Monthly Archives: February 2016

Should I study alone for the CFE?

Should you study alone for the CFE or as part of a group? It’s around that time when you should be thinking about your study plan for the upcoming CFE.

There are a few schools of thought on the issue of study partners or study groups. The majority of people feel that they are musts and it’s non-negotiable. The remaining minority aren’t sure or prefer to work alone including several who achieved honour roll.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve seen people fail due to having the wrong study group and I’ve also seen people do well without a study group. So the bottom line is that both situations are possible. This doesn’t mean that you can’t tip the odds in your favour.

 

Pros of a study group

  • You get independent appraisal of your cases. This is the single most important reason I would recommend a study group.On your own, you cannot be completely unbiased since you know what you meant when you wrote something. Although you may know what you meant, that’s not what may come across on your case. By working with a group you will get feedback about what you actually wrote in your case from someone that doesn’t know what you meant to say. This is very valuable feedback.
  • You are accountable to somebody else. It’s easier to say ‘Screw it, I’m not doing this today’ to yourself, but it’s harder when there is another person counting on you.
  • You have someone there who is going through the same thing. This can help you stay on track, not get discouraged and maintain perspective.
  • You have someone available to discuss tricky topics or get a different perspective on an issue.
  • You get to see what a realistic response looks like by marking your study partners/groups papers. Those sample responses you may have seen (or from the old UFE reports) are nowhere near what an average candidate might write and you might put undue stress on yourself if you think they are.

 

Cons of a study group

  • Your study group or partner may not be the right fit. I’ve seen it happen where a group is dysfunctional and it detracts from performance. This is more of a reason to choose wisely rather than not have a study group/partner at all.
  • When skill levels are different it can be discouraging for the person at the lower skill level and it can hinder improvement for the superior writer. Again, this is more of a reason to choose wisely rather than study alone.
  • Study partners/groups may become too much of a social gathering and waste your time.
  • You could end up with a study partner who is too emotional or stressed out and it could unnecessarily stress you out. I’ve heard of study groups which ended in tears many days for both parties, not even joking.

 

How big should your study group be?

This is another debateable issue. Most people I talk to believe that the smaller the group the better, with the ideal being just one study partner. I personally worked very well in a group of four where everyone would swap partners each simulation. I got three different perspectives from a variety of skill and progress levels. Everyone was decent at following the schedule, and if someone wanted a day off, you still had two other study partners left to discuss with. This might not work for everyone but I was good friends with my study buddies and we worked well as a group.

That said, there are of course pros and cons of smaller and larger groups so you will have to decide what is best for you. The possibility of problems tends to rise with larger groups, especially if they are dominated by any particular person.

 

In conclusion

I am strongly recommending some form of study group or a study partner, even if it’s just part time.

Remember, if you choose to have a study partner/group, it is only one part of a balanced study approach where you still need to put in the hard word writing and debriefing simulations. There is no avoiding that, no matter how good your study group is.

 

Need to find a study partner or group? Try out our Study Partner Search feature.

L'interview avec Justine Whissell, récipiendaire du tableau d’honneur de l’EFC 2015

Justine Whissell est parmi le petit groupe des candidats de l’EFC qui étaient sur le tableau d`honneur (ce qui veut dire se classer parmi les meilleurs 52 des milliers des candidats de l’EFC qui ont écrit l’examen).

Une fois que les résultats de l’EFC étaient connus, j’ai contacté Justine et elle a accepté de répondre à quelques questions et d’offrir des conseils aux lecteurs du blog de l’EFC.

 

Le BAC:

Comment est-ce que le BAC t’a aidé pour passer l’EFC?

Le BAC m’a appris à travailler en équipe lors des nombreux travaux d’équipe et ceci a été utile pour la réalisation du projet d’équipe (jour 1 de l’EFC). J’ai aussi appris la technique de résolution de cas. Finalement, les cours de BAC nous enseignent les normes comptables et plusieurs autres concepts, en fiscalité par exemple, nécessaires pour passer l’EFC.

 

Etudier pour l’examen:

 Peux-tu décrire ton horaire d’études avant l’examen?  Aurais-tu changé quelque chose? 

J’ai toujours été matinale, donc mon horaire était du lundi au vendredi de 8h à 17h. Je n’ai jamais ouvert mes livres pendant les fins de semaine. J’ai arrêté d’étudier 4 jours avant l’EFU.

Quel type de soutien as-tu recu de ton entreprise? 

KPMG m’a offert un programme de coaching qui s’étale sur tout l’été. Nous avons eu des séances théoriques sur les méthodes de résolution de cas. Nous avons aussi fait des cas qui étaient ensuite corrigés par le cabinet. Nous avions aussi un study buddy qui nous motivait et répondait à nos questions tout au long de l’été.

Est-ce qu’il y a des matériaux (livres, vidéos, etc.) qui sont absolument nécessaires? 

Je conseille à chaque candidat de faire son propre cartable d’étude, soit des résumés, en utilisant plusieurs ressources (résumés du BAC, notes du DESS, notes fournies par le cabinet, résumés d’amis ayant passé l’EFU auparavant, résumés sur internet, etc.).

As-tu travaillé avec un partenaire ou un groupe pour étudier pour l’EFC?

Je suis plus performante lorsque j’étudie seule. Cependant, ma coloc et moi avions cédulé les mêmes cas à chaque semaine. Nous nous sommes donc aidées à plusieurs reprises pour comprendre les réponses des cas. L’important c’est de choisir la technique qui nous convient et celle qui nous rend le plus productif. Si vous aimez travailler en équipe, étudier en équipe sera la bonne méthode pour vous.

À quel point le repos et la santé mentale étaient-ils importants pour toi pendant ton étude? (i.e. étais-tu capable d’étudier sans cesse ou as-tu pris des pauses?) 

Comme je l’ai déjà mentionné, mes fins de semaine étaient sacrées lors de mon été d’étude. Je faisais des activités tous les soirs et les fins de semaine et ceci me motivait énormément à être productive pendant mes journées d’étude. Je ne pensais pas à mon étude de toute la fin de semaine et ceci me permettait de bien commencer mes semaines d’étude. La fin de semaine avant l’EFC, je suis allée au spa avec une amie. Il faut faire des activités qu’on aime pour se changer les idées.

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour les études de cas? 

Dès le départ, il faut établir une bonne structure de réponse pour chaque type de question. J’ai pris trop de temps à développer ceci. Un autre défi était de respecter les limites de temps de chaque cas. Il faut vraiment arrêter lorsque le temps est écoulé pour bien simuler les cas comme à l’EFC.

As-tu des forces ou faiblesses uniques?

Je suis très forte en comptabilité de gestion et l’EFC 2015 en comportait beaucoup, ce qui m’a grandement avantagée. De plus, j’ai un style d’écriture efficace, c’est-à-dire que j’écris seulement ce qui est nécessaire en point form. Ma principale faiblesse est la fiscalité et c’est pourquoi j’ai beaucoup étudié cette matière durant l’été.

Selon toi, qu’est-ce que les gens font incorrectement en se préparant pour l’EFC?

Je pense que les gens n’étudient pas assez de théorie. Ils se pratiquent beaucoup à faire des cas, mais ne se concentrent pas sur les matières dans lesquelles ils excellent moins. Il faut faire un bon mix de pratique de cas et d’étude théorique, par exemple un jour par semaine d’étude théorique.

 

Le jour d’examen:

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour toi  pour l’examen? (un jour, un sujet ou une situation spécifique)

Le plus grand défi était de respecter le temps alloué pour chaque question. De plus, j’avais un peu peur de la fiscalité. Heureusement, il n’y en avait pas beaucoup et j’avais étudié suffisamment pour répondre.

Comment  t’es-tu sentie en sortant de l’examen? Savais-tu que tu avais réussi?

Lorsque les résultats sont sortis, les gens me demandaient sans cesse si je savais que j’avais «boardé» en finissant l’examen. En fait, c’est ce qui est particulier de l’EFC. On ne sait jamais si on a bien performé. J’étais confiante de passe l’examen, mais je n’aurais pas pu dire que je serais sur le tableau d’honneur.

 

Conclusion:

Quels conseils donnerais-tu aux futurs candidats?

  • Faites-vous de bons résumés et étudiez-les souvent
  • Révisez votre théorie
  • Prenez du temps pour vous
  • Étudiez maximum 35h semaine

Ne paniquez pas si certains cas vont vraiment mal, j’ai souvent eu des mauvaises notes dans des cas.

Est-ce qu’il y a d’autres conseils que tu aimerais partager avec les futurs candidats?

Si vous êtes bien préparés et que vous gérez bien votre stress lors de l’examen, ne paniquez pas et soyez confient, vous avez tout pour réussir l’EFC.

Quels sont tes futurs projets de carrière, as-tu des aspirations que tu voudrais partager?

Je travaille présentement chez KPMG. J’aime vraiment mon travail, mais je ne sais pas encore si je ferai carrière dans un cabinet. Certaines journées je veux devenir associée, d’autres je veux diriger un département des finances d’une entreprise et d’autres je veux reprendre l’entreprise familiale. Seul l’avenir saura nous le dire.

J’aimerais remercier Justine d’avoir pris le temps de nous raconter son expérience avec l’EFC et de partager ses conseils.  Je pense que tous les candidats peuvent bénéficier de l’expérience de Justine.

Vous pouvez trouver avec Justine sur LinkedIn

 

This interview is also available in English.
Like this interview? Check out other great interviews here!

L’interview avec Justine Whissell, récipiendaire du tableau d’honneur de l’EFC 2015

Justine Whissell est parmi le petit groupe des candidats de l’EFC qui étaient sur le tableau d`honneur (ce qui veut dire se classer parmi les meilleurs 52 des milliers des candidats de l’EFC qui ont écrit l’examen).

Une fois que les résultats de l’EFC étaient connus, j’ai contacté Justine et elle a accepté de répondre à quelques questions et d’offrir des conseils aux lecteurs du blog de l’EFC.

 

Le BAC:

Comment est-ce que le BAC t’a aidé pour passer l’EFC?

Le BAC m’a appris à travailler en équipe lors des nombreux travaux d’équipe et ceci a été utile pour la réalisation du projet d’équipe (jour 1 de l’EFC). J’ai aussi appris la technique de résolution de cas. Finalement, les cours de BAC nous enseignent les normes comptables et plusieurs autres concepts, en fiscalité par exemple, nécessaires pour passer l’EFC.

 

Etudier pour l’examen:

 Peux-tu décrire ton horaire d’études avant l’examen?  Aurais-tu changé quelque chose? 

J’ai toujours été matinale, donc mon horaire était du lundi au vendredi de 8h à 17h. Je n’ai jamais ouvert mes livres pendant les fins de semaine. J’ai arrêté d’étudier 4 jours avant l’EFU.

Quel type de soutien as-tu recu de ton entreprise? 

KPMG m’a offert un programme de coaching qui s’étale sur tout l’été. Nous avons eu des séances théoriques sur les méthodes de résolution de cas. Nous avons aussi fait des cas qui étaient ensuite corrigés par le cabinet. Nous avions aussi un study buddy qui nous motivait et répondait à nos questions tout au long de l’été.

Est-ce qu’il y a des matériaux (livres, vidéos, etc.) qui sont absolument nécessaires? 

Je conseille à chaque candidat de faire son propre cartable d’étude, soit des résumés, en utilisant plusieurs ressources (résumés du BAC, notes du DESS, notes fournies par le cabinet, résumés d’amis ayant passé l’EFU auparavant, résumés sur internet, etc.).

As-tu travaillé avec un partenaire ou un groupe pour étudier pour l’EFC?

Je suis plus performante lorsque j’étudie seule. Cependant, ma coloc et moi avions cédulé les mêmes cas à chaque semaine. Nous nous sommes donc aidées à plusieurs reprises pour comprendre les réponses des cas. L’important c’est de choisir la technique qui nous convient et celle qui nous rend le plus productif. Si vous aimez travailler en équipe, étudier en équipe sera la bonne méthode pour vous.

À quel point le repos et la santé mentale étaient-ils importants pour toi pendant ton étude? (i.e. étais-tu capable d’étudier sans cesse ou as-tu pris des pauses?) 

Comme je l’ai déjà mentionné, mes fins de semaine étaient sacrées lors de mon été d’étude. Je faisais des activités tous les soirs et les fins de semaine et ceci me motivait énormément à être productive pendant mes journées d’étude. Je ne pensais pas à mon étude de toute la fin de semaine et ceci me permettait de bien commencer mes semaines d’étude. La fin de semaine avant l’EFC, je suis allée au spa avec une amie. Il faut faire des activités qu’on aime pour se changer les idées.

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour les études de cas? 

Dès le départ, il faut établir une bonne structure de réponse pour chaque type de question. J’ai pris trop de temps à développer ceci. Un autre défi était de respecter les limites de temps de chaque cas. Il faut vraiment arrêter lorsque le temps est écoulé pour bien simuler les cas comme à l’EFC.

As-tu des forces ou faiblesses uniques?

Je suis très forte en comptabilité de gestion et l’EFC 2015 en comportait beaucoup, ce qui m’a grandement avantagée. De plus, j’ai un style d’écriture efficace, c’est-à-dire que j’écris seulement ce qui est nécessaire en point form. Ma principale faiblesse est la fiscalité et c’est pourquoi j’ai beaucoup étudié cette matière durant l’été.

Selon toi, qu’est-ce que les gens font incorrectement en se préparant pour l’EFC?

Je pense que les gens n’étudient pas assez de théorie. Ils se pratiquent beaucoup à faire des cas, mais ne se concentrent pas sur les matières dans lesquelles ils excellent moins. Il faut faire un bon mix de pratique de cas et d’étude théorique, par exemple un jour par semaine d’étude théorique.

 

Le jour d’examen:

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour toi  pour l’examen? (un jour, un sujet ou une situation spécifique)

Le plus grand défi était de respecter le temps alloué pour chaque question. De plus, j’avais un peu peur de la fiscalité. Heureusement, il n’y en avait pas beaucoup et j’avais étudié suffisamment pour répondre.

Comment  t’es-tu sentie en sortant de l’examen? Savais-tu que tu avais réussi?

Lorsque les résultats sont sortis, les gens me demandaient sans cesse si je savais que j’avais «boardé» en finissant l’examen. En fait, c’est ce qui est particulier de l’EFC. On ne sait jamais si on a bien performé. J’étais confiante de passe l’examen, mais je n’aurais pas pu dire que je serais sur le tableau d’honneur.

 

Conclusion:

Quels conseils donnerais-tu aux futurs candidats?

  • Faites-vous de bons résumés et étudiez-les souvent
  • Révisez votre théorie
  • Prenez du temps pour vous
  • Étudiez maximum 35h semaine

Ne paniquez pas si certains cas vont vraiment mal, j’ai souvent eu des mauvaises notes dans des cas.

Est-ce qu’il y a d’autres conseils que tu aimerais partager avec les futurs candidats?

Si vous êtes bien préparés et que vous gérez bien votre stress lors de l’examen, ne paniquez pas et soyez confient, vous avez tout pour réussir l’EFC.

Quels sont tes futurs projets de carrière, as-tu des aspirations que tu voudrais partager?

Je travaille présentement chez KPMG. J’aime vraiment mon travail, mais je ne sais pas encore si je ferai carrière dans un cabinet. Certaines journées je veux devenir associée, d’autres je veux diriger un département des finances d’une entreprise et d’autres je veux reprendre l’entreprise familiale. Seul l’avenir saura nous le dire.

J’aimerais remercier Justine d’avoir pris le temps de nous raconter son expérience avec l’EFC et de partager ses conseils.  Je pense que tous les candidats peuvent bénéficier de l’expérience de Justine.

Vous pouvez trouver avec Justine sur LinkedIn

 

This interview is also available in English.
Like this interview? Check out other great interviews here!

2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Honour Roll Recipient Justine Whissell Interview

Justine Whissell 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. Justine is presently working for KPMG in Montreal.

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

Interview with Justine Whissell, 2015 CFE Honour Roll Recipient:

 

Undergrad

How did you find your undergrad program trained you towards writing the CFE?

My undergrad program taught me to work in teams and this was useful for the group project (Day 1 of the CFE). I also learned how to write cases. Finally, the undergrad courses taught us accounting standards and numerous other concepts, including tax laws for example, which were necessary for passing the CFE.

 

Exam Studying:

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

I was always a morning person, so my schedule was Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.  I never opened my books during the weekend.  I also stopped studying 4 days before the CFE.

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

KPMG offered a coaching program which took place during the entire summer. We had technical sessions and also worked on cases which were then corrected by the staff at KPMG. We also had a study buddy who motivated us and answered our questions during the entire summer.

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

I suggest each candidate to make his or her own study binder including summaries based on various resources (undergrad notes, notes provided by their accounting firm, summaries from friends who passed UFE/CFE, summaries from the internet. Etc.)

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

I perform better when I study on my own. However, my roommate and I often scheduled the same case during the same week.  Therefore, we helped each other to understand the responses for the cases.  The important thing is to choose the technique that suits you and the one that makes you the most productive.  If you like to work in groups , then study groups will be a good method for you.

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

As I already mentioned, my weekends were sacred meaning off limits with no studying during my summer of studying.  I did activities every night and on the weekends and this motivated me to be productive during my study days.  I don’t think about my studies during the weekends and this allowed me to have a fresh start during my study week.  The weekend before CFE, I went to the spa with my friend.  It is important to do things that you like to clear your mind.

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

From the start, it is important to establish a good structured response for each type of question.  I took too much time to do this.  Another challenge was the time limit for each case.  It is important to stop when the time is up to mimic the real time constraints of the CFE.

Would you say you had any unique strengths or weaknesses?

I am very strong in management accounting and the CFE in 2015 had a lot of these questions, which was an advantage for me.  Moreover, I have an efficient writing style, meaning I only write what is necessary and in point form.  My weakness is tax laws and this is why I studied this material a lot during the summer.

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

I think people do not study enough theory.  They practice a lot for case studies, but do not focus enough on material where they are less strong.  It is important to do a good mix of case studies and theory, for example 1 day a week on theory.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

The biggest challenge is to respect the time allocated for each question.  Further, I was a bit afraid of tax but fortunately, there was not a lot and I studied enough to get by.

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

I didn’t know if I had done well.  I was confident that I passed, but I wouldn’t have been able to say that I was on the honour roll.

 

Final Advice:

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

  • Write up good summaries and study frequently
  • Review theory
  • Take time for yourself
  • Study max 35 hours per week

Don’t panic if certain cases aren’t going well, I always got mad marks when I panicked

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

If you are well prepared and you manage your stress well during your exam (i.e. do not panic and be confident), then you have what it takes to pass the CFE.

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

I’m working currently at KPMG.  I really like my work and I don’t know where the future will take me. Some days I want to be a partner, other days I want to direct a finance department and other days I want to help out with my family business, only the future will tell.

You can connect with Justine on LinkedIn.

 

L’interview avec Justine Whissell en français.
Like this interview? Check out other great interviews here!

Common CFE Terminology (or a CFE Dictionary)

With the Common Final Examination (CFE) still being new, the jargon will change so we’ll keep updating this with your suggestions. You’ll hear all kinds of terms thrown around this year. Here are the translations for those who aren’t familiar yet with the CFE terminology:

  • .. Case / Simulation / Exam– These are just all the same terms for a ‘CFE business case’. The UFE typically called these ‘simulations’ which is why you might hear the term still used but most of the official CFE material has gone back to using ‘case’. There are no differences between any of these terms.
  • Multis (multi-competency) are shorter cases which range from 45-90 minutes. They may test around 3-5 competencies at a time. During the CFE, these are written on Day 3. Multis are usually easier to write because they are shorter and easier to manage all the information. The time-crunch level of multis varies.
  • Comps– or Comprehensive cases are the large five hour cases. These are large cases with a lot of information and their own problems/strategies. On the CFE these are written on day one of the exam.
  • NA, NC, RC, C and CD – These are how you are marked on the CFE during days two and three. While each mark is attached a numeric value, your feedback will not include a final score and only a mark ranging from NA to CD. For more description, see here.
    • NA = Not Addressed
    • NC = Nominal Competence
    • RC = Reaching Competence
    • C = Competent
    • CD = Competent with Distinction
  • Assessment Opportunity (Indicator)– An assessment opportunity is a term for a competency being tested. You might hear it referred to as competency indicator as well which means the same thing. An assessment opportunity is a specific requirement within the case that you are required to respond to. So if you’re expected to do an audit planning memo, you would have an assurance indicator that required you to create an audit planning memo. If you’re expected to identify incorrect accounting treatments, you would have a financial accounting indicator that required this. You would then receive a mark of NA to CD for each indicator.
  • Depth– Depth means the amount of detail and meaningful, thorough discussion you have about a specific topic. A superficial discussion without a lot of detail is said to lack depth because you are not exploring enough sides of the issue or not being thorough enough in your discussion. In some contexts, you are also said not have enough depth if you level of discussion within an assessment opportunity is at the RC level (rather than C)
  • Breadth Breadth refers to getting across indicators or issues and talking less thoroughly. If you don’t have enough breadth, it means you are not talking about enough indicators or issues within a single indicator and focusing too much on a single indicator or issue.
  • SecureExam– The software in which the CFE is written. This is a secure, built in word processor, spreadsheet, and reference look up software. You’re advised to start using this as soon as it’s available as it is considered more cumbersome to use than Word and Excel.
  • RAMP-– This acronym stands for Risk, Approach, Materiality and Procedures:  a strategy to tackle audit planning memos.
  • Required – Refers to what you are expected to answer/discuss in the case. This will usually come in the form of somebody asking you to do something as part of the case. Each required is linked to an assessment opportunity.
  • Core (Technical) Competency – The abilities expected of CPA in practice which specifically include Financial Reporting (accounting), Strategy and Governance, Management Accounting, Audit and Assurance, Taxation and Finance.
  • Enabling Competency – The soft skills around being ethical, decision-making, problem-solving, communication, self-management and teamwork and leadership.
  • Integration – Integration is a reference to incorporating multiple elements, usually from multiple competencies, within your case response. It is a bigger-picture, higher-order view of the case with your response discussing how the different portions of the case inter-relate with a view of adding significantly more value in your response than in a competency-specific analysis only.
  • Technical – The term technical is in reference to skills and abilities you need within the core competencies such as financial accounting or management accounting. For example, you need to be able to understand and apply accounting rules from the CPA Handbook – this is a technical skill.
  • Level 1-4 – To pass the CFE you have two pass four separate levels. Learn more here.
  • UFE (Uniform Evaluation) – The quasi-predecessor to the CFE. The UFE was the 3-day case-based qualifying exam for the Chartered Accountant profession prior to 2016.
  • BOE (Board of Evaluators) – The BOE is responsible for setting the passing standards around the Common Final Examination (CFE) and then for ensuring that the standard is held to during examination creation and marking.
  • Short forms for Competencies:
    • FA – Financial accounting and reporting
    • MA – Management accounting
    • Tax – Anything in the taxation competency

 

Heard any other terms that confuse you? Let us know in the comments and we’ll keep updating the dictionary!

Interview with Caleb Hagemeister, 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Western Region Gold Medalist

Caleb Hagemeister is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Medallist standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). Caleb received the Western Region Gold Medal for highest standing in Western Canada. To achieve honour roll standing is to rank above the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam this sitting. Caleb is presently working for MNP LLP in Medicine Hat, Alberta and received his Bachelor of Management(Accounting) from the University of Lethbridge in 2012.

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

Interview with Caleb Hagemeister, 2015 CFE Western Canada Gold Medallist:

 

Undergrad:

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

I would say that my undergrad program provided me with the basic accounting knowledge necessary to get hired at my job and allow me to perform my duties there.  Also, the undergrad program provided me with the entry level of knowledge to begin the CPA PEP program through CPA Western School of Business (CPAWSB).  It is a necessary stepping stone in order to begin your accounting career.  In CPA PEP you are given scenarios that are relatively life-like, but are still quite “perfect world” scenarios, compared to what you actually see at work.  University was always that “perfect world” scenario where everything worked out nicely, but when you’re preparing for and writing the CFE, it never quite works out that way.  CPAWSB and the preparation for the CFE were definitely an eye opener for me, as they challenged me more than anything I had seen in my undergrad program.  Ultimately I would say that the undergrad program provided the beginning of the foundation or the “starter kit” building blocks for my accounting career.

 

Exam Studying:

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

I studied Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm from July 27 to September 11 in an office I have at my house.  I allotted myself two 15 minute breaks, one after I wrote my first case in the morning (usually around 10am) and one after I wrote my afternoon case (usually around 2pm).  I would also allow myself 30 minutes for lunch.  I would take weekends off completely during that time frame.  I did some review September 12 – September 15, but it was very, very minimal.  On days where I would write cases, the first case would be at 8am and I wrote until it was done, and then take my break and debrief until lunch.  If there was a case in the afternoon I would repeat these steps after lunch.  On days where I would write one of the 4 hour or 5 hour cases, I would ignore my 15 minute morning break and lunch until the cases were completed.

All cases were written under exam conditions and in Securexam.  On days where I just studied technical I followed the break schedules noted above.  I also kept very detailed notes on how I assessed myself on the indicators of each case and where I needed to improve.

The one thing that I would change is how I treated myself after we wrote the mock exam and I had a couple of bad cases.  I was very negative and hard on myself for about a week and it was truly counterproductive.  It is crucial to maintain a positive attitude and build yourself up, not knock yourself down.

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

My firm provided excellent support for the exam preparation.  We were allowed to take the duration of Capstone 2 off and they provided a certain number of study days during that period.  Additionally, I had two mentors from within the firm that helped mark my cases and provide feedback whenever I asked.  My mentors really helped give me the confidence I needed to keep slugging through the cases after some of the tougher ones.  Furthermore, the firm also put on a CFE prep course, which was 3 days long, if I remember correctly.  This course involved going over various techniques writers had used in the past, writing cases and debriefing with some of our designated professionals.  All in all they provided tremendous support in order to best prepare us for the test.

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

I took the CFE prep course that my firm put on and I went through Capstone 2 in CPAWSB, which was a prep course.  I didn’t take the Densmore course, but I did purchase the books.

The advice that I found most useful were probably the acronyms:

  • IGAR – Issue, GAAP, Analysis Recommendation;
  • ITAR – Issue, Tax Act Reference, Analysis, Recommendation;
  • WIR – Weakness, Implication, Recommendation;
  • RAMP – Risk, Approach, Materiality, Procedures; and
  • RASP – Risk, Assertion, Specific Risk Area and Procedure).

 

As simple as it sounds, these acronyms truly helped ensure that I hit depth on the indicators.  Also, repeatedly being told that I needed to take it a step further and say to myself “so what?”  This is a weakness… so what or because…  It is crucial not just to regurgitate case facts, but to apply them and take it that step further.  Making sure your procedures were specific enough was also very important, or basically describing your procedures as if you were talking to someone with no formal accounting training.  Listening to past writers who were successful is a great idea, as they can impart wisdom and provide insight on how to best prepare your response.

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

It’s not necessarily a material, but I would say having a mentor is a “must have material”.  Having someone to coach you and provide you with feedback is a great way to help yourself succeed.  As far as actual materials go, the CPA Densmore book was fairly helpful for some of the topics (Assurance, Tax, Finance, Strategy & Governance).  I personally preferred Densmore’s UFE book for Financial Reporting compared to the Densmore CFE book, as I preferred the organization better, but that may just be me being picky.

Having plenty of cases to write is also a “must have material”, so I would highly recommend that future writers have as many cases on hand as possible.  CPAWSB provided quite a few cases to help prepare, but the additional cases I wrote over the summer really helped with the case writing and making sure I was hitting depth where I needed to.

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

I did not have a partner or work in a group as a part of my studying for the CFE.  I spoke with several people that I went through CPA PEP with about the cases and got their thoughts and opinions on the cases we were writing, but I did not have a designated partner.  I generally prefer to study alone, and then bounce ideas off friends / colleagues after I have spent time writing the case or going over the material to discuss their thoughts.  I’ve heard of the partner / group system working for others, the writers just need to find what works best for them.

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

Rest and mental health are incredibly important while you are preparing for the exam, or at least in my opinion.  At 4pm each day or shortly thereafter I would power down the laptop and go and enjoy my evening.  I worked out 5 days a week to help keep stress levels down during the summer.  The first 4 to 5 weeks weren’t overly stressful, as you still had that sense of “there is still time left to turn it around”, but once it started to get into September reality began to set in.  I kept very firm to that schedule I outlined above.  Between September 12 to September 15, I put in a few hours here and there, but by the end you either know it or you don’t.  There is no sense trying to learn something new and scaring yourself resulting in a downward spiral.  Taking weekends off was also very important, as I was able to unwind on the weekends and prepare myself for another week of hard studying.  Keep in mind that I had the luxury of taking the summer off to study, because I’m with a public accounting firm.  The people in industry did not have that same luxury.  I feel for the people who had to work 8 – 10 hours a day and then go home and study.  Regardless, I still believe it is important to provide yourself with some rest or mental health breaks, whenever possible.  Studying for the CFE is a marathon, not a sprint.

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

There were many things that gave me trouble during the summer.  Probably not hitting sufficient depth most of the time was what gave me the most trouble during the summer with my case writing, or hitting sufficient depth on a couple of topics, but not enough to achieve ‘‘Competent’’.  Time management was never particularly an issue, but getting enough information out in such a short timespan could be tricky depending on how many accounting issues needed to be addressed to hit competent or what have you.  I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m a wordy writer, so cutting down and getting to the point was also something I had to work on over the course of the summer.

Would you say you had any unique strengths or weaknesses?

I was fortunate enough to work in a mid-size firm in a smaller city, so I saw plenty of assurance and taxation and other crucial components in my day to day tasks.  My assurance experience was also well rounded as I saw PSAB, ASPE, IFRS and NPO.  I dealt with personal and corporate tax on a daily basis as well, which also helped.  Seeing such a breadth of issues in my job helped with my studying and preparation for the exam. I don’t know if this necessarily is a ‘‘unique strength’’, but I definitely think it helped me in the long run.  As far as unique weaknesses go, I would say my own personal criticism of myself could be considered a weakness.  I’m critical of myself, so if I think I’m not performing where I need to be, I can become quite hard on myself. It came up a couple times over the course of the summer and my mentors had to provide me with some confidence that I was on the right track.  You need to make sure you don’t let you beat yourself before you even get into the exam.

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

I’m not exactly sure, because everyone is different, but I think that not taking the process or the exam serious enough is where many people go wrong in their CFE prep process.  Many of the successful writers from prior years would tell me to treat the studying like it’s a job.  Work hard, take it seriously and try your absolute best.  Your results ultimately reflect the level of effort you put in.  If you don’t practice how you plan to play you can’t expect to be successful.  Write the cases under exam conditions.  Write the practice cases in Securexam.  Stick to the time guidelines for the cases.  Properly debrief your cases and don’t just look at the solution.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

Day 1 was quite different than what we had seen in the practice cases that CPAWSB had designed for us.  I walked out of Day 1 thinking to myself, “What the heck did I just write about?”.  Adapting to the Day 1 scenario that they gave us was particularly difficult, but once I accepted that the indicators just were what they were, I wrote about them and hoped that what I had written was sufficient.  I found Day 2 to be the most challenging.  I can’t really go into any of the specifics of the case, but there was one indicator where I was legitimately stumped.  I was able to type up some stuff that I thought was right, based on prior courses / experience, but I was entirely unsure of what they were actually looking for.  They also threw a couple of curves at us with this case, but I suppose that is to be expected with the CFE/UFE.

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

After Day 1 I was confused and had no idea how I actually did on the case.  I felt like I was having writers block and I wasn’t able to get out everything that I wanted to, but that was probably for the best as I’m too wordy anyways.  After Day 2 I was convinced that I had failed, because I found the case to be incredibly difficult and just wasn’t sure if I hit sufficient depth on the indicators.  After Day 3, I felt like there was some hope that I could still pass.  Day 3 was the only day I walked out of and thought I actually did OK.  I was honestly just hoping to pass, because I thought I had failed after that Day 2 case.  It was the biggest surprise to find out that I had won the Regional Gold Medal for Western Canada.

 

Final Advice:

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

Write the cases under exam conditions (ear plugs – if you use them, calculator, pencils, scrap paper, paper copies of the cases, following the time frames to complete the cases, writing in Securexam, etc.).  Use acronyms to help you achieve depth in your cases (IGAR, ITAR, WIR, RAMP, RASP – explained earlier).  Organize your cases so that they are easy for the marker to read and understand.  Treat your studying and preparation seriously, put in your best effort and you will likely be rewarded for efforts.  This may be the most important … properly debrief the cases.  Don’t just look at the solution and think “Oh yeah, I totally would have got that”.  Go back and see where in the case that information was triggered, review their analysis and review your technical knowledge pertaining to that topic.  You should take just as long to debrief the case as it did to write it, maybe even a bit longer.

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

I think I pretty much covered everything above, but my last bit of advice would be to rest and relax throughout your studying to ensure that you are able to perform at your best while studying.  Pick up some activities, if there is spare time available, to help reduce stress.  Physical activity definitely helped me get through the exam preparation.

I want to thank Caleb 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 Caleb what was next for him in his career.

I’m working with the Tax team at my firm, but I miss working in Assurance, so I will have to decide at some point if I’m going to take In-Depth or if I’m going to go back to Assurance.  I don’t really know where my career is going to take me from here.  I want to end up doing something that I enjoy and can be passionate about it.

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

 

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What does it take to pass the CFE? Understanding Levels 1, 2, 3 and 4

The pass/fail system on the CFE is not just mark X passes and mark Y fails. On the CFE, you need to demonstrate enough depth and enough breadth in order to pass.

Day 1 of the CFE is a pass/fail mark only while Days 2-3 are marked using the level 1-4 system described below. To completely pass the CFE you must pass Day 1 and then pass Days 2-3 under the level 1-4 criteria below.

Let’s explore what the level 1-4 criteria are.

 

Level 1 – Your response is sufficient in scope (your overall score is high enough)

Level 1 takes your overall score and compares it to other scores and what was expected from the Board of Evaluators (BOE). This is how you might expect your average exam to be marked. At level 1 on the CFE, if you fall below the cut-off you will not pass and if you are above the cut-off then you do pass… level 1 that is. That’s great but you aren’t out of the woods yet. Your response will need to also pass at level 2.

Don’t forget, not all marks are worth something. Make sure you understand how to score on the CFE.

Bottom line: Your goal is to score high enough that your overall CFE score is above the cut-off to pass level 1.

Most people fail at level 1 (historically on the UFE – we will see if this trend continues on the CFE).

 

Level 2 – Demonstrate depth in Financial Accounting/Reporting and Management Accounting

This level applies to Financial Accounting (FA) and Management Accounting (MA) ONLY.

This level requires that you demonstrate depth on enough FA or MA assessment opportunities. Assessment opportunities to tackle FA and MA are provided on Day 2 and 3.

What does depth mean?

It means the number of Competent (C-level) responses you give on FA and MA indicators. Therefore, if you score only RC on all FA and MA indicators you will not pass at level 2.

Bottom line: Score enough Cs in either FA or MA.

Alright, so you’re having a good day, you’ve survived the level 1 cut-off and you’ve got enough Cs in FA or MA. Can you walk away with that coveted CFE success letter? No, you’ve got two more hoops to jump through.

 

Level 3 – Demonstrate depth in your elective ROLE competency

All CPAs are expected to demonstrate sufficient competency in their elective ROLE competency.

This level requires that you demonstrate depth in your elective competency (Assurance, Finance, Taxation or Performance Management). Opportunities to do this are provided on Day 2.

What does depth mean?

It means the number of Competent (C-level) responses you give on elective role response indicators.

Bottom line: Score enough Cs in your elective competency.

If you’ve survived the level 1, 2 and 3 cut-offs there is still one final level you must pass to successfully complete Days 2 and 3 of the CFE.

 

Level 4 – Demonstrate breadth

This level applies to all six competency areas and essentially means that you cannot skip any single competency.

You must score sufficiently on each and all six of the above indicators in order to be successful at level 4. What does sufficiently mean? It means you have to score RC or higher enough times on each of the six competency areas. Opportunities to do this are provided in Day 2 (sometimes) and 3 (always).

Again, we don’t know how many RCs that means but I suspect it’s at least one each.

Bottom line: Don’t skip any competencies. You must score at least enough RCs in the remaining competencies.

 

In conclusion

The key takeaways:

Level 1 – Score well enough overall

Level 2 – Get enough Cs in either Financial Accounting or Management Accounting

Level 3 – Get enough Cs in your elective role

Level 4 – Don’t skip any single competency and get enough RCs in all six competencies

 

You can learn more about this from CPA Canada here.

Anything still confusing you about how the CFE is marked? Ask your questions in the comments below!

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