Chantal Potgieter_SMThe review note conundrum

Review notes are these little computer versions of sticky notes which your reviewers raise to assist you in identifying mistakes and how to correct them … And the fun part is you usually get to answer them in your own time at home

There are a few things about review notes that you need to understand and the quicker you learn this, the easier your training will be:


Review notes are a learning process

There is not enough time in a day to give you all the training you need, get the work done, and then also do it without errors. Let’s face it, if you could already do everything perfectly after your studies, then a SAICA training programme would be moot.

Review notes are there to help you identify mistakes and be able to evaluate why you made it and guide you on how to correct the mistakes. You should always learn from your review notes and try not to make those mistakes again.


Review notes are not personal

A review note is raised on the work being evaluated. It is the job of the reviewer to ensure the work is technically correct and accurate and that the working papers in the file are ready for partner review. Therefore, if the review note points out a mistake, the reviewer is not criticising you as a trainee, they want to make sure the working paper is correct and allows you to learn.

Imagine if the reviewer fixed all the mistakes, what would you learn out of the process? You would probably keep making the same mistakes and never know that you are doing it wrong.


Do not make your reviewer’s job hard

When you think about your working paper, think of it as an exam paper. Do you remember when your exam paper was all over the place, it was hard to match calculations with answers, and your theory answers did not make sense − you usually ended up with a bad grade because the examiner just didn’t want to look for marks they could allocate to you.

The principle is the same with working papers. If your reviewer gets annoyed because your work does not have a logical structure, you can bet on it that your working paper will look like the sticky notes had an explosion. The funny thing is your reviewer won’t care how long it takes you to clear them, because they feel that you did not respect them enough to perform your work neatly, logically and with an appropriate amount of due care.


What are inappropriate responses to review notes?

Often when reviewing I cannot help but roll my eyes, thinking to myself, ‘Why do I even try.’ This comes after I spent the time to almost write an essay in the review note to help the trainee and I get an answer like ‘noted’, ‘amended’, ‘as per reviewer’s request’ and, the most frustrating of all, ‘need to discuss with the reviewer’.

If we look at these responses, this is what they actually mean to your reviewer:

Noted − I have read what you wrote and did nothing about it; I will also probably not remember to do it next time.

Amended − Okay, great, you changed your working paper. Where did you change it, how did you change it, did you understand why you had to change it? Your reviewer now has to go read through that entire working sheet to establish if you have even changed it and most of the times it was either not changed or it was done half-heartedly.

As per reviewer’s request − This usually means you do not agree with the reviewer and you made the changes (maybe, but the reviewer will need to go look for them). Mostly this means you are not going to learn from this review note.

Need to discuss with the reviewer – The worst thing about this review note answer is that your reviewer probably did not know you wanted to discuss it with them until they started deleting review comments, or in the off chance you did discuss it with them (this rarely happens) you did not remember to address the review note with the results of the discussion.

Someone once complained and said as a third-year trainee they were not supposed to get review notes anymore, because it means they were not properly trained. This is the furthest from the truth − you will always get review notes, whether little yellow sticky notes on your working paper during your training or when you are in management positions reporting to someone who will give you feedback or advice … this is just another form of review notes.

Take your review notes in the spirit with which they are raised and take this learning opportunity with both hands to develop your skills, improve your competences and become the best type of trainee you can be. But if there is one thing you take out of this, let it be this: never annoy your reviewer …

AUTHOR │ Chantal Potgieter AGSA, Registered Tax Practitioner, BComp Acc Science, Audit Supervisor at Diastoleus Professio Incorporated