Re-programming your mindset for exam success

Jul 22, 2020
“I’m going to like you.

We’re going to be friends.”

…is what I said to my Management Accounting book, the week after the CAP1s. 

Coming out of the exam hall, I knew that I had failed that subject. I’d put in the time studying, but didn’t understand it, and counted on enough of the theory coming up to cover myself. But it didn’t. 

So each evening, after work, I’d sit down to study. Friends teased me for being such a nerd- the results weren’t out yet!

As predicted, I’d failed- scoring 25%. I continued to tell myself that I liked the subject as I studied. September came, and so did the repeat. I was on holiday and had just finished a hot air balloon ride when the Partner called me with the result- 62%. I felt sky high again!

The science part…

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had been practising “Neuro-Associative Conditioning”, a human behavioural science developed by Coach Tony Robbins. It’s all about changing our attitudes to increase our likelihood of success.

What’s your current association to exam success?

You want it, but thoughts of “what if I fail?”, “I just don’t understand it!” “I’ll do it later…” might be stronger in your nervous system. To get the results you want requires more than positive thinking- you need to change the meaning you give to study and actually feel good about doing it- from your head to your heart, right down to your gut!

There are no shortcuts to success, but here are some ways that you can re-programme your mind to facilitate it:

1. Begin with the end in mind

Think of the big picture and take time to question- why are you doing this? It might be painful to sit down and study when you want to do other things, but ask yourself “what pleasure is it going to bring to my life in the long term?”…greater security, increased opportunities, a sense of achievement?  Once you’ve done this:

• Write down what it is that’s driving you.
• Spend a few moments daily, before you start studying, imagining your ideal future and reminding yourself that what you do in the present, will help to take you there. 
• Really feel and visualise your success to get it ingrained in your nervous system. Get excited about it!

2. Get familiar and get it out of the way

We don’t like changing our habits. Therapist Marissa Peer notes that the mind instinctively rejects what’s unfamiliar to us and returns to the familiar. This keeps us alive, protecting us from things perceived as dangerous. But this approach doesn’t always serve us- sticking to the familiarity of studying theory didn’t work for me. 

Good news though- studies show that it is possible to make what we don’t want to do familiar to us. We may even end up enjoying it! 
You just have to start the behaviour. Do it before you get comfortable doing something else. 

By consistently repeating, “I will make this familiar/I will like you”, you will. 
You can choose how you feel about something- knowing this gives you control. Getting what you dislike doing out of the way by prioritising it is empowering.

3. Mind your language

Listen to the language you use to describe studying. Are the words “hate”, “painful”, or negative sound effects common?
Switching to more neutral language makes the process far more manageable. Phrases like:

“I am determined to be a success, and I am prioritising my studies for me and my future”, or

“I am choosing to feel great about doing what I don’t want to do” are great for interrupting our mind from negative internal conversations. 

4. Celebrate your wins

Focusing on your reward system will instil the habit of doing what you like least first. Maybe this is the lack of guilt/feeling of accomplishment by getting it done? Take your breaks and give yourself something to look forward to. 

And remember…

Nothing is wasted. All the work you put in now will help going forward. Keep focused on that promising future of yours as you sit down with those books in the present!

CA Support are here to assist you and we can be contacted on email at or on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294.  There are also other video supports on mindset available on our site.

Article written by

Charlotte Keating is a Member and Life, Business & Creativity Coach. With both trainee and managerial experience, she established Act On It Coaching to help fellow Chartered Accountants, trainees and other professionals achieve more balance and fulfilment in their lives. To get in touch or to find out more, visit or contact