How to Ensure Your Students Prepare for Class

Address the multiple reasons students fail to prepare.

November 8, 2016

To succeed as accounting majors, students often must do ample preparation before class, where they put the concepts they’ve learned into practice. Unfortunately, students don’t always complete their reading, exercises, or homework before class. They may be unmotivated, not realize how important it is to complete their reading, or not understand their professor’s instructions. And some students, especially those who are new to the college environment, haven’t developed the study and organizational skills needed to prepare adequately for class.  

We spoke to accounting educators about ways to ensure students come to class ready to learn.

Stress the importance of preparation

Often, students fail to prepare because they don’t see why they should be doing that pre-class reading or other assignments.

Remind students that they’ll fall behind if they aren’t prepared. Kimberly Church, Ph.D., an assistant professor of accounting who teaches information systems and runs a computer lab at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, said her students must know IT jargon. If not, they quickly realize what a handicap that is for her case-based, problem-based, collaborative class activities. “If I do an SQL topic, they have to read up on the SQL commands,” she said.
Let them know what to expect in class—for example, whether they’ll be debating a point of view, discussing real-world examples, or doing computation work that will require familiarity with certain fundamental concepts.

Give students the bigger picture. In the case of Jan Taylor Morris’s undergraduate auditing class, the students, many of whom work, are ever-aware that doing well in the class is an investment in their future. Morris, CPA, Ph.D., an associate professor of accounting at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, makes sure her students know that the material taught in her course is “tested on the CPA Exam,” but that, more importantly, it is relevant to their professional careers.

Gail Hoover King, CPA, Ed.D., accounting professor and program coordinator at Purdue University Northwest in Westville, Ind., often uses videos in class when discussing a relevant news item. If students see how their pre-class reading relates to the real-world examples being discussed in class, she said, they’ll be more likely to complete it.
Use tests and exams as a motivator. For most of the faculty we spoke with, the final exam accounts for 65% to 70% of a student's semester grade. Remind students that the exam grade is the ultimate “payoff,” as Hoover King puts it, for the student who comes prepared to class.

Help students learn to prepare

Sometimes, students fail to prepare well for class because they don’t know how to prepare. According to Church, many of today’s students haven’t developed the skill of gleaning the main point from a lengthy reading assignment. Because students have the “answers” to everything close at hand, thanks to the internet, “they don’t develop the skill of note-taking and review,” she said.

Therefore, Church, Hoover King, and Karen Braun, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., professor of accounting at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, all use techniques to help guide students’ reading.

Church gives students directed reading notes. She breaks questions, exercises, problems, or case studies into smaller pieces for them to complete using their textbook. Braun creates detailed lecture reading guides that direct students to answer questions or fill in the blanks as they read so that they end up with a detailed, yet condensed, summary of each chapter. 

Hoover King tells her students to read the discussion questions at the end of the chapter before reading the text. “The questions will give them some idea of what is important in the chapter and what to pay attention to,” she said.

Keep out-of-class work manageable

Church believes no teacher should expect students to read thirty-plus pages of text before every class, or to watch an hourlong video.

That’s why she gives her online class notes that guide the reading assignments more of a blog feel, incorporating “short bursts of direct information, fill-in fields, and visual stimulus for reinforcement,” she said.

Understand learning styles and adapt to them

Hoover King has her students take the VARK questionnaire on the first day of class so she knows their learning styles. She then directs them to out-of-class resources that correspond to their preferred learning style: Susan Crosson’s videos for visual learners, for example, or PowerPoints with her voice recorded over them for aural learners. Since most of her students are multimodal learners, she likes to use digital learning platforms like McGraw Hill’s Connect.

Assess students’ level of preparation while they’re in class

Peer pressure can also be motivational. Students of accountancy, whether they’re undergraduates or grad students, do not like to fall short in front of their peers. Cold-calling on students can be effective, but questions don’t have to be punitive. Hoover King periodically offers extra credit points to students who answer tough questions in class.

Morris observes her students when they take part in group activities. It quickly becomes apparent who is not part of the dialogue. She’ll ask these students if they prepared for class and remind them that members of their group are relying on them to come to class ready to contribute. She’ll also call on the students who are unprepared. And if a student’s not able to answer, “I will ask if they watched the online lecture,” she said.

Use quizzes

Tools like quizzes can help create accountability. 

Braun uses a five-minute, three-question reading quiz at the beginning of each class. Students are allowed to use their notes or completed reading guides for the quiz, which motivates them to take good notes and arrive at class on time, she said. Church, who gives students reading quizzes with five multiple-choice questions, said she sees quizzes as a way of “helping them establish good habits using points.”

The quizzes are effective. “I continue to be amazed by what an accounting student will do for two points,” she chuckled. 

Usha Sankar is a Cary, N.C.-based freelance writer and editor. To comment on this story, email AICPA associate editor Courtney Vien.

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