- Why do I keep failing ACCA exams?
- Is failing ACCA exams normal?
- How do I get back on track after failing the ACCA exams?
- What should I change to pass the ACCA next time?
Those are far and away the most common questions we hear from students. Because here’s the thing.
Failing ACCA exams is really common.
More common than a pass, if you look at the pass rates. Some students keep failing ACCA exams, over and over again. If you fail once, you’re likely to fail twice when it comes to the ACCA.
Because you probably don’t know what you’re doing wrong. And so you don’t know how to change it for the better. And if you don’t make changes, you’ll keep getting the same results – an ACCA fail.
That’s where this piece comes in. If you’ve got ten minutes, read the full article below for in-depth discussion – or download our key takeaways infographic here.
Here’s why you might keep failing the ACCA
We’ve spoken to our tutors, colleagues and learnsignal’s Head of ACCA to understand WHY students fail the ACCA, and HOW they can turn that fail into a pass.
So if you keep failing ACCA exams, read on.
#1 – You didn’t know enough
If you keep failing ACCA exams and your mark was in the 30s or below, knowledge was almost certainly your issue.
That might be because you tried question spotting (do we need to say it again? Question spotting doesn’t work), or because you weren’t disciplined about your study time, or because you wasted all your time making notes without actually learning anything.
We’ve said before, the students who consistently pass usually invest around 150 hours to study for each paper. And they definitely cover the whole syllabus. And they learn what they’re studying, they don’t just make pretty notes.
Or it could be because you assumed you knew basic things you didn’t. This is a common issue for later papers amongst students who had early exemptions. Exemption doesn’t mean you don’t need to brush up on that syllabus – and if you don’t, you could find keep failing ACCA exams because you didn’t know that early stuff.
Read more: The pros and cons of ACCA exemptions
Or maybe you did study hard, and you did cover the whole syllabus, but you didn’t understand the material you were studying. Which means there could be a problem with how you’re studying. Which brings us onto the next most common reason students fail ACCA exams.
#2 – You didn’t study in the right way
If you don’t study in the right way, you’ll struggle to learn what you need to pass the ACCA. The most common issue here is classroom learning, or online learning that just records classroom lectures.
Many students take the ACCA while working full-time – but they’ve chosen a traditional classroom learning provider. While some students do find that model works, mostly it puts you under a whole load more pressure than necessary.
You travel to classes after an already long, exhausting day and the pace of learning is dictated by everyone else in the class, not you. That’s still the case if you’re watching recorded lectures. It’s just not an efficient way to learn – everything takes longer than necessary, and you’re likely to be tired, burnt-out and frustrated long before your ACCA exams roll around.
It’s the classic working hard, not working smart scenario. And you could invest 300 hours for each paper, or 600 hours, but if you’re not studying efficiently you’ll keep failing ACCA exams.
#3 – You didn’t apply your knowledge
The ACCA makes it very clear that knowledge isn’t enough to pass – especially as you progress through the papers. The key is applied knowledge.
We often use the example of ledgers. Imagine you’re in a professional setting and a client asks you about the best solution for their business. If you sat them down and launched into a monologue covering everything you know about ledgers, you’d have lost their attention instantly.
And you wouldn’t have answered their question, which means you’d be a pretty bad accountant. And THAT is what the ACCA exams are designed around: teaching you to be a good accountant.
The moral of the story is this. The examiner is your client. Don’t answer questions by telling them everything you know about the question topic. Answer their question by applying your knowledge of the topic in a concise, relevant way.
Not doing that is a major reason students keep failing ACCA exams. And it leads to another problem, which is our 4th most common reason for ACCA failure.
#4 – You didn’t answer all the questions
Almost every student has been guilty of this at some point. And it often stems from the above. If you don’t apply your knowledge, you waste so much time writing everything you know that you run out of time for other questions.
‘But isn’t it better to answer the questions I know best in loads of detail, to make sure I get maximum marks?’
We hear that often. And no, it’s not better. Because if you only answer 75% of the required questions, it’s like having to get a mark of 75 to pass, instead of 50. And as we said on our recent podcast, there aren’t bonus marks for making more points than they’ve asked for.
If a question is worth five marks, it’s looking for five points. If you write eight points, that’s three that you’ve totally wasted. And three that you could have earned on another question, if you’d had time.
Read more: 4 Must-Know Exam Techniques to Pass the ACCA
And don’t make each point longer than it needs to be. We’ve said before that each point should probably be around a couple of lines, and you shouldn’t spend long on it.
To work out exactly how long you should spend, divide the writing time in the exam (minus reading time and planning time) by the number of marks the paper is worth. You’ll usually have a minute or so per mark.
For a complete breakdown of how to dissect questions like this and understand what the examiners want to see, check out our question videos on the learnsignal platform.
#5 – You succumbed to exam day stress
Some stress is inevitable. No matter how well-prepared you are, you’re bound to feel the pressure on ACCA exam day. Everyone’s nervous; everyone has that exam day fear.
But some people handle that stress really well, channelling it positively to secure a mark that does them justice, while others totally capitulate and keep failing ACCA exams despite knowing all the material well.
If you’re the latter, there are four things you can do to help.
- Be prepared
Obviously, the first one is to make sure you’re super prepared. If you don’t know the material, or you’re relying on certain questions to come up, or you’re seeing the paper format for the first time, you’ll naturally be stressed.
- Get used to exam conditions
Take a mock exam. In exam conditions. That has the big bonus of getting you used to the paper and highlighting last-minute knowledge gaps, and it also gets you used to exam conditions. Exam day is stressful partially because we don’t do exams often, so it’s an unfamiliar environment. Make them more familiar by practicing.
‘But what if I take a mock exam three weeks before my real ACCA exam and get a fail, and ruin all my confidence?’
You have to overcome that. The mock exam isn’t about passing or failing; it’s about getting practice and becoming familiar with the experience of sitting an exam. Taking a mock exam is one the most important things you can do to pass the ACCA.
- Get the little things organised
Third, take care of the little details. You’re less likely to do yourself justice in the exam if you’re arriving heart pounding because you might be late, or stressed because you forgot something, and so on.
Do yourself a favour and get those little details right, so you can free your mind to focus on the big thing: passing the ACCA.
- Practice physiological stress relief techniques
Finally, if you still battle with exam day stress, consider practising techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness. These things can seem silly, but they can help combat the physiological aspects of stress by forcing your body to behave calmly.
How to stop failing and pass the ACCA
[What are you doing differently, to turn a fail into a pass?]
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. Nowhere is that more true than with the ACCA. The question you should be asking, whether you got 20 or 45, is ‘What am I doing differently, to turn a fail into a pass?’
In fact, we sometimes think students are in a better position if they fail with 20-something because they know something dramatic needs to change. The issue is those 40-something marks – it’s easy to assume you were so close, you’ll pass next time without doing much differently. But unfortunately, you very likely won’t.
What’s most likely is that you’ll keep failing ACCA exams – and eventually give up.
So don’t be that student, who takes two, three or even four failures to realise something big needs to change. Even if you’re getting 49s. Something has to shift, because a fail is a fail – whatever your fail mark.
So take the initiative now to change how you study, and make sure you’re celebrating when next results day rolls around.