Review: A Student's Guide to Auditing | AccountingWEB

Review: A Student's Guide to Auditing

Title: A Student's Guide to Auditing

Publisher: Kaplan

Author: Alan Lewin

Description: A Student’s Guide to Auditing, written by Alan Lewin, addresses the experience gap encountered by many professional and university exam students. This book explains what auditors do and why they do it and supplements more technical exam-based texts by making audits more accessible. As a guide to auditing for the auditor, and more importantly, the non-auditor this engaging new book presents auditing in a context that is understandable to someone who has never been on one.

Written and presented in an approachable and colourful style, this essential guide is full of down-to-earth and humorous examples and illustrations that will help to put that theory into a practical context and help to make sense of it.

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Gina Dyer's picture


Gina Dyer | | Permalink

We still have two copies left of this so please get in touch with me if you'd like to review it.

stepurhan's picture

2 out of 5 stars

stepurhan | | Permalink

Auditing has often proven a difficult subject for students to grasp when starting out on their professional studies. With the increase in auditing thresholds, practical experience has proven harder to come by, and students have had to rely more on books and courses. In this context, a clear guide to the subject is a must and, with 14 years experience as chief examiner specialising in the area, Alan Lewin would appear to be well qualified to provide one. Unfortunately, this promise is not fulfilled in the flawed tome that he has produced.


The book is divided into chapters, each covering a specific part of audit. The first three chapters cover the reasons for auditors and the ethical and legal framework. Chapters four to eight cover the audit itself from planning, through evidence collection to finalisation. Chapter nine covers the audit report and chapter ten is revision for the book as a whole. These chapters split the subject into manageable chunks (though not small enough for the author who describes a thirty-seven page chapter as “fairly large”). The outside edges of the pages have a different colour for each chapter, so it is easy to find where a particular chapter starts and ends. This would have been more useful if the colour code had been reproduced in the contents list but this has not been done. Any reader wishing to find a particular chapter using this will have to count the coloured stripes themselves.


Each chapter begins with an introduction and a “So, what is in this chapter?” section. Each chapter also ends with a summary of the chapter in diagram form. Liberal use is made of tables and diagrams to break up the text and four symbols are used throughout to identify specific items, such as key facts for exams and memory aids. The distinctiveness of these symbols together with their positioning (on the outside edge on all pages) makes these items easy to find if flicking through a chapter. In dealing with the ISAs, the author has adopted a system of “Plain English” tables, interpreting the technical content. These are undoubtedly useful for students at foundation level, for whom many of the terms will be confusing. However, the “Plain English” heading is occasionally used inappropriately or incorrectly. In some cases this is simply a case of the ISA wording being clear on its own, and these are likely included for consistency of presentation. In others, the “Plain English” column simply is not what the ISA says. Instead this column contains an explanation of the reason for a clause or an example of its application. Whilst it is hoped intelligent students will realise the difference this mislabelling is unhelpful. 


There is a single case study that is used throughout the book, a book wholesaler called 27/4 books. More case studies would have been useful but the book is already 318 pages long, so these were presumably omitted for reasons of space. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the example has not been fully fleshed out. In the section on analytical review, an obvious anomaly in the figures is pointed out. It would seem appropriate to have followed through on this with brief example procedures and explanations but the author simply says “I don’t have the answer” and reverts to the general approach.  When we get on to more detailed testing there are also irritating areas of vagueness or inconsistency in the system notes. The business has two ways of identifying invoices to be paid where any sensible company would use one or the other. They might manually transfer or electronically import the bank statements (if their system can import - why would they create inefficiency by using a bank that didn’t offer the facility?). They will simply “have a system” for recording hours worked for wages calculation. As accurate system notes are a vital part of evaluating control risk, and hence central to audit planning, it is simply unacceptable to present students with such vague examples.


Whilst intended for foundation students the book often seems aimed at a lower level than that. To illustrate auditing in a more familiar situation the author uses the example of buying a car. Whilst this is a decent analogy, it is rendered childish by making the buyer a crocodile and the seller an elephant. This is no doubt to illustrate that the mechanic (auditor) is also an elephant, and thus probably not independent. This point is perfectly well-made in the text and this unsubtle illustration is both condescending and misleading (lack of independence is almost never that obvious). The four symbols mentioned earlier are defined at the start of the book, immediately followed (on a facing page) by a summary of the same. A reasonable joke about checking the word count in the summary of chapter one becomes “How many words this time” in chapter three. I also cannot help thinking a certain level of knowledge should be assumed. Any professional student who needs to be told that monthly salaries are annual salaries divided by twelve (and that the twelve stands for months), or that companies buy goods intending to sell them for more, should reconsider their career choice. The “fairly large” chapter mentioned earlier is also an example of this. Thirty-seven pages of loosely spaced text is not “fairly large”. When you then consider that seven of those pages are simple system diagrams, one is the summary and roughly another six are lost due to spaces left in the layout, this seems even more peculiar. In making the subject approachable the author has also chosen to denigrate the profession. The cover illustration clearly refers to “bean-counting”, the introduction describes auditors as “strange” and getting into the auditor’s mindset is appended by “(oh dear)”. A single reference might have been reasonable as a joke, but repeated references such as these, and other examples scattered throughout the book, seem inappropriate in a text aimed at those who may one day become auditors.


But far worse is the fact that the book is often confusing and, on occasion, arguably wrong. In checking whether to take on an engagement the only questions asked relate to the client’s understanding and systems. No reference is made to the ethical reasons an auditor may not be able to take on an audit. This is despite these being raised a mere two chapters before. Detection risk is defined as arising because “the auditor did not plan audit procedures correctly or there is a weakness in the audit procedures actually used”. The obvious implication from this is that proper planning and execution of an audit will eliminate detection risk. As I’m sure the author knows (and the ISA itself states), detection risk can never be entirely eliminated and the definition should state this. The later description of determining detection risk further over-complicates matters. He describes the auditor as “setting” the detection risk and then goes on to use percentages (which are inappropriate for such a matter of judgement). The use of the word “acceptable” (as per the ISA) in this definition would have considerably helped things. Otherwise, especially in light of the original definition given, an auditor “setting” a high level of risk looks irresponsible. In dealing with creditors students are warned to watch out for “positive balances”. Of course, the author means debit balances but why not say so? Anyone understanding debits and credits will realise that debit balances in creditors are bad. Anyone not understanding debits and credits will be bemused as to why owing money to creditors is apparently an audit problem. Even the section on audit reports states that an auditor will give his opinion “without reservation” whereas the reports themselves use the less definite “reasonable assurance”. Maybe this last point arises from the author’s misunderstanding of the word “opinion”. If, as the author says, opinions are usually easy to form because “something is either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’” then he is clearly confusing fact and opinion.


As if the above were not bad enough, the book also suffers from other, non-technical, errors that should have been picked up prior to printing. The index is a chapter, in contrast to all my experience of books. It also starts with a lone reference to ISA 705 (or “705” as it appears in the index) This ISA, along with the others, appears more sensibly under I. Two consecutive flowcharts contain the wrong question in the decision box (closer consideration reveals this to be the result of using one query box to answer two queries, against normal flowcharting rules). The author states at the end of chapter nine there will be closing remarks at the end of chapter ten but no such remarks appear. There are also typos within the text itself. I’m sure the hourly paid employees in the example were most upset to find that their gross wages are paid “by” them rather than “to” them!  I further fail to understand why a UK text book aimed at UK students uses $ for all monetary amounts.


For me, the main value of this book is as a rebuttal of the oft-repeated assertion that knowledge of a subject qualifies you to teach it. Alan Lewin should have extensive knowledge of the subject, but this knowledge is not coming through clearly in the text. As such, this is far from “essential reading” as advertised. If a student is having trouble with audit and has no opportunity for practical experience then the simplified nature of the text may help then get past that. I would not recommend this otherwise and, even for those students, some supplementary study is advised.


Back to basics

ehess | | Permalink


The author of this review said it all in his last sentence:  “If a student is having trouble with audit and has no opportunity for practical experience then the simplified nature of the text may help them get past that.”     This book is intended to plug the well-identified gap for students who have to pass exams in Auditing but struggle because they have no experience of going on an audit.  It is not intended to be a core text on Auditing or to be read instead of going on a course.  Neither is it intended to be the course material.     There are lots of heavy technical books available on Auditing, and students of Auditing will need to use some of them.  Kaplan’s  student’s  guide to Auditing, by Alan Lewin, is intended to be a bridge that takes you from not really understanding what an audit is or what an auditor does to the point where you can make sense of the texts that you have to study to pass your exams.     Julie Hughes, Head of Content and Production, Kaplan Publishing

stepurhan's picture

"May" is a significant word

stepurhan | | Permalink

As the author of this review I very deliberately included the word "may" in that last sentence. That is to say, even for someone in the position described this might not be up to the job. If I thought this was the ideal book for this role (and I clearly don't) then I wouldn't have used "may" in this context. I would also note that I have trouble reconciling this stated target market of struggling students (which also appears on the back of the book) with the aassertion, also on the back page, that it is "essential reading for students sitting auditing exams based on International Standards of Auditing". The second sentence implies all students should read it whereas your focus on the first sentence indicates this is not the case.

I would be grateful if you could address some of the actual concerns raised in the main body of the review, rather than takng a single sentence and interpreting it in an inappropriately positive light. In particular, I would be interested in how you consider my assertions, with examples, of ocassions in which the book is confusing and arguably wrong. Given you are saying this book is aimed at students with difficulty understanding audit, this is the aspect I found most unforgivable.

petew's picture

4 out of 5 stars

petew | | Permalink

As someone who struggled greatly with auditing exams I think I would have found this book useful. It goes into a lot more practical detail than I received from the exam syllabus. I think it pretty much does what it says on the tin and would be very useful additional reading for students who are lacking auditing experience.

As the previous reviewer mentioned I found a number of small issues with the book but most were fairly trifling. The issues I had were as follows:

Patronising pictures and examples - this is aimed at professional students but the first example of buying a car with an elephant and a crocodile could equally well be used for primary school children.

A number of typo's and grammatical errors in the text, but I find these in all books so probably just me being overly picky.

Reference to 'assurance professionals' maybe its just me but 'auditors' seems an appropriate enough title.

Refers to qualifying audit reports before explaining what this qualification would actually mean.

Unless I missed it (and I was scan reading) there appeared to be no mention of PN26, I know these books are all aimed at Big 4 students but in the real world PN26 is relevant to almost all small/medium accounts firms. Would have been useful to at least allude to its existence.

There are a number of digs at auditors referring to them as strange etc which seemed a little unnecessary (maybe I'm sensitive) although the previous reviewer included the front cover in this but I thought is was actual very clever.

As you can see these are all fairly minor points and overall I thought the book was very useful with the right level of detail. It was well laid out and the different chapters had different coloured edges so it was easy to flick between them (although a key at the start to say which colour related to which subject would have been useful).

The book uses four symbols which are repeated throughout the book to show examples, definitions, key need to learn and memory devices. I liked the way this was set out making it easy for students after a first read to flick though and find the necessary points easily.

I know it is personal opinion but I think the previous reviewer has been overly harsh, and if this was a core text I would probably be agreeing but I think as additional reading matter for students using other study material this book is very good. 

I will be passing this book on to the trainee's in the office as and when they study for their auditing exams which I think says enough.

Hope the above is helpful.




taskey | | Permalink

 I applied for and got this book.  i am so glad i did.  I am doing AAT and i have the audit simulation to do, so i thought htis book might help me in my quest for a pass.

this book actually made audit interesting for me, i know that sounds really corny, but it is true.  instead of a normal text book where everything is in black and white  - literally, this book is colourful and very easy to read.  

i liked the fact that the same company case study was used throughout, it made sense as to who wanted what and why.

although i am only half way through the book, i felt a review was needed.

Fingers crossed it makes it easy and rememberable enough for me to pass my simulation.

i will let you all know.


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