Closing the Loop: Active Reflection

By Samantha Taylor, PME, CPA, CA
Mar 5, 2020

According to learning and management sciences, a feedback loop exists to assist in learning from mistakes. Scholars agree that this loop has, at a minimum, an inciting event, reaction, and reflection. Someone who fails to sufficiently synthesize and employ the feedback may find themselves repeating their mistakes and receiving the same feedback, leading to frustration. 

The Feedback Loop

Previous posts have discussed case writing best practices (inciting event) and how to use the feedback received (reaction). This post will focus on the last part of the feedback loop, reflection, and provide a suggestion on how to engage in active reflection, a tool you can apply to your CPA studies and your career. 

Keys to Active Reflection: WHAT and WHY

Imagine you’ve received feedback from your facilitator that your assignment response needed to defer revenue rather than recognize it. However, you don’t understand why, so you email your facilitator. As discussed in your Candidate Guide, the following examples are types of questions facilitators receive.

A poor question: “I don’t understand revenue recognition vs. deferred revenue, please explain.”

This question is vague; it doesn’t specify what the candidate doesn’t understand and asks the facilitator to “teach” revenue recognition to them.

A good question: “I am not sure if I understand why you would defer revenue when full payment is received at the transaction date. Is it because the goods don’t all transfer to the customer at that point?”

Active reflection relies on WHAT and WHY. This example is good because it states WHAT part of revenue recognition is confusing and WHY the person asking doesn’t understand it. Using active reflection to ask a question in this way will help your facilitator help you, turning your question into a meaningful conversation. To further enhance the strength of this question, include the assignment type and week number to direct the facilitator to the issue. 

Putting it into practice: Applying WHAT and WHY elsewhere

Using WHAT and WHY to achieve depth

In addition to using WHAT and WHY in active reflection, the same formula often forms the basis of how to write effective bullet points in a case. The WHAT represents the case fact (e.g. 10% of the Cactus Café clientele is vegan). The WHY is the “so what,” conveying the significance of the case fact and news to the user (e.g. introducing vegan cheese and vegan pepperoni may increase vegan clientele, therefore, increasing pizza and sandwich sales). That point in which you feel you are over-explaining is depth. It is the deliberate practice of transferring what is in your mind onto the screen.

Applying WHAT and WHY at work or life

At a conference this past summer, when deciding which post-conference evening activities should take place, a group of us traded suggestions:

  • Delegate 1: attend the post-dinner mixer with included beverages that would end at 9:00 p.m., because it was included in our fees (i.e. low cost) and was an easily accessible way for us to get to know our fellow conference attendees.
  • Delegate 2: procure beverages at a local store and consume them in our hotel room because the cost would be relatively low and we could engage in conversation with just the three of us,
  • Delegate 3: retreat to the lobby to drink beverages, which would then save time and effort on a trip to an external location, but would increase our non-reimbursable conference costs. 

The WHAT was the action, while the WHY was the justification to support each WHAT. It is the WHY that supports the reasonableness to determine future action. Without the WHY, you’re left with a series of unsupported opinions, which may have lead to indecision, frustration, and thirstiness.

You can avoid repeating mistakes by incorporating the WHAT and WHY approach in your active reflection when you receive feedback and ask descriptive questions. You can also apply WHAT and WHY to case writing and life to build towards examination and career success.  

Do you have feedback on this post or a question you’d like answered by an experienced CPAWSB educator? Please contact your facilitator or send a question to the General Topic in the Candidate Discussion forum.

Samantha Taylor, PME, CPA, CA, is an educator and lead policy advisor for CPAWSB, and an instructor of accounting at Dalhousie University. She is on a mission to understand and enable learner efficacy while eliminating doldrums occasionally associated with accounting education. Read more of Sam’s posts at the CPAWSB blog.