Few students understand the field of accounting until they take an intermediate course in college. Many lessons in intermediate accounting are not as intuitive as those in basic accounting. In fact, a publication by newaccountantusa.com notes the course’s reputation as a “weed-out class” for accounting majors. Some students cite the class as the most difficult they’ve ever taken.
Ace the Early Material
The first exam usually entails regurgitating information from the textbook, like “what parties are responsible in an audit?” or “basics of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.” The really tough stuff comes shortly after, like balancing ledgers and reconciling income statements with statements of cash flows. Get the freebie points by doing well on the information-based material, because the rest of the course is far more demanding and can’t be memorized with flash cards.
Group projects, presentations and participation points--a student’s best friend because she generally earns them by showing up and asking two questions throughout the semester--will really offset any bad grade on the tough material that comes from balancing ledgers and accounting statements.
Know the Balance Sheet Inside and Out
Pay attention when the professor delves into how to balance a ledger. Your ability to grasp the fundamental concepts of “assets = debits + credits” will determine how well you do in the course. No matter how well you did with cramming in prior classes, do not assume you can memorize these concepts two nights before the exam and do well. Learning accounting is cumulative, and resources are not available online to assist with your specific homework problem.
If you struggle with the first assignment, learn how to do it before the second is issued. You will not do well until you understand the first assignment.
Do your assignments slowly and carefully. Nothing is worse than spending hours inputting purchases and expenditures into the ledger only to see your assets $5,000 more than your debits and credits. Finding your error makes the assignment twice as long as it would have been had you done it right the first time. If you are off, retrace your steps, double-checking that each input is accounted for on both the right and left sides of the ledger.
Learn the Types of Statements and Accounting Methods
If you know how to balance a ledger, the next steps of accounting are not as difficult to conceptualize. Your ability to learn different accounting methods like FIFO and LIFO will be the next challenge, but this will be more intuitive than adding items to a ledger.
If you have difficulty remembering which types of expenditures are investments and which ones are financing, memorize them. Many resources are available online to explain a statement of cash flows. Explanations of financial ratios are available in abundance as well—if you do not understand the textbook’s interpretation, look elsewhere for a different explanation.
Really grasp the differences between an "income statement" and "retained earnings" statement. The differences are subtle.
Finally, your knowledge of assets, debits and credits from the earlier course material will make learning the types of assets introduced later in the course much easier.