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.

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Commenting Guidelines

I love open conversations. Casual is fine, professional is fine, but this is a community so anything abusive, demeaning or annoying will be removed at my discretion. Below is a guide to help keep you on the straight and narrow.

  1. 1. Use a name or alias. I understand wanting to keep your name personal, so make something clever up and stick to it. We can't tell each other apart if everybody is "Anon".
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