exam failure and how to talk about it

If you've failed an accounting exam and aren't sure how to tell those around you, our top tips will help you to manage these difficult conversations.

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Failing your accounting exams can affect your mental health and make it difficult to talk to the people around you. However, normalising conversations around failure is important because not speaking about it can take its toll on your wellbeing. 

Following an exam failure, you may be able to resit the exam, or this could mean a change of career path. Regardless, there are practical steps you can take after failing an exam and we’re here to offer expert career advice as well as counselling to help you come to terms with it. Failure can also help us build our resilience and problem-solving skills.

is it common to fail an accounting exam? 

ICAEW’s March 2023 statistics show that 25.7% of students who sat one exam failed. 

When they sat two exams, that number dropped to 9.6%, and when they sat 3, it decreased further to 3.5%. Realising that you’re not alone if you’ve failed an accounting exam will help you come to terms with the situation and take some of the pressure off. 

what happens if you fail an accounting exam? 

You may feel disappointed, angry, guilty, or a combination of these after exam failure. Accepting these feelings and not beating yourself up, will lessen some of the emotional load, making it easier for you to talk about it. 

You may also have to share your results with those who knew you were taking the exam. This can lead to uncomfortable conversations, which is why we’ve put together these tips. 

how to tell someone you’ve failed an exam 

Telling someone that you’ve failed an exam can feel awkward. However, the longer you delay it, the worse you’ll feel and the more likely it is that the other person will be able to tell something is wrong. 

The sooner you tell people about your exam failure, the less time you’ll spend worrying about the conversation. That will give you more energy for the conversation itself and help you to figure out what to do next. 

steps you can take to prepare for this conversation

Firstly, write down what you want to say and practise either in front of the mirror or with a friend. This way, You should keep your plan flexible so that you can adapt it when the conversation begins.


choose the right time and place

  • Find somewhere comfortable and free of distractions to hold the conversation

  • If you’re not comfortable face-to-face, you could tell them via phone, video or even a letter

  • Choose the right time when you know the other person doesn't have to rush off anywhere

useful phrases 

  • "I've been struggling to cope with the pressure of exams"

  • "I would appreciate your understanding and support"

  • "I've got a plan for my next steps, here's what I'm going to do"

example action plan

Creating an action plan after exam failure will keep you on track for whatever your next steps will be. Here's what you could include: 

reach out to caba for emotional support 
  • Our team can provide emotional support and counselling to get you back on track after failing an exam. If you're in need of support with anxiety and depression, we have plenty of online resources and webinars. If you'd like to speak to a member of our support team, don't hestite to get in touch
use new revision techniques if you’re able to take the exam again
  • We have plenty of useful guides to help you improve your revision technique. Take a look at our guide for preventing procrastination when revisising. 
speak to your employer about next steps
  • If you're able to take your exam again, resit only when you feel ready and confident. You can also speak to your employer about other options, such as taking a break or going down a different career path. 

dealing with feelings of shame and guilt  

Try not to worry about your exam failure. Negative emotions can be addictive and challenging conversations can be even harder, making it more difficult to bounce back mentally. 

Even though you didn’t get the results you wanted, you’re still one step closer to your goal. You’re also far from being alone in your failure, with over a quarter having failed at least one accountancy exam. 

Your support network is a great place to find words of encouragement after failing an exam. They may also be able to help you formulate a plan of what to do next. 

don't compare yourself to others

While it’s tempting, try to avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone’s situation is unique; you never know someone’s full story, no matter how close you are. 

Instead, practise self-compassion and do things to make you feel better, such as having warm bath, going on a dog walk or cooking your favourite healthy meal. These activities will help ease negative emotions and leave you in a better place to talk about your exam failure. We also recommend taking a break from social media as this can worsen negative feelings due to comparison with others. 

what to do if you fail an accounting exam  

  • It’s normal to worry or catastrophise after failing an exam. It may help to remember that everyone has likely failed at something, whether that’s an exam, a work project, or something similar. 
  • Instead of focusing on the fact that you’ve failed, shift your focus to consider what the next best step is; see it as an opportunity to grow and bounce back stronger.
  • Create a plan through discussions with your support network, read some of our online resources, or write about how you feel. All of these will help you to fully decompress after what’s happened.
  • Consider if you’re ready to retake your exam – perhaps you could take a break to access some additional study time. If you’d like career advice, get in touch with our helpful team for additional support. 

advice for passing accounting exams 

The right support is an important step to success, whether that’s from loved ones, your workplace, or caba – we offer mental health advice as well as career development pointers. 

If you find exams or revision challenging, what revision techniques could you use? Our webinars contain a plethora of helpful advice including exam revision tips, how to handle anxiety and deal with stressful situations. 

To help you stay calm, try grounding techniques. This could be anything from listening to relaxing music to adjusting your breathing. These exercises can be used at any time when you’re feeling anxious and help to calm your nervous system and improve your concentration.

Check out our exam tips for the best ways to find your flow state when revising:

training and events

6 December 2023

espresso developing a compassionate mind

Learning to support ourselves with care and kindness will equip us with the internal resources we need to manage stressful times.
espresso series

your questions answered 

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 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  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: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

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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