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Reasons why students fail their exams

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Neil Da Costs
By Neil Da Costa, Senior Tax Lecturer Link to Neil Da Costa's LinkedIn profile

At some point, everyone fails - but it’s not the end! Our Tax guru, Neil Da Costa, analyses reasons for failure and how best to be less affected by it.

Farida, a student, was an intelligent lady with a track record of performing well in academic exams. She had perfect A-Levels, a First in her Economics degree, and sailed through her ACCA accountancy exams until meeting me at Advanced Tax. At this stage, however, she failed - with 49%.

This was a very painful experience for Farida and for months she agonised about getting her script remarked or contemplating scenarios that would’ve led to a better result.

A positive response

Fortunately, Farida reached out to me, and we came up with an action plan with specific tasks for her to cover each week. At this point she had overcome the pain of failure and was able to focus her attention on learning the extra material.

She repeatedly practised exam questions that we covered on our Kaplan revision course and on the Question Based Revision Day performed really well. So she went into the exam feeling relatively calm. She read through the questions carefully and felt that she’d done her best. However, she didn’t feel she could tempt fate by assuming she would pass.

It was tormenting, having to wait for the results, but finally she sent me an ecstatic email informing me she had passed with 79%.

So, why do students fail their accountancy exams?

From my experience working as a tutor there are recurring reasons…

1. Not learning the technical material after the lectures

On our Kaplan tuition courses, we cover the key elements of the syllabus, but it is important to realise that attending the lectures and understanding the technical content is not enough. You then have to find the time to review the lecture material and practice the questions allocated for homework.

2. Lack of exam question practice

After the tuition courses, Kaplan run revision courses where we focus on working through actual previous exam questions. This shows our students how to analyse the examiner’s requirements and pick up the easier marks in the question.

It’s important to bear in mind that you only need to pass the exam and you don’t need to get everything perfectly correct. Students who don’t practice enough exam questions find they cannot cope with the pressure of the exam.

3. Assuming that all the subjects are the same

The professional accountancy qualification covers a broad range of subjects from company law, tax, audit and assurance to financial reporting and performance management. While some subjects might appeal to you, it is highly probable that due to the broad spectrum of subjects covered, some areas may be more challenging.

I find many students enjoy the more computational logical subjects, like financial reporting and tax, but struggle with the case study (or dry subjects like audit). This means they have to put in more effort than expected into passing certain subjects and they often underestimate the time and effort required.

4. Managing study alongside work responsibilities

Many of our Kaplan students already have high level positions in their respective organisations and struggle with managing their work responsibilities and finding time to study.

This is far more prevalent at the final Strategic Professional exams where many students have managerial responsibility yet have to find time for their study preparation despite their demanding career commitments.

A simple strategy to get through the pain of failure

According to ex-Navy Seal, David Goggins, in his incredible book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me’, you need to develop a calloused mind. This strength of will only comes from confronting our weaknesses instead of trying to run away from them.

By accepting your failures honestly, you stop viewing failure as a painful experience, but instead as part of the learning journey. In times of extreme stress such as an exam environment, people do not rise to the level of their expectations, instead they fall to the level of their training.

This is why, at Kaplan, we believe in rigorous exam question practice. By conditioning our students to attempt exam questions under timed conditions, they are able to perform successfully in the exam.

Neil Da Costa is a Senior Tax Lecturer with Kaplan. He believes in keeping things simple, inspiring his students, and making tax fun. He is the author of two tax books, Advanced Tax Condensed, and Tax Condensed. These innovative books feature memory-joggers enabling students to learn the vast tax syllabus using accelerated learning techniques.