Failed 2016 CFE at CPA Canada

How I Bounced Back after Failing the 2016 CFE

Hey everyone,

If you are reading this blog and you ended up passing the 2017 CFE, congratulations! You have successfully reached a milestone in your professional career. Make sure that you cherish this special time in your life.

If you did not end up passing the CFE this year, I know what kind of thoughts are going through your head right now:

“This program isn’t fair. Someone must have made a mistake.”

“There’s no way I can recover from this. I gave it my all and got nothing in return.”

“I’m not mentally fit to pass the CFE & become a CPA.”

“So many people passed but I didn’t, which makes me feel embarrassed.”

If this is you, I highly recommend that you continue reading.

 

My Story

I started the CPA PEP program in late 2014. This was eighteen months after I graduated from a highly competitive university undergraduate program in Toronto. Unlike many of my peers, I did not get hired by a Big 4 CPA firm right after I graduated. Instead, I worked for a bookkeeping & tax preparation office for a little over a year, and I later transitioned over to working at a small CPA firm.

At the time I entered the program, CPA Canada was still offering the “challenge exam” option for CA legacy students. Given the significant cost savings that this option entailed, I challenged the Core 1, Core 2, Assurance & Tax PEP exams throughout 2015, and I was very fortunate to pass each of them on my first attempt. During the spring of 2016, I got paired with an awesome group of other candidates as part of Capstone 1, and I was able to get through the module without any major hiccups.

Now it was the summer of 2016: the CFE was two months away. I fixated my efforts on doing whatever it would take to get a competitive edge over the other candidates, such as:
• Hiring an experienced CPA marker to help me mark my cases and give me one-to-one feedback (something that was unprecedented across other CFE prep courses offered in Canada);
• Studying with another student who had failed the May 2016 CFE by a small margin but was willing to go hard-core until the CFE;
• Taking two full months of unpaid study leave from work (let’s not even talk about what my bank account looked like during the summer);
• Practicing over sixty cases from old UFEs, the Capstone 2 content, my marker’s cases, and even old SOA exams, all under time restraints;
• Reading binders and binders full of technical notes.

And then September came around. And I wrote the CFE. And then I waited two months for the results.

 

The September 2016 CFE Results

Day 1: FAIL

Days 2 & 3: FAILED on Levels 1 & 3

Just imagine that. After going to all ends of the earth to prepare for this exam, I failed all three days. I felt numb. As much as people were calling me to offer consolation, I really didn’t want to speak to anyone because I couldn’t explain what happened. I began telling myself,

“This program isn’t fair. Someone must have made a mistake.”

“There’s no way I can recover from this.”

And so on. For the weeks that passed, I tried to preoccupy myself with other thoughts, like Christmas, upcoming birthdays, etc. But deep down, I was in search for answers as to why I had failed the CFE, and I had begun to believe that I was just playing a game of chance.

Then I got a call from a close friend who I had not heard from in a while. And the recovery process started.

 

The Recovery Process

My friend had called me to see how I was doing. I told him how great things had been for me over the past month, and the first thing he said was,

“Yeah, so?”

My reaction to him was, “What do mean, ‘Yeah, so?’ The CFE is a big deal! If I don’t figure out where I went wrong, I’m screwed!” I went off telling him all the things I had done to get ready for that exam. Then he posed the following questions to me,

“Do you think you may have put too much on your plate? How many breaks did you take over that two-month period? Were you experiencing burnout before the exam?”

At that point, I had found my answer. During that two-month study period before the CFE, while I was so focused on planning & making sure I had all my bases covered, I totally missed out on a vital part of the process: maintaining myself. As much as the CFE tests you on technical & “enabling” competencies, it also tests you on stress management. I vividly remember the last week of CFE study being the week when I experienced the most amount of stress. Little did I know that overdoing it was just as bad, if not worse, than not doing enough.

So what was my game plan for 2017? The first thing I did was focus on me: I started going back to the gym, I began to write really good articles on LinkedIn, and once busy season was over at work, I enrolled to rewrite the CFE in September.

Before I knew it, I was only two months away from writing the CFE – all over again! Here’s what I did during that period:
• I found a new study buddy, who carried an open mindset & who was also willing to put in the time to help me with my weaknesses;
• I rehired my CPA marker, who provided me with new cases to try that were more reflective of the CFE along with useful online webinars covering technical & case writing strategies;
• I again took unpaid study leave for the entire two months (work stress is just as bad as study stress);
• I practiced only 30 CPA cases, one-half the amount that I did in the prior year, and I tracked my progress on Level 1 (hitting a sufficient number of requireds) & Level 3 (depth in assurance);
• I did not touch anything related to the exam after 7PM on (most) weeknights & weekends;
• The week before the CFE, I reduced my study load significantly. I also did not give in to other students who were doing the complete opposite.

And then September came around, again. And I rewrote the CFE. And then I waited two months for the results.

 

The September 2017 CFE Results

Days 1, 2 & 3: PASS

Ten seconds after CPA Canada released the results, I see a message on my phone that says, “It’s all over homie. Congrats.” You can guess who sent me that message.

 

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid of failure. I truly believe that failure has put me in a much better position than if I had passed on my first attempt in 2016. Failure gives you that opportunity to see what your weaknesses are and to figure out how you’re going to overcome them. As a future practitioner, I think it was so much more valuable for me to experience failure in my 20s than later on in my career, when the ability to bounce back becomes more difficult (but still possible).

Lastly, I want to address those statements I posted at the beginning of this blog:

“This program isn’t fair. Someone must have made a mistake.”
• What’s “fair” is very subjective. I would treat the CPA program as a source to obtain life lessons rather than simply start, write, and get out as fast as possible.
• Some of you may want to appeal your results. Unless if you got really close to passing (i.e. you only failed on Level 1 & received a Decile 1), there is a high likelihood that you will be blowing away money that you can instead put towards something more valuable. Remember that CPA Canada’s pass rates are highly controlled.

“There’s no way I can recover from this. I gave it my all and got nothing in return.”
• Yes you can. I recovered from it and you can too. As I alluded to in my personal story above, sometimes giving it your all is not the only means to success.

“I’m not mentally fit to pass the CFE & become a CPA.”
• There is no such thing as a “born CPA.” Yes, there may be some that are naturally able to read & write fast, or who have “photographic memories,” but don’t think that passing this exam is some sort of an elitist game. You can pick up the skills to pass through practice.

“So many people passed but I didn’t, which makes me feel embarrassed.”
• It’s really easy to compare yourself to others in this process. In my case, I felt that I was years behind the people I went to university with. However, every single writer has a different story. Maybe that guy or girl who’s boasting about his/her success on social media had to write more than twice before they passed. Maybe the difference between your paper and theirs was one or two sentences. Rather than trying to measure success just based on results (like the majority of people have a tendency to do), I think you should instead measure success based on what you’ve learned after failing.
• If you’re hanging around people that are making you feel embarrassed and are brining you down, whether it be your peers, your employer, etc., cut them loose. They will become irrelevant to you sooner than you know it.

I really hope that this blog post helps you get back on the right track. If you want to reach out to me, please give me a shout at stevenp2c@gmail.com.

 

All the best, and good luck!

Steven

16 comments

  1. Hey Steven,

    Congrats! I am wondering why did you re-hire the CPA marker. Wouldn’t it make more sense to go for another consultant considering you probably got the most of your CPA marker already & the marker may not have delivered the prep support you needed.

    • Hey Rdog,

      Thanks for reading my blog!

      As I mentioned, the reason why I failed in 2016 had nothing to do with the CPA marker, rather it had to do with stress management and having “too many things on my plate,” especially during early September. If anything, I feel that my CPA marker gave me an advantage over candidates in other programs in 2017 because I was able to access cases modified for the CFE, rather than just going over old UFE & SOA cases, many of which were not as dynamic as the CFE at all.

  2. Hey Steven,

    I like your story – it is similar to mine except the ending is different. You see I was bridged in to the CPA program from the legacy CA program in 2015. I failed the final UFE on level 2 Assurance and level 3 Finance as well as level 1 (overall). I was pretty disappointed because I made huge improvements from the year above and couldn’t believe my efforts were still not enough. I decided to get a review done but unfortunately that didn’t come out in my favour either. I moved on from that experience and wrote the September 2016 CFE, feeling confident that 2016 is my lucky year.

    Results come in:
    Day 1: Fail
    Day 2&3: Fail on level 3 Assurance and Level 1 (sufficiency of 3)

    My first reaction was “how stupid am I”

    This time I had a PAR done and made diligent notes on where I went wrong to ensure that I do not repeat the same weaknesses again. I also got a competent and supportive CPA coach who worked one-on-one with me on my weak areas especially around Level 1 and Level 3.

    Then in September 2017, I re-wrote the CFE. Results came out last Friday.

    Day 1: Pass

    Day 2 & 3:
    Level 1: Pass
    Level 2: FR & MA – Pass (last year did not pass MA)
    Level 3: Pass
    Level 4: Gov&Strategy, Tax, MA, FR, Audit – Pass, Finance – Fail

    Overall: Fail

    At this point, I really feel what more can I do? I am still dreaming of getting the CPA besides my name – but it keeps floating away.
    I am considering getting a review done, I am well aware the that historical results are slim, but have their been any instances here of getting a favorable result on appeal? I am not looking to get my hopes high and would just like a realistic assessment to manage my expectations and figure out a way forward.

    Thanks.

    • HI Amitabh,
      I honestly don’t know what to say since you must have been extremely disappointed/upset etc. but the only thing I would say is to keep it up.
      As Steven said, hiring a mentor/tutor who is an experienced CPA might help.

      For me, I passed 2017 CFE but I started out as a terrible case writer. I was never good at case writing since university and I always struggled at it.
      It was not that I did not put enough effort or did not have motivation to learn – it was that no one taught me the ‘how-to’s’ properly.
      When in school, I would always get barely passing mark on cases but I would always ace the technical part. I felt very stupid and dumb where everyone else is getting good marks on their cases. I went to profs after class hours and joined a group study but that part never really hit me.
      I was even hesitant to start challenging the PEP exams because of that ‘fear’ of cases within me. But after hiring a good CPA mentor/tutor, my case skills have greatly increased and really did help me to pass.

      As for the appeal, I’ve looked at some of the forums and from the CFE exam marker-sources, the chances are very slim but it does happen. However, it would take a lot of your time and stress to do it. Have you also contacted CPA yet on what to do? Or is it just straight that your final trial will be next year?

      It’s really up to what you want to do but honestly don’t really know what to say because it’s really hard to take that in right now having had many failures.

      But at least you seem to have the desire to move up.

    • Hi Amitabh,

      Thanks for reading my blog!

      As much as you feel you haven’t made progress in reaching your end goal, I think you have made lots of progress: you passed Day 1 (contrary to what many others say, getting your strategy right & being in the right mindset for Day 1 is VERY hard); also, you only failed days 2/3 on level 4, which is SUPER close to passing (most candidates fail on level 1 and you were able to conquer that piece).

      One thing I can give you absolute assurance on (more than “reasonable”, little accounting joke there) is to not give up at this stage. I really don’t think it makes any sense to go through life thinking, “I may have been able to get my CPA had I done this or that x # of years ago.” The fact that you’ve battled it out for this long tells me you want the designation really bad, and your persistence and hard work will make it so much more valuable to you once you finally earn it.

      Right now, given that you were really close to passing, I think it’s best that you try appealing days 2/3 (it will cost you $500 before tax). However, I don’t see the point in getting a PAR done – after I reviewed the CFE board report in 2016 (the 2017 one will be released in a few months) I got a pretty good idea on why I failed on levels 1 & 3. Furthermore, the 2018 CFE will be completely new cases than the 2017 CFE, so you’d be paying to hone in on something that will no longer be relevant.

      As Gluck mentioned, I think you should also contact the institute to figure out what the next steps would be in the event that you lose the appeal (i.e. what will happen with Capstone 2 & other admin stuff necessary).

      Please keep in touch with me at stevenp2c@gmail.com if you want to continue this conversation in private. I’m very interested to hear your progress.

      Cheers,
      Steven

      • Hi Steven,

        You mentioned that you had CPA to mark you responses and that you have tracked your progress in level 1 and level 3.

        Was CPA marker good? Could you please give me his contact info.

        How could you track the results for level 1 and level 3

        Thank you

        Anna

        • Hey, I used both PrepFormula and Densmore to prepare for the CFE to pass.
          I used PrepFormula mainly for the case writing where a marker would mark my cases and Densmore for technical studying.
          I really liked the Prepformula’s case-intensive preparation (you just do cases and an experienced CPA marker would mark your cases. I improved from using this service a lot) but didn’t really like their technicals (too much info, too complex wording etc) so I used Densmore which was really good.

          Hope this helps,

    • CPA CP-shmay! Who needs it anyway? Yeah you guessed it. I failed too. Now I’ve given up and turned to booze.

    • Hi Amitabh,

      This is exactly like my story. I failed on last UFE and did not pass CFE twice. I will have last chance in 2018. If you like, please contact me at anna_gubin@Hotmail.com. We can have a study group, and exchange study material.

      Anna

      • Hi Anna,

        I also have similar story .. failed last ufe and 2 cfe. This is my last cfe chance.
        Would love to join your study group to exchange ideas as to how to deal with this strange creature ! passed so many professional accounting licensing exams in my career ..but this is really different.
        my email address robm1121973@gmail.com

    • Hi Amitahb,

      I wrote 2018 cfe and felt so disappointed after wrting Day 3. Just wondering if you already appealed and how was the outcome, as I’m sure I will be in the same situation but for Strategy & Governance technical competency of the Day 3?

      Thank you,

    • Hi Amitahb,

      I wrote 2018 cfe and felt so disappointed after writing Day 3. Just wondering if you already appealed and if so, how was the outcome, as I’m sure I will be in the same situation but for Strategy & Governance technical competency?

      Thank you,

  3. I honestly dont think the CFE is hard. I passed CFE 2017. I started doing cases 4 weeks before the exam. Before that i only
    read the Technical book by Densmore for about 3 months. I think you guys got burnt out trying to study 2 months before the exam.
    You reach your peak way before your exam and it just goes downwards after that. I hope you guys pass in 2018.

  4. I honestly dont think the CFE is hard. I passed CFE 2017. I started doing cases 4 weeks before the exam. Before that i only
    read the Technical book by Densmore for about 3 months. I think you guys got burnt out trying to study 2 months before the exam.
    You reach your peak way before your exam and it just goes downwards after that. I hope you guys pass in 2018.

  5. I take back my word on saying it is easy… I meant ” Not Impossible”.
    Just wanted to tell you guys not to burn yourselves out by studying 2 months before the exam.
    It is because you guys are ready. You just need to brush up on what you already know.

  6. Thanks Steven Pitucci, for the very informative Article way you explain is excellent.

    Find out more about taxation and accounting information and get the best Chartered accountant in Canada
    https://www.deanandassociates.ca/

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