Even students with A grades are trying to improve their marks. One grammar school in south-east England that charges pound;15 per resit collected Pounds 5,000 last summer, the equivalent of more than one retake for each sixth-former.
New rules introduced two years ago in the wake of the A-level grading fiasco allow pupils to retake papers as many times as they want. This can pay dividends as A-level grades reflect the average percentage score in several AS and A2 modules. Heads now want the loophole closed, saying it made a mockery of the exam process.
Students have already been warned that they face the stiffest competition yet this year. The trend of improving A-level results year-on-year, coupled with the introduction of student top-up fees in England from September 2006, has led to a record 8 per cent surge in university applications this year.
Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Young people clearly understand their subject better in the second year of an A-level course, so it is not surprising so many choose to retake the first-year exam again. AS-level results should not contribute towards the final A-level grade."
Exam boards are unable to give figures on the number of retakes. However, figures from the AQA and OCR boards show that the number of papers taken in January 2005, an examination session when many pupils resit AS modules, rose 11 per cent from 994,162 in 2004 to 1,104,041.
An exams officer at an east Midlands school said: "Loads of kids are resitting modules because it gives them more chance of a top university."