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The Ultimate CFE Survival Guide (2019)

The time has come. You have finished your CPA program and it’s time to prepare for your Common Final Examination (CFE). Even though it’s exciting to FINALLY be done the program, it’s also extremely nerve-wracking to know that the past two and a half years all come down to three days of writing a single exam in September. To help you get prepared, I thought it would be helpful to pass along a few tips and tricks that I believed help me successfully pass the 2018 CFE.

  1. Create a schedule
    1. It is so important to create a schedule for the eight weeks of capstone. Two of those eight weeks will prep you for the CFE. The schedule should detail what you want to accomplish each day and the time in which you hope to accomplish those tasks. For me, I usually would write a case in the morning and do a debrief and technical in the afternoon. However, depending on the case size (if it was a five-hour, Day 2 case) then sometimes that would be my sole focus for that day. Once you have completed your day's schedule then go home and try to enjoy some of the summer weather.

  2. Treat each case like the exam
    1. If you run a marathon in July after solely training on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym, you’ll likely struggle. For each practice case, you will write during Capstone 2, I recommend that you treat it exactly like you would for the exam.
      i. Write it on the laptop in which you will be using for the exam.
      ii. Use the exam software that CPA requires (for me this was Secure exam however I know they have since implemented a new program).  Only allow yourself the time budget that each case specifically states.
      iii. Write it at the same time in which you will be writing the CFE. I know this may be hard for some people depending on their schedules, however it does help prepare your mind for the CFE writing days

    2. Although you may feel as though your cases are not going as well as they could in the beginning of the eight weeks, by the end you will have built up confidence by writing the cases in exam conditions.

  3. Debrief each case
    1. CPA stresses how important this is for us students to be doing and I remember sitting in the workshops rolling my eyes thinking “ya right, what a waste of time”. But in all seriousness… DO IT! Debriefing will not only show you what you missed but why you missed it which is so important. The debriefing documents will clearly outline the triggers for each assessment opportunities within the cases. This will then allow you to understand why you missed an assessment opportunity and will hopefully prevent this from happening again in future cases.
    2. Debrief to build confidence. Although this may seem silly, by debriefing your case and using the marking guide to assess your performance, you will build confidence. You might think: “wow I must’ve missed so much”, but when you go through and assess yourself using the marking guide and debrief materials you will notice that you did better than expected. This is because CPA does not expect a perfect answer or expect you to nail all the assessment opportunities. So cut yourself some slack… you're probably crushing the cases. 😊

  4. Don’t overdo it
    1. When studying for the 8 weeks… burn out is a real thing. The most important thing is for the writer to feel as though they are at their peak when writing the CFE not completely burnt out. Therefore, I recommend:
      i. Take your weekends off to enjoy time away from CPA and try to enjoy the summer and warm weather as much as possible.
      ii. Once you have completed your task list for the day… go home! You have done enough studying
      iii. Try to minimize how much you are studying the week leading up to the exam. I only studied by technical flashcards during the Monday and Tuesday prior to the exam to ensure I was refreshed and ready to write on Wednesday!

  5. Try to get as much sleep as possible during the CFE week
    1. If you are anything like me, I had a hard time sleeping on the CFE week. I was either thinking about what the cases could be or was thinking about what I should have included in my case the night before. Sleep was minimal. However, try to get sleep in whenever possible to ensure that your mind is mentally refreshed for the next day of the exam. After each day of the CFE I came home, ate and had a nap which helped me feel ready to tackle the next day.

  6. Finally, once it's done…. celebrate!
    1. Once the CFE is done, try to stop thinking about the test. It will be a long 10 weeks before results are posted so try to just enjoy and celebrate the fact that you wrote the CFE which is a huge accomplishment in itself.

Hopefully, you feel a little more prepared and a little less nervous about taking the CFE. Good luck, you’ve got this!

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