Back in August, WSJ “Work & Family” columnist Sue Shellenbarger wrote an awesome column about studying smarter.* Surprise—her tips align with the School of Accountancy’s Successful Study Approach.
We should all be familiar with the School of Accountancy’s “successful study approach”, and the fact that the key to success in accounting is practice. Work problems, test yourself with the Gleim, and don’t memorize.
Reading your textbook is necessary, but that can’t be the only thing you do. In case you don’t believe us, studies show that top students are those who spend more time on “retrieval practice.” Many of us spend a lot of our study time re-reading and highlighting notes, which Ned Johnson (founder of a test prep company) says can give students a false sense of security. Just because material looks familiar because you’ve read it before, does not mean you understand the concepts and have stored the information in your longer-term memory. Activities that simulate test conditions (quizzing oneself, quizzing friends, working unfamiliar problems, etc.) forces you to recall facts, facilitating deeper learning in a shorter period of time.
Another study cited by WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger, found that the most successful students “take charge of their own learning and ask for help when they’re stuck.” This means going to see your professors during office hours for help as soon as you realize you don’t understand something. The study cited concerns biology students, but I’m confident this statistic holds true for accounting majors as well: fewer than one in five students seek help during office hours.
However, none of this helps if you leave your studies until the last minute before the test. Stay on top of the material, because cramming doesn’t work. Even if pulling all-nighters has worked for you in the past, they won’t serve you well in the long run. As accountants, a lot of the material presented to you in undergrad will appear again on the CPA exam. Save yourself some headache in the future, develop good habits, and truly learn the material now. You’ll thank yourself in a couple of years.