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Can't pass CIMA, now what?

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I've been trying to pass the CIMA MCS for over a year (my first CIMA exam, I got excemptions for doing an accountancy degree) and I just can't do it. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I just ain't that bright when it comes to academic stuff. I currently work as a management accountant/finance business partner for a medium sized finance startup in London. I have about 2. 5 years accounting experience. 


As a result of recently failing the MCS for a second time, I've been looking at a career change. What are some common paths for people in my situation, or people who are looking to get out of accounting?


I don't want the last 2.5 years to go to waste so was trying to think of roles or industries I could transition into using my existing skills and knowledge. Looked at recruitment consulting (could specialise in accountancy) but it appears that's been hammered by Covid, so might be a no-go.


Anyone else been in a similar situation? What did you go into? 

Replies (19)

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By Sarah Z
01st Aug 2020 21:18

Why do you need to change jobs? Is it a requirement of your job that you do CIMA or similar?

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Replying to Sarah Z:
By Alex95
01st Aug 2020 21:47

I don't *need* to change jobs, but I know that I won't go very far in my career (or pay) in accountancy if I don't have a professional qualification behind me. Unqualified accountants seem to top out at about 40-45k (in London) which really doesn't go very far in London.

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Replying to Alex95:
By lionofludesch
01st Aug 2020 23:46

Unqualified accountants seem to top out at about 40-45k (in London) which really doesn't go very far in London.

You could flit. A lot of folk live very well on a lot less.

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By lionofludesch
01st Aug 2020 23:43

I went into accountancy after my failed attempt at a degree.

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By lesley.barnes
02nd Aug 2020 09:56

You need to think about whether you want to work in accountancy or you want a career change because accountancy isn't for you. If you decide to stick with accountancy is Cima the right qualification for what you want to do in accountacy? There are other accountancy qualifications that may fit better with what you do. I did Cima many years ago sponsored by my then employer and I didn't pass every module first time. Looking back my difficulties were with modules I never came across practically in my day to day role and I couldn't put them into context in my case - quantitative methods. It meant that it was nothing but book learning, churning it out in the exam and then moving on to something that was relevent. It could be in your case the bits you can't pass are something you don't do in your current role so you are struggling putting them into context practically rather than not being "bright" Don't do yourself down surely if you've passed an accountancy degree you must be able to apply yourself and pass exams. It could be it is just the wrong accountancy body for you.

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By gillybean04
02nd Aug 2020 14:26

Have you tried to identify any gaps in your knowledge to focus & seek help with them?

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By andy.partridge
02nd Aug 2020 14:57

Your post resonates with younger me. Feel free to PM me.

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By tom123
02nd Aug 2020 20:47

If the exams were easy they would have no value.

I did not pass all my cima exams first time, and already had an accountancy degree.

Could you not take some exams in a different order? Get some easy wins?.

Recruitment is mostly commission, and very hire and fire.

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By FirstTab
03rd Aug 2020 00:16

Please do not confuse passing exams with intelligence. All you need to do is practice practice practice past exam questions and recall in exam hall or wherever you are sitting the exam.

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By bernard michael
03rd Aug 2020 09:14

I went on a cramming course to pass my chartered exams final. It was hell but it worked. Try one if they still exist

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Replying to bernard michael:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
03rd Aug 2020 11:21

Was that the one in North Wales?

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By Paul Crowley
03rd Aug 2020 11:50

Exam Technique trumps knowledge every time.

Speaking as a former exam script marker for ICAEW on auditing.

Did a 'pass or we refund double the fee' course to eventually pass auditing.
When marking it was clear that the course technique was based on the instructions given to markers, and to ensure capability of 100% marks

The course I undertook taught how the write legibly and how to get maximum points.
No technical teaching at all. Requirement was to do hundreds of old test questions, get marked and do corrections

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By Graham Suggett
06th Aug 2020 10:19

God the question takes me back. Accounting degree, exemptions from CIMA - failed final exams - I was a parochial Northerner living in the SE working for Kodak. I approached Michael Page to see if they could find me something closer to my NW home and they ended up offering me a job in Manchester. 4 years in accountancy recruitment but (for me) it was never a career and I would strongly advise against it unless you’re extremely sales / target driven. You will get chewed up and spat out if you’re not.

One option is to look at HMRC - their graduate tax inspector scheme (in London) will take you to c£55k within 3 years and following promotion - easier in London - you will be c£70k. The work/life balance is decent so, assuming you have an interest in the work you currently do, it would be worth looking at.

I did 16 years with IR / HMRC , which for the most part was fine, and was lucky enough to work in a specialist area – the Creative Industry and R&D tax reliefs – which has allowed me to leave and work for myself

Good luck.

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By Munch
06th Aug 2020 10:26

If you enjoy it don't give up. It is about regurgitating learning in these exams. Think about your study techniques. If your employer is happy with your work, speak openly to them too and see if they have thoughts. Don't just jump into another job willy nilly, you mention recruitment, be careful as that dog eat dog world and requires a certain mindset. If you have to, think about other professions that might HR, compliance or are you stronger on tax perhaps....... . As others say a single year is nothing in 20 years time. Do not panic.

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By dmmarler
06th Aug 2020 10:52

Many years ago one of the professional accountancy bodies established that people who had university based exemptions did less well in examinations than those with an ordinary degree. The question is what do you enjoy doing? There is no point in continuing if you do not like your work, and are getting nowhere in terms of progression. Further, have you taken into account the changes which are taking place in CIMA/CGMA? If you are good at the accountancy/bookkeeping bit and like that, then transition now to ACCA as it will give you flexibility - but ACCA may not accept the same exemptions. If your accountancy is not brilliant, and you still want to do it, then go to AAT as suggested. You will get a really firm accounting foundation from AAT. Whatever you decide, it will be hard work. (Declaration of interests - I am a former member of Council of both AAT and CIMA, and a former CIMA Membership Assessor.) Good luck!

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By bendybod
06th Aug 2020 11:27

I often feel that CIMA and ACCA (and probably others) give too many exemptions based on accountancy degrees. I did a business degree and got a few exemptions but would have got more with an accountancy degree. If you want to stay in the job and get a qualification in order to attract higher paid jobs, I would say start lower down the ladder in terms of exams and get some confidence from passing the lower ones. If you are not able to pass those (taking the advice of many others here and concentrating on technique rather than raw knowledge) then you know that it really isn't a career path that is going to suit you.
As with all things, you will find that there are companies that are willing to interview you based on your experience and others that will insist on qualifications. A good recruitment agency will know which are which if you enjoy the job but just aren't exam minded.

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By Paul Deehan
06th Aug 2020 11:47

As other's have said, it may be worth you sitting the other Managerial level exams first before tackling the MCS. Although you have the exemptions from your degree, starting with one of the case studies is a little like someone who wants to take up hill walking starting out with Everest.

Having a good understanding of the modules before tackling the case study will give you the theories and models to use in the questions on the MCS. For any of the case study exams you need to know the pre seen inside out, carry out various analysis against it and do plenty of exam question practice leading up to a full exam to time.

As the exams are now computer based, I would also advise doing your practice on a PC. Also buy the cheapest and nastiest keyboard you can find which will give you plenty of practice for the real thing.

Not sure if you have been using a training provider for the exam but there are plenty of additional materials available to compliment what you receive. Have a look at Astranti, they do an excellent study pack for the case studies with an analysis of the pre seen, industry analysis and top ten issues. I found this an immense help when doing the SCS.

I know you must be feeling a little downhearted after failing but please don't give up until you have tried taking one of the OT exams of the managerial level. I failed F and P of the strategic level when the new syllabus first came in after having a break from studying. Once I passed E first time the rest just fell into place.

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By Paul Barclay
24th Sep 2020 11:36

A few years ago I was in a similar position, I had an MBA so a number of exemptions and the MCS was my first exam.

I signed up for online study (I think through Kaplan), which was a series of lectures talking through the subject - absolutely invaluable. I did pass but still struggled.

My recommendation is look for a study course and do practice past papers you need to learn how to pass the exam. Keep trying and you will get there. I did find the strategic level challenging but as I was now with a study group (Reed business school - so had to give up some weekends), I always felt more confident. The MCS was by far the most stressful exam, understand this and don't give up!

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By daniel2909
25th Sep 2020 09:18

Exam technique is everything . I have been in your situation . PM me and I will put you in contact with someone who solved it for me

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