Judging accounting case competitions: great fun
The last accounting case I wrote was in September of 2006 - though for the past two summers I've found myself helping the current writers that I was coaching and mentoring by marking and debriefing their cases, which is almost as intense as writing cases themselves.
For the uninitiated, an accounting case is a role-playing simultation, typically written, where you play the role of an accountant sent in to review the status of some business, identify all the accounting issues, which options are applicable and valid according to your local region's accounting rules, and wrapping up everything by reporting to your taskmaster with your findings.
The UFE itself is entirely comprised of seven or so cases written in thirteen hours over a three day period.
In an accounting case competition, you're generally taking on a UFE-type case on steroids, working in a group, and either handing in your finished product, or, the fun way, presenting it orally.
I say "on steroids" because while a typical UFE case is designed to test whether you could survive a typical business scenario in an intelligent fashion, in a case competition you need to quickly separate those who know the CICA handbook inside-out to those who are just starting to learn the difference between Section 5970 and EIC-121, among many other fun obscure topics.
If everyone had a good chance of answering all the questions properly, trying to decide on winners would become an infuriatingly difficult exercise.
If only I had known this when I had taken part in a traditional "hand it in and wait for a response" case competition in my university days, where we were promptly floored by the questions. Although in some competitions the cases are tailored to frosh with limited accounting knowledge, the hardcore cases are so difficult that fully qualified CAs would have trouble answering everything on their own without extensive reference to accounting manuals.
As I mentioned earlier, I was invited to adjudicate at my old university's annual case competition. The event ran amazingly smoothly, with a small army of runners herding myself and my co-judge from another firm to the right place and the right time to watch as the Commerce students wrestle out their responses to a brutally delicious case - one full of challenges where they had to figure
out the answer to problems many would not experience in their regular classes until late in fourth year - not good if you're in first or second year!
It was good to see students teaming up - or getting teamed up - to ensure a mix of skills, so everyone could tackle one of the challenges and do their part to deliver the group's message.
Aside from the nostalgia kick from visiting my old campus, it was interesting to see all those lessons my profs and other instructors had intoned into my head over the years coming back with a vengeance. A sample:
- Rank your issues
- Don't restate case facts
- Link your conclusions to the overall purpose
Those pointers make so much sense when you see people making an oral presentation where this is exactly what they are or aren't doing. It makes you want to retype the above list and add a great deal of exclamation marks to accompany it, then hand it out to the 2010 case writers to help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Next time, I'll revisit case writing and the bullets in the above list, to flesh them out for those who didn't have the privilege of doing a case competition and to share the tips for future case writers. Not only do they help you with competitions, they have direct application on real life accounting exams too.
At the end of the day, the reps were lined up on stage, ready to congratulate the winners.