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6 Tips To Help You Pass The CFE Exam

It’s finally here: all the stress of studying and writing module exams culminates with the CFE (Common Final Examination). While you are probably very excited to finally have the CPA program be over and done with, it is going to be a stressful time preparing and writing a three-day exam. CPA Canada describes this as a ‘Mental Marathon’, which is just as appealing as it sounds. To help you crush the exam, I’m sharing a list of tips that helped me most when I was writing the 2019 CFE:

Before The Exam

1. Be realistic when creating a schedule

It is easy enough to say to yourself “I am going to study for 10 hours a day every day, and read every topic that could be on this exam”, but not only is it going to be impossible to study every topic, you’ll burn out very quickly.

I set a Monday – Friday schedule that was made up of 3 “case days” and 2 “free days”. On case days I would write a practice case in the time recommended, debrief, and stop there. If there was material I didn’t know on the cases I would make a running list and learn it on my free days, along with any other material I needed to relearn before the exam. I found studying flashcards on my free days to be very helpful in understanding what technical knowledge I would need for the exam.

When creating a schedule, I recommend writing all the mock cases the CPA program provides to recognize the topics that continually pop up and to understand exactly how CPA expects each day’s cases to be formatted. Additionally, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure to take days off to decompress. When I first started studying, I tried to study at least 6 days a week and quickly realized that was not sustainable. You need time to relax and get your mind off the upcoming exam!

2. Debrief, debrief, debrief

Both the CPA workshops and study guides discuss debriefing cases at length, and this is for a reason: You NEED to debrief every case you write. The most important reason for debriefing is to make sure you have touched on enough required points to pass each case, and to see if there are areas you are completely missing or need to study more. This is also true for areas you know well, as you get closer to the exam you will find that you are likely over-explaining in some areas and can figure out how much time to dedicate to each section.

I highly recommend debriefing immediately after writing each practice case while the material is fresh in your head and follow up by reading the feedback provided on cases once they are marked. Reviewers will usually add tips of what to watch for in cases to ensure you are hitting both breadth and depth.

3. No cheating!

To best prepare for the CFE, you should write all mock cases as if you are in the actual exam. Only use allowed equipment (laptop, coloured highlighters to separate different required points, etc.) and put all your notes away to keep you from being tempted at peeking while you are writing.

Most importantly: write the cases in the recommended time to help judge how long you should be spending on each required point. CFE reviewers do not expect you to hit every single point under a given topic, so you must learn to gauge when “enough is enough” and move on to the next required point.

Let’s be honest: your first few cases will likely not go as well as you expect and there’s a good chance you either miss entire required points or run out of time. Don’t feel too defeated though – as you get used to formatting and writing more cases, your time management will improve and you will notice your cases improve significantly. I recommend handing in cases exactly as you wrote them to get honest feedback from the markers, don’t pretty them up and add more points before handing them in. Since the practice cases are marked for completion only, fixing up your cases before submitting is robbing you of receiving feedback on how you are really doing. Your ego may take a hit, but you will be better prepared.

CFE Week

While writing the three days of CFE, there are two vital points I recommend for getting yourself through the week:

4. Don’t plan on studying during CFE week

 Don’t study for Day 2 after just writing Day 1, etc. You will be exhausted and probably very stressed after each day (I know I was). In my experience, you will get virtually nothing out of cramming for the next day. Have confidence that you have already studied for weeks and know more than you think.

5. Try to avoid talking about previous CFE days with other writers

Comparing your answers is tempting but can cause unnecessary stress (to you and other writers). Since it is possible that different answers can earn a passing score, comparing yourself to others will cause you to question yourself and unnecessarily worry about what you missed. If your answers are reasonable and thoroughly explained, there are multiple directions a case can be taken to get a passing grade.

After The CFE

6. Relax!

Once the CFE is over, take a few days to enjoy this accomplishment. You just studied hard for weeks and sat through an extremely difficult exam, celebrate how far you made it already and have completed the exam. It will be a long three months until marks come back, don’t waste too much time worrying about what else you could have written, what’s done is done!

Hopefully, these tips will help you in your studies. Remember to ask a lot of questions if you’re feeling stuck and reach out to previous writers if you need help. If you could use more tips check out last years’ Ultimate CFE Survival Guide (2019). 

GOOD LUCK! 

Male CPA Student Working On Laptop
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