Getting the most out of your PGDA/CTA/Honours in Accounting year

It has been some time since I completed PGDA (2003) so please take only what you want to from what follows.  This is a year to remember – I wish you all the best!  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Establish a weekly timetable

Treat this year like a job.  You have already graduated and can no longer consider yourself a student in the traditional sense of the word (sleep late, bunk tuts etc.).  You are busy getting fit for the working world and the habits you form this year will get tougher to change with each passing year.

This was the biggest adjustment I needed to make.  I effectively had a “job” for the year – it wasn’t anything like my undergraduate student days.  I was fortunate in that I stayed at home (food, clean clothes… life’s chores were taken care of by other people) and that meant that I was able to tutor Accounts 2, do Accounts Honours and PGDA at the same time and also help out at youth at my church.  All of those commitments meant that I needed to seize my weekly schedule and make it work for me.

I took my time commitments seriously and arrived at UCT just after 7am every day of the week.  When I left after lectures I generally didn’t have to do anything at home although that sometimes wasn’t the case.  I set aside times that I would do tuts, prep for tests, exercise, socialise with friends – this might sound hectic if you are used to an unstructured weekly schedule but I would really advise that you give it a try.  Another important discovery was that unless I was in bed by 10pm, I would be exhausted by the early morning wake-up and the next day would be tough!  I am a bit of a nerd on this one I admit because even today I start to yawn once it gets close to 10pm!

Fun needs to be included in your weekly plans as well – a happy person generally has an edge on someone who locks themselves up for the year and doesn’t get out there.  At the same time I must advise that you must not be afraid to say NO to things!  This is the year that you really become an expert in your field of study – that won’t happen unless you deliberately set aside time.  Say “No” to invites if they come at the wrong time but why not offer an alternative (i.e. I can’t make it on Sat but how about breakfast next weekend?) just to make sure that you are staying in touch with your mates/family.

  1. Keep a wide interest

What is happening at the moment in the world’s financial markets is historic.  In 20 years time our children will be asking us “What was it like?”.  Don’t be so fixated on PGDA that you don’t make the time to read widely this year.  I was fortunately able to do Honours and really appreciated “The Big Picture” that it gave me.  Here is the thing – all the accounting standards, tax acts etc. are going to change and so becoming an expert for 2014 is admirable but insufficient for the long-term.  You should be formulating your view on the economy, SA business, interest rates etc. during this year and it will hopefully spur you on in your studies.  This shouldn’t distract you from studying but rather motivate you to understand the material you are covering.

  1. Conquer Saturday tests

Things to be aware of:

Writing for two sessions on a day is hard mental work

Jumping from one subject to another is tricky – it’ll be the first time you’ll ever do it

The early morning start might come as a surprise

People will advise that you leave out a question and focus on doing well on a subject rather

You’ll feel pretty bleak after writing them

Ways to help deal with this:

Have food and drinks available and sleep well on the Thursday before.

Be aware that each subject requires it’s own style of answering – remind yourself of that before every question

Wake up at that time during the week and do a few tuts at that time to prepare

Don’t do it!  You need to practice writing in Board exam conditions – a short term approach here isn’t a wise one

Don’t look at the solutions straight away, plan something fun to do that afternoon

  1. Conquer the June tests

I found these the hardest to study for because:

– You’re given a lot of time for prep which means you don’t see your class mates for 3 weeks

– Wimbledon (which is always a holiday viewing highlight) is on but you have to study

– There is a lot of work to get through and so you never feel like you’ve reached the end of preparing

The answer?

I’m not entirely sure but you have to build some fun into your study program.  Go to the gym, play touch rugby – try and see people (people contact is important!).  Maybe just being aware that these are the hardest tests to study for will be helpful (I found the final exams easier to study for than these because by year-end I was used to the process).

  1. Get the most out of your Tutorials

If you haven’t done the tuts properly, you’re wasting your time attending the tut.

Your preparation for tuts is much more important than the qualification of your tutor!

  1. Get the most out of your Lectures

You will arrive at these feeling tired from a long day – get over it!  You are not rewarded for attendance but for the amount that you put into these times.  Have pens out ready to make observations and jot down interesting examples etc.  Often the lecture slides will not capture the richness of the commentary provided so be sure to make reference to cool things that you hear during the lecture.  Try to ask “What if?” questions and never forget about the Deferred Tax implications!

I also used to make sure that I had food to snack on during the break just to keep my sugar levels high for the second half of the lecture.

  1. Do the basics well

If you are feeling down on yourself and are wondering “Why am I doing this to myself?” – I advise that you review the basics:

Have I slept well recently?

Have I eaten well recently?

Have I exercised recently?

Unless you can answer yes to these 3 questions, don’t make any dramatic decisions!

  1. Learn the art of bouncing back

You will be disappointed by some of your results this year.  You need to practice the art of bouncing back – learn from your mistakes, chat to mates that did well and learn from their success, and then try again.  You will feel bad about under performing but don’t bottle it up inside – make a plan for a comeback!  I found talking to people that I respected who had recently completed PGDA really helpful in this regard.  They would listen and tell stories of how they also had to bounce back – and whilst I heard their stories I would find my spirits lifted – they had been able to do it!

  1. Make a decision about the type of PGDA student you want to be

I have observed over the years that there will always be those that get highly stressed and seek to spread the stress (“Do you know where the R320 000 came from in tut 12.3, Part A?”), those that are deeply cynical and want to spread that hopelessness (“This is a joke, no-one can pass this”) and those that want to quietly get on with the task at hand.

Make the decision to be someone who tries their best this year and wants to encourage and support those around them.  There will be times of frustration where you feel the stress and cynicism getting the better of you BUT put your head down and know that at the end of all this hard work is a rich reward!  You are like a butterfly crawling into your PGDA cocoon for the year and at the end you will be looking at your newly developed wings wondering where they came from!



Paul Maughan


  1. Thank you for this, its really helpful especially the part where one needs to deicide the kind of CTA student they want be , I find that there are other people who pretend to be cynical but behind closed doors they are actually working really hard.

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