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Online Course: Mental Prep for Accounting Students

Does your studying never match your study plan?
Do you struggle with time management?
Do you find yourself avoiding certain topics and questions, and make excuses about it?
Do you find yourself working harder and harder as you study higher levels, but seem to get less and less right?

Let’s get your head and habits in the right space before the new year​

Third Year Accounting

The third year of your Accounting degree is really important, especially if you’re planning to study CTA after you graduate.

I want you to seriously think of how you plan to mentally prepare for your third year Accounting (ALL your subjects!), BEFORE you start the academic year. 

If you need to change some habits, now’s the time to plan and think about it.

What makes third year special?

  • The technical level is very close to CTA. Get third year done right, and you make CTA easier
  • The volume is high. Time is not on your side
  • The level of application is higher than second year. Memory isn’t enough to pass
  • Students generally experience a difficulty gap from second year to third year

You need to think carefully about whether your study habits and approaches from second year are going to get you through these challenges. My experience with most students, is that they realise too late that they’re out of their depth, and now it’s too late to change approach. 

So they work harder, more intensely, and become more stressed. We need you to work smarter, not harder. That means you might need to put some thinking into this BEFORE you start the year.

The idea (in a simple sense) is that you get the theory in undergrad, and take it to the next level in CTA! Get the knowledge now, and perfect how you apply it in CTA.

Your CTA year starts with the assumption that you ‘know’ your third year stuff

How do most students deal with third year?

I have lectured undergrad and CTA for years. One thing I can say is that I generally start my CTA lectures… with undergrad work. Honestly… a lot of my first CTA lectures are ‘copy and pastes’ of my third year lectures! And students STILL struggle! Why is this?

Simple. In undergrad, most students have one objective in mind… FINISH MY DEGREE. Their entire focus is on doing whatever they need to do to get their degree, and that’s it. There’s not a lot of thought about what will make CTA easier, or how to study for longer-term benefit. It’s all about getting through THE NEXT EXAM. Students scramble for spots, questions that will come up in exams, so that they can pass THE NEXT EXAM. CTA comes… and the knowledge they didn’t need for the undergrad exams now become more important. (This is what REALLY upsets me about lecturers giving spots to students. It SERIOUSLY sets them back for their next level of studies!)

How should you approach third year?

Of course you want to pass third year. Of course you need to focus on your next exam. I don’t deny that. However, you’ll be doing yourself a world of favour by sparing a little focus on what will make CTA smoother for you… and if you ask any CTA student, they’ll tell you that you’ll need all the ‘smoothing’ you can get!
Here’s some things to think of:

  • Look at third year as preparation for CTA
  • Work on skills, not just knowledge. Skills stay with you for a lot longer than theory does!
  • Work on habits that will serve you well in CTA. Trying to develop good habits in your most stressful year isn’t a great idea!
  • Exam technique is a very valuable skill to work on in third year
  • Questions more than theory. You’ll never get to all the theory you have to study in third year and CTA… but you can improve how you get marks for what you know, and how you apply them
  • KNOW YOUR BASICS… I wrote an article on what we as lecturers MEAN when we say “Know your basics”… it’s often not what students think…

What should you start the year with?

As with a lot of things in life, your attitude is key! By the time you hit third year, you’re probably tired, frustrated and stressed. You’ve been at this for a while, it’s been hard, and you desperately want the recognition for all of that in the form of the DEGREE! It’s hard to really focus beyond that and see third year as CTA prep rather than an end in itself.
Again, here’s some stuff to work on:

Third year is CTA prep
  • Keep the thought in your mind as much as possible… “I’m working towards CTA”, rather than “I’m working towards my degree”. It’s a small difference, but I think you can see that the one is a step towards something else, and the other is an end in itself
  • Work on understanding why you’re studying the stuff you’re studying. All your subjects, all your topics, fit together in some way. They all form the knowledge and skills you’ll need as a finance professional. Studying them in isolation and not really knowing how they fit together means your brain has to retain more ‘random’ knowledge, rather than build on a common theme
  • Make sure you understand the topics you study. Theory is harder to retain than understanding. Truly understanding something means that you’ll never lose it completely, it will take a little refreshing, sure… but your brain feels more comfortable with it
  • Cramming is SO LAST YEAR! I hear students bragging all the time about how they got through second year by cramming or knowledge dumping memorised stuff. It seems a great idea at the time, but it’s a really bad habit to keep. Very short-sighted! Crammed knowledge disappears really quickly, and you don’t have the time to learn how to apply the knowledge, so it becomes more useless in third year and onwards

Your first task… from me to you…

When you do your first questions for your third year modules… (and you need to get to them soon)… keep all your theory with you. Textbook, reference books, Study Guides… any of it. Then attempt the question. More and more, you’ll find that even with all the theory available, it’s still a struggle to get to the answers. Why?

The theory is one thing… but learning how and when to use it, communicate it etc… that’s a skill you have to take time to build.
Taking time to build skill means that cramming is useless!
It also means that focussing on theory is not going to be the smartest way to study. If you can’t get full marks for questions while all the theory is in front of you… then theory isn’t really the answer, is it?!

Lastly… 50% is a pass, but it’s not all you need

Let me first say that this point is one that is a lot easier to say as a lecturer than as a student, and I know that!
I always hear students say “I just need 50%”; “I’m just aiming for a pass”; “51% is a distinction”. This indicates that their focus is on 50%. Understandable.

Getting 50% means that you only know HALF of what you’re supposed to! 

When results come out, if they get between 45% and 49%, a lot of students complain that they’re “so close” (and often feel like they should’ve been ‘pushed through’). As a lecturer though… we see it as you not even being able get to just HALF of the stuff that was prescribed! You need to know ALL of the information… because you’ll need it all for the next level!

As I say, it’s easy to say as a lecturer… and I’ve been a student, so I totally get it! But just think about the mindset you approach it with!

If you can relate, or have a query...


  1. Thank You for this Yvonne.. This semester I’ll be Joining Tabaldi for both Fac & Aue Lol though I’ve missed out on the discounts.. I’ve seen your short lecture Aue video clips you truly bring life to Auditing.. I’ll give these modules my best shot & see how I come out at the end.

    • That’s awesome! Will be great to have you join us 🙂 It will also mean I can give you more guidance as you work through the material.
      Good luck for your semester!

  2. Thank you Yvonne, I’m starting my third year modules and really want more than just a pass and like you say, preparation for CTA so this was great to read in the beginning of the year.

  3. Hi Yvonne

    I am doing CTA1 this year. I almost have all the text books I am just not sure in which prescribed book the ISAs are in. Am I correct in saying that we are allowed to have the ISAs with us in the tests & exams?

  4. Hi Yvonne

    Thanks for the quick reply.
    I have only managed to find the SAICA students handbook volume 2 & 3 online. They don’t seem to be in there. I am getting so confused with SAICA “students” handbook, SAICA Handbook, and the SACIA legislation handbook. In which one exactly is it?

  5. I wish I found this article a year ago! I have to repeat my third year for a second time in 2017. I was totally unprepared for the increased pressure and volume of work between 2nd and 3rd year. Apart from that I didn’t focus so much on doing questions because I was constantly trying to work through the theory. The whole time I felt like “how can I do a question if I don’t even understand the theory?”. I feel terrible about having to repeat. Do you have any advice please? Family members in particular don’t seem to understand the volume of work and dedication required.

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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