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Build Essential CPA Skills with a Modified Monopoly Game

Dr. Rania Mousa has turned this money-based board game into an activity that is proven to forge real-world accounting skills.

Educator

Rania Mousa, PhD

Associate Professor of Accounting, University of Evansville in Indiana

PhD, MBA, and BA in Accounting

Monopoly, the beloved board game of Atlantic City avenues and real-estate tracts, has found a higher purpose in an introductory financial accounting classroom at the University of Evansville. There, Associate Professor Dr. Rania Mousa uses it to build professional skills identified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) as essential for those who want to enter the field. And the game has proven effective at doing just that.

Mousa—who worked as a financial analyst in Chicago, Cairo, and Kuwait before she began teaching—conducted a five-year qualitative analysis of her students’ self-reported learning outcomes. The study, “Addressing the AICPA Core Competencies Through the Usage of the Monopoly™ Board Game,” offered some interesting insights, she says.

“There was a lot of connection between the skill sets that the students reported that they learned from the game and the skills that the AICPA says that they [should] have, such as communicating, decision-making, leveraging technology, and critical thinking,” she says. “Monopoly isn’t big enough as a game to cover all aspects of financial accounting, but in terms of basic financial reporting practice, it’s perfect.”

To learn more, do not pass go, do not collect $200 … just scroll down.

Challenge

Diverse students, complex principles

Most students who take introductory financial accounting classes do not have business or accounting backgrounds, which makes it difficult to captivate them and really teach the fundamentals over the course of one semester. Mousa adds that accounting is the most difficult subject in the business curriculum.

Innovation

Making accounting digestible through game play

With so many students of different abilities and interests, Mousa knew she needed a way to hook her classes—and give them a grounding in accounting basics—as early as possible in the semester. The game of Monopoly allows her to drive home the lessons and risks associated with real-life business, but in a way that is familiar and fun.

Context

“The students’ reaction when they hear about it? Palm in the face! They think I’m being sarcastic. They say, ‘We aren’t really going to play Monopoly, are we?’”

— Rania Mousa, PhD

Course: ACCT 210 Introduction to Financial Accounting

Description: This course is an introduction to financial accounting concepts, with emphasis on communicating financial information to external users for decision-making purposes. Students learn about U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the accounting process, transaction analysis, financial statement preparation, and related topics.

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Mousa’s approach to teaching accounting with a Monopoly game

Mousa spends the first few weeks of the semester teaching two chapters on accounting fundamentals. Then she breaks out multiple Monopoly boards and divides her class into small groups so that students can apply what they have learned. She says that she introduces the game early in the course because students are excited to put their newfound accounting knowledge to use—and they are not worried about final exams just yet. An added plus of the Monopoly project: There is no need to go over the actual rules before diving in. “Monopoly, thank God, is a popular game,” says Mousa. “The students all played it when they were little children.”

From the start, though, Mousa requires her class to do more than simply battle for choice pieces of property. To begin, she divides the class into groups of five. “The game is set up as if each team owns a small real-estate business,” Mousa says. Each group works together, buying, selling, and trading properties; paying and collecting rent; and paying taxes. Below, she shares what she does to help the rest of the two-day project play out as planned.

Generate data by tracking every Monopoly transaction in Excel

Throughout the game, each student must record each transaction—buying, selling, renting, or paying taxes—in an Excel spreadsheet template the professor has designed. Students are also responsible for recalibrating the figures as the game progresses.

“When they finally start recording financial transactions on their own, things start to click,” says Mousa. “Now it’s their company, their business, and they’re actually creating their own reports from scratch.”

Adjust Monopoly rules to keep the game fast-paced and focused

Mousa recommends adjusting some of Monopoly’s traditional game elements to keep the action moving. She dispenses with the “Go to Jail,” “Chance,” “Community Chest,” and “Free Parking” diversions, for example, because they are not directly related to financial transactions. She also starts every student out with $1,500, which means that each group has $7,500 from the get-go—an amount that creates a fast-paced market where there is plenty of buying, and bankruptcies are rare.

Sometimes the fast-paced game play can be a challenge, but Mousa tells students, “This is exactly what happens when you prepare financial books for your own business. Everything is happening at the same time. You are contacting a supplier. You are contacting your customer. Maybe you are contacting your bank. And you’re entering the transactions into your system. It’s very interactive and very fast paced.”

Keep students invested by making Monopoly “profitable” grade-wise

To make sure that students take the Monopoly project seriously, Mousa ups the ante by making it count for nearly a third of each student’s grade for the semester.

“I want them to have fun, but I also want them to maximize their chances to get a perfect class score in the project,” she says.

Mousa adds that a “serious state of mind” is vital in the accounting profession itself. “You have to be very disciplined in your work,” she says. “Very diligent and very detailed.”

Reflect on learning to highlight Monopoly’s skill-building power

By the time the Monopoly project has come to an end, students will have used the Excel data they collected to create financial reports that include the general journal or ledger, Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Statement of Retained Earnings, and Trial Balance. But beyond those deliverables, Mousa likes to emphasize how many other real-life lessons come from this game, so she asks each student to make a list of 10 personal learning outcomes from the project.

“It’s quite demanding for sophomores (because it is a sophomore-level course), but they learn a lot,” says Mousa. “They learn how to communicate professionally. They’re talking to each other, and they’re making deals. They are appreciating what is a ‘win-win,’ and then they discover that ‘Ooh! There are people who are really competitive!’ A lot of people discover a new side to their personality.”

As for the AICPA Core Competency Framework, Mousa points to her research findings, which report that the game helps students develop many professional skills that are aligned with the AICPA Framework. “Monopoly is not just a board game,” she says. “It has much more value and impact than that.”

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