Student preconceptions of introductory accounting: galloping over the biggest threshold of them all!

Nicholas McGuigan, Sidney Weil

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The study of introductory accounting can prove problematic to students for many reasons, one of which is the formation of negative preconceptions about the discipline. These preconceptions are often reinforced by the university environment and requirements, whereby introductory accounting programmes are mandatory components of many business degree programmes, and are taught to large cohorts of students, using traditional methods of curriculum design, instruction and assessment (Zeff, 1989; Mladenovic, 2000; Lucas, 2002; Leveson, 2004). Students’ negative preconceptions are further entrenched through the use of popular media and commonly found stereotypes (Cory, 1992; Unerman and O’Dwyer, 2004), with the accounting profession currently experiencing “a widely perceived ethical breakdown of a trusted fiduciary institution that has been at the epicenter of a number of financial scandals” (Strier, 2006 p. 67). This perception has been further magnified by the recent global financial crisis. Drawing on threshold concept theory (Meyer and Land, 2006a and b), this paper argues that students’ preconceptions of the accounting discipline form a major ‘preconceptual threshold’ in their learning. Through an analysis of phenomenographic data collected from six student cohorts over a three-year period, students’ experiences in a first year accounting course are examined to identify the types of negative preconceptions that are found to exist in an introductory accounting course. This initial analysis is followed by an in-depth review of students’ reflective work, using the threshold concepts’ paradigm to analyse both individual student learning diary entries and summative reflective essays. The findings illustrate that students perceive the identified preconceptions to be troublesome, highlighting the need for a concerted effort to develop positive attitudes in first year accounting students. The paper concludes by considering the role of accounting educators in redesigning aspects of the accounting curriculum to address key thresholds, such as student preconceptions, in order to better assist learners to deal with these barriers and ultimately to enable them to achieve a heightened epistemological understanding of the discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCMS7 2011
Subtitle of host publicationSeventh International Critical Management Studies Conference : proceedings
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9788871467788
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventInternational Critical Management Studies Conference (7th : 2011) - Naples, Italy
Duration: 11 Jul 201113 Jul 2011


ConferenceInternational Critical Management Studies Conference (7th : 2011)
CityNaples, Italy


  • perceptual threshold
  • threshold conceptions
  • student preconceptions and perceptions of a discipline
  • transformative learning
  • phenomenography
  • accounting education


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