Chartered Accountants and Depression - How to Mentally Approach the CA Exams

The Finance Story

  • CA Shreyans Mehta - Interacts with a lot of CA students on a variety of topics - how to get a rank in CA, how to tackle exam stress, what are the career opportunities for CA etc. That is when he realized that many CA students are DEPRESSED. His only message is - Study Hard and stay Positive.
  • He completed his CA Final in Nov'08 with a 37 All India Rank and used the methods below to stay positive and be on track. He has also completed his Masters in Management (Finance) from ESCP Europe and studied across Paris, London, and Boston.
  • At present, he is a Partner at Alpha Alternatives - A propriety investing and asset-management platform which invests capital into multiple asset classes. He is an avid sportsperson and founder of CXC - Cricket Xtreme Club - A cricket club for amateur cricketers. He is very active on Quora, link here.

Mental Approach of an Aspiring CA candidate

I interact with a lot of aspiring Chartered Accountants to advise them on either getting a rank in CA or clearing the CA exam. I find it extremely disheartening to see how many young guys are inching towards 'DEPRESSION' in pursuit of conquering this exam.

I thought of collating all my thoughts on this topic in a small note which I could share with all the young guys. It may help someone out.

There is way too much cynicism and negativity around CA exams. I just had a conversation with a young CA Final student (I do that a lot on Quora), he is ‘Depressed’ and he is not the first one I have spoken to there are many like him.

I tried to find out what made them depressed or got them so fearful as most of them have the same academic trajectory - Brilliant in 10th and 12th. Smart, dynamic and fell into depression while in CA IPCC (2nd level CA exam).

15 minutes into the conversation and I realized that the primary reason for 'Depression' is the following PEOPLE around:

  • Qualified CA's: Cracking jokes on how it is ok to fail CA! The likes of - 'Where there is Will, there is a way, After Nov there is always May'.
  • Failed CA's in their second/third attempt: Unknowingly passing on the fear and frustration to new CA students in libraries/articles.
  • Senior semi-qualified: Some of them try creating an impression that it is IMPOSSIBLE to clear CA because the exams/ICAI is not fair.
  • Professors: Scaring the hell out of students because, well, they need to run their businesses (not all do, I know some great profs as well).

SEVEN things to ruminate on (based on my personal experiences)

1. Do not hang out with CA students who are Negative

  • Help them out but do not imbibe their negativity.
  • Most of the CA students who have failed generally have an underlying negative tone to whatever they speak.
  • They may have failed due to a combination of reasons – Lack of preparedness, Poor exam day study ethics, Bad answer writing skills, etc. But they rarely talk about these things.
  • Instead, they just pass on the negativity and fear to you. Take the learnings if you wish to, but do not make someone’s failure your failure as well. In a way, you are doing a good thing for both yourself and them by not indulging in any negative study talk.
  • My experience: During my exam preparation, if I met a similar character, I would always smile and change the topic. Help them out with doubts, if any. But never encouraged a negative conversation spoke about cricket, movies etc. Anything, but CA!

2. Avoid jailing yourself from the world

  • Do not ‘jail’ yourselves in libraries/studying in isolation all day long. Study at home if you can - Your family, friends, even tv, can help you keep real, positive and sane! If you study all day long in a library at the end of the day interact with close friends, family etc.
  • Do not take study breaks and get stuck on Whatsapp /Fb etc instead interact with your family, friends.
  • Let the normal life flow around you. No abnormal curfews, restrictions etc on yourself. Fight with your siblings, argue with your mom over food, watch tv shows that you generally watch with your family together, etc. These are small positive re-enforcements that you need to keep battling the CA exam.
  • Keep the 'Sanctity and Discipline of your study hours' and let the remaining time be like your normal life.
  • My experience: I lived in a modest house. But I always studied in my balcony overlooking a playground. I played cricket with my brother every day at home. This kept me real. I never isolated myself from real life.

3. Almost about 1 year before the exam, start building a happy positive vibe

  • Be excited that you will be appearing for probably the last exam of your life. Be charged up that it is a good platform (all India level exam) to prove yourself.
  • Of course, you will be nervous, panicky, etc. But let that be temporary. Let the underlying emotion be a strongly positive one. You must build that. This is a part of the preparations.
  • My experience: I was a mad guy - I would roam around in Narsee Monjee College (NM College) telling friends/strangers that I want a rank and people used to laugh at me. But it kept me positive. It was a part of my preparations. My dad insisted on me being like this and I am so grateful to him for that.

4. Get new books

  • Pls! If you are in your second and third attempts – please get new books. Your earlier markings are subconsciously reminding you of your failure. It is depressing.
  • More so, you have probably not marked out the right things in the first place – that is why you did not score well. Always start fresh.
  • My experience: I never used a second-hand book. Saving the money is not worth it. The book has to invite you to read itself. When there are excessive markings and they remind you of failures, the mind never focusses well.

5. Do not go into the trap of criticizing ICAI for checking etc

  • Believe me, it is a waste of time and energy. No point worrying about something that you do not control, right? Your criticism does not change ICAI today. The only way, perhaps, you can change ICAI is by becoming a qualified CA – and for that, you need to clear the exam!
  • My experience: Whenever any of my friends would complain about how the marking system is faulty and prone to errors, I would just say - that is great, maybe they will give me 15-20 marks extra by mistake. There is still hope even if a paper goes bad? Basically, I did not let it affect my preparations even at a subconscious level.

6. You need to believe that 'Passing the CA exam' is not a big deal

  • Yes, you have to BELIEVE that you can PASS too!
  • You cannot put the exam at such a high pedestal that it is out of reach for yourself. Do not idolize people who have just cleared Learn from them, sure, but do not mentally start to feel how you can never be like them. Believe that you will do better
  • My experience: I always took it as a given that I will clear the exam. That is how we all have approached studies in school/college. I found no reason to change the mental approach in CA. I would always say that out of 100 students in any room, I am good enough to be in the top 10 – not a lot of people can beat me at a combination of hard work, focus, positivity, and intellect. It cannot be so difficult!

7. You need to believe that FAILING the exam is not a big deal

  • Yes, you really have to! In fact, the more you feel that failing the exam is a big deal – the more the chances are that you will fail. Absolve yourself of this fear of failure.
  • You are in your early 20s. There are at least 40 years of working life ahead of you. This degree is only going to influence the first 1-3 years of your career, max! That still leaves a humongous 35+ years for you to make your career.
  • Do not make this a question of life or death, it is not! If CA does not work out, something else will, it always does.

Also Read

This Chartered Accountant Quit His Job To Follow His Dreams; Here’s What He Has Learned

In Conclusion...

Hope the above helps. I would also urge all my fellow CAs and the people associated with the CA fraternity to keep it - Simple, Real and Positive for all the kids.

You can reach him at Shreyans.hsmehta@gmail.com/thecastory@gmail.com

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