Passing exams: A letter to my maths teacher

4 December 2023

Nikita Phillips DipPFS, Candidate Support & Business Development Adviser at Bespoke Training Solutions, shares her less than positive experience with maths at school, and the impact this has had on her career in Financial Services.

Let’s go back to the 21 August 2014, the day in which I picked up my GCSE exam results. Before I collected my envelope, I walked nervously over to my maths teacher, and asked him to break the news on whether I had passed the exam.

Why? Well, maths was the subject I was most concerned about failing. I had spent many evenings at afterschool revision classes, and I knew, as did my teacher, that a pass in this subject would be a big ask.

I had attended many parents’ evenings where my maths teacher would say something along the lines of “maths will never be her thing”.

If I had failed maths, it would have prevented me from advancing onto the college course I had chosen. Luckily, I had scraped a pass and that was more than enough for me.

What next?

After leaving School, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I completed different courses and worked in a variety of roles trying to figure out the right career for me.

In the end, I settled on a career in Law having worked briefly as a Paralegal, and I secured a place at University.

However, my life was about to take a very BIG U-turn.

I found out that I was expecting and, as you can imagine, this put a little bit of a spanner in the works leading me to re-think my life choices. At the time, I was working as a junior administrator for a small local IFA firm, but I never in a million years expected to stay in an industry I felt was so dominated by maths.

Why did I embark on the exam journey in the first place?

After finding out I was going to be a parent at the grand age of 21, there were a lot of comments around how my career prospects had disappeared, and the difficulties I would face trying to build a career as a young mum (I know, supportive, not!).

One thing you may come to learn about me, is that I am rather stubborn, and I therefore wanted to prove everybody wrong!

As I was working in the industry anyway, I thought I may as well give the exams a go and see if I was capable of passing them.

I started studying R01 on maternity leave. This was an exam that I felt quite confident about, given that it is centred heavily around regulations – something that I had dealt with a lot whilst working in Law. “Maybe there isn’t that much maths after all,” I thought.

All was going well until I picked up the CII R02 textbook. This is an exam that heavily involves calculations and formulae, and taking one glance at the book sent me right back to my school days and back to that place of not being good enough.

It was at this point I started to really panic. I questioned whether I had the capability to pass this exam, and, if I’m honest, this exam could well have de-railed my financial services career.

Doing things differently…

Things were different this time. I had a family to provide for, and I decided that my fear of maths wasn’t going to get in the way of building a career – it turns out being stubborn actually works in your favour sometimes!

I began teaching myself the formulae and the calculations in a way that I understood. For me, I learn through teaching people and explaining things, to really solidify my understanding of certain topics! This meant I spent hours explaining R02 concepts to my poor mother! Whatever works, right?

Unlike in School, where you get what you are given in terms of study material, I had a choice this time in what material I would use. My employer had purchased the examining body material for me, but I just knew I wasn’t going to pass unless I used a resource tailored to my learning style. For me I needed lots of repetition, key summaries, and of course lots of humour, not really something you would find in a CII study guide.

I was so grateful to find the BTS R02 study guide and it was at this point the penny dropped. Had it been the materials I had been using all along?

I also studied at a pace that I was comfortable with. I think potentially many individuals will relate to not fully understanding a subject at school, but not having the confidence to stand up and say this, for fear of coming across as “a bit stupid” compared to your peers.

At school, you are expected to learn at the same pace and in the same way as everyone else in your class, but that is never going to work for everyone.

Everyone is different, and we all learn at different paces, in different ways.

The exam sitting..

Sat down at the exam centre, calculator in hand, I was really anxious about this exam. I had put the time and work in, but was this going to be enough?

There is nothing more nerve wracking than navigating to the “End exam” button when sitting your exam. I think I must have spent about 5 minutes stuck on the final screen before I finally found the courage to reveal my result.

It was a Pass, and on my first time.

Had I used the examining body materials, I don’t think I would have passed, and I think I would have gone down the rabbit hole of “maths will never be her thing” once again!

See the impact using the right materials can have?

If my maths teacher could see me now..

I always think that if my maths teacher could see me now, he’d be convinced that I had been cloned, because I was a student who insisted I would never work in an industry that had any involvement in maths. But not only do I work in financial services, I thrive in financial services.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different roles within this industry, from a junior administrator, to a Paraplanner and to the role I’m in now, where I get to support candidates going through the same exam journey that I went through.

I can safely say, that not fully understanding the Pythagorean theorem in high school, has had absolutely no impact on any of these roles.

In fact, these days, I love a good tax calculation – probably a little too much if I’m being honest!

I’m not going to say I have become a maths expert, because that would be a lie. In fact, the AF4 exam which also contains lots of maths and formulae, still fills me a little with that anxiety and doubt.

But… I need to remind myself, that I am in charge of my learning journey now, and I know what works for me. I have every intention of smashing AF4 out of the park when it comes to it!

What’s the lesson?

Maths is important in financial services, but at the same time, it is not the be all and end all. You don’t need to be an A* mathematician to thrive in this industry, you need basic math skills and the ability to learn and apply these skills.

And just because you may have struggled with maths previously, doesn’t mean that it is always going to be the case. In fact, it could well be that the way in which you were learning and the materials you were using, just weren’t right for you.

So, to my maths teacher

It wasn’t me, it was you!


Bespoke Training Solutions have been supporting regulated exams for 20 years this year! Known as ‘the exam experts’ within the industry, BTS provide support for the CII regulated exams by way of study guides, e-learning resources, and workshops for the full R0 suite and many AF and J0 units.

Visit and check out the brand-new Careers Zone for study plans, answers to exam FAQs and lots more to support your journey.

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