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From our Vital archive: Staying zen in the face of exam retakes

Author: Philippa Hood

Published: 21 Aug 2020

vital zen

January 2018: Retaking an exam is rarely a pleasant experience, but well structured, thought out revision can make the process less stressful, and ultimately more successful.

If you are retaking the exam in a different calendar year, check whether there have been any syllabus changes. You should apply for the exam in the same way as normal via your online training file or exams online. Check your employer’s policy for any differences on how to apply.

Time to reflect

As you start to prepare for the exam, don’t just plunge into re-learning the entire syllabus. Take some time to try and identify where you went wrong before. Timing? A particular topic area? Misreading a requirement? This will give you an idea of where to focus your attention during your revision. While it may not be particularly enjoyable, for Professional and Advanced Level exams it is highly recommended that you download the exam and model answers from icaew.com/examresources for
your unsuccessful attempt. Work through the exam again to find out what didn’t go to plan, so you can learn from this for next time.

Show understanding

Remember, the aim of each exam is for you to demonstrate your knowledge and application across the syllabus to the examiner. Try not to get too caught up in one particular requirement as this may be to the detriment of later requirements in the exam. Instead you should be aiming to show a good level of understanding across all areas. 

Question practice is key for all of the ACA exams. However, ensure you are learning from this. There is little benefit to be gained from sitting and doing several hours of question practice straight if at the end of it you haven’t learned anything, and would make the same mistakes again. It would be much better to do fewer questions during a study session, but then take the time to analyse where you went wrong and what improvements you will make the next time you are presented with a similar question. It might be useful to get into the habit of writing down three things you have learned from every practice question that you do.

About time

Make sure you are doing some time- restricted practice – often what you produce in timed conditions is very different to when you don’t have a time limit, and of course it is best to replicate the real exam as much as possible to ensure nothing is a surprise come exam day. 

Remember – these exams are not intended to be easy. If they were, the ICAEW Chartered Accountant delegation would not hold as much weight as it does. Approach your retake with a positive mindset, knowing that each exam you pass is a step closer to gaining the qualification. 

For more exam support and resources go to icaew.com/examresources.