutions offering external degree programmes for students with varied qualifications. These include Kaplan Higher Education Academy, Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), PSB Academy and SIM Global Education.

Foreign universities based in Singapore

INSEAD singapore campus
Image credit: ORogalev

On top of that, there are foreign universities with a local campus, such as James Cook University Singapore, INSEAD and Curtin Education Centre. These are usually private universities.

Overseas universities

What about outside of Singapore?

Yes, don’t underestimate your qualifications even if you failed a few subjects. Your current grades, when added together with your non-academic achievements could get you accepted into a good university, especially those that are not so academically oriented.

If you think that studying overseas is too expensive, this could be an eye-opener for you: there are many overseas universities, particularly in Europe, that charge zero or low tuition fees for international students. Do your research into Germany, France, Slovenia, and Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland and Sweden. You’ll still need to pay for your living expenses, but such overseas universities could potentially cost less than studying in Singapore when taking into account the local tuition fees.

What are my non-university options?

Polytechnics

If you don’t want to settle for a less-than-stellar university option, you may want to go back to square one and enrol in a polytechnic. Push aside all the thoughts of “wasting two years” and don’t be ashamed to go from JC to poly. Instead, read up about this JC dropout who went into Republic Polytechnic and subsequently a prestigious med school.

Image credit: Mitch Altman

More and more students have traded junior college for a polytechnic route after doing well for their O levels as they are clear about their interests. Just think about the wealth of interesting courses you can enrol in, be it Veterinary Bioscience, Mass Communication, or Tourism & Resort Management. Which course were you hoping to enrol into in university? Go ahead and look for a related one in a polytechnic.

As a quick overview, there are five polytechnics in Singapore: Nanyang Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic. Check out the joint portal of these polytechnics to browse the full range of related courses.

After being awarded your diploma, you can progress to a university if you achieve a good grade point average (GPA). Back in 2015, one in three local university students were polytechnic graduates, signifying the widening of university doors to diploma holders.

Others

Those with a flair for arts can consider the publicly-funded diploma programmes in LASALLE College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

There are also other institutions with diploma offerings, be it private ones like Kaplan or MDIS, or those that are government-affiliated such as BCA Academy and Singapore Aviation Academy (SAA).

Should I be retaking A levels?

As difficult as it is to overcome the seemingly insurmountable A levels, you will have to try again if you need better grades to get into specific universities or courses.

Retaking A levels would mean that you will sit for your GP and H2 subjects all over again. This is because in university applications, your GP and H2 subjects must be taken in a single sitting. You can choose not to retake your H1 PW, H1 MTL and H1 content-based subject and use the grades you attained at the earlier sitting. If you do retake, however, the best grades will be taken into consideration by the university.

Note that retaking A levels by going through another year of junior college is not a possibility for every student. To be eligible, you must have failed a H2 subject or GP. Otherwise, you would have technically passed your A levels, even if you do not meet the criteria to get into the local public universities. If you fall into this category, you’ll have no choice but to retake A levels privately.

studying in starbucks
Image credit: Nicola Sap De Mitri

Be forewarned: Many private candidates fare worse on their second try.

The main challenge of retaking A levels privately is finding the right people to guide you towards better grades. Your JC teachers won’t be there for you as before – but don’t be shy to try your luck in getting information on the latest syllabus from them!

If you’re planning to get your next A levels done and over with as quickly as possible, you’ll have around half a year to be prepared from the release of the A level results (or from the university rejection notices) to the next round of examinations. MDIS offers A levels preparatory courses, but they cost a hefty sum and they stretch for 10 or 16 months.

Therefore, it’s usually wiser to hire private A level tutors, such as those with SmileTutor, in order to get one-to-one lessons for subjects that you are weakest in. Complete that by joining study groups with juniors or friends who are taking their A levels in the same year.

Guys out there who have been destined for NS after A levels, don’t waste time – retaking A levels during NS is a popular very option. You just need discipline and the ability to juggle your military duties with your exam preparations.

For more practical information on retaking A levels as a private candidate, read this personal guide and also the official SEAB guide.

What if I failed A levels twice?

Yes, A levels is tough – so much so that many students have failed A levels twice.

If you’re one of them, you’re probably wondering  “what to do when I failed my A levels twice?” and “should I retake A levels privately… again?

Before making a decision, find out exactly why you failed A levels twice. Why were you unable to get an improvement in grades during your second attempt? Evaluate what went wrong. Otherwise, if you are still not sure how to pass A levels, there’s no point in having a go for the third time.

If you’ve self-studied but you’re in the “failed my A levels twice” situation, then it’s really time to get a tuition teacher (if you haven’t already). If you are struggling with the contents of what you’re studying, you can even go to the extent of changing your subject combination to one that better fits your strengths.

Not confident in achieving your desired grades during your third attempt? Then my advice is to adjust your goals and expectations. Re-consider all the other options listed above, such as private universities, polytechnics, and joining the workforce.

You may have failed A levels but you can still win in life

This is a tough time for you but hang in there – better days are up ahead.

If you need any motivation, here are 10 inspirational stories of Singaporeans who flunked their A levels but eventually found their way in life.

Take heart. With perseverance, you will be one of them too.

Rum Tan

Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors.

You may try out his free home tutoring services via smiletutor.sg or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.