What I Learned from Tutoring a Friend in Accounting

I once had a friend contact me out of the blue to ask for help with an accounting class. Although I had not seen this friend in several years, I was happy to oblige.

He said he had to pass the class in order to graduate, and he had struggled with the class during a previous semester and decided to drop it. He said he would pay me anything if I would help him pass, and we agreed on a reasonable tutoring fee. (I wanted to help him, but I knew that charging a modest fee would conserve my time and give him motivation to make the most of our tutoring sessions.)

I was grateful that he did pass the course with a decent grade. However, I cannot take credit for his success. After all, my goal in our tutoring sessions was to work myself out of a job. I simply told him that he absolutely had to buckle down and work through the practice exercises in his textbook. He had to spend hours of study time on this. He had not previously been willing to do this, but I convinced him that this was the only way I had passed similar classes and the CPA exams on my first attempt.

Discipline was the key to his success. I was simply there to tell him what he needed to do. My advice was simple and straightforward, and he was sufficiently motivated to follow it.

My friend would ask me about concepts related to cost accounting. The exercises in his textbook would be “tricky” so as to test the student’s knowledge of the concepts. Rather than working a straightforward problem, the textbook would require students to solve problems upside-down and backwards. For example, the textbook writers would include irrelevant details in the scenario to test whether the student would be thrown off track or cut through the nonsense and stick to the point of the problem.

I would explain the concepts the best I could, and I would work problems with him. The bottom line is that he would not solidly grasp the concepts until he had worked through the problems on his own.

I must have sounded like a broken record when I would tell him to work the problems, and when he got stuck, refer to the appropriate portion of the textbook that explained the concept with which he was struggling.

He initially seemed to think that the concepts came naturally and easy for me (after all, I was a CPA) and that I could somehow mysteriously let him in on my secret shortcut to success. I convinced him that there was no shortcut. I had to spend hours upon hours trying to understand the very concepts with which he was struggling. I think this made him feel better about putting in the necessary long, hard hours of effort.

I enjoyed tutoring. I saw my role as that of a coach. My friend had to be ready for the game. I could not score the touchdowns or make the tackles for him. I was there to make sure he exercised and practiced sufficiently so that he would be prepared.

I essentially explained this to him. If he was looking for someone to hold his hand and make it “easy,” it wasn’t going to work. I was there to help him learn how to learn on his own. He caught on, and the experience was a success for both of us.