What is a private candidate?
A private candidate is seen by the examination boards as someone who is not enrolled in the Registered Examination Centre where he or she will take the final examination papers. Private candidates take on full responsibility for completing their studies, finding and corresponding with a Centre that accepts private candidates, and turning up for examinations on time.
Where can a private candidate take examinations?
A private candidate can only take examinations in a Registered Examination Centre, and not all registered centers accept private candidates. In fact, no registered centre has to take private candidates, as it can create extra administrative work or disruption to the school even for a limited time.
So, it is worth realising that school or college individuals that allow private candidates to sit examinations can also close the doors. It is your responsibility to communicate effectively and with respect for the exam coordinator’s time and effort towards private candidates.
If there are questions or issues to deal with, try to resolve them as quickly as possible with the exam coordinator at the particular Registered Examination Centre. The examining boards are not able to communicate directly with private candidates.
If you can, try to speak with someone who has been through the examination process at the particular examination centre that you hope will accept you or your student.
For a list of Registered Examination Centres suitable for private candidates, please refer to ‘Private Candidate Examination Centres’.
What subjects can be taken and when can private candidates take examinations?
Private candidates can take examinations in a variety of subjects at different levels, namely IGCSE, AS and A Level. Several examination boards offer IGCSEs, AS and A Levels, but I believe private candidates will have the most success with the following boards:
Subjects that offer an exam-based form of assessment (rather than a combination of coursework and exams) are more suitable for private candidates. Some Registered Examination Centres will allow private candidates to take foreign languages, but it is important to check with the particular centre, especially as there is usually a practical examination to complete. In fact, it is worth noting that not all examination subjects can be offered to private candidates, so it is important to check each subject syllabus that a student intends to access. A list of subjects that are available through each of the examination boards is found in separate documents, but it is always a good idea to check the most recent syllabus yourself.
Depending on the particular examination board, the examinations take place in a summer or winter session. CIE exams are held in June and November; AQA and OCR exams are in January and June; WJEC exams are in January, June and November; whilst Edexcel exams are in January, March, June and November. Not all examination subjects are offered in all sessions. If the private candidate needs to complete exams at a certain time of year, this might determine the examination board and subjects that are chosen. It is therefore important to check the individual examination board website for exam dates.
How does a private candidate register for examinations?
As a private candidate, you have the option of studying for IGCSEs, AS and A Levels purely for enjoyment, to increase your knowledge and skill base, or to earn accredited, internationally recognised qualifications once you have taken the subject examinations.
If you decide that you want to take examinations, the first thing you should do after choosing your subjects is FIND A REGISTERED EXAMINATION CENTRE that will allow private candidates to enter for examinations. Once you have found a centre, the examination officer (they can also be called the AICE coordinator in the USA) should be able to help you with the registration process at their school/centre.
As private candidates take on full responsibility for registering their own entries for examination, you have to be careful and correct with all information that you give the Centre, as you will have to deal with the consequences if you make mistakes in the process, or during the examinations. (For example, if you enter the wrong examination paper code and turn up to the Centre for an examination you have not studied/prepared for, there is nothing the Centre can do. If you do not read your timetable carefully, and miss one of the examination papers, your overall grade is negatively affected and there is nothing the Centre can do.)
So, when registering with a Centre that accepts private candidates, keep all correspondence in a file, and have contact details and names for people that you will need to communicate with. Make sure you provide the following information, and any other information that the Centre asks for:
- Your full name, gender, address, email address, telephone number, and date of birth
- Proof of your date of birth with a photo ID (driving license with photo, passport, citizen card )
- Proof of address (where Centers only take local students)
- Clear details of the subjects that you are registering or entering for, including any unit codes, option codes, cash-in codes that are relevant
- Your Unique Candidate Identifier (UCI) if you have been given one
- Your candidate number, if you have been previously been given one
- Your method of payment details
- Accompanied by a parent or legal guardian if private candidate is under 16 years of age
Once you have registered with the Centre, you will hear back from them with a Statement of Entry document. This document is extremely important and will need to be kept safe. Every time you sit an examination at the Centre, you will bring the Statement of Entry and photo ID with you.
When are the deadlines for examination registration?
The deadlines for registration depend on when you will be sitting the examinations. As each Centre has slightly different dates, it is best to contact them well in advance of the deadline to be clear of the dates. If you miss the first deadline set, you can usually still register for the examinations, but you will be charged a ‘late fee’. Make sure you note down when the registration deadlines are – if you are studying to complete examinations and gain qualifications, you do not want to miss the deadlines.
What do the codes mean, and are they important?
To put it simply, the codes are very important, so make sure you know exactly what codes you need to give to the Centre when registering. The codes and number are used as a means of categorising examination subjects, papers as well as the different levels.
Identifying the codes and numbers will mean checking over the specification or syllabus document of all subjects that you are sitting as examinations, and will include:
- Level – state whether your examination is IGCSE, AS or A Level.
- Subject Specification/Syllabus – state the subject title, exactly as it appears of the specification or syllabus document.
- Subject code (also known as unit & cash-in code for Edexcel, component code for AQA or unit codes for CIE) – state the specification or syllabus number, usually found next to the subject title. For CIE IGCSEs, there are different tiers as well, depending on whether you opt to do the Core or Extended papers. For A Levels, there can be different numbers or letters associated with the subject, or with the AS followed by the A2 Level to give an overall A Level.
- Candidate number – if you haven’t taken any examinations before, you will be given a candidate number by the Centre. Keep this number safe, and remember it, as it identifies you as the candidate sitting each examination paper. If you go to another centre, your previous candidate number is needed, but a new number for the new centre will be generated.
- Centre number – this is also given to you by the Centre, and you need to remember this too. You will need your candidate number and Centre number every time you sit an examination, as these numbers are put on the front page of each answer document. You can also find these numbers on your Statement of Entry. Each Registered Examination Centre has a unique Centre number.
What is a UCI or ULN number?
UCI stands for Unique Candidate Identifier whereas ULN stands for Unique Learner Number.
A ULN is a 10-digit number which is unique to the candidate and is used in the UK for examination identification purposes.
A UCI is a 12-digit number, followed by a letter that is created by the Registered Examination Centre and is used for examination purposes.
The UCI uses the Centre number as the first five digits, followed by an O for UK centres and B for international centres. The year of the candidate’s enrolment becomes the next two digits, and the last four digits are the candidate’s number allocated by the Centre. A letter is then checked by the Centre.
What documents are important for a private candidate to have?
When you approach a Registered Examination Centre, you will need to have proof of identity (passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, etc) so that the examination officer can verify that it is you taking the examinations. A copy of your proof of identity will be kept on file so that it can be checked every time you sit an examination at the Centre.
You will also need your Statement of Entry each time you sit examinations. It has your name, all the subjects you will be taking at the Centre, the dates and times of each examination, your candidate number and the Centre number. Make sure you check over the Statement of Entry for any mistakes or examination clashes as soon as possible, and contact the Centre if there are any issues.
Once you have finished your examinations, you will be sent your results as a Provisional Statement of Results. This document must also be checked carefully. Keep this document safe until you receive your Certificate of Results. The Certificate of Results is the final document that you should receive from the Centre. For admission into university or for employers, this document will be used to show evidence of the examinations you took and the grades you received. So, keep it safe!
What are the age restrictions for private candidates?
There are no age restrictions for private candidates taking examinations, though it would be unwise to pay for and sit examinations if you are not ready to do so. The flexibility that private candidates have means that a competent 14-year-old can sit IGCSEs alongside 16-year-olds that take IGCSEs. Mature students trying to get qualifications in key subjects can also sit the IGCSEs, AS and A Levels. If you want to go to university, getting A Levels at 17 or 18 years old is the usual age, though you can be younger or older. The main point is to take the examinations when you are confident that you will do your best work.
Is support given to private candidates who have special requirements?
Yes, it can be. However, if you have special requirements, such as needing more time than allocated, you need to let the Registered Examination Centre know as soon as possible. The Centre may be able to help you, based on information about your need for special requirements.
How much do the examinations cost?
There is usually a fee for the examination paper, and an overall administration fee for the Centre that should include sending the final certificate of your qualifications to you. As the fees vary from centre to centre, for particular examination subjects, and are likely to change, it is important to get the total cost of the examinations from the Centre as soon as possible.
What do private candidates need to ask their examination officer?
Once you have communicated with the examination officer at the Centre, it is useful to ask the following, if the information is not already made clear in paperwork sent to you:
- What is the Centre’s deadline for registration of examinations?
- How should the fees for examinations be paid – to whom, by which preferred method, etc.?
- How will I receive an acknowledgement/receipt of fees paid?
- When should the Statement of Entry be received?
- What do I need to bring to each examination?
- How early do I have to be for each examination session?
- What is the procedure for private candidates sitting examinations at the Centre?
- How will the examination results be sent to me – via email, postal mail, etc.?
- Where and when will the Certificate of Results be sent?
Where can private candidates obtain an examinations timetable?
The Centre will send out the examination timetable for all the subjects that you are taking in a session. This is usually on the Statement of Entry, which is sent out after all the paperwork and payment of fees has been received.
The final copy of the examinations timetable is usually also included on the examination board’s website several months before the examinations. It can be really useful to look over the timetable to see when the exams are to be taken, so that you can do practice or ‘mock’ exams. Make sure that the timetable you access on the examination board’s website is the correct one for your chosen exams (some examination boards offer different examination sessions depending on where they are taken in the world).
Where can past papers be found?
The first place to look is on the examination board’s website. There are usually past papers and marking schemes readily available for download. There is usually also an option to purchase past papers and marking schemes from the examination board. I did this for IGCSEs when I first started teaching as I wanted to have more examples of past papers for my students. The CD-Roms are a wonderful resource to have, and I felt it was great value for money.
Remember that examination boards do not communicate with private candidates. The Registered Examination Centre where the private candidate will take examinations may be able to help further with guidance or suggestions for past papers.
Where can I find subject-specific specification or syllabus materials?
The syllabus for each IGCSE, AS or A Level examination subject can be found on the particular examination board’s website. This document is very useful, giving private candidates information such as how the subject is assessed, the curriculum content, and recommended resources where relevant.