The year has been tough. You’re exhausted from studying, tired of the emotional stress of waiting for results and wondering whether all the sacrifices and effort you’ve put into this will be worthwhile. Then the results come out. Your worst fears are confirmed, and even though you were partly expecting and dreading it, there’s still nothing as horrifying and surreal as seeing those results in front of your eyes. You failed CTA.

Not a lot of people outside the profession can really appreciate how much of yourself you give to CTA. It is a year-long struggle with sleep, volume and complexity of content, and a struggle against fear and dread. You mentally argue with yourself through the year about whether all this will be worthwhile (It had BETTER be worthwhile!) and spend any spare time you have agonising over whether you’ll make it. Your family and friends think you’re studying too hard, your lecturers tell you you’re not studying hard enough, and your class-mates have a familiar sense of terror in their eyes that makes you feel a little less alone. No matter what though, you feel a little stupid for most of the year. There’s just so MUCH!!!

Now the results are out, and you’re faced with a really tough decision. What now? Was it all a waste? What does it mean for you? For your chances of qualifying as a CA?

This is a very difficult conversation. There are a lot of sensitive points in this discussion, and it’s a conversation you have to have with yourself. You are the only one who carries the answers to this dilemma. You can get input, advice, support, but no one can tell you what’s right for you. You have to make that decision yourself.

Here are just a few common questions I field from students who failed CTA the first (or even second) time, as well as the responses I give them to try help them arrive at their decisions:

Does it mean you’ll never qualify as a CA?

At this point, it’s very difficult to hold on to the faith that your goal of qualifying as a CA will become a reality, but are you actually further away from your dream?

The reality is that there are an awful lot of Chartered Accountants out there who failed CTA, even more than once! Whether it was CTA, Board exams, undergrad… very few CA(SA)’s pass everything first time. Does it make them less qualified Chartered Accountants? Of course not. The important thing at the end of the day is that they made it, not that it took a little longer to get there!

There is so MUCH that can go wrong in your CTA year, none of it is necessarily an indicator that this is the wrong path for you. For some students I’ve known, their first attempt at CTA was an eye-opener to a world they never realised existed. They came back the second time saying they now knew what it required of them, understood what they needed to do, and successfully made it through the year.

The only person who can decide that this path isn’t for you… is YOU!

Should you try again? Or should you try something else?

This is a difficult one for students. In so many areas of our lives, we happily accept that we won’t be successful at everything the very first time we try it. Riding a bicycle, learning to read, even learning to walk takes more than one attempt. Learning a new language will take time, new hobbies are not always perfect first time. Yet, when it comes to CTA, somehow we think that it’s now or never! If we don’t get it right first time, it was never meant to be, can never be. This is especially true because most accounting students are by nature perfectionists, and most are not used to failing things. It’s a massive adjustment to come across something you can’t beat first time round! It wipes out your self-confidence and there’s a temptation to get far away from this thing that’s made you feel so bad.

Truthfully, you can do this. You’ve come this far. You wanted this qualification. Do you no longer want it? Unless you’ve re-assessed your goals, (which is perfectly fine and healthy!) you need to stick with it and give it another go!

What if you CAN’T do it again?

This is a longer discussion, so I’ve written another article on it. If your university won’t allow you to register again, or if you just can’t do it financially, because of life obligations, read that article.

Will changing universities increase your chances of passing?

This is probably the most popular question I hear. There is a definite temptation to change as much as possible in order to change the outcome of the next year. There is also a subtle part of human nature that wants to blame someone or something else for this horrible thing that’s just happened, so you want to run as far away as possible.

This can be a dangerous move. Before making decisions like this, make sure you know why you were unsuccessful this year. Again, this is a very tough conversation you have to have with yourself. Only you can honestly say whether you were 100% committed, worked consistently from day one, and focused on understanding and application rather than knowledge-dumping. Don’t think about how you ‘felt’ about all the hard work. Think about that ACTUAL work you did. Think about it the way your lecturer would. If they went through your study files, would they agree that you did everything you could? Or would you be making excuses about why you didn’t do more questions, why you ran out of time, why you didn’t ask for help on areas you struggled with?

If your consistency was lacking somewhere through the year. If you didn’t sit down and do questions instead of study theory repeatedly. If you mentally lost your way through the year. Will changing universities change these things? You can’t run away from yourself. A new university will not give you more motivation, more dedication and more conscientiousness. All of these should come from yourself, not any external party!

Changing universities can also be a little dangerous for another reason. Different universities have different methodologies for approaching topics, different universities emphasise different topics and have different exam technique approaches. This is probably not the year that you want to start all that from the beginning! Don’t underestimate the value of the experience you’ve gained in terms of topics, focus, approach and exam technique.

This is not to say that changing universities is a really bad idea, don’t get me wrong. All I’m saying is that you need to make sure you know why you’re moving and what it is that you expect from the new place that will make the difference for you. This will differ from person to person, so it has to be a decision you make for yourself.

To conclude

You’ve selected an extremely tough qualification to pursue. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! It requires a lot from you, and if you’re prepared to do the self-evaluation and stick with it, you will find that it IS all worthwhile. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as your chosen field.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I kept on my wall throughout my qualification journey (all ELEVEN years of it!!). These words kept me going in those very dark moments that made me feel like it was all over and I was wasting my time. Maybe they might help you too…

“Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t know how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

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


  1. Hi yvonne. Thank you for such inspiring words. My situation is a bit different. My life in studying got delayed this year because i doubted i could afford my study fees until the end of this month. I have not studied so far, but I’m a full-time student. My biggest question is: Is it possible for me to be successful on my CTA level1 this year or should I just use this year even I start so late as my training year preparing for next year exam.

    Thank you.

    • Although I don’t know you or your situation… I would say that there’s only one way to find out! Once you start delaying CTA… it becomes very difficult to get back to it. Get to it, and do your best!!!

  2. Hi Yvonne

    I’m at a point where I just got the disappointing results. After working hard and sacrificing all of me,I failed. Nobody understands this journey and I am emotionally drained. I felt like something went wrong in the marking. I cried so hard and still get tears in my eyes when I think about it. Reading your article was like God speaking to me and guiding my next step. I fear that my intellegence is not enough and wonder if I’ll ever make it. Knowing that I’m not the only one who’s been through this gives me confidence that I can also make it. Thank you.

  3. So stressed results came and qouting your phrase the worst nightmare has been confirmed. I failed.

    There is work pressure and family expectations.

    What must I do (1st time attempt )

    • Depends… how much do you want this?!
      I often say to students… think about what you want to say when you’re 65 🙂 If you’ll be happy with saying that you tried it, and decided to change your career plans… then that’s cool… and don’t let anyone tell you there’s anything wrong with that!
      If, however, you’ll be angry, and bitter and unhappy that you didn’t take that extra year when you had the chance; if you are going to spend the rest of your life wondering what ‘could have happened’ if you tried again… then you should probably try again.
      I don’t know your situation… if you were one of those who tried the one-year CTA at UNISA without doing the full third year the year before… that’s had a high risk of failure, for some really obvious reasons… be smart about how you approach your studies, and there’s no reason you can’t turn this into a success 🙂

  4. Hi Yvonne. This was my third attempt at CTA L1. These past 3yrs were very difficult for me because I was going through a divorce and custody of my kids and it all led to heavy depression. I tried my hardest with the third attempt but sadly I failed. From my understanding I will no longer be able to register at UNISA for CTA. I’m devastated and don’t know what to do from here. Do you have any advice for me? I’m not sure what my options are going forward.
    I was planning on starting my articles this year.

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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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