In accounting – as in most careers – you need more than a single skill or set of skills to succeed. You probably think of accountants as being primarily focused on math, as they calculate credits and debits on a balance sheet or deductions on a tax return. However, other skills are at least as crucial, if not even more so, than math skills. Being able to think critically is necessary if you want to be a good accountant – and particularly, an accountant who has something to offer that automated software systems can’t provide. You can start sharpening your critical thinking skills as you work toward your associate’s degree in accounting – one of the fastest online associate’s degree options you will encounter.

Understanding Accounting Math

Is Being a Good Accountant About Being Good at Math or at the Critical Thinking Needed to Be an Accountant

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All day, every day, accountants work with numbers. You naturally need to be comfortable working with numbers to be an accountant. However, even though basic math skills are important in this profession, you don’t need what the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) refers to as “complex” math skills. You’re likely to take math classes such as statistics and college algebra in an associate’s degree program in accounting, but you don’t need to take advanced levels of calculus or other highly difficult mathematics coursework. The math involved in work as an accountant generally means adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, although you also have to be comfortable working with decimals, fractions and percentages.

Unlike mathematicians, accountants don’t do math for the sake of advancing the field of mathematics or even to solving real problems. An accountant’s primary goal is to report and interpret financial data, and math is simply the tool used to achieve that goal.

The Case for Critical Thinking as an Accountant

Just as being good at math may not be as central to success in accounting as you might expect, non-technical skills like critical thinking may be more vital than you would think. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), one of the organizations that accredit accounting degrees at the bachelor’s degree level and above, identify developing intellectual curiosity and a creative capacity to think independently as two of the most important goals of an accounting curriculum. Among the curriculum standards set by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) are the development of the skills to think critically and analytically, raise issues and questions, analyze information, interpret data, assess risks and effectively communicate thoughts and findings. Critical thinking is just as important a skill for accountants as mathematics, according to O*NET.

Why do these non-math skills matter so much? The field of accounting has grown ever more complex. Technical accounting skills are no longer enough to excel in this field, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Today’s accountants need to have strong analytical skills, communication skills and collaboration and interpersonal skills. As the basic technical tasks of accounting have become more commonly and extensively automated through bookkeeping software programs, the role of an accountant has shifted, according to Accounting Today. Instead of crunching numbers, accountants focus more on sharing their insights on strategy gleaned from analyzing financial data in ways beyond what a typical accounting software program would do.

Many of the core tasks accountants perform rely at least in part on their critical thinking skills. Analyzing financial data and using those findings to advise companies on how to approach changes in business operations, cost-cutting measures, financial commitments to growth and the navigating of economic trends, for example, requires as much skill in thinking, strategizing and decision-making as it does in running numbers. Critical thinking is equally important to strategizing with management to improve a company’s approach to taxes, budget generation and resource usage.

How do you develop these strong critical thinking skills? Today’s accounting courses aim to give students the opportunity to cultivate this ability, but unlike technical accounting skills, you can also practice this capability in courses outside your major. In fact, the content and lessons covered in general education courses in the liberal arts and sciences and the humanities can strengthen your ability to think critically about information and to communicate questions, opinions and analytical conclusions.  In this way, it isn’t only your math and technical accounting courses that prepare you for success in your career, but rather your entire college education that makes you more insightful, analytical and methodical.

Other important skills for accountants include active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, writing and judgment and decision-making, O*NET reported.

Additional Resources

How Much Math Is Required for a Degree in Accounting?

What Are the Most Important Topics to Excel at in Order to Be a Top-Notch Accountant?

What Are the Best Skills to Have to Be a Successful Accountant?