6 ways to cope with exam failure

Failing an exam can leave you feeling deflated and embarrassed. Discover our 6 top tips for picking yourself back up after failing an accounting exam.

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No matter how many exams you sit, waiting for the results never gets any easier. Unfortunately, there are times when you don’t get the result you hoped for, which can leave you feeling frustrated and embarrassed.

failure feeds success

When it comes to success vs. failure, many experts believe failure is essential for success because the act of failing offers invaluable opportunities to learn. 

The first step in dealing with exam failure involves something that’s often overlooked - not being too hard on yourself. Beating yourself up about your result won’t change the outcome, as much as you'd like it to. With that in mind, here are some strategies for helping you deal with exam failure.

6 steps for dealing with exam failure:   

1. explore your resit options   

It may be the last thing you want to do, but if you feel ready to resit, you should look into what the resit options are. 

For instance, you can retake ACA Professional Level exams up to four times, while Advanced Level exams can be taken an unlimited number of times. If you’re in an ACA training agreement, you may want to check with your employer about the number of resits you can do.

2. learn from your last exam  

If you’ve decided to resit your exam, but aren’t sure why you failed, it’s a good idea to find out! Try to identify your weaknesses - if you have a clear idea of the areas you’re lacking in, you can tailor your studying to make sure you’re much better prepared overall for the next time.

If the exam you failed is an ACA written paper, you can use an ICAEW service to request marks feedback for up to 12 months from the date of the exam (each paper requested costs £25). 

3. make a new plan of action

When an exam result doesn’t go your way, it’s essential you look beyond the result and focus on what’s next. Even if it doesn't feel that way, you have plenty of options.

List out all the options available to you after failing an exam. This list could include resitting the exam, getting more career advice from your employer or from the team here at caba, or you could even taking a different career direction. If you’re still struggling to decide what your next step should be, assess the pros and cons of each option; this will help you create a logical action plan.

4. perfect your exam routine 

Knowledge gaps may have contributed to your exam failure but also there may be plenty of other causes. It's important to find your flow state when revising for exams to ensure you retain knowledge. It may be that you didn’t have an effective study plan in place or perhaps you didn’t stick with it. These are all areas you can draw upon to help perfect your performance next time around. 

Spend time identifying what you could do differently next time. Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to ensure you enter the exam in a calm state. A good night's sleep is critical to feeling less anxious at the time of the exam.

5. don't put off telling people you've failed

Starting a conversation around exam failure can be difficult but it's important to tell those close to you and your employer straight away. Find the right time and place for the conversation, free from distractions and when you know the other person doesn't have to rush off anywhere.

6. reach out to us 

We’re here to help you when personal or work stress is too much, don't hesitate to get in touch with our team. 

While resitting an exam may be the last thing you want to think about or do right now, plenty of preparation, self-care and the right outlook can help you put that initial exam failure firmly behind you.

In the meantime, try to remain positive for the future - our article on how to stop procrastinating when revising may be a good start.

“My employer terminated my contract because of the failed exam. So it became very clear to me that if I didn’t change my approach I was going to lose everything I had been working for. I realised I needed help, and I did 2 things. First, I explained to my employer the situation I was in and the pressure I was under. And then I reached out to caba.”


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our emotional support

Exam failure can be a very disheartening experience, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about your future. If you're struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, talk to us. From a listening ear, to counselling sessions with a qualified counsellor, we'll help you work through any difficulties you're facing.

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Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
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  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
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You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

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If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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