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    Training Auditors to Perform Analytical Procedures Using...
    research summary posted February 24, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 08.0 Auditing Procedures – Nature, Timing and Extent, 08.01 Substantive Analytical Review – Effectiveness, 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.03 Adequacy of Evidence 
    Training Auditors to Perform Analytical Procedures Using Metacognitive Skills
    Practical Implications:

    This research furthers the understanding of auditors’ judgment performance in four important ways. We show that

    • Effective training in metacognitive skills increases auditors’ diagnostic reasoning by enabling them to control and direct their thinking.
    • Training in both divergent and convergent thinking provides significantly better results than only learning to think divergently. Because the former are better able to piece together all necessary facts.
    • The key to performance improvement due to training in both divergent and convergent thinking is a reduction in a psychological mechanism called “consistency checking.” Auditors trained to use both tend to avoid premature elimination of explanations, instead subjecting explanations they generate to subsequent, explicit evaluation. An important implication of this is that for auditors who try to do both kinds of thinking simultaneously rather than sequentially the best explanation for a problem might not be generated or might be prematurely discarded.
    • In the same amount of time that participants in the other training conditions took to arrive at their inferior answers, auditors trained to use both divergent and convergent thinking chose one of the correct solutions more often, generated better explanations, and eliminated more potentially time-wasting invalid explanations.

    For more information on this study, please contact David Plumlee.


    Plumlee, R. D., B. Rixom, and A. Rosman. 2015. Training auditors to perform analytical procedures using metacognitive skills. The Accounting Review 90 (1): 351-369.

    metacognition; divergent thinking; convergent thinking; training; analytical procedures; ill-structured tasks.
    Purpose of the Study:

    Auditors encounter many ill-structured tasks. Due, in part, to their greater technical knowledge, partners and managers perform these tasks better than less experienced auditors. Partners and managers also have in their memories a diverse set of problem solutions gained from their experience that they can retrieve as needed to organize and solve ill-structured problems. Less experienced auditors do not have access to these additional experiences and may benefit from a more structured approach to thinking while solving ill-structured tasks. We believe that training less experienced auditors in in metacognition—consciously thinking about one’s thought process—will help close the performance gap. We chose to train less experienced auditors to use a sequential thought process comprised of two metacognitive skills: divergent thinking, where they generate explanations for unusual evidence, followed by convergent thinking, where they evaluate explanations generated and eliminate those judged infeasible. Training less experienced auditors in the proper use of these skills was expected to provide them with the problem-structuring knowledge that managers and partners acquire through their frequent encounters with ill-structured situations. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    Auditors with approximately two years of experience were randomly assigned to receive training in either divergent and convergent thinking skills, only divergent, or neither (a control). The training included four separate self-paced online sessions over two weeks. At the end of each session, we measured participants’ comprehension of the training and their ability to apply the specific skills addressed in that session. The fourth session synthesized the previous sessions and included a comprehensive analytical review case to measure whether the training resulted in better performance.


    We found that

    • In response to evidence inconsistent with their expectation, auditors who completed both divergent and convergent thinking training increased both the number and quality of explanations for that evidence. They focus more on generating explanations when performing divergent thinking instead of trying to sort out which alternatives ‘‘make sense.”
    • Training in both skills resulted in a greater ability to generate and ultimately choose one of the two viable explanations in the final case. Auditors trained to use both types of thinking had a fourfold higher likelihood of identifying a logically viable explanation compared to those receiving divergent thinking training alone—and a vastly better likelihood than those having neither type.
    • In a supplemental study, we asked participants about the process they used when generating explanations in the final case. Training in only one of these metacognitive skills leads decision makers to eliminate explanations while they are being generated, possibly eliminating a correct explanation.
    Auditing Procedures - Nature - Timing and Extent, Auditor Judgment
    Adequacy of Evidence, Substantive Analytical Review – Effectiveness