Monthly Archives: January 2016

Interview with Richard Huynh, 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Honour Roll Standing

Richard Huynh is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Honour Roll standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). To achieve honour roll standing is to rank in the top 52 of the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam. Richard is presently working for RLB LLP in Guelph and finished his Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management from the University of Waterloo in 2015.

After the CFE results came out I got in touch with Richard and he kindly agreed to answer some questions and offer advice to CFE Blog readers.

Interview with Richard Huynh, 2015 CFE Honour Roll Standing:

 

Undergrad:

How well did your undergrad program train you towards writing the CFE?

From a technical standpoint, I thought the accounting and financial management program at the University of Waterloo did a great job. I’ve only gone to UW so I can’t compare programs or anything, but I thought the curriculum was very rigorous and required a lot of hard work. It focused on accounting from the very beginning, whereas I believe other business programs specialize at a later time. Having co-op was also very useful as it allowed me to apply my in-class learning to the work place and vice-versa. This made learning some topics, like tax, much easier after seeing it at work. As for case writing, we saw a little bit of that starting in third year. However, most of the case writing comes in the diploma and Master’s programs that follow the undergrad program.

 

Exam Studying:

What was your study schedule like leading up to the exam? Would you change anything?

For the most part, we studied 9 am to 5 pm Mondays to Fridays starting in August (six weeks). Each week had three to four days focused on just multis (Day 3 cases) and one to two days focused on Day 1 or 2 cases. After each case, we would mark one of each other’s responses and then debrief individually afterwards (Day 1 cases were marked individually). If anyone didn’t finish debriefing, it was up to that individual to finish on their own time.

For the days with multis, we felt that we would remember more of a particular case for marking/debriefing purposes if we marked/debriefed it immediately after writing it vs writing two cases in the morning and then marking/debriefing both of them in the afternoon, but it really depends on preference. We did throw in one day where we wrote three straight multis (about two weeks before the CFE) just to get a feel for the time management required for Day 3. However, Densmore told the two of us that went that if we can manage our time for a single case, it’s not that much different doing it for three cases since you’re still just dropping everything and moving on after a certain time.

During the week of the CFE, I wrote maybe one multi. The rest of the time we spent reviewing our debriefing notes since we wanted to be mentally rested before the exam.

I don’t think I would change this approach at all. It was important that we worked hard, but not so hard that we’d burn out/peak before the exam. I know some of my friends did three multis a day and they generally stayed until 7 pm on those days. We’re already spending up to forty hours a week studying, so I think it’s important that once it turns 5 pm, that you just do anything to get the whole thing off your mind. I think it’s also important that you start taking it easier the week of the exam just so that you can give your brain a rest before the exam.

What kind of support did you get from your firm/office?

I was fortunate to work at a medium-sized firm. I had two mentors who were available to answer any questions that I had or mark cases if I needed. My firm also paid for the Densmore sessions as well as the extra Densmore cases. Study materials were covered by them too so I also bought Densmore’s competency map study notes.

Did you take any prep courses? What advice did you find most helpful?

As mentioned earlier, my firm paid for the Densmore prep course. I felt that their advice on ranking and time management were the most helpful. It’s helpful to know your technical, but if you don’t leave yourself enough time to talk about all the issues, then you risk missing out on breadth and depth on other issues since you can easily spend over half the case talking about any single issue. I initially thought it was a waste of time, but it only takes a couple of minutes to look at all the identified issues and rank the order you want to approach them (very helpful if the treatment/implications of one issue has an impact on another) and also estimate the amount of time it should take to talk about each issue (something you will get better with as your write more cases). Doing this will help you use your time more efficiently as you don’t have to go back and forth working on multiple issues at the same time (this will probably make you panic too). While writing down an estimated time will not prevent you from going over, if you’re disciplined enough, it definitely helps making it easier to know when to move on.

Are there any must have materials (books, videos, marking, tutoring, etc.)?

I honestly thought the Densmore prep course was useful and I highly recommend taking a prep course. The extra cases from Densmore were also useful since this was the first CFE and sample cases were very limited. Day 3 cases are pretty similar to the old multis so that’s not an issue, but Day 1 and 2 cases were limited to what the institute released.

As for the study notes, your mileage may vary. Some of my friends didn’t find them to be that useful since they were so summarized. However, if you wanted a more detailed explanation, you could always refer to your notes or textbooks from your university courses. I personally thought the book was useful, but that’s because I procrastinate a lot and didn’t have time to refer to more detailed notes (I used the book during my master’s program when studying for some of the exams).

Did you work with a partner or group as part of your studying for the CFE?

Yes, I worked in a group of four. I’d advise having at least three since you may get too used to your partner’s writing over the span of six weeks. If your partner can guess what you’re trying to say, that’s not good since they’ll likely give you the benefit of the doubt. However, the actual markers don’t know what you’re thinking/assuming so you may not get the benefit of the doubt on the actual CFE if your answer is unclear. The additional benefit of having more than two people is that you get different perspectives when receiving feedback and that each person should hopefully have different strengths that they can contribute when a question comes up. However, if you have too many people, each individual may not get the amount of attention/help they need and it can sometimes turn into a party.

Overall, I think three is probably the best number, but if you want more, I wouldn’t have more than four.

How important was rest and mental health for you as part of the studying process?

For me, it’s not that important. I don’t need much sleep to function and can actually write exams off of less than one hour of sleep (thank you mutated BHLHE41 gene). However, as emphasized at the Densmore prep sessions, it’s still important to be well rested for the three days. As already mentioned, it’s important to take it easy going into the final week (spend less time writing cases and more time on reviewing your notes). I personally don’t recommend going all out when studying if you don’t need to. You end up being less stressed as you spend less time worrying about the exam and there is a lower chance that you’ll burn out before the exam. Also, doing a couple of extra cases isn’t going to help you that much in my opinion. Sure you’ll see different case facts and potentially different situations, but how you answer each situation doesn’t change. Hopefully after six weeks of regular studying, you’ll have all the required tools to answer most of the situations that could come up.

What gave you’re the most trouble in your case writing?

Although I got better, time management was the hardest obstacle for me to overcome. When you know the answer, it’s hard to just cut your answer off and move onto something else. For example, some financial reporting issues have so many criteria that it can be very easy to spend too much time on that single issue. Another example is when you do quants and have all the numbers to work with. However, if you look at some of the marking guides, all it takes to get competent is maybe using half of the numbers (ex. correctly using 5/10 of the numbers in your quant). Consciously omitting something from your answer is hard and takes time to get used to, but it will definitely help on the actual exam.

What do you think many people do wrong as part of the CFE prep process?

I haven’t really talked to anyone that failed so I’m not entirely sure. However, I would guess that they focused on the wrong things as they were studying. It’s easy to try to master your technical skills, but doing so might result in you neglecting your case writing skills. The resources are there in Securexam, so as long as you can effectively use that, you don’t need to have everything memorized. As mentioned numerous times already, being able to manage your time will allow you to reduce the risk that you miss talking about any particular issue in sufficient depth.

It’s also critical that you properly plan before you start your response. This not only helps organize all the key facts mentioned in the case, but will save you time from having to constantly go back to the actual case and rereading it. Sometimes I can remember enough about a particular excerpt just from my planning notes and can address the issue without referring back to the case.

Learning how to use the handbook and knowing where to find specific criteria is critical as this can save a lot of time and can help add depth since you’d be applying case facts to handbook criteria.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

There were two things that I found very challenging. The first was the format and style of the Day 1 case. The CPAO only gave us two sample Day 1 cases to work with and they were nearly identical aside from the technical issues involved. The Day 1 case on the exam was completely different so I was quite shocked and this resulted in me panicking a bit, but I’m glad I was able to overcome this.

The other challenge related to an issue for the assurance role on the Day 2 case. I’m sure most people who did the assurance role know what issue I’m talking about, but it was something that was never covered in my curriculum (probably because of how unlikely it was that we actually needed to know it for anything) and was never encountered during any of my work terms. Fortunately, I had spent time learning where to find things in the handbook and was able to find the applicable sections on the topic rather quickly. Also, by allocating enough time to that particular issue and saving it for last, I didn’t really panic at all because I had time to read those sections for the first time ever and do some learning during the exam.

How did you feel walking out of the exam? Did you know you did so well?

No, not at all. I’m sure like most people I thought I failed after the exam. My largest concern was the Day 1 case. People in general thought that was the easiest day since it focused more on enabling competencies instead of technical competencies. However, I thought I made a “fatal flaw” (whatever that means) by not doing a single exhibit since quantitative analysis is an enabling competency. I basically only used Excel as a calculator since I didn’t like the calculator that the CPAO provided and so the only quantitative analysis I did were quick one-to-two line calculations within Word. Although it turned out okay for me, I don’t recommend doing this on Day 1.

I wasn’t too worried about Day 2. You don’t need to get competent on every indicator to get depth in your role so I was fine if I messed up an issue or two (particular that one random one mentioned earlier).

Day 3 was so-so for me. I feel that it’s harder to get breadth on all the competencies if you only have three cases to do so (compared to having two days of multis for the UFE). In my opinion, if you mess up on one case then you really have to hit reaching competence on the other cases or else you might not hit the breadth requirement.

With that being said, I was worried about tax and strategy. The tax issues were not the ones that I am more comfortable with and the Income Tax Act in Securexam is completely useless so there was a lot of educated guessing going on there. As for the strategy issues, I sometimes struggled with those throughout my prepping. Strategy indicators are not as obvious to me as the other issues and so I was afraid that I didn’t pick up on all of them. Also, Day 3 was heavy on management accounting (not guaranteed to be like this in the future) so a lot of quants were involved if I recall correctly. Although I’ve been preaching time management this entire time, I was over my time budget from the get go and ended up using more than the allotted time for the first and second multis, resulting in 15 less minutes than suggested for the last case. It actually could have been worse, but by at least being conscious about it, I was able to cut back on some of my other issues to help gain back some time that I lost for the last case.

 

Final Advice:

If you were tutoring future candidates, what would be your top tips for them?

After you do your planning, rank your issues and consider if any issues feed into other issues. It’s frustrating and can result in an inefficient use of time trying to address an issue when your answer requires something from another issue that you haven’t done yet.

After you rank, estimate how much time is required to address each issue and keep track of the time. If you’re about to go over budget, move onto the next issue. Don’t risk spending too much time on one issue as this could result in a subpar answer for another issue.

Learn how to use the handbook efficiently. Know where certain criteria can be found by making use of the table of contents or the search function. If you know keywords (ex. Searching up “feasibility” in HB3064 will get you to the six criteria for internally developed intangibles), use them.

Know your tax well. The Income Tax Act in Securexam is more than useless in my opinion (at least the search function). If you can use the ITA as effectively as the handbook, you deserve the gold medal.

Aim for competent, not competent with distinction. As you study for the exam, learn what is expected to achieve competent. For example, you do not need to be 100% accurate and use all the available numbers for a quant. Based on my experience, using 50-75% of the numbers correctly should be good enough for competent.

Any last advice you’d like to impart on future writers?

Try to have fun at the same time. Don’t just focus on studying the entire time. Once it is 5 pm, stop thinking about this and enjoy the rest of your day. At the end of the day, it’s just an exam and you can always rewrite it if you don’t pass.

I want to thank Richard for taking the time to give us such a detailed account of his CFE experience and actionable tips. I think every candidate can get some take aways here. I asked Richard what was next for him in his career.

I’m not too sure since my work experience has been limited to public accounting. For now, I’m just focused on getting the rest of my hours, but I’ll see where life takes me afterwards. My firm treats me pretty well so if anything, I’ll just stay in public accounting. I would love to work abroad at some point in my life though.

You can connect with Richard Huynh on LinkedIn. If you have any questions, Richard has also agreed to keep an eye on the comments and stop by to answer so, what would you like to ask Richard?

Like this interview? Check out other great interviews!

How does CFE scoring work?

Scoring on the CFE is on an “assessment opportunity” (indicator) basis. Each assessment opportunity is given a mark between NA and CD with only the RC, C and CD worth points.

How you score

For each assessment opportunity (indicator) you’ll score one of the NA – CD scores.

  • Not Addressed (NA) – You did not identify the issue in the case
  • Nominal Competence (NC) – You identified the issue but only covered it superficially. Not much (if any) value added. No evidence of competence demonstrated
  • Reaching Competence (RC) – You identified the issue and covered it, but it was not sufficiently covered to achieve a C
  • Competent (C) – You discussed the issue in a sufficient level to meet expectations.
  • Competent with Distinction (CD) – Your discussion was above what was required. An exceptional response.

You are marked on the number of RC and C scores you obtain, therefore, there is no advantage for the common candidate to strive for better than C. I believe this only becomes a factor if you’re going for a medal so unless you’re pretty certain your medalist calibre this is not something to strive for. You’ll be wasting time that you could be spending getting other Cs.

What are assessment opportunities?

Assessment opportunities try to break down the case into distinct requirements by competency. In each case, the Board of Evaluators asks “What would a competent CPA do?” after which they set the standard and evaluate each candidates performance on each assessment opportunioty. This was similarly defined for the old UFE in the UFE Reports, primary indicators are defined as: Primary indicators of competence [assessment opportunities] answer the question: “What would a competent CA do in these circumstances?” If the issues identified in primary indicators are not adequately addressed, the CA could, in real life, be placed in professional jeopardy or could place the client in jeopardy.”

In conclusion

You have assessment opportunities that test individual competencies. On each assessment opportunity, you score somewhere between NA – CD depending on how you respond. Your overall response is compared against what a competent CPA would do and given a pass/fail depending on how you score. Next step: You should understand how the CFE is marked.

Interview with Erin Compeau, the 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Canadian Gold Medallist

Erin Compeau has the notable place in Common Final Examination (CFE) history, being the very first Canadian Gold Medallist which is awarded for the highest standing amongst the thousands of writers in Canada on the CFE. Erin is presently working for Deloitte Canada in Toronto and finished her BBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2014.

After the CFE results came out I got in touch with Erin and she kindly agreed to answer some questions and offer advice to CFE Blog readers.

 

Interview with Erin Compeau, 2015 CFE Gold Medallist

Undergrad:

How well did your undergrad program train you towards writing the CFE? 

I was fortunate enough to have several excellent professors at Schulich, particularly in areas such as tax and consolidation where students tend to struggle. This provided me the luxury of having a stronger foundational knowledge going into the CFE study process, which is so important considering the exam tests content from more than fifteen university courses.

Exam Studying:

What was your study schedule like leading up to the exam? Would you change anything?

I started my full time study leave on July 27th, and I took a week off of work before that to have a vacation and to do some light review before starting to study in earnest. At the time, I was concerned that this wouldn’t be enough time, but in retrospect I think that it was perfect – in the week leading up to the September 16th-18th exam, I felt ready for the exam process to be over.

What kind of support did you get from your firm/office?

Deloitte has a fantastic study program headed by a past UFE Gold Medalist and the firm provided a lot of invaluable support, including weekly in-class sessions during our study leave, and other resources such as study flashcards, case debrief material and practice exam marking.

Are there any must have materials you recommend?

I primarily used my study notes from school to prepare for the exam, but I also found the CFE/UFE Tax Guide by Jason Fleming helpful for some last minute review.

Did you work with a partner or group as part of your studying for the CFE?

I studied in a group of three and would recommend it. I was initially hesitant to join a study group because I thought that I would be disciplined enough to study on my own, but there were actually a number of benefits to group study that I hadn’t anticipated, such as a platform to share concerns and receive feedback.

How important was rest and mental health for you as part of the studying process?

I am definitely a fan of mental health breaks. I would always take about two days off each week. You don’t want to go into a three day exam being exhausted.

What gave you’re the most trouble in your case writing?

I’ve always found it difficult to identify the most significant accounting issues in cases, and as a result, issue identification became a focus of my case debriefing early on in the studying process.

What do you think many people do wrong as part of the CFE prep process?

I think that the biggest issue that people run into is getting discouraged by their results on practice cases, and not debriefing properly because of this. Understanding the root of why you made a mistake in a case is much more important than the mark that you score yourself on it. Even if I assessed myself at a CD level in an assessment opportunity, I would still debrief the question and try to find at least one takeaway of how I could improve.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

I find strategy and governance assessment opportunities the most difficult because they tend to be very different case-to-case and have less consistency in the desired structure of the response.

How did you feel walking out of the exam? Did you know you did so well?

Not at all! The unique thing about the CFE is that the exam is marked in sections, which makes it very difficult to evaluate how you performed. I felt very good about tax, but I was concerned about how I had approached the strategy assessment opportunities, which I dwelled on a lot while waiting for the results.

 

Final Advice:

If you were tutoring future candidates, what would be your top tips for them?

One of the most important parts of case writing is to have confidence in your approach, since there is very little time on the day of the exam to second guess yourself. Don’t let a poor result on a practice exam startle you and stop you from trying to improve. Even if you don’t consistently score C’s in the weeks leading up to the exam, if you build a good response structure, you will be setting yourself up for success.

Any last advice you’d like to impart on future writers?

As odd as it may sound, enjoy the process! It can be difficult when you are studying to appreciate what an incredible milestone this is in your academic life and career.

Thank you Erin for taking the time to share your experience and advice. The take away from the interview that I got was that Erin’s is a perfectly ordinary experience for a CFE writer. A good undergrad experience, support from her employer, a study group, taking breaks to avoid burnout and most of all, strong debriefing skills.

Like this interview? Check out other great interviews!

How each day of the CFE works

The Common Final Examination (CFE) is a nationally administered examination by CPA Canada and the provincial institutes. Candidates challenging the CFE are required to successfully complete the examination in order to complete their education component of becoming a Chartered Professional Account (CPA) in Canada. The CFE is a three day examination. Here’s what to expect.

 

Day 1 – Evaluating your soft / professional skills (4 hours)

The first day of the CFE is a Pass/Fail mark treated separately and distinctly from Day 2 or 3. You can pass or fail Day 1 regardless of how you do on Day 2 and Day 3. Similarly, if you fail Day 1, you need to re-do, and successfully complete Day 1 regardless of how you did in Day 2 or 3. Day 1 is linked to the Capstone 1 module with the case being directly tied to your Capstone 1 case. Likely a situation where you are a few years later and things have changed. You are provided with the original Capstone 1 case (not your solution) and the updated information on your CFE case. Day 1 tests your soft/professional skills, also described as “board room and senior management” level of discussion.  You are not expected to discuss accounting or other technical competencies in any great detail but focus on the ‘enabling competencies’. Tips:

  • Know your Capstone 1 case inside and out ahead of time
  • Broad thinking and integration of case facts into a holistic discussion
  • Decision making
  • Professional judgment
  • Assess the situation and what needs to be done
  • Analyze the major issues
  • Conclude and provide useful advice
  • Ensure your communication is clear

 

Day 2 – Comprehensive Case evaluating depth in your role and breadth in remainder (5 hours)

The second day of the CFE is comprised of a single case with a number of indicators which are related to technical competencies. Each indicator is linked to one of the technical competencies and is marked on a scale of NA (Not Addressed), NC (Not competent), RC (Reaching Competent), C (Competent) and CD (Competent with distinction). Day 2 is independent from any previous Capstone and the case will be original and new to you. You will have selected the elective role you want to play in the case (Finance, Tax, Assurance of Performance Management). You will receive the same case and four separate appendices each related to the role mentioned above. The requireds in this case should be very directed so you should understand what is being asked of you. Day 2 tests your technical skills with depth required from your elective role selection and the remainder of the technical competencies tested at a core level. Tips:

  • Ensure you answer in depth (C level) for your elective competency
  • Focus on technical competencies and ensure you cover enough of your non-elective competencies at the RC level
  • Wrap up with an executive summary
  • Avoid skipping any competencies

 

Day 3 – Small cases (usually three) testing core and enabling competencies only evaluating depth and breadth (4 hours)

The third day of the CFE is three to four (usually three) multi-competency cases testing the common core competencies and could also test the enabling competencies. Cases will range from 45 minutes – 90 minutes for a combined 4 hours. Same as in Day 2, each case has multiple indicators which are individually marked on the NA-CD scale. Everybody gets the same cases in Day 2. You will be required to answer certain competencies in depth and others in a more breadth fashion. You will have to show a higher level of judgment and integration than in your previous Core modules and likely have to do ranking of issues to make it in the allotted time. Day 3 tests your technical skills (and likely ranking) and will require you to answer in enough depth for Financial Reporting and Management Accounting (meaning to a C-level enough times) and breadth in all other areas (sufficient RCs) Tips:

  • Lots of practice with cases in advance
  • Try to answer to a C level and not more
  • Time management and outlining will be important
  • Don’t skip competencies

Upcoming Common Final Examination Dates

The first Common Final Examination (CFE) was held Sep 16-18 in 2015 which is similar to how the old Uniform Evaluation (UFE) was held. In 2016, there is an added offering of the CFE in May, see below.

Capstones

The Capstone modules will precede each offering of the CFE and like the CFE, will be offered twice in 2016 and only be offered once in 2017 and onward. The current dates set are listed below per the national calendar.

2016 CFE Schedule

May Capstone Module Dates September Capstone Module Dates
Sat, Apr 2, 2016 to Fri, May 20, 2016 Sat, Jul 30, 2016 to Fri, Sep 16, 2016
Thu, May 26, 2016 Thu, Sep 22, 2016
Fri, May 27, 2016 Fri, Sep 23, 2016
May CFE Offering September CFE Offering
Wed, May 25, 2016 Wed, Sep 21, 2016
Thu, May 26, 2016 Thu, Sep 22, 2016
Fri, May 27, 2016 Fri, Sep 23, 2016
CFE Results CFE Results
August 5, 2016 December 9, 2016

 

You can see the 2016 schedule on the CPA Canada CPA Canada CFE Schedule.

 

2017 CFE Schedule

It is expected that the CFE will only be offered once per year going forward in September which aligns with how to former UFE was held.

2017 Capstone Module Dates
Sat, Jul 22, 2017 to Fri, Sep 8, 2017
September Offering
Wed, Sep 13, 2017
Thu, Sep 14, 2017
Fri, Sep 15, 2017
CFE Results
TBD

 

CPA Quebec has indicated the dates of the 2017 CFE Dates.

The new CFE Blog

Almost five years after starting this thing, I figured it should probably leave the perpetual “Beta” version we had and add some features that I hope will help future candidates.  Thanks to everybody that provided feedback on what they wanted to see.

Let’s start with what I’m about here.

Vision

Every CPA candidate has easy access to good information, resources and community support to successfully complete CPA Canada’s Common Final Examination (CFE)

Mission

CFE Blog is an independent source that provides educational information, resources and allows CPA candidates to plug into a like-minded community for advice and assistance.  Our mission is to help you successfully complete the Common Final Examination (CFE) no matter where you are from or where you work.

Site features

While a lot of the original features of the site remain, there’s been a makeover and some new features added. Here’s what you can expect immediately from CFE Blog.

  • Regular blog entries and improved categorization
  • Study partner/group searches
  • Access to community through comments and social media
  • Newsletter to throw the best content directly into your inbox
  • Information and access to mentors, markers and prep programs with reviews

… and more on the way.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy exploring the new site. As always, your suggestions are always welcome so get in touch and let me know!

– Tom

PS: Bare with me for another few weeks while I finalize or improve portions of the site.

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