How to deal with exam failure

May 2023

A question for Tom

Top tutor Tom Clendon explains how you can deal with exam failure, and how you can improve so you get a pass next time.


What are the main reasons for failing an ACCA exam? You see I am demotivated having just failed an exam, so what should I do to get my motivation back? My theory was perfect. My time management was fine, too. In fact, I nailed it. And yet I still failed. What should I do next?

Tom’s answer

Let me demonstrate good exam technique by breaking down these questions. I will address each one in turn.

1. Main reasons for failing.

There are two. One is time. The other knowledge.

If you were given an indefinite amount of time to do the exam and you feel confident that you would pass it, then time is the issue. What is needed to ensure a pass therefore is better exam technique. More exam practice under exam conditions. Use the practice platform.

If, however, there is a lack of knowledge then the solution is to go back to basics and to study the full syllabus. It’s not possible to pass the exam unless you have the knowledge.

It is of course difficult to generalise why students have failed. It can be a mixture of both factors. I think it’s important to try to listen to individual stories. So, if you need to retake SBR, please reach out to me. I can help. While for some tough love and home truths maybe required, for others a gentler approach is the right approach.

2. How to get motivated

Being frustrated and annoyed when you first hear that you have failed an examination is a natural emotion. It needs to be worked through. Getting that motivation to study is key to passing because it is tough to study for a resit alongside working. So, think about what completing ACCA would mean to you and your career. More money?

Promotion? Personal satisfaction at finishing something you have started?

3. I just don’t understand why I failed when “I nailed it”

This is a difficult question to answer. Strictly speaking you haven’t failed. It was an answer script that you prepared that was marked that was not awarded 50 marks. No one is judging you. No one died. But because I cannot see your script, I don’t know why your script was not a pass, either. But clearly it was. I trust in the integrity of ACCA’s marking system. So you didn’t nail it.

4. Next steps

It is necessary to reflect on why your script was not marked a pass. You should not blame the examiner or the marker. An honest self-reflection serves to enable you to do something different to avoid the same outcome recurring. Old keys won’t open new doors.

Skills students have the benefit of reviewing their My Exam Performance – but that anaylsis is not yet available to ACCA students at the strategic professional stage.

In my experience, what is very helpful is get a mock marked by a tutor. Not just marked, but marked by an expert tutor so you get proper feedback. This is a really insightful. Reach out to one of my FME Learn Online colleagues (track them down on LinkedIn) to enquire about this service.

Dust yourself down. Get back on that horse. We go again.

  • Tom Clendon is a podcaster and SBR online lecturer. Reach out to him on 07725 350793 if you want support in your ACCA SBR studies!