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Principles of Accounting or The Alphabet of Accounting

Principles of Accounting ( referred as “P. Acct” from here then on) is the introductory accounting course at the undergraduate level in most US colleges and universities. Most students who have taken this course would agree that its difficulty level is about average. In fact, getting a B in “P. Acct” doesn’t require much effort at all. This is because “P. Acct” related exams only test general accounting lingo along with some customary journal entries here and there. Consequently, a good memorization of key concepts and a few hours of homework every week are all you will need to get a B or sometimes a A if the professor is nice enough to curve the grades. Unfortunately, having good grades in “P. Acct” is a poor predictor of how well one will perform in upper level accounting courses. That’s why a majority of those “P. Acct” overachievers are stunned by how challenging upper level accounting courses are. They in fact struggle to even make a C. What students don’t realize while enrolled in “P. Acct” is the fact that almost everything they are being taught will carry over to their intermediate and advanced accounting courses.

Antoine Lavoisier, considered by many to be the “father of modern chemistry”, once said the following that “Nothing is lost, nothing is created. Everything is transformed”. This famous law of chemistry holds true for the field of accounting as well. Fundamental accounting concepts such as the matching principle, the revenue recognition principle, and the segregation of duties will undoubtedly reappear under varying circumstances as you progress towards the completion of your bachelor degree in accounting. Failure to truly grasp the gist of all the fundamental accounting concepts will certainly cost you dearly as you take on the intermediate and advanced accounting courses. Thus far, I have tried to impress upon you how crucial it is to have a good mastery of most if not all the concepts and rules that will be presented to you in your introductory undergraduate accounting course. From here then on, I am going to share with you some study habits that can potentially help you make of “P. Acct” the robust foundation on which will be erected the building that is your accounting education. Pardon the imagery!

For starters, you need to show up for your “P. Acct” lectures with a serious minded attitude. In other words you want to show up for class on time; you also need to bring along your tools such as your textbook, your notebook, and your calculator; and last be not least you want to stay focused during the lecture while taking good notes and asking questions as your comprehension of the lecture gets clouded. Another thing that you need to realize is that most of your learning will happen away from the classroom whether it be in your living quarters, at the library, or at the coffee shop. Besides doing the assigned homework, you must prepare for each lecture by actively reading your textbook. Active readers predict, make inferences, compare and contrast, and draw conclusions. You have got to be able to visualize and conceptualize what you are reading if you expect to get any real meaning out of it. Your first attempts to read actively are not going to be easy but you need to persevere. After all, practice makes permanent! If you can think of anything else that will help you get the most out of your “P. Acct” course, I would suggest you use that as well. Also, the study habits that I have mentioned here are very adaptable therefore feel free to make them your own.

At the end of the semester, be careful not to throw away your notes and not to trade nor sell your textbook. You will be surprised by how often you are going to need a little refresher on some basic concepts as you further your accounting education. I would strongly advise that you maintain a portfolio of all your accounting notes for all your undergraduate accounting courses because it will make your CPA exam preparation much less laborious. There is however one more subject that I want to quickly cover before my closing arguments. As you will come to find out, most accounting instructors are poor communicators even though they are highly qualified to teach in at the university level. Consequently, if you ever suspect that you won’t be able to get much out of your “P. Acct” lecture sessions as well as the course textbook (not all textbooks are created equal), I recommend that you buy the used and older edition (9th) of Financial Accounting by Albrecht, Stice, Stice, Skousen. This textbook is the gold standard for all college introductory accounting textbooks. It is very well written with each chapter offering pertinent illustrations of the key concepts. If after reading a chapter of this book, you don’t come away as more informed about accounting then you have got to switch majors! I personally keep it by my bedside as it has proven to be so resourceful over the years.

As an accountant, you will often find yourself in situations where your credibility is going to be tested. It is therefore very important that your professional title reflects the education that you have received while in college. You wouldn’t want to find yourself scrambling for answers after your professional opinion was challenged by either a client or a colleague. The best way to prevent those rather embarrassing situations is to do the heavy lifting in the university hallways and that starts with your Principles of Accounting course.

PS: Now proceed to the “Accounting Lecture Notes” page for some study aids related to principles of accounting.

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