April 18, 2014
by Ellen

CPA Exam Sudy Tips

Getting ready for the CPA exam? Freaking out? Yeah, I get it. I sat for two bar exams (California and Illinois) and the candidacy exams for the Ph.D. The intensity of these life-altering events is enough to make even the steely of us crack. I still feel a little anxious when I think about it — trauma? Maybe. But you can harness that intensity and make it work for, rather than against, you. Use it — jump on the wave and ride it to shore. Your anxiety can become the fuel your brain needs to focus, if you impose a little structure on it. Here’s how.

Everyone has his/her own process for studying, which has, presumably, served him/her well through college and grad school. For me, the magnitude of the bar and candidacy exams called for a dose of study method steroids. The plan I devised worked well for me (I passed the California bar exam, the hardest in the country, on the first try, and I passed with distinction both of my Ph.D. candidacy exams). While I have not taken the CPA exams, my method may, nonetheless, serve as a model for yours:

1) Take a review course. This is a great way to get an idea of the scope of the exam, and the materials provided usually contain a relatively clear explanation of the relevant material.

2) Create your own subject matter outlines. It’s important to create your own outlines, rather than simply relying on the review materials, because the act of independently creating an outline forces you to actually process the material — you have to figure out how it all goes together. Each outline should reflect full understanding of the specific subject matter — if you were a super-genius, this would be your memory (the mastery you aspire to). Having a brilliant outline is crucial because it provides the foundation for your preparation.

3) Progressively memorize the material.

  • Break it down into sections and then break the sections down into layers. For example, take the first heading of the first outline level (I.) and the material that falls beneath it as your first “section.” Then, identify the layers — the heading (I.), the subheadings (A., B., C…), the next level (1., 2., 3…), the next level (a., b., c.,…)….you get the idea. Depending on the complexity of the material, you may have several layers.
  • Notecards are great for memorizing, but before you go there, try writing the outline out several times first. I literally used 100s legal pads when I was studying for the bar — writing out my outlines over and over. You could also type the material, if that works better for you, but there is something about physically writing the material over and over that helps me memorize it. Start with the big picture — the first level of the outline — write it out a few times. Then transfer it to notecards, memorize the notecards, and then write it out again from memory. Pacing around and saying the material out loud helps — kind of getting more senses involved. One of my study partners liked to create flowcharts, too.
  • Every time you add info, repeat what precedes it — like you are continuing the thought. This preserves the logical connections and helps you actually understand the material you are memorizing. For example, first you learn “I.,” then “I., A., ” then “I., A., 1.,” then “I., A., 1., a..” etc.
  • The key to memorization is repetition. Take your outline with you everywhere — stick copies in your bags, car, bedroom, coffee table — put it on your phone. Read through it whenever you have a moment or when you have a little shock of anxiety about the exam.

4) Stay calm and focused. Yes, it’s a herculean task, but it’s also doable. Thousands of people have taken — and passed — the exam. You will, too.

For more tips, see this article by Ryan Hirsch, NASBA Multimedia & Video Services Manager: “Preparing for the CPA exam”  http://nasba.org/features/five-tips-to-know-before-taking-the-cpa-exam





April 11, 2014
by Ellen

Boost Your Brainpower!

I don’t want to jinx it, but is it just me or does it feel like spring? It does. It really does. I haven’t worn a coat in a while, my allergies are going nuts,  and everyone seems a little happier all of a sudden. Finally!

I doubt you lament the change in weather (who misses trekking across the vast tundra between the parking lot and Barsema?). Nonetheless, you may feel like you aren’t allowed to enjoy the spring, what with finals (and maybe even CPAs) coming up and all. But did you know that spending time outside can actually boost your brainpower? Seriously, this is science.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that even a brief, 20 minute walk through “green space,” such as a park or forest preserve, reduces “brain fatigue”( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965 ). According to information from the Department of Urban Forestry at the University of Washington, “nature can help remedy mental fatigue and restore one’s ability to focus on tasks. The result is better performance in the work place and school,” and “experience of the natural world helps restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work or studies, and can improve productivity and stimulate creativity” (http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html). In short, nature makes your brain work better.

What does this mean for you? Take a walk around the lagoon and find out! You’ll come back to your studies refreshed, refocused, and ready to finish out the semester on top of your game.


April 3, 2014
by Ellen

The Ambiguous Email

Email is probably the most common form of communication in the workplace. It has all but replaced letters, phone calls, and simply walking down the hall for a quick conversation. Many of us are alright with this development – communicating through writing enables us to gather and organize our thoughts, reducing anxiety about “sounding stupid.” But, ironically, written communications are more easily misunderstood than oral communications.

Why? Because when something is written, we don’t actually hear the tone of the expression (we don’t hear how the person is saying the words). When we talk with others, we interpret the meaning of their communications through the combination of their words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. When the communication is only written, the tone and gestures are missing, increasing the likelihood of miscommunication. (We instinctively understand this — with the advent of texting, the use of emoticons has become indispensable. Emoticons, however, are unequivocally inappropriate in the business setting!)

As a result, we are forced to interpret ambiguous emails. For example:

You: “Mr. Smith, My parents are flying in from Houston this afternoon. Would it be alright if I left early to pick them up?”

Boss: “Do what you have to do.”

Hmmm. How would you interpret your boss’s response? It’s hard to say. You might ask your buddy in the next cubicle what he thinks. You might be tempted to ask your boss for clarification but are afraid that would be annoying. So, do you stay or go? Now, if you had simply walked down the hall to ask him, you would have heard his tone of voice, seen his facial expressions and body language, and there would be no doubt in your mind whether he was actually ok with you leaving. Even if you simply called him on the phone, you would have heard his tone and better understood his response (or been able to ask follow-up questions to clarify). The email, rather than reducing your anxiety about communicating, has increased it tenfold.

Sue Shellenburger, with the Wall Street Journal, gives another example in her article “Email enigma: When the boss’s reply seems cryptic” (http://t.money.msn.com/now/email-enigma-when-the-boss-reply-seems-cryptic): “Jill Campen was baffled recently when her boss, Marty Finkle, fired back a one-word reply to her carefully thought-out email asking for his approval on a client-training presentation she had prepared: ‘Done!’ Campen [...] puzzled over the message for a half-hour, then decided she was too upset to resolve the matter by email.” When Campen finally called her boss for clarification, he explained that “[w]hen her message popped up, his first thought was, ‘We’ve already talked about this. I could get rid of this really quickly.’ By the end of the conversation, the two were laughing.” Campen’s situation went from upsetting to comical — because she finally picked-up the phone and called her boss!

Bottom line: Avoid ambiguity — walk down the hall or pick up the phone when possible and don’t be afraid to follow-up an email with an actual conversation.


March 28, 2014
by Ellen

The Importance of “Soft Skills”

Jeff Carroll forwarded me an interesting article from Forbes about the alarming dearth of college graduates who possess “soft skills.” As our educational system has increasingly focused on “hard skills” – technical skills and knowledge of a specific subject matter — students have been denied curricula that develop “soft skills” — the ability to think critically and creatively and effectively communicate through writing, in addition to “[s]kills like problem solving, leadership, teamwork, empathy, and social/emotional intelligence.” As one expert notes, “While good grades don’t hurt and specialized skill sets are required for many jobs, there are some hiring attributes that make prospective employees more desirable to employers all over the world: leadership, personal and intellectual humility, the ability to attribute some purpose to your work, and the ability to take ownership of the task at hand.”

My last post emphasized reading as one way to cultivate the ability to “think outside of the box” (a soft skill), and becoming an avid reader is an important step toward personal and professional growth. But there is something else you should realize:  As a student in the LMAS program, you are afforded the opportunity to develop soft skills through the workshops you attend. In fact, each and every one of the workshops focuses on one or more of the soft skills so highly valued by employers — and the common thread through them all is leadership. A leader is someone who has mastered both hard and soft skills. He/she has knowledge of the technical aspects of the profession, as well as the awareness and skill necessary to expand and maximize the application of that knowledge in the real world.

When you leave here with an MAS, Leadership, you will be a master of accounting science and leadership. Your very degree will reflect that you have acquired both hard and soft skills, and prospective employers will take note.

So the next time Jeff asks the group, “Are you a vacationer, a prisoner, or a sponge?” think long and hard about your answer before you groan, “prisoner.” That workshop is giving you an edge over the competition. Be a sponge — participate, take notes, drink it up. Be a leader.

March 20, 2014
by Angela

Pizza with Barry – March 25

On Tuesday, March 25, the LPDC is hosting a meet-and-greet pizza luncheon with Barry Shaw from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Barry is a retired partner from Wolf & Company who volunteers in the LPDC every Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. and by appointment. Barry is available for professional development consultations about interviewing techniques, resume critiques, the transition from student to accounting professional, and much more.

Stop by the LPDC to meet Barry, grab some pizza, and talk about ways that he can help you build your professional skills!

We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!