Monthly Archives: April 2013

Help for Experienced Writers

Helping experienced writers is something I struggle with because it’s difficult to give good advice if I haven’t lived the situation. I’ve had writers come to me and ask me what they should be doing right now. Should they be writing one case a week or two? Should they be only studying technical or should they be writing cases, too?

The truth is there are no easy answers. It depends on why you didn’t pass the previous time(s), how you study best, what your strengths and weaknesses are and a host of other possible reasons. A lot of people think there is some magic path to success – if only they do x cases, or if they study in this specific way – it will work. Of course, everyone probably knows deep down it can’t be that easy. Not everyone fits neatly on the UFE path.

So my advice to you is this:

Take time to honestly reflect on what the problems are.

  • Did you fall into the trap of too much technical at the expense of writing cases? Or maybe the opposite is true.
  • Did you study alone, or with a study group that didn’t work for you?
  • Did you not study enough or too much (be careful here!)
  • Did you allocate time correctly on the exam? Or did you not manage time well? Or the host of other technical reasons that can exist.
  • What were the problems on your mock cases prior to the exam?
  • Is it a language, communication or writing problem?

As you can see, the list can be long. Each varying answer can lead to a different suggestion. I think the best thing you can do is do an honest assessment and focus on the factors which hurt you last time.

The answer may be a great place to start in making changes to your 2013 strategy.

This may mean taking a repeat writers’ course out there or reading a book. Or maybe you need something more individual such as a tutor, one of the smaller programs out there or just a really good study partner.

Given how much time, effort and money goes into the UFE I think it’s worth investing in this activity as well as in a solution suitable to you. We’ll be around here to keep offering help and advice, too.

But as I said above, I’m not a repeat writers. If you are or have been, please drop us a line in the comments and let us know what you did and why. I know there are many that would benefit here just to know they’re not alone.

CKE – May Sitting Next Week

For those who have forgotten, there’s still hundreds of writers of the May sitting of the CKE in Ontario that will be joining UFE writers from all over Canada this year. For some, this may be the second time they’re writing and hopefully the last. I wanted to wish you all luck in this final week before writing on May 6th, 2013.

I feel like I’ve beaten the CKE horse to death so I won’t add anything except links to previous articles below. I’ve known people that went from not passing the first sitting to scoring first decile in the May sitting so it’s all very do-able. Hang in there, stay calm and hopefully all your studying and practice will pay off.

CKE Articles Roundup:

I really did beat that one to death…

Vent your CKE frustrations and advice in the comments below 🙂

Case Writing Basics: Outlining

I’ve talked about outlining in the past – whether to do it or not – and there are advocates on both sides, but when you’re first writing cases I think the default should be to outline.

I talked earlier this week about reading a case. The outlining is done as you go forward in the reading phase. I personally liked to do a quick read through the whole case and then go over it more thoroughly a second time.

There are a variety of ways you can structure your outline but you want to get these critical things on a good outline before you start writing:

  • A purpose and role. So you never forget what your role in the simulation is, and I like to have a purpose to all quants on the outline so that you understand why you need this quant. It helps avoid starting a quant and later realizing you didn’t need it or went in the wrong direction.
  • Who you are addressing and what kind of communication is it? You may have to do an audit memo to a partner on one hand and a report about a tax situation to the client on the other hand.
  • A timeline should be used unless dates are not an issue in the simulation. Write down every date you are given and keep track of where you are in proximity on a timeline.
  • A diagram or organisational chart to keep straight who owns what or works where. This is often an issue in taxation indicators and will help keep things straight.
  • A list of the required for the case which ensures that you address everything that was asked of you. If it helps, indicate which are primary indicators and which are secondary. Most people recommend you write these out almost word for word so you don’t misunderstand what is being asked of you.
  • Identify issues in the simulations. This is not the same as writing down case facts which should not be written down on your outline but referenced. Write down the issues you identify and then indicate on your outline which page they come from (could be many) and refer back to them once you are writing your response.
  • You’ll want quant information easily available if there is a lot of it. Consider having a separate page full of quant information so you can easily refer back to it rather than searching (and possibly missing) the data in your question sheet.

Notice that all these things you’ll get from the reading phase.

One of the things that candidates tend to do often, especially early on, is get into the analysis on the outline. Try to keep only the issues on the outline and leave the analysis for your written response.

Paper or Computer Outline?

It’s still early enough that you can experiment in this area. I favour paper outlines because it allows me to see the whole picture in front of me more easily. I find it’s more difficult to see everything on a computer when you have to scroll back and forth, especially once you start writing your response.


How are your outlines looking?

Case Writing Basics: Reading

An important part of writing simulations, whether they be SOA (Ontario) or UFE is the reading portion. Reading shouldn’t be mistaken for analysis of the simulation but it will require that you pay a lot of attention and your able to identify both the requirements in the case and the evidence in the simulation that can be used in your response. It’s sort of a very active version of reading.

The amount of time you can spend on reading is debatable but in general you should fall within 25-45% of the total case time spent on reading. With 25% being the extreme on one side – you may be missing important detail if you’re reading this fast and 45% of time being the other extreme where you’re not leaving yourself enough time to respond. You want to get into that sweet spot in the middle.

Reading Basics

You’re reading phase should find your the following information in each simulation…

  • What are you required to produce in your response? What is expected from you in the case? This is the same as if your boss asked you to produce something in your job but can often be a little hidden. In SOA it is a lot more clear so it’s just important to make sure you understand (this comes in analysis)
  • What is your role in this simulation? Each simulation will give you a role you play such as auditor, controller, advisor, etc. It’s important to know and understand your role so that you report from it. You’re not in the business of giving tax advice when you’re playing the auditor role, well, unless a partner in the case asks you to that is.
  • Understand the basics of each section of the case. If there are exhibits, make sure you understand what they are presenting. If there is a separate page with a conversation that seems unrelated, make sure you understand what it’s about, it fits in somewhere, I promise!

And what do you do with all this information? You have to make sure it gets on to your outline so that you can use it in your analysis. We’ll cover that starting later this week.

How’s your case reading going?

Books to Prepare for the UFE

There’s so much UFE material out there now a days, where do you start?

So what’s out there?

Densmore has two very good books that I recommend for everybody.

UFE Success is about the soft skills, creating a plan and everything you need to get prepared for the UFE. At $60 I think it’s worth the investment if you won’t be attending the course (it comes included as part of the course). I read this book personally three years ago and I recommend it.

Competency Map Study Notes is another publication by Densmore that I highly recommend. This is your accounting, audit, tax, MDM and Finance technical knowledge at the UFE level. I used this extensively when I wrote the UFE and I think it’s a must-have for writers. Why do I recommend this so highly? It’s technical at the UFE level. You could learn a lot more, but why bother when the examinability potential is low? Study smart. At $105 it’s worth the price.

Densmore also offers a number of marking guides and simulations packages that I’d recommend. Unfortunately, Mr. Densmore doesn’t pay me to advertise his products so this is strictly my own recommendation 🙂


PASS offers two publications

Financial Accounting on the UFE – An Integrated Aproach for the 2013 UFE is one of the publications offered by PASS. I haven’t read this stuff myself so can’t comment personally but at a quarter under $85 you might check it out.

Financial Accounting Technical Review is the second publication which covers a technical review for Performance Measurement & Reporting (accounting). I’m sure it’s as useful as the Densmore publication, but at $96, I have to recommend Densmore’s publication because you get full coverage of each competency.

Like Densmore, PASS offers evaluation guides for SOA and UFE.


Jason Fleming’s Books

Jason Fleming has two books which cover specific UFE topics.


A newer book, I don’t think it was around when I wrote the UFE, this book is specific to tax. At 300 pages it seems pretty heavy though. If anyone’s read it already please feel free to leave us a book review in the comments! 🙂 At $50 it’s not going to set you back too badly, either.

UFE Case Writing, A Guide to Essential Case Writing Skills for the Uniform Evaluation

I haven’t read this myself but friends tell me this is a great book. If you won’t be taking a course, this might be a good spot to invest $43.


If anyone out there has read any (or all!) of these, would love to get your comments!

Good time to review your UFE plan

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, it’s been busy on my end and looking now I see it’s been a long time – too long. So let’s get back on track as everyone starts getting their head into the UFE.

This seems as good a time as any to review where you are in terms of getting ready for the UFE. Previously, I’ve discussed a UFE schedule and we got some great comments from past students on what worked for them in their respective provinces. I do recommend you check the previous articles out, and as you’ll see, April is a great time to start reviewing to how-tos of writing a case. In Ontario, you’ll be introduced to the case writing approach if you take one of the big UFE prep courses.

Speaking of which, this is a good time to go through what’s available out there.

  1. Densmore Consulting Services offers the Densmore Prep Program. I took this program for SOA and UFE prep and it offers an excellent introduction to case writing as well as the emotional aspect of writing these exams. ($1,680 and up). Densmore has also added online versions of the course which start at $1,000 and up for those that can’t make it to the big cities.

  2. Professional Accounting Supplementary School (PASS). I took this course for CKE but not for SOA or UFE so I can tell you that Mr. Walfish has strong technical and offers a good course. ($1,675 for the comprehensive UFE course). Like Densmore, PASS has begun to offer and online version of their course which is available for $595.

  3. In Ontario, the ICAO offers the UFE Finalist Preparation Program from Mr. Norgrove. I have no personal knowledge of how these courses are. More information about this course will be offered in the summer.

For those looking for further alternatives, a number of newer courses and programs have sprung up in the past few years which look promising.

  1. ExaMENTOR has been around for a number of years now offers a number of UFE related services including workshops on topics such as debriefing and critical-reading, marking services and coaching services. They’re also in some more locations than you might find the other programs. For those looking for a more individual experience, exaMENTOR may be worth trying. Prices start at $600 (including HST in this case).

  2. CPA Formula is a new online training program which offers a mix of video lessons, some case marking and virtual/in-person tutoring. CPA Formula will cost you about $997.

(Full disclosure: exaMENTOR advertises with UFE Blog) 

So what’s best for you?

Wish I could tell you! You’ll have to go through what each program offers and decide which one will work best for your situation. I do recommend you have some support though, even if it’s just strictly marking support from a professional marker. I’ve known people who have passed the UFE first try with just a little marking support but for more I still recommend a course, especially if you haven’t done a lot of case writing in the past.

Happy deciding 🙂

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