"I didn't know the answers! And I studied so hard!"

This is something I hear all the time from my accounting students. They’re studying, they’re even doing past question papers. But when they get into the exam, they can’t make sense of the questions, and they don’t know the answers. 

How do you study to fix this?

Do your lecturers 'know' the answers to your exam questions?

I had a chat with Tom Clendon, and we spoke about this challenge. Check out this clip:

Play Video

Tom Clendon is an online lecturer, who specialises in the SBR (Strategic Business Reporting) exam for the ACCA qualification.

What does the examiner want?

Client problems

This is what they’re trying to prepare you for: Can you help a client who comes to you with their problem?

  • The problem will be totally different to any other clients’ problem
  • Different industry, business, size, challenges, risks etc
  • It’ll be ‘about’ accounting, but YOU have to figure out what ‘parts’ of accounting are relevant
  • It’ll be ‘about’ accounting, but YOU have to figure out what ‘parts’ of accounting are relevant
  • Your client won’t tell you what ‘sections’ they need to think of, they’re expecting you to tell them
  • They’re going to give you LOADS of information and expect YOU to sift through it and pull the relevant from the irrelevant

You could know your theory inside out and backwards, but… for EACH client, you’d have to do the following:

  • Sit and listen to all their information, and perhaps ask for more info if they didn’t realise you needed it
  • Identify the core issues they’re struggling with and need to solve
  •  Identify the relevant theory, laws, regulations, sections etc of your knowledge that need to be taken into account
  • Apply this theory to THEIR problem. (ie: “In YOUR case, you need to…”)

My point? 

You HAVE to THINK about it. You will NEVER be in a position that a client will come in and you’ll instantly KNOW the answer to their problem. At the very least, you need to spend a little time understanding their business, before you decide what’s relevant and irrelevant for them.

You have be able to APPLY your knowledge to THEIR specific problem

3 Steps to improve your application:

This takes time, and it’s not as comfortable as studying theory. But here’s some advice on how to start working on this while you’re studying.

The value of these steps is to help you think systematically. Instead of seeing every question as a massive problem that you need to ‘know’ the answer to, you can develop the skill of breaking it down and BUILDING a solution.

1. Slow Down

Sounds simple. It’s not! As soon as you see questions, you panic. Part of the panic is because you THINK you have to ‘know’ the answer, and when your brain doesn’t provide the answer, you immediately worry that it means you won’t be able to answer. 

Practice slowing down as you read the case study. You need to spend some time understanding your client and their situation.

2. Break it Down

Learn to break the problem down. Is it just ONE thing, or are there a bunch of things? 


If you have to tell a client how to account for a transaction in the financial statements, you’ll need to address more than one thing:

  • Recognition of the transaction (What should it be recorded as and why)
  • Measurement (at transaction date, and afterwards if relevant)
  • Disclosure in the financials

The better you get at breaking problems down, the more manageable they are.

3. Identify Relevant Knowledge Base

Everything you learn is part of a knowledge base intended to solve a specific problem. So, identify which part of your knowledge you need here. Do you need accounting treatment knowledge? Costing knowledge? Strategic decision making knowledge? Audit and Assurance knowledge? Taxation knowledge?

Then drill down into that knowledge base to identify the specific part of that knowledge base you need. Yes, it’s a tax issue, but which part of the tax law applies? Are there parts of the relevant section that aren’t applicable to this client? 

Feels slower to study like this?

It will feel slower, especially when you start. This is because you’re still studying with the belief that you must ‘know’ the answers immediately.

“Get it right, first time, every time”. This is something most of us have taken from school and earlier levels of studying.

Step back and ask yourself what your studying is supposed to be preparing you for. And ask yourself whether your current study approach will get you there. 

Related articles:

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


  1. Wow! What a life changing perspective this is Yvonne! I would have never in a million years thought of my studying in this way. I will definitely be using this knowledge moving forward.
    Thank you.

    • Awesome to hear that! So glad you found it valuable. It really is a different way of thinking about it. It’s easier said than done, but will make SUCH a difference to your exam performance. It will also make the future levels of studying MUCH easier. Skills stay with us longer than memory. 🙂 Keep in touch, let us know how it’s going!

Leave a Reply

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

Post comment

WAIT! Download My Mindset & Studies Guide

Did you know that mindset is one of the biggest things that could be holding you back with your studies and you don't even know it?

Your data is 100% secure and will never be shared with anyone. Our privacy policy is here

My YouTube Channel...

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

Recent posts

My Courses