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Failed the ACCA? These 3 steps will get you back on track

Failed the ACCA? Read our simple three-step guide to get you back on track after a disappointing exam result.

Failed the ACCA? Now is the time to move onwards and upwards. Read our simple three-step guide to get you back on track after a disappointing exam result.

  • “I just failed my ACCA exams AGAIN.”
  • “Third fail, I’m losing hope.”
  • “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

These are some of the comments we hear as ACCA results come out. So don’t worry. If you recently failed an ACCA exam, you’re definitely not alone. The ACCA is notoriously difficult to pass, with pass rates for some papers hovering around 30%. This means 70% of students are in the same position as you right now. But that doesn’t make failure any easier.

We all hope for a pass – maybe even a good pass – when we open that announcement email. But most of us have also experienced that sinking feeling when our results aren’t what we expected. Or confirm your worst expectations. Failing an ACCA exam can feel like a kick in the teeth, especially if you thought you’d done enough to pass. But don’t let one setback (or even several setbacks) make up for giving up.

Here are our three top tips to help pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and secure the pass next time around.

1. Bid self-pity goodbye

Learnsignal tutor and Dublin accountant Orla McGreal shares the words of wisdom her boss shared with her when she failed her exams:

“If this is your biggest failure or disappointment in life, you should count yourself lucky”.

Watch Orla McGreal’s video about ACCA resits

In the days after the results, tens of people will share a pithy phrase designed to make you feel better. That gets old pretty quickly. But stop and consider this one because there’s real value here. It might be pithy. But it’s true. Failing an ACCA exam can be awful. You’ve worked hard and made the sacrifices – but that hasn’t paid off. You’re back where you started. Except, you’re not. We all sink into self-pity sometimes, but eventually, you have to pull yourself out and move forwards.

Orla’s phrase is a reminder that we’re privileged even to have the opportunity to fail. A reminder that there are many hardships in life; failing an exam, no matter how disappointed and frustrated you may be, barely registers. This is about tough love – give yourself a few days to grieve the fail, then snap out of it.

2. Work out what went wrong

Maybe this sounds self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised. What’s that old adage? If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
The same applies here. If you failed an ACCA paper, it means you did something wrong. This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up, but it does mean something needs to change.

So, work out what? Maybe you gambled that your chosen topic would come up, and it didn’t. Perhaps you ran out of time to complete the exam. Maybe you didn’t leave enough time to study. Maybe you overcommitted yourself on papers for this session. Perhaps you memorised the syllabus by rote but never really understood it.

Our ACCA tutors consistently highlight a few significant mistakes ACCA students make. If you’re not sure where you went wrong, it’s very likely one of these:

  • You didn’t cover the syllabus in enough depth
  • You weren’t familiar with the exam format
  • You struggled with exam technique
  • You assumed you knew things you didn’t know
  • You burnt out before the exam session

Do you recognise yourself in any of those? Let’s move on to the solutions.

3. Then fix your mistakes. Onwards and upwards.

Once you know what went wrong, you can solve the problem. The ACCA is challenging, sure. It’s meant to be. That’s why it’s considered such a valuable qualification. But complicated doesn’t mean impossible. Each of the mistakes above has a simple solution.

i. You didn’t cover the syllabus in enough depth.

Maybe you thought you could cheat the system and question spot (spoiler: you can’t). Or perhaps you underestimated how long you’d need to study or how difficult you’d find balancing work, study and life. Either way, the answer is the same: study takes longer than you think. Everyone is different, but students who consistently pass the first time usually study for about 150 hours per paper. Students who consistently pass the first time usually study for about 150 hours per paper.

Or maybe you spent plenty of time studying, but your study wasn’t efficient or effective. You worked hard but were not smart. If that’s you, the solution is to assess your study habits. Are you just reading and highlighting notes? You could do better.

Read more here:  6 Hyper Effective ACCA Study Techniques.

ii. You struggled with exam technique

Both of these problems have the same solution: practice, practice, practice. Past papers help you understand the exam format and sort out any issues in your exam technique. Every ACCA tutor we’ve interviewed cites exam technique as a significant reason students fail, from answering questions wrong to writing too much to running out of time.

If you’re a Learnsignal subscriber, you’ll know our videos focus heavily on walking through past questions for precisely this reason.

Read more:  4 Exam Techniques To Pass The ACCA Professional Papers

iii. You assumed you knew things you didn’t know

Students who’ve started their ACCA journey from scratch tend not to suffer from overconfidence. Instead, the culprits are students who’ve had plenty of work experience or who’ve come to the ACCA following a degree course or suchlike.That’s why exemptions exist, right? Because you already know the material? And you probably do. But subsequent papers can rely on a thorough understanding of the fundamentals you might lack unless you sat that paper.

You can’t assume exemption means you don’t need to recover any material from that paper. If the paper you failed is a follow-on to a paper you never sat, try going back to the syllabus of that first paper. Or try sitting a mock exam on that first exam. If you can’t pass the earlier paper comfortably, you might need to study some basics again.

Read more:  ACCA Exemptions – The Pros and Cons

iv. You burnt out before the exam session

The other extreme – you did too much work before the exam. This is one of the most common mistakes amongst high-achievers. You assume you’re a machine and can push yourself to the limit until you pass – but there’s a catch. The ACCA is the most challenging academic thing you’ve ever done. Nobody finds it easy (even if they say they do). Studying the ACCA takes phenomenal commitment, time and effort – and sacrifice. Don’t let that sacrifice be your mental or physical health by trying to do too much, too fast.

That’s a lesson you wind up learning the hard way when you’re reading this article instead of celebrating your first-time pass. Go easier on yourself next time. If you keep putting yourself under pressure, you might still pass your resit, but you’re risking your long-term career, health and happiness.

Failure is a stepping stone to success.

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Failing an ACCA exam is horrible: you’re bound to be frustrated and disappointed. But it’s also an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, grow, and hopefully pass the resit (and the rest).

Alan Lynch
5 min read

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