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Top 10 causes of failure in professional exams and how these can be avoided

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

If you are preparing for a professional exam such as CPA(U), CTA, ATD or ACCA, you might be wondering what are the common pitfalls that can affect your performance and how to avoid them. In this blog post, we will share with you the top 10 causes of failure in professional exams and some tips to overcome them.

Taking an Exam

1. Not paying attention to detail. Sometimes, the difference between a correct and an incorrect answer lies in a small detail, such as a word, a number, or a symbol. To avoid this mistake, you should read the questions carefully and check your answers for accuracy and completeness. You should also pay attention to the instructions and follow them exactly. For exam, in a financial accounting exam depreciation on cost (straight line method) is way different from depreciation on Net Book Value the latter being the reducing balance method.


2. Use of incorrect formats. Professional exams such as management accounting, management decision and control (MDC), and quantitative techniques often require you to use specific formats for your answers, such as tables, charts, diagrams, or equations. If you use the wrong format, you might lose marks or confuse the examiner. To avoid this mistake, you should familiarize yourself with the formats required for each topic and practice using them before the exam. 3. Failure to make necessary adjustments arising out of additional information provided. Sometimes, professional exams such as taxation, advanced taxation, financial reporting, financial accounting and financial management provide additional information or scenarios that require you to modify your answers accordingly. If you ignore or misinterpret this information, you might end up with an incorrect or incomplete answer. To avoid this mistake, you should read the additional information carefully and think about how it affects your answer. You should also show your workings and explain your assumptions clearly.


4. Ignoring the theoretical aspects of each topic. Professional exams such as advanced financial management and business law are not only about applying practical skills and knowledge, but also about understanding the underlying concepts and principles of each topic. If you neglect the theoretical aspects, you might miss some important points or make wrong assumptions. To avoid this mistake, you should review the theory behind each topic and learn how to link it to the practical aspects.



5. Explanations in terms of English language usage rather than technical terms used. Professional exams expect you to use appropriate technical terms and jargon when explaining your answers, rather than plain English language usage. If you use vague or general terms, you might lose marks or confuse the examiner. To avoid this mistake, you should learn the technical terms used for each topic and use them correctly and consistently in your answers. 6. Overlooking marks allocated per question. Professional exams usually indicate how many marks are allocated for each question or part of a question. This gives you an idea of how much time and effort you should spend on each question and how detailed your answer should be. If you overlook the marks allocated, you might waste time on less important questions or leave out important details on more important questions. To avoid this mistake, you should check the marks allocated for each question and plan your time accordingly. 7. Poor choice of questions. Professional exams often give you some choice in selecting which questions to answer from a given set of options. If you choose poorly, you might end up with questions that are too difficult, too unfamiliar, or too time-consuming for you. To avoid this mistake, you should read all the questions carefully and select the ones that best suit your strengths and preferences.


8. Not managing time thus attempting less questions (partially attempted questions). Professional exams have a limited time duration and a minimum number of questions that you need to attempt to pass. If you do not manage your time well, you might run out of time before completing all the required questions or leave some questions partially attempted. This can result in losing marks or failing the exam altogether. To avoid this mistake, you should allocate your time wisely and monitor your progress throughout the exam. 9. Not preparing adequately. Professional exams require a lot of preparation and revision before taking them. If you do not prepare adequately, you might lack the necessary knowledge, skills, or confidence to answer the questions effectively. To avoid this mistake, you should start your preparation early and follow a study plan that covers all the topics and formats of the exam. 10. Being disorganized. Professional exams require you to be organized and efficient in presenting your answers. If you are disorganized, you might make errors, omissions, or repetitions in your answers or have difficulty finding or accessing the materials or tools that you need during the exam. To avoid this mistake, you should organize your notes, materials, and tools before the exam and arrange your answers in a clear and logical manner. We hope that this blog post has helped you identify some of the common causes of failure in professional exams and how to avoid them. Remember that professional exams are not impossible to pass if you prepare well and follow some simple strategies. We wish you all the best in your exam!


CPA Innocent MUGISHA

Managing Director

Harvest Training and Consultancy (U) Ltd (2013 – 2023)

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