It's been an exhausting year at uni. Coursework. Exams. Early starts. Late nights. But hey, that’s all over now and you can finally focus on some stress-free summer fun!

Or at least, so you thought.

Did you just get your results back and things aren’t as you’d hoped? Do your grades mean you're going to have to resit an exam in August?

If this is you, please don’t fret. You’ve stressed yourself out enough this year. Nobody's going to tell you this is a fun place to be, but it's also not the end of the world. There are plenty of things you can do to make sure you ace your resits and you don't end up in the same position next year.

Read on for some tips.

How resits work

At most institutions, exam resits are taken in August or early September. They may incur an additional fee.

There shouldn't be any big surprises as far as the exam itself is concerned.

You won't be presented with the exact same exam you took the first time, but the exam you take should be in an identical (or very similar) format. It’ll have the same distribution of long- and short-answer questions, multiple-choice questions, or essay questions.

If you missed the first exam entirely due to illness, or the university has accepted you performed poorly because of extenuating circumstances, your resit will be granted "first-attempt" status. This means you'll be able to score on it exactly as you would have for the first exam.

Otherwise, your resit mark will probably be "capped" (usually at a bare pass mark of 40 or 50, depending on the programme of study and the marking scale used by the university).

"A 'capped' mark means that even if you kick your
resit’s ass and score 80%, your recorded mark
for the module will unfortunately be much lower."

Be aware that the bulk of this blog article assumes you're going to be taking a capped resit. We've tailored most of these tips to helping you get the pass mark you need to proceed into your next year of study.

'Extenuating circumstances'

There may have been valid reasons why you didn't perform as you had hoped or expected in your exam. For example, an illness or family bereavement. This is known as ‘extenuating circumstances’. If this is the case for you, you should always make sure your university is aware.

Institutions are generally more receptive to claims of extenuating circumstances if they're presented at the time of the original exam and backed up with documentary evidence, such as a doctor's note.

But it's possible you felt fit to take the exam at the time. So you took it. You may not have realised how much a documented physical or psychological issue would affect your general well-being. Or your concentration. Or your exam preparation.

If this sounds like you, it may still be worth gathering your documentary proof together and approaching your department and/or Students' Union. If you can find an ally in either of these places, you may be able to convince the university that you deserve a "first-attempt" resit, with no cap on the mark you can achieve for the module.

So, how do I ace my resits?

First, and most importantly...

Stay upbeat.

We know this is easier said than done. Nobody wants to spend their summer holidays revising and sitting exams they thought they’d kissed goodbye to ages ago.

And it can be difficult to get motivated for an exam knowing that, no matter how well you do, it’ll likely lower rather than raise your grade average. But there are still some positives to take from the situation you're in, and it's important to focus on these:

  • You'll learn and grow from this experience. Trying, failing, and trying again, is part of the rollercoaster that is undergraduate life. You can learn things from this experience that will set you up to do better in the future.

    It's possible you simply spent too many late nights drinking last term (and they were valuable in their own way too, so don't regret them too much!). Maybe you weren't quite as on top of your coursework as you thought you were. Or maybe you got a bit too involved in enjoyable extra-curricular projects. Perhaps you worked too many hours at a part-time job. Or maybe you really focused on your most enjoyable module and didn't balance your time as well as you might have. You may even have been experiencing some personal issues and didn’t realise how much they were affecting you academically.

    Whatever the lessons you can learn from your performance in your recent exams – whether it's taking better care of yourself, refocusing your priorities, or just balancing your study time more effectively – now is the perfect time to reflect on the changes you need to make and make them in time for next year.

  • You've been here before. This may seem like an obvious observation. But if you're resitting, you will have a much better sense of what's coming this time.

    Use that experience positively: reflect on the question formats or the subject matter that gave you the greatest difficulty, and focus your effort accordingly.

  • You only have to pass. We're not saying there's no pressure when you're resitting an exam. Of course, if you're having to do a resit then it’s likely you find the subject especially challenging. You may well need to pass just in order to move on to the next year.

    But if you're taking a capped resit, you have a very particular, focused goal to aim for.

    University as a whole might be about innovating, taking risks, and enriching your understanding of a topic. However, resits are strictly functional and your goal is the 40 or 50 mark you need to pass. It’s not the 70 you may have been aiming for at the start of the module. Just focus on what you need to do and learn to get you that golden PASS ticket.

Use past papers, and play detective.

As unpleasant as it may be, look over the exam you've already taken.

Think carefully about where you gained marks and where you lost them. Ideally, get hold of a few past papers for the same module and look carefully at those questions too. You can usually find these in your department or Students' Union.

When reading, can you get a good sense of what question formats are used most often? Do you get an idea of what topics you'll almost certainly have to write on? If so, focus your energies on these.

Be thoughtful about how you use your time.

Resits are different from normal term-time exams.

The key difference? If you're doing a capped resit you only need to score the minimum pass mark. Anything more is overkill and unnecessary. When you’re reading past papers, if there are one or two topics that you consistently just don't get, you may decide to cut your losses. Focus on really nailing the parts of the module content you understand the best. Try to develop excellent model answers for these questions.

"Don't try to cover everything. Ensuring you
can answer 60 or 70% of the answers flawlessly
is a more reliable strategy for resits."

Make sure you can score at least 50% or more no matter what combination of topics comes up. But remember that this is a time to prioritise depth over breadth. Don’t thinly cover all the material again. Don’t try and teach yourself topics from scratch if you can manage without them.

Follow a structured revision plan.

Resits do differ significantly from regular term-time exams in some ways. But they're still exams, and revision strategies that work for regular exams will stand you in good stead here too.

Remember to revise actively rather than passively.

Don’t simply read your textbooks and course materials for days at a time. Make sure you follow up any reading you do by making notes or writing revision sheets for yourself. Attempting practice answers helps also.

If you're struggling to figure out what exam answers should look like for the type of exam you're sitting, remember that help is at hand! Oxbridge Essays provides a custom model exam answer service that can show you how to structure answers to various lengths of exam questions. This can be especially useful if you have your original paper to hand and want to compare the structure and content of your answers to our academics' expert responses.

Using these model answers as a guide to best practice will help you develop the transferable skills not only to ace your resists, but to know what qualities examiners are looking at in your future exams as well!

Remember to take breaks, too. Cramming for days at a time will only ensure your brain is mush by the time your exam comes along.

Which leads us on to our next point…

Rest and recharge.

The fact that you're going to be doing resits means your summer break isn't exactly shaping up as you'd envisaged. But don't let impending exams destroy your entire holiday, or eat up all the time you'd allocated yourself for relaxation.

It's vitally important that you don't exhaust yourself preparing for your resits.

Firstly, you deserve some downtime regardless of how hard you’ve worked. Secondly, if you start the new academic year frazzled, your work will suffer and you could well find yourself back here again!

So, you have two options. Either spend one or two days per week on your revision schedule throughout the summer, or devote a two-week block to revising shortly before your resits are due to start.

And in between, switch off. Soak up some sun. Do whatever you were planning to do this summer. This is especially important if you're spending part of the summer working. You and your brain both need some time to relax completely.

Remember – this is all for your own wellbeing, so don't feel guilty about lying back and doing nothing.

Make the most of doing exam prep away from campus.

Preparing to resit your exams during the summer holidays is tough under any circumstances. But it can be especially challenging if you're a long way away from campus and disconnected from your usual resources.

That said, your university ID and library membership offer some neat benefits and entitlements that you may not be aware of. These could make it easier than you might expect to do your resit preparation from wherever you happen to be.

These could include...

Electronic resources

Remember that universities increasingly keep large electronic holdings of scholarly resources. These may include extensive e-journal databases – especially useful for more advanced modules or those that deal in very recent research.

Or you might even be lucky enough to be a member of a university with extensive eBook holdings. Many undergraduate textbooks are now available in electronic form. It's worth a look to explore your institution's eBook holdings and see if the textbooks you want are among them.

Reciprocal library access arrangements

Many universities are signed up to the SCONUL Access scheme.

This allows students enrolled at any member university to use the facilities of the libraries of other universities, normally without charge or any special enrolment process.

You'll typically be allowed only reference access (i.e. no borrowing) to the resources at the library. However, this may be no bad thing. In addition to being able to consult and photocopy key texts, you'll also be studying in a quiet, distraction-free space. Can you say the same for where you’re spending your summer holidays, e.g. Mum and Dad’s house? Likely not. Take a laptop, a pair of headphones, and get stuck in.

Even if your university isn't a member of the SCONUL scheme it's still worth checking around at nearby institutions: many university libraries are willing to grant summer vacation access to their resources to students at other universities.

Struggling with your exams?
Exams and resits can be a huge stress, whether you're a first year undergrad or studying for your Masters. Wherever you are in your student journey, the Model Exam Answer service from Oxbridge Essays will help you be better prepared and get a step closer to the grade you want. Fact.