What to do when you’re lacking confidence.


I received an email recently from a student who has just started her CIMA studies, saying that she is finding things difficult and lacks confidence. I have received countless emails like this over my 20 years of training accountancy students and i’m used to trying to reassure students about how to approach their exams successfully.

Here’s what I wrote to her…

Hi Sally,

A lot of students find their professional accountancy exams challenging. When I think back to my own studies, I flew through school without much difficulty, got a good degree without working terribly hard, but had a bit of a shock when I got to my accountancy exams at how hard they were, and how much more work I had to put in compared to my previous exams. So you are certainly not alone in feeling how you do!

CIMA is a globally recognised qualification which will make a massive difference to your career. Something like that is not going to be easy. In fact, if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth anything. You have to keep reminding yourself that the fact it is hard is why it will change your life when you finish. Lots of students fail the odd paper as they progress through the qualification and that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t finish. It just means they need to show the dedication and discipline to keep going when things get difficult. I think that it is far better to sit an exam and fail it, but to learn about which areas you need to improve and have a better chance of passing the next time, than to never sit an exam out of fear and doubt.

Persistence is absolutely the most important thing.

And don’t worry about your lack of experience in accountancy. That really won’t hold you back if you approach each paper you study with a positive mindset. I see many students who have studied accountancy before starting CIMA who have been taught it badly, or whose knowledge is years out of date. In some respects starting fresh without any experience means that you can learn things properly.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing in terms of looking at as many questions as you possibly can.

My advice is:

  • Practice questions as you go along. Some students leave all of their question practice until after they have read through every chapter their notes, but you are far better to read a few pages of notes and then practice a few questions on that area before moving to the next topic. This will really help to consolidate your knowledge.
  • Do every practice question you have more than once. I would aim to do each one 3 times. By repeating questions you will really embed the knowledge, become more familiar with how some questions are phrased, and you should see your speed really increase. This will help with time pressure in the real exam.
  • Do questions under timed conditions. So rather than doing questions separately, taking as long as you need to finish it, and then looking at the answer to each one before you move on, it is better to do ten questions at a time in the same amount of time as you would have in the real exam (so 15 minutes perhaps) and then look at the answers to all of them.
  • Don’t be tempted to look at model answers until after you have had a proper go at the question yourself. Some students give up almost as soon as they have read the question and look straight at the answers to “check what they should be doing”. This really doesn’t help your ability to actually do questions on your own, and makes you reliant
  • Practice a couple of full mock exams before the real thing, under full timed conditions. This should be the final test of whether you are ready.

Hope that all helps!



“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt”
          – Gareth John, tutor at First Intuition







3 thoughts on “What to do when you’re lacking confidence.”

  1. Thank you for this Blog post Gareth – It’s given me extra motivation & put my worries slightly at ease, that I’m not the only one nervous about my first exam!

  2. This is true,did that with my CIMA F3,initially came with a 97 ,and after following your advice above,rest after 2 weeks and passed with 116

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *