Failed an exam? Find out what to do next

By  •  Updated: 11/15/22 •  9 min read

What to do when you fail the same exam over and over again? It’s especially hard for your mental sake, as you tend to feel like a failure (which you’re NOT, remember that!). You’ve spent so much time learning and developing your knowledge, and when you sit in front of the computer, you take this exam and you fail yet again… You feel like you’re never going to pass this exam, EVER!

And I know how it is. I feel for you. I’ve been in your shoes. Last year I failed F3 exams exactly in the same way. I left the exam room thinking, “What am I supposed to do now? Was my way of studying wrong? What shall I improve? Or maybe I should just quit… “

So I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Some of you have asked me to write about this topic (btw – if you ever have any troubles with something or would like to hear / learn more about a particular topic, just let us know in the comment section below the article or on our FB page). As you can imagine, this subject is quite close to my heart. 

First thing I definitively need to emphasise is to have an end goal in mind. That really helps help if you know where you’re going in the long term. Read one of our previous articles on How CIMA can help you in your career. That can give you some perspective. Remember that you’ve already worked quite hard on what you’ve achieved and what a waste that would be if you decide to quit now. Think about how your life would change when you are CIMA qualified (e.g. CGMA)?

Apart from the right motivation, I believe that the below 2 factors are the most important and can make a difference between a FAIL or a PASS.


It has to be in impeccable!

Check the learning outcomes. You need to be really sure that you’ve covered everything, especially the topics that represent the biggest weight in the syllabus. So what I would suggest is still going through what you’ve been doing before. Revise your study notes and afterward go back to the syllabus of the CIMA. 

Maybe you should find a different way of revising. For example, if you’ve been looking at Kaplan notes, read the topic again, make your own notes using your own words. Rephrase the key concepts from the study book – that can help you to understand the topics better. Summarise using your own expressions, that will help the knowledge to sink in better (and stay in your head for longer). Or maybe use a mind mapping software just to put the main topics over there. Be creative, find sth different that speaks to you and use it!

Are you the “teaching” type of person? If so, try to explain this topic to another person. Maybe find a study buddy where each person is responsible for summarising and explaining a certain part? Some people learn more just by explaining how they actually understood a topic. If writing works better for you, make some notes, but if you retain information better by saying them out loud and talking to yourself sounds too… odd… then try to find a person you could explain it to (and who would also be at least a bit interested in the topic… so they listen actively and ask you some questions if they don’t understand fully what you mean).

Anyway, whatever works on you, just remember to change a little bit the style of the revision, because the more techniques you input over there, the better results you’re going to get. And who knows? Maybe when you are trying different methods, you’ll find something that really works on you.

Cover learning outcomes. We’ve mentioned that/ But how to figure out where are your weak points? My suggestion is to do a lot of practice tests with more detailed results section. I mean something more that just “proficient” to “not proficient”… Plus, in my opinion, telling me that I could improve part B, which has 60% of the syllabus, is not really adding a lot of value… So I suggest to check out our practice tests. Why? Because we’ve divided our tests into smaller chunks, that represent syllabus parts (part A, B etc), and then we even drilled deeper up to chapter levels (we always refer to Kaplan study books as they are the official CIMA publisher). In the end, you know exactly what are your weakest areas and which chapters you should revise. I think this is more useful.

If you do our mock exams, then at the end in the results section you will clearly see which chapters need more attention. If this learning method sounds appealing to you, check out our products here. Of course, it sounds a little bit like selling, but on the other hand, I know this approach works. And I know it works, as I read the feedback from our students and they confirm it. I’m pretty sure that can also help you as well. 

When you finally figure out which areas are the ones that you should improve, read more materials regarding this topic. Diversify. Use other study text providers, read more articles on CIMA Connect or in the FM magazine. Try to do something different than you have done before just to make sure that you’ve revised all aspects of this particular topic from different angles. I’m certain that the more you read about it, the better understanding you’ll get.

Exam technique

What does it mean? So when you go through an exam, of course, at the beginning, it’s all about the knowledge (described above), and the time management, and being structured. 

As for time management, we all know the basics. We have 60 questions, we have 90 minutes, so it’s one and a half minutes per each question. But when you start answering an exam and you get really into it, that whole logical and structured approach magically disappears… Sometimes you just think, after already spending some time on the question, that you just need to finish this one extra calculation. Then, two minutes later you are no closer of getting the answer. So, annoyed, you either skip the question (don’t do that!!!) or make a random guess (already a better option but best would be to rationalise this guess).

And how to actually go around it? When you approach a question, you need to very quickly realise what is the topic that it covers and you HAVE TO be honest with yourself. If it’s something that you don’t know or you always had issues with, don’t spend a lot of time on this question. Just cross out the obvious wrong answers. If you are then left with two options, just go with your guts. Pick an answer and flag this question for review, so in case you have extra time at the end of the exam, you can always come back to. But choose something quickly. Don’t spend more than half a minute on this question if you know that you are not really familiar with the topic.

So, once again, the exam technique is about assessing if actually you are ABLE TO answer the question and if it’s going to take you a really long time.

Another useful thing is to go through all the questions on the exam and just answer the simple questions first. For example, there are multiple choice questions that are not too long. Do them first, and then do the questions that have longer scenarios or calculations. Also, accomplishing something is very important for your state of mind. If you have a feeling that you’re done with some part of your exam, you’re more confident, your stress level drops a bit and that can help you to think clearer. I know that it is also a blocking factor for some of you.

And the last point I want to mention regarding the exam technique is that you should practice A LOT of exam-like questions or mock exams in an environment that is similar to the real exam. Practicing is a key to your CIMA success. Practicing will accelerate your learning and should help you cement your knowledge in preparation for your exam. So if you have a possibility to practice more and more questions that you have not done before, take this chance and do it. It will only help you. Well… again, we offer 500 questions per each CIMA paper.  These questions have been designed to copy the style and format of questions found in the real CIMA Objective Test exams.

To sum up, before an exam, you need to be really sure that you’ve covered all the learning outcomes specified by CIMA, which are required to pass your exam. Use the CIMA 2015 syllabus in order to make sure that you are really comfortable with the material. And afterwards, figure out your own exam technique, something you are comfortable with. Decide if you’re going to skip all the questions as they come, if you are going to do only the easy ones first, if you’re going to guess. Prepare in advance your own exam technique. It’s going to help you on the real exam. 

I wish you all the good luck for your upcoming CIMA exam. We’ll be in touch. We’re working on preparing a video with those mentioned tips put in action, you just cannot miss it!