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Starting college, the last thing I ever expected was to love accounting enough to become a tutor in it.
Alas, I actually had fun accounting. It was almost like those logic puzzles you did as a kid. You would go through the clues and follow the steps to get to the answer. It was simple: follow the rules.
So why did so many other students have difficulty with it?
I understand that when you're first learning the rules, they may be hard to grasp. But after two or three practice problems, it shouldn't have been that difficult to understand. I was utterly confused by some of my peer's complaints.
When I finally started tutoring, I found two problems that my students usually exhibited. This is excluding those students who never showed up to class and at the end of the semester tried to play catch-up. At that point, I'm not a teacher. I don't teach the material, just help students understand it.
Not Knowing The Basics
What accounts are you using? What do you debit? What do you credit? These are the basic questions you have to answer for every accounting transaction.
Some students just had no concept of this. Let's look at this one common conversation:
Me: So what account are you debiting?
Student: Account #1.
Me: And what are you crediting?
Student: Account #2.
Student: Uhh... I don't know.
I could always tell when students were guessing out of the blue. There was usually a pause, some hesitation. A blank look washed over their face when I asked why they answered the way they did. Sometimes, the student had picked the correct account and just didn't know why they were right. Other times they were totally off and, again, had no idea why. And other times, they would be correct but as soon as I asked them why, they doubted themselves and backtracked to an incorrect answer.
I remember when I was in first grade, I couldn't read. During our reading circle, whenever I was my turn I would just randomly guess words I didn't know. Usually, I was way off. These college students were doing the exact same thing, giving up and making it up. I suppose I appreciated that a bit more that they were at least trying to give an answer instead of completely giving up. But these basics should have been stuck in their head from the first week of class.
Now, not knowing the basics was not always the professor's fault. While I can't speak for all of the professors whose student's I helped, the professors I had drilled these basics into our heads. This assumes, of course, that the students were in class to have it drilled.
Easy Fix: Study the basics early on! This will give you a strong foundation to build upon and make life a million times easier. Go to class! For some reason, this is a novel idea to many college students, but it's actually really helpful. I realized early on that I had very little studying to do if I just paid attention during class. I know not everyone learns that way, but it you do, take advantage of it.
Making It Too Complicated
I'm a naturally lazy person. That being said, I'm also super attentive about getting all of my work done on time and well. This meant I was always looking for ways to make schoolwork as simple as possible.
Maybe my simplistic view of class is what lead to my success in accounting. I never tried anything complicated or fancy. I learned the material and applied it. I found that I enjoyed the simplicity of accounting over the complexity and utter nonsense of calculus (sorry math and engineering majors).
But so many of my students were working so hard to understand the material, their minds were in ten million places and doing some weird things to the numbers. Half of my job was getting my students out of their own heads.
I think part of it is because that's what students are taught. After years of trigonometry and other uselessly complex math in high school, how could a college class be this simple? Everything is made to seem so difficult when you're young that we have this skewed sense of the world when, in all honesty, the world, for the most part, is pretty simple.
Easy Fix: Accounting is easy. Just follow the rules. Don't try anything fancy. Don't overthink it. Don't go into it expecting to have any idea what's going on. It looks strange and foreign at first, but it's all based on super simple principles. Relax. Half the time, the answer is right in front of you.
While I'm sure accounting gets more difficult at higher levels, the introduction classes you have to take are easy. Just follow the steps and you'll be all set. Once you have the basics and get out of your own head, it will be smooth sailing the rest of the semester.