An accounting exam is not like any other exams. Subjects like history, philosophy or languages can easily be memorised, and as long as you get the gist of it you should be fine for your exams. Accounting is different: to be able to pass your bachelor degree in accounting exams or to get the certification necessary to become a Chartered Public Accountant you will have to understand every accounting concept and theory that will be studied during class.
Like mathematics, accounting principles are often built on one another, making it even more important to make sure you fully grasp your subject.
Modern accounting also covers a wide range of different speciality: financial accounting, managerial accounting, auditing, cost accounting, business accounting, taxation, bookkeeping, payroll or forensic accounting.
When you move further in your accounting career either by becoming a certified public accountant in the US or a chartered accountant in the UK or by continuing your studies and getting a master of science in accounting, you will get to study different principle of accounting, but the way to study will remain the same.
We have put together a small guide in the form of a series of tips and suggestions which, if followed, will help you achieve your goals of passing your accounting exams. Although there is no substitute for hard work and a desire to learn accounting, most students can use their study time and classroom time more efficiently.
1 - Reading Your Textbooks
Textbooks are the primary resource available when you study accounting. However, unlike other subjects, most of what's written in an accounting textbook is essential and should not be skipped or read unattentively.
You can also learn from other resources found online.
Studying accountancy means that you will approach many different subjects from the fundamental principles of accounting, to ethics, statistics, economics or international accounting regulations.
Accounting principles are based on logic. Understanding why certain things and processes are done in certain ways or a particular order will help you identify the way to resolve an individual problem.
If you manage to understand the why in any accounting process you will have little to memorise. It sometimes helps to rephrase a new subject or concept with your own words rather than repeating a hundred times words that you do not understand. You can also try to explain any new accounting process you just learn to a fellow student, with your own words.
Once you have understood the "why", of an accounting concept, it is important that you also be able to do it yourself and that will require you to learn "how" it is done. The best way to understand "how" is to do as many problems as you can without copying the textbook. Try first and only then check your answer.
Familiarise yourself with relevant terms and their meaning, making sure you do not confuse one word for another.
You can also find a fellow student to work problems through. In a real work situation, you are most likely to be working in an accounting firm, surrounded by accounting colleagues and learning how to cooperate and communicate with your accountant fellows is also part of studying accounting.
It is also helpful to review old assignments from time to time or to go back to problems that you may found particularly challenging to solve and see if you have fully understood the "why" and "how" behind the solution.
If there is something you still struggle to understand, prepare a list of questions for your teacher or teachers. It is essential here to make sure that your problem is as precise as possible, pinpointing the exact concept or principle that you have not understand. Your accounting professor will see that you actually studied and will be much more inclined to help you if you made an effort first.
Try reading books about accounting to contribute to your revision too.
2 - Practice With Homework Problems
Like we just said, homework problems will be the main way you will be learning accounting throughout your accounting degree or qualification studies. Do all the coursework that is given to you. They've been specifically designed to help you learn the fundamentals of accounting.
Don't be cheeky!
Work every single problem entirely without peeking in the reference notebook. Only once you tried to solve the problem on your own, should you take a look back at the chapter material.
Page flipping is a waste of study time. By going back to the chapter material without trying to solve the problem on your own first, you will only retain a minimum amount of information, and at the end, it shows that you are not ready for the examination.
An accounting tutor online can help keep you accountable... pardon the pun!
3 - Use Your Classes To Your Advantage
Classes and lectures are the most critical time you get during your accounting studies. Many subjects can be passed with a decent grade without attending the classes regularly but this is not true for accounting.
Before you make it to any class, lecture or study group, you should have completed all the assignments you were given. Reviewing the notes of your previous courses will also help you optimise your memory retention and will have your brain ready to dive back into a specific accounting concept.
Being prepared and organised is also a vital skill for an accountant. You might be working as an auditor at a major accounting firm or be self-employed and work in business administration focuses on taxes, either way, being organised and prepared will save you a lot of pain and hassle.
As we mentioned before, every time you have troubles understanding a concept or an accounting theory you should write it down and formulate a precise question to ask your teacher.
It is also important to participate in the classroom discussion as it will train you to work with others and resolve problems in groups.
Failing grades are the results of unattended classes, uncompleted assignments and unasked questions. While you may be able to make excuses for yourself during your studies, once you get a job your employer is far less likely to be lenient than your accounting teacher.
After all your failure will cost money to the company whereas a teacher will always get paid, whether you pass your exam or not.
4 - Make The Most Of Your Studying Time
If you have attended all your classes, accounting courses and lectures, studying for the exams should be a breeze. After all, if you completed all the assignments you were given, practice with homework problems and understood the "why" and "how" behind every accounting concept that was put in front of you, all that remains is some memory refreshing.
Be specific in your study.
It is essential to focus your exam studying time on things that seem important: often teachers will emphasise on certain notions in class or will give it to you straight and tell you that this or that will be most likely be included in your exam.
Make a note of this during your classes and make sure to focus your time and energy on it. Only once you don't need the textbook at all to solve problems should you consider yourself ready for the exam.
It helps to study in groups as you can explain a problem or concept to someone else. This will help you to understand all the materials you have to learn rather than merely memorising it.
The accounting principles and concept that you studied in class will often be presented differently in your exam. If you understood the "why" and "how", no matter how a problem is formulated, you would be able to solve it.
Review as you go.
This is very important before your exam preparation.
Every time you start a new chapter, make sure to review the previous and be confident that you understood every aspect of it. Reworking past problems will enhance your ability to remember how you solved them and it is even more important to rework problems you struggled with.
It is good practice to review your notes at the end of each week to boost your memory and make sure that you did not miss any concept during the classes that you just attended. If you forget something, you will have to relearn it entirely, resulting in a loss of time. Do not wait until the end of the semester to review your curriculum; it is better to keep up that to catch up.
Also, use websites dedicated to the finance sector as a way to keep up to date on what is happening in the finance and business world.
Sitting The Exam.
Most accounting exams will come with a time factor.
The best way to practice in real conditions is to take practice tests. Some exams are multiple choice questions; others will require you to explain how you solve a problem. In any case, you should be able to complete the entire paper within the allowed time frame.
During the exam, it is easy to get fixated on the clock. It is important for you to relax and put the time factor aside. Your brain can quickly close up and only focus on the time when you need it to focus on the problem at hand.
It is also important to take your time and make sure that your answer is correct rather than rushing through and ending up with wrong answers.
In general, it is recommended to start with the easy questions first. Your brain will warm up, and accounting concepts which are all linked will come back to you more easily. This also guarantees that you will get the maximum number of points for all the questions you know.
Once this is done, start tackling more complex problems and questions, while doing so keep a steady pace. If you are unsure about a problem skip it and come back to it once you resolved all the others.
Accounting is different from most subjects and successfully pass the exams will take dedication and hard work. But in the end, the reward will be worth it. As a certified management accountant, you're most certainly guaranteed a job.
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