Your exam's a month away... you're not ready... what to do?

I remember the feeling around a month away from exams. Dread was looming, guilt was rising, stress was increasing, and I felt like my study progress was like wading through cold syrup. Slow, painful and uncomfortable. 

My ACCA students and my PGDA students are both about a month-ish away from exams, so if that’s you, you may be feeling all, or some of, the stuff I did!

Here’s some advice you might find useful:

I need to 'know the answers'

We’re addicted to ‘knowing the answer’. This impacts how we study, especially closer to the exams.

This comes from how the education system has taught up, and also our belief about what competency is. We believe competency is ‘knowing the answer’ to problems / questions.

A few take-aways from this video:

  • Professionals don’t ‘know the answer’ to problems instantly. They’ve developed the SKILL of breaking problems down, and applying whatever knowledge they have, to BUILDING a solution
  • There’s no WAY you can ‘know the answer’ to every problem. It’s like saying you can give every person the same life advice and they’ll be successful. Everyone is different! Every problem is different
  • Exams are trying to simulate the situation where you’re faced with a NEW problem. How do you THINK about the problem? How do you apply what you DO know? How do you COMMUNICATE your solution. If you knew your theory off-by-heart, would this magically fix these things? Nope

My point? Shift your belief in what the purpose of doing questions are. 

This is a HUGE topic for me, I wrote a series of articles on it, you can read them here.

Feeling Stupid?

You’re supposed to be getting smarter as you learn, but we often feel even MORE stupid as the exam date gets closer. 

I wrote an article on why we feel stupid, and some useful stuff to think of. Check it out here

I’ve also shared some of my journey with my own feelings of ‘stupid’, you may be able to relate!

"I don't know enough..."

“I’m not ready to do questions properly yet, because I don’t know enough.”

I had a chat to one of my students about this. We don’t want to know EVERYTHING, we just want to FEEL like we know ‘enough’ to pass. 

Check out the excerpt of the chat we had:

A few take-aways from this chat:

  • We’re basing our study decisions on the FEELING of knowing enough
  • We’re basing it on how we USED to feel, that feeling of ‘comfort’ with all the work that we used to be able to get to
  • We haven’t realised that the exams have CHANGED. It’s not about memorising, it’s about solving problems… which will ALWAYS be new and uncomfortable
  • We avoid doing questions under exam conditions UNTIL we ‘feel’ like we know enough

So what?

As we get closer to exams, the risk is that we focus MORE on theory, because we can’t help feeling that if we ‘know more’, we’ll be better off. 

Theory and revision also helps us FEEL like we’re making progress. “I’ve learnt more stuff, I’m better off”. Question: Can you USE the stuff you learnt? Can you convert the stuff into marks?

We’re still often clinging to what worked in the past. Cramming, memory, learning solutions to a bunch of questions. Question: Have the nature of the assessments changed? Are they more skills-based? Professional skills? Are you still studying for exams that don’t exist anymore?

If I had to bet on my chances of passing, I may honestly have bet against myself. Especially as the exam dates got closer. (Yeah, I know doesn’t sound like the ‘positive thinking’ our lecturers are always telling us to have!)

Regardless of how I FELT, I kept working at it, and following the advice of my lecturers. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I think I was desperate enough to try anything!

My point? Very few people who pass exams at this level ‘feel’ like they’re properly prepared for those exams. Hey, most professionals don’t feel they’re prepared for the jobs they have! 

So, consider your studying approach, have some faith in yourself, and be careful about studying based on ‘feelings’.

If you can relate, or have a query...


  1. This year, I bit the bullet and started doing questions well before I felt extremely comfortable with my knowledge of the theory and it has truly transformed my studying. I feel more confident in my ability to approach assignment/questions. Although I still fall under the “let me just go through the theory one last time” every know and again, ultimately I know that it isn’t going to help.
    Thank you for this blog Yvonne, you’re really providing us with insights that we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else!

    • Thanks for sharing! I’m sure other students will be inspired 🙂 You’re right, that feeling of “I should revise more…” NEVER goes away! That doesn’t mean you can’t pass… it’s just so tough to resist that feeling.
      I lecture, I’ve been qualified for over a decade, so I spend my time with lecturers at different levels doing more studying… let me tell you… when they’re talking about IFRS standards and what they’re working on for their Masters or PHD’s… I have NO idea what they’re on about! I know the IFRS, I know the concepts, I’ve passed it all… but the depths, levels and contents of that stuff… is never-ending! So… there will ALWAYS be more to learn, every conversation we have will open some other concept that makes us feel “ah cr*p, I don’t know that!” 😉 Doesn’t mean we can’t pass! Keep at it, keep letting us know how you’re doing 🙂

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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