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So You Failed Your CTA?

It’s CTA results day. And whether you’ve won a medal, achieved the “perfect mark” (of 51%), or just missed out on a pass, you can all be proud of your achievements. Just getting this far takes grit.

It’s easy to feel like a great exam result means a better advisor. But I’m here to tell you: there’s way more to it than that.

Some of the best tax advisors I know didn’t pass every exam first time around. And I should know – I failed an exam too!

The fact is, pass or fail, studying for the CTA exams is damn hard. And anyone who tells you it isn’t is either a genius, or they are fibbing to make themselves look “good”.

No matter how smart you may be, finding the time to engage with ALL THAT material, while holding down a profession, is challenging.

CTA students familiarise themselves with thousands of pages of course notes and questions, and many thousands more of legislation.

The skills needed qualify as a CTA member are honed over tens of thousands of hours per module. It’s a truly impressive commitment.

And all of this is tested in an exam.

One. Single. Exam.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Written exams make sense from a standardisation perspective, they are the least bad option for assessment.

But it still sucks if someone has a bad three hours.

And when it comes to being a great advisor, exam results aren’t always the best indicator.

(Of course, I would say that.)

When I failed a CTA exam, my attentions were focused elsewhere.

Early on in your career it’s easy to feel like saying “yes” to everything is the best way to get ahead. I think that I was pretty much the textbook example.

…Need someone to research that area of tax law? I’ll do it.

…Need someone to review recent case law? I’m your man.

…Need someone to travel to meet a prospective client? I will find the time.

And I’d be lying if I said that this attitude didn’t help get me my career off the ground.

I learnt a lot and made great connections. I was exposed to more areas of tax, and worked with a greater array of talented professionals, than many of my contemporaries. All by simply making sure I was always available and willing to take on the task.

Sure, it often meant long days and late nights, but was it worth it?


To fit in all the work, I delayed studying. Further and further.

But that’s okay – I’m good at cramming. Take some time off before the exam and hit it hard, and I’ll pass. I thought.

But then family tragedy struck. My dad was diagnosed with cancer.

So with limited time – and my attentions elsewhere – I studied for, sat and (predictably) failed one of my CTA exams.

And for a while, it totally sucked. I thought I’d let myself down, as well as the firm (who were actually really supportive).

It knocked my confidence.

But if I look back on it now, I can honestly say I learned more from that one failure than I did on any of my passes.

In failing, I learnt about resilience and fortitude – how to bounce back. I learnt that unexpected things can and do happen – to plan with enough flexibility to handle the unforeseen. And I learnt that despite all my time learning to be the best advisor I could be, preparing for exams came with their own unique challenges.

And the truth is, when I did pass, success tasted even sweeter.

That failure has never held me back. Quite the opposite. I took what I learnt and became an even better adviser, student, and ultimately tutor as a result.

Now alongside advising clients and helping transform the world of tax advice with Diagnostax (tax diagnostic software), I teach Advance Taxation to ACCA Students at CSSC Tuition.

For anyone who hasn’t done as well as they had hoped this time around, don’t let it get you down. If you learn from it and bounce back, you’ll become an even better tax professional as a result.

When it comes down to it, I think Rudyard Kipling said it best:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster (in your CTA results)

And treat those two impostors just the same

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a tax adviser, my son (or daughter)!

If- , by Rudyard Kipling CTA

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