Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of a change in teaching structure in improving the performance of students in an introductory management accounting subject at an Australian institution. The change in structure involved a shift in the balance between lecture and tutorial face-to-face contact hours with increased emphasis being placed on tutorials in an attempt to enhance the benefits of cooperative learning. Design/methodology/approach - The paper evaluates the success of the new approach by comparing the performance of students across the two teaching structures. Specifically, the paper compares the performance of students on exam questions covering five key management accounting topics. Findings - The results revealed that the new teaching structure (a two-hour workshop-based tutorial and a one-hour lecture each week) improved student examination results significantly in comparison to the previous "traditional" approach. Practical implications - This paper demonstrates the benefits of teaching and learning conducted in a small class size setting with the use of cooperative learning. Such an approach could be adopted more widely in the teaching and learning of accounting to enhance the generic and analytic skills of students. Originality/value - This paper provides empirical evidence to support largely normative claims that cooperative learning when combined with greater focus on small class teaching can improve student performance.