How To Study Accounting

While there are several rules for studying accounting effectively, learning accounting starts with desire and hard work. If your heart isn’t in it, studying accounting can be pure tedium.

Once your heart is in it, and you’re ready to give it your all, it’s time to learn how to maximize your study time and learn how to learn accounting more efficiently.


Textbooks are a great resource for studying accounting. The following are rules and suggestions for using your textbook effectively to learn accounting.

1. Studying accounting from a textbook is different from studying other subjects such as history, economics or biology.

  • When reading a history textbook you can get by if you’re able to understand 90 percent of the information or if you come away with a general idea of what’s going on. Not the case with accounting. Read your textbook for understanding. And if you don’t understand it, read it again. If you understand a concept being introduced, then it’s okay to skim the text or skip ahead. But make sure you understand the concept(s).
  • Similar to math, accounting concepts build upon one another. What you learn in chapter 2 builds on what you learned in chapter 1. What you learn in chapter 3 builds on what you learned in chapters 2 and 1. If you didn’t really grasp the concepts taught in chapter 1, you’re going to have a difficult time learning the concepts in chapter 2 – and you’ll most likely be lost by chapter 3. It’s imperative that you thoroughly understand the concepts being taught in each chapter before moving on to the next chapter.
  • Scanning text for main points doesn’t work in accounting. Accounting textbooks are meant to be read. Almost everything that is included in your accounting book is important. So when you read… read everything.

2. Read your accounting textbook to understand “WHY.”

  • Accounting doesn’t require you to memorize as much information as other subjects do. It does however require you to understand “WHY.” Accounting is all about “WHY.” As you read your textbook discover the “WHY” in what you’re reading. Try to understand the logic behind what is being taught.
  • When you finish studying a new topic from your textbook, try to put it in your own words. Explain the new concept to yourself or someone else. Putting concepts in your own words and explaining them aloud is far more effective than reading a text over and over again.

3. Discover the “HOW.”

  • Once you understand the “why”, it’s important to discover the “how”. It’s not enough to understand why an accounting principle or concept works, if you can’t apply it. You must understand how accounting concepts work and be able to apply them.
  • In order to discover how accounting principles work and how they are applied, work the problems included in your accounting textbook. Most chapter problems are designed specifically to help you discover how to apply the principles or concepts being taught in that section. Work each problem before checking your answer.

4. Review as you go.

  • Any subject is easier to understand and remember if you thoroughly learn it the first time through. But if you’re unable to remember everything you’ve learned, you’ll just start reviewing a few days before finals, right? This may be an acceptable strategy if you’re studying history or sociology, but not when you’re studying accounting. The most effective way to learn accounting, and retain what you’ve learned, is to “REVIEW AS YOU GO”.
  • If it’s a bad idea to cram for a history exam the night before a test, it’s a very bad idea to cram for an accounting test. Never postpone reviewing your accounting until examination time.
  • As you review, visit previous chapters in your textbook and rework problems you struggled with. Find other accounting problems similar to those that were difficult for you and work those problems too.
  • At the end of each week take some time to review your notes (1) to refresh your memory and (2) to make sure you understand everything you studied during the week. Remember, information that is forgotten must be relearned. The time required to relearn information is often the same as learning it for the first time. It’s far more efficient to review as you go than to attempt to relearn forgotten information at the end of the term or semester.
  • Ask questions and get answers to your questions throughout the semester. Your professor, or teacher’s aid, isn’t going to be anxious to sit down with you for several hours at the end or the term to answer all your questions and re-teach you concepts you should have learned along the way. AND when your professor asks you what you don’t understand, don’t say “everything.” Statements like this suggest you’ve made very little effort on your own to try and understand. Before asking questions, pinpoint exactly what you don’t understand. Make sure your questions are specific.


If you want to learn accounting, then work all the homework problems given to you. There is no better way to learn how to do accounting than practicing accounting problems. Mastering accounting is as easy as mastering the homework problems in your textbook, in study guides and those given to you in class. If you will work on your homework problems, you will learn accounting.

1. Read the problem and make sure you understand what is being asked. Then scan the problem.

2. Work each problem in its entirety without referring to reference materials.

  • If you get stumped, refer to the textbook or your notes, but not until after you’ve made your best effort to work the problem on your own.
  • If you can’t work problems without referring to your textbook or your notes, you aren’t remembering the material – and aren’t ready for your next test.

3. It’s easier to keep up than play catch up.

  • Since accounting concepts build upon one another, it’s very important you keep up with the class.
  • After each class, review your notes. If there are any accounting concepts that were introduced during class that you did not fully understand, do whatever is required to learn them before your next class.

4. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.

  • If you are having difficulty understanding part of a problem, or don’t quite get a new accounting concept being introduced, don’t hesitate to raise your hand and ask for clarification during class.

Make Effective Use Of Class Time

You may be able to breeze through your history course and get a B+ at the end of the semester without attending class regularly. The same can’t be said for skipping your accounting class. Class attendance and participation is key to doing well in accounting.

1. Always arrive in class PREPARED.

  • Show up for each class having completed all assignments and having reviewed your notes from the previous session.

2. You’ll get the most out of each class session if you participate.

  • Come to each class session prepared to ask questions, answer questions, and participate in classroom discussion.


  • Again, if you have a question about something you don’t understand, ask it. Chances are there are several other students who have the same question but are afraid to raise their hand.


Most exams offered at reputable accounting programs are designed to test your understanding of specific accounting principles and concepts. The following suggestions will help you prepare for such exams.

1. Focus your study in the most important areas.

  • Review and make sure you can work all homework problems that have been assigned to the term.
  • Focus your review on topics the professor has emphasized in class.

2. Make sure you really know the material.

  • Be sure you can work all homework problems without help.
  • Teach the accounting concepts you’ve learned to someone else.
  • Form a study group, and test each other.
  • Do you know the “whys” and “hows” for each accounting concept?

3. Focus on understanding — not memorization

Your instructor wants to see that you truly understand the accounting principles and concepts that have been taught throughout the term of the course. Expect to see questions appear on the test that are presented in a slightly different way than you’ve previously seen. Make sure you understand how to apply what you’ve learned.

4. Read the entire problem.

  • Read what each question is really asking.
  • Allow enough time at the end of the exam to review for errors you’ve made.

5. Answer the easy questions first

Go through the exam and answer all the questions you know. Then go back and tackle the more challenging questions. This will ensure that you get credit for all the questions you know and relieve a little pressure as you tackle more time-consuming questions.

6. Maintain a steady pace

Most accounting tests have a time limit. Make sure you’re confident enough with your ability to work accounting problems in a timely fashion that you aren’t constantly checking the clock and stressing yourself out. While we would all like to finish the accounting exam having answered all of the questions correctly, it’s far better to complete 85 percent of the questions having answered them correctly than to complete 100 percent of the questions having answered a majority incorrectly.

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