How to book an exam as a private candidate

If you decide to resit an exam, you may need to register as a private candidate. Here’s what you’ll need to do, where you can sit the exam, and how much it’s likely to cost.

What is a private candidate?

Private candidates cover a wide range of students. Broadly speaking, it describes anyone who wants to take a formal qualification but isn’t necessarily studying full-time at school or college. For example, it can include students who:

  • Have chosen to resit an exam.
  • Are home-schooled or self-taught.
  • Are learning part-time as a hobby but want a formal qualification (such as language learners).

If you decide to sit either GCSEs or A-Levels as a private candidate, it’s up to you to make the arrangements.

When can private candidates sit GCSEs and A-Levels?

Timetables are set nationally, so you’ll sit exams at the same time as other students, even if you’re a private candidate. Dates can also vary depending on the subject and the exam board.

Generally, GCSEs and A-Levels take place in the summer, around May and June, while IGCSEs can also be taken in January. GCSE exam resits can be taken in the autumn (typically November). This year (2021) some A-level resits are also taking place but usually, these will need to be taken the following summer . 

You should aim to book exams six months before you want to take them. If you miss the six-month window, you may still be able to apply but it will be at the exam board’s discretion and there could be extra admin fees. So, if you’re looking to take a summer exam, you’ll need to make the arrangements in January or February. Autumn resits usually have a shorter deadline for applications and you’ll need to make sure you’re registered by September or October. You can check specific exam board timetables at Edexcel, AQA, and Cambridge Assessment International.

Where can private candidates take exams?

As a private candidate, you can sit GCSEs and A-Levels at schools and colleges that are already entering their students into exams.

To find schools and colleges in your area, you can contact your local authority. Exam boards also update their websites with lists of institutions that cover their syllabus (take a look at Edexcel, AQA and Cambridge Assessment International). Bear in mind that schools set their own policies on private candidates so you’ll need to check with them first rather than assuming you can sit an exam there.  

How much does it cost to sit exams as a private candidate?

Prices vary considerably and usually include the cost of the exam and an admin fee. You should budget for around the £100 mark for GCSEs, but A-Levels can cost more so it’s well worth comparing different exam boards and their costs.

All money goes directly to the exam board and not the school or college you sit the exam at.

Registering as a private candidate

If you’ve found somewhere to sit your exam as a private candidate, the next step is to register with them and submit your entry. To do that, you’ll need to provide:

  • Your name and date of birth (as it is on your birth certificate, passport or photo driving licence).
  • Contact details.
  • The specific code for the exam you want to sit (you can get this from your tutor or online course provider).
  • Your unique candidate identifier (UCI) which you can find on any previous exam paperwork or qualifications.
  • Payment fee for the exam.

How and when do private candidates get results?

If you’re taking resits, results are available mid-January. For summer exams, results are given in the middle of August.

Your result will be sent to the exam centre which you can collect in person or get by email, but processes will depend on the awarding body, so it’s important to double check what you need to do.

Preparing for exams

Whether you’re resitting an exam or taking formal qualifications for the first time, exams can be daunting.

For some tips on getting ready, take a look at our guides on preparing for your English GCSE and A-Levels and taking resits. Plus, don’t forget, if you need a little help reaching your full potential, contact us about one to one or group tuition. We offer both online and face to face teaching for GCSEs and A-Levels.