How to Succeed in a College-level Accounting Course

Fear often drives students to not understand accounting

Accounting courses are often the bane of a business major’s college career. While accounting or finance majors are expected to master these courses easily, other majors are not so hopeful. I have taught numerous accounting and business students over the past few years. Some of the most concerning questions from students is that they simply do not understand accounting. Students often send these emails early in a course; fear typically drives them to desperation. In most cases, my response is the same to each student, which leads me to believe students are simply unprepared for college level courses. Now, some students are “adult learners” returning to school in hopes of finishing a degree. Either way, a few steps to success are necessary to accomplish the goals and objectives associated with accounting courses.

1. Familiarize yourself with the textbook

All accounting courses – whether online or on ground – will use a textbook. In most cases, it is big, heavy, and cumbersome. (Unless you’re using an ebook, which takes out some of this intimidation factor) The worst thing a student can do is crack open the book and start reading Chapter 1. You need to read the first few pages that define the notes and symbols the textbook uses to guide students through the material. Understanding these little items can help you refer back to the material in each chapter as you go through the course. It will also save time from having to go back and do this step midway through the course.

2. Skim each chapter prior to reading for comprehension

Most accounting textbooks use lots of headers, bold text, italics, and paragraph breaks in each chapter. Sprinkled in between these items are numerous examples and pictures that expound on the topic. You should always skim through the chapter reading only the headers, bold text, and italicized items. This will give you an idea of what you will be learning about in each chapter.

3. Review the chapter glossary and learn the terms for each chapter

Each accounting textbook generally introduces a limited number accounting and business terms. Peruse the chapter glossary after you skim the textbook. This allows you to better understand the terms in the chapter so you can avoid confusion when reading for content. Even if you are familiar with the terms, complete this step anyway. Your definition of accounting terms may not be 100 percent accurate, which can lead to confusion as you continue through the course.

4. Read the chapter for comprehension

After completing the previous steps, you are now ready to read for comprehension. Read slowly but quickly when going through the chapter. If a section has an example, stop and review the example to fully learn the concepts. Move through each chapter section in a fluid manner. Advanced accounting chapters may have copious examples; prepare to stop more frequently when reading through these chapters.

5. Answer the first few problems in the chapter review section

Every accounting textbook has review problems at a chapter’s end. The first few questions typically refer to terms or other general accounting concepts in the chapter. Answer these questions in your head. If you cannot answer the question correctly, go back to the applicable chapter section and review. Few accounting textbooks will provide answers to these questions at the end of the book. Therefore, it is up to you to find the proper answer.

6. Review outside sources for additional help

In today’s Internet environment, many more accounting resources exist than you’re classroom textbook. You should find a few reliable websites that offer accounting help and refer to them frequently. I have included two of my common outside accounting resources below this section. The biggest advantage of these websites is putting accounting concepts into different terms and providing examples that may be easier to use when learning accounting.

Final thoughts on success

Obviously, these steps will require a lot of time and commitment. Most colleges tell students to spend three hours or more studying weekly for each college credit a course is worth. These steps clearly fall under this guideline. Therefore, expect to spend lots of time working through accounting material in order to succeed in your class.

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