What scares you, makes you stronger…

Students studying Finance subjects usually are of a mixed cohort, some have never studied a finance subject before and others have studied one or more finance subjects. Although business students can take finance subjects as an elective, both postgraduate and undergraduate accounting students must complete a finance subject as part of their degree.

I have found over the years that many students perceive Finance as the difficult subject, particularly first year students. One of the reasons is the level of mathematics required to study finance. Finance is quantitative by nature and even the first level finance subjects require some understanding of algebra. However, many students either only learned arithmetic or learned algebra some years ago but have not used it recently. So when they look at the subject content they find it somewhat overwhelming. This is moreso for first year students who are struggling with time management, workload and others’ expectations (Brooker, Brooker & Lawrence, 2017). Therefore it is relatively challenging to teach Finance due to student perception and also due to lack of adequate level of student engagement before and after class.

Finance subjects have a minimum of four summative assessments including a formal final exam that students must pass. This can be daunting, particularly when a student is facing the subject in their first semester or when they come from a non-finance background and are not confident in their ability. This motivated me to create, source and use multiple formative assessments to help and guide the students throughout the subject.

What were you trying to achieve?

I was trying to build students’ confidence and improve their mathematical skills by starting as early as possible with formative assessments; using multiple formative assessments to help and guide the students throughout the subject (Biggs & Tang, 2011). The Educational Designers, I am so grateful to have worked with, helped me to create a Math Revision Skills activity for assessing various math skills the students will need in the subject. This is an interactive test that uses  the Smartsparrow platform.

Students move through each step where a mathematical concept is explained to them with examples and then they attempt to solve problems themselves. If correct they will move on to next concept, if not they will be provided with the solution and explanation. I send announcements and ask the students repeatedly to complete sections of the self-test and bring the results to me (in class for internal students, by email or discussion board for online students) for discussions. Students are then given short class tests based on the concepts they learned.

I gave a presentation in CSU SC Sydney Colloquia (jointly with Dr H Murshed) on various formative assessments I have used in teaching finance subjects where I included this activity and its effectiveness.

How did it make a difference to your teaching and/or the student experience?

I found it has made a direct impact in the level of student engagement, improved their scores in the first assessment (an online test) and made it easier for me to explain more complex content in later topics. Throughout the subject I was able to redirect the students to attempt specific parts of the activity to refresh or clarify the concepts if required.

Did I succeed?

I have conducted some informal surveys in FIN516 which indicated majority of students who completed the survey found the activities beneficial, particularly as they were formative and they could concentrate on the specific concepts they were not confident in. I have also identified some specific issues regarding some students (both technological and level of engagement) and plan to implement some adjustments and expansion of activities for future cohorts.

For students from non-finance background it is the first hurdle that is difficult and for most of them, once they understand they can manage the basic financial mathematics, they can comprehend the basic finance language they can progress with greater confidence towards a satisfactory outcome. That is how we can help students to change their perspectives.


Biggs, B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th Ed.) Maidenhead, England: Open University Press / McGraw-Hill Education.

Brooker, A., Brooker, S., & Lawrence, J. (2017). First year students’ perception of their difficulties. Student Success, 8(1), 49 – 62. doi: 10.5204/ssj.v8i1.352