What to Do if You Fail a BTEC Assignment

 Essay papers with highlighter

When you receive your marked BTEC assignment back from your tutor the first thing you look at is whether you have passed or failed. The magical word ‘pass’ means that you can choose to return to your studies to try to reach a higher grade (not always the best option because you may lose your pass grade in the process), or move onto your next unit. Your tutor will have pointed this out to you on your feedback sheet and what I am writing about here is the awful word ‘fail’.

Students on courses run by Oxford College have paid for their course of study and are geared up towards passing the Course. You will know that we provide guidance to assist you with submissions in relate to word count, Harvard referencing and plagiarism.
I have written this article because whilst many students of the College do well and pass their course without so much as a hiccup there are situations where you will be looking at a ‘fail grade’ and this can be demoralising indeed. What you need to realise is this isn’t because your tutor doesn’t like you or doesn’t understand your work but because he or she can’t find the evidence within the assignment to be able to pass the learning outcomes. I am hoping to try and demystify the marking criteria  because that will help you think about what you need to do next.

The BTEC Marking Process

Firstly, be reassured that no tutor wants to fail a student assignment. We know that in the majority of cases a great deal of work has gone into the work that we are examining. I work for several different examination boards and see many different levels of work and I always have a sinking feeling when I return a script with a ‘fail’ grade. You have two chances to pass the assignment on BTEC Level 5 courses and you need to remember that if you get a fail grade on the first submission that this means you have to do something differently on the next submission.

Students when they read the ‘fail’ grade often message their tutors immediately and point out that they feel the work should have passed. We don’t mind you doing that, but you need to draw our attention to something we may have overlooked within the assignment so that we can reconsider our marking.

This rarely happens because work at Oxford College has to go through several marking processes before it is returned to you. When I have marked a script, it is forwarded to the Internal Moderator who gives a second opinion on the work that is being examined. Work often passes between marker and Moderator more than once as we refine our marks based on the evidence before us. This is part of our normal marking procedure and there is also a third level of marking and this is the External BTEC Moderator who examines work to see if the marking of Oxford Distance Learning is in line with the National guidelines provided by the Examining Body, Edexcel.

Marking is transparent and we provide you with our marking criteria in the Assessment. It is surprising how many students don’t read them and this can lead to a failed grade. So, before you start any Assignment it is best to read through the marking criteria and see what the learning outcomes require you to do in order to pass. Some students notice that the learning outcomes sometimes differ from task requirements. This is because the learning outcomes need to be embedded within the Tasks by the student.

Describe, Evaluate and Analyse

Before you begin an assignment you need to read through the learning outcomes to see if you are asked to ‘Describe’, ‘Evaluate’ or ‘Analyse’ and the three processes are very different indeed. Describe is fairly easy and most students sail through these kind of questions without a hiccup. The problem arises when they overlook the all important ‘Evaluate’ or ‘Analyse’. The two terms mean slightly different things from the marking perspective but what they don’t mean is ‘Describe’ and you need to make the distinction between these two clear in your mind because if you don’t answer the question properly then we have to refer the assignment. An assignment will be referred if you describe and then add a sentence of evaluation on at the end.

For example when asked to evaluate Piaget’s theory of Child Development for a Child Psychology assignment it is simply not acceptable to describe the theory and then say that ‘Piaget’s sample was biased as he used his own children’. This isn’t an evaluative exercise because when you see the word ‘Evaluate’ you don’t have to describe the theory at all.

This will surprise many students but this is indeed the case. If I was examining an Evaluation of Piaget’s theory of Child Development then all I want to know is the very basics preferably in two or three sentences i.e. ‘Piaget constructed a theory that examined how children learn and acquire knowledge. The child will pass through a series of stages at different ages and it is believed that the theory has some links to biology and a state of ‘preparedness’ in the child i.e. children are not able to learn task that are too complicated for their stage of development. Yet, I lose count of the assignments that I mark where students use the maximum amount of words to describe the theory and the evaluation is a couple of sentences. Don’t do it! The marks are going to be awarded to the Evaluation and if this is a couple of sentences then this assignment is going to be referred.

This will be a revelation to some students but it is important if you are to avoid referrals. The other important point is ‘Analyse’ and often this relates to some form of statistical evidence. You will be asked to research from a statistical data source on a question such as ‘Analyse the impact of an ageing population on Care Services’ and in order to do this you will need firstly to go to the Office of Population and Census Statistics to find out as much information as possible about whether or not we have an Ageing Population in the UK.

Don’t assume that this is the case and find a general reference because this is where errors happen. Find out how many people are over the age of 65 and use recent statistics. If you complete that part of the task you have managed the first part of your analysis. Then move on and think about Care Services for the Elderly but you might want to find out the percentage of people who are able to care for themselves and are leading active lives.
Indeed, you may wish to point this out in your assignment that whilst there is an ageing population that many people do not require care services. You are on the route to carrying out an analysis of the data now and it isn’t complicated and it isn’t difficult. It is actually keeping on the track of the learning outcome and not allowing yourself to see what you want to see in the learning outcome that will help you avoid failure. You might want to make an appointment with someone in your local Health Services to try and find out more information about the question and already you are adding information to the Task that will help you with your analysis.

Learning Outcomes

A good tip is to highlight or write down the learning outcomes before you begin an assignment so that you can begin your research on the right track. You might point out to me that you have little or no understanding of Piaget’s theory of child development and I can see from an assignment that many students are excited when they come across a new theory and want to write about this as much as possible. However, if you are asked to evaluate or analyse then this means you can’t. One of the reasons we keep to a word count isn’t so much about what you write but how you write. Split your assignment into learning outcomes and allocate each learning outcome a set number of words and think about how you can meet several learning outcomes in one paragraph. Giving you a larger word count doesn’t mean that you are more likely to pass the assignment and indeed there is greater room for error.
Students sometimes contact their tutor to point out that they spent several weeks on the assignment and therefore it is worthy of a pass. Remember, part of being a mature learner is accepting that tutors cannot pass Assignments that do not meet the learning outcomes. Tutors in distance learning environments don’t get to know the students on a personal level and we only mark on the evidence within the work. A referred assignment is not because your tutor doesn’t like you but because he or she can’t find the evidence within your work to meet the learning outcomes. You will have feedback on your script and you need to read the feedback to improve your work. Of course, feel disappointed but try to keep dialogue with your tutor and the College constructive. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t want to blame others but friends are there to offer you support and letting off steam isn’t going to help you pass the assignment.

Please don’t think we are not sympathetic because I think there is probably no one who tutors for this College who hasn’t failed an assignment or an important examination at some point in their lives. It is OK to fail so don’t beat yourself up about it. You are on a learning programme and failure is part of learning. We learn to do things differently when we fail and I have lost count of the number of my students who have improved their grades because of failure. Of course, it is painful and it is natural to get upset but one idea that might help you is to return to your SWOT analysis in your first Unit and try to work out how you can maximise your learning strengths to overcome your disappointment. Sometimes, it is sheer tenacity that gets us through the difficult times. There is a necessity to keep going through failure and not to use this as an excuse for giving up and indeed if you reflect with honesty about where difficult situations have arisen in your life you might find there are other situations where you realise that you shouldn’t have left that job or that particular learning situation. This Course has cost you money and we want you to get the best from your studies and so giving up shouldn’t be an option. No one said higher level study would be easy and BTEC Level 5 is above that expected at A Level but you don’t have an end of Course examination and the progress is cumulative. 


Therefore, take what your tutor says seriously and if she/he is unhappy about your Harvard referencing, accept that you need to read further around the topic until you get it right and the best way to do this is to read the College Study Guide and also to read a Textbook in your chosen topic that uses Harvard referencing. You will then find that the name of the author and the date are all that is necessary within the script and that the full reference is given in alphabetical order in the Bibliography. Please don’t insert web addresses into assignments as this simply isn’t appropriate and you can see yourself when you read through the assignment that it detracts from the reading flow and that is what we are looking for a simple and easy to understand assignment.

Language and Terminology

Try not to use language that you yourself don’t understand. I get many assignments from students where I ask them to explain what they mean when they attempt to use complex terminology. If you don’t understand what you are writing about then it is unlikely that your tutor will either. It is better to go to a simple information source and then to work upwards than it is to go to a complex information source and work backwards. Simple explanations work for me every time (with examples) rather than use complicated medical terminology.

Script/Essay writing Services

In the internet age it is all too easy to find yourself led towards script writing services that promise you an A grade if you pay them sufficient money. Please don’t go there because it is so easy for us to pick this up when we are marking. The ‘perfection’ of your script stands out to us and often the person who has written the script isn’t the person who truly understands about your course of study. There are no short cuts to success but the joy you will get when you see that ‘pass grade’ earned from your own efforts more than compensates for the work you have to put in now. There isn’t a quick road to success I am afraid and that is why the HND Course covers two years because learning is a process and we gain experience as we move through that process.

Reflect and Return

Failing a BTEC assignment isn’t easy and this is when you have to give yourself some time away from your studies and to use self reflection to think about your next step. Give yourself a few days to take some time away from your studies. Spend some time at work, time in the fresh air, time away from the computer and don’t try and ‘fix’ the issue straight away because you will probably make the same mistakes again. You really have to get some perspective, realise that your tutor is your greatest ally in this because she or he is the person who wants to get you back on track. Also, you need to examine the Learning Outcomes you have passed and highlight the ones you haven’t passed. You then need to re-examine your learning process to see how you can do better next time. By all means contact your tutor after a few days when you have read through the comments on the script and on the feedback sheet so that you can enter into an informed dialogue.


My final piece of advice is to return to the Course Material and search for information that will help you in your resubmission. A failed assignment truly isn’t the end of the world even though it might seem like that at the time. When you first rode a bike you expected to fall off a few times before you learned to ride it safely and that is the way it is with assignments. If you have failed an assignment twice then please don’t be discouraged just move onto the next assignment because a new topic will invigorate you and hopefully you will use the information gained from the past two failures to help you move forward. The student support and the tutor team are here to help you make the most of your studies. You chose to study in order to make a life change and keep that goal in mind as you progress through the Course.

Good luck!

Dr A Llewellyn, Course Tutor

Image credit – Losing-Focus