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!

5 comments

  1. Thanks for the advice! It’s helpful to know how much study time you dedicated to this.

  2. Thank you for the advice. I am starting to worry now (February) about writing the CFE in the fall. Students who work for the large firms are so fortunate to have study programs to assist them. Being the only CPA student in my community also makes it challenging as I can’t get together with other students to create a study group.

    This interview was wonderful. Congratulations Erin!

    • Even though you can’t form a local study group, I hope you’ll consider creating a remote one. I know it won’t be quite the same thing but it’s really worth it to have somebody else looking at your cases to get the unbiased perspective. With Skype or phone you can even get in touch quickly during your study days. I’m sure there are candidates in your position all over Canada.

      All the best!

    • Hi Heather,

      If it’s any consolation, I was working in industry while going through the CPA program and only took 1.5 weeks off before the Sept. 2015 exam and passed. In addition to that, I self-studied and was the only person in my entire company to go through the new program. All I had for study assistance were the Densmore study notes and I purchased Densmore practice CFE cases with debriefs. Not saying this is the ideal study method for you, but just wanted to let you know that there are many of us out there who are in your position and passed. 🙂

      Good luck!

    • Hey! I was also the only one in my whole company to write, studied on my own, only took 2 weeks off before the cfe (was sick for half of that time), picked the assurance role even though I’ve never worked in audit… and miraculously passed! I totally understand how you feel, as 95% of my capstone 1 and 2 cohorts were people with big firm support and I was going through the thing completely alone, but just study hard and you’ll make it too!! 🙂

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