emotions

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

The post UFE-results experience, from an “experienced writer”

Hi readers!  My name is Gus Patel, and I have offered to help with updates to content on the UFE Blog.  I have recently been in your situation, having written the 2013 UFE.  Currently, I work as an Audit Senior at BDO Canada LLP.  In my spare time, I enjoy being active, as well as teaching students about accounting concepts.

Last Thursday and Friday were the days.

They were the days you’ve been waiting 12 weeks for. After writing, what might possibly be one of the most challenging and mentally exhausting exams of your life, it’s finally UFE results day.  You are anxious, quivering nervous excitement, hoping desperately to see your name on the UFE results page.  As it gets closer to the final hour your heart beats as you constantly refresh the main results page at 12:00 sharp in Ontario.  You quickly scroll through the page, not finding your name through a quick glance, you decide to look up and down the page, but your name is not there….  You sit back like you just hit a brick wall, and you get that deep sinking feeling in your stomach. I failed the UFE!  

Sorry, I know that was a bit dramatic, but for some people it is not too far from how you’re feeling, trust me – I was in that situation too.  Your mind often has a way of hyping a situation to always be the “be-all-and-end-all” situation.  That if you don’t pass the UFE the first time, that the world will be over.  It may feel that way at first, but at some point you’ll come to realize that it was just an exam (maybe not just any exam).

Looking back on the experience, I think the hardest thing to me was looking my eager friends, family, and my girlfriend, who were also anxiously waiting for me to tell them that I had passed, that I didn’t.  Of course, then there is that awkward moment where they stumble to try and find their words to console you.  I think the last thing any writer who doesn’t make it through the process wants to hear is, “Don’t worry – you’ll study hard and do it again next time”.  Not a lot of people can understand what you went through.  On a positive note, hopefully soon after, you will run into a successful repeat writers, perhaps several in your office – they will reach out to you in understanding support.  Actually, looking back I was really surprised by how many people did reach out to me, even being at one of the Big-4 firms.

The first thing to get into your head is, it does happen, people can be unsuccessful the first time, or even the second or third time writing, you can fail this exam.  The Board of Evaluator’s objective is designed to do just that!  It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.  If you get the UFE Success book by Densmore (which I strongly suggest you do at some point) it has some strong statistics, “… the flow-through rates (of the UFE) are as high as 99% in ASCA, are averaging around 97% in British Columbia and have historically been around 94% in Ontario but are rising. These statistics demonstrate that experienced writers can, and are, making it through the system. Passing the UFE is a very achievable goal.”  If nothing else, keep that in your head.  You can pass.

As for now, if you have just found out that you had an unsuccessful attempt, do not fret – it’s okay in the moment to feel upset, angry, emotional… it’s part of being human, but do not let it consume you.  I am a strong believer that things do happen for a reason, and coincidentally enough, there is always a reason behind why you didn’t pass.  It wasn’t an anomaly I can assure you of that.

You have questions, I know you do.  Luckily for you, I’ve been through this process once –  I was very meticulous in my second attempt in trying to reach at every possible resource in order to gain an advantage along my 2nd attempt, and I want to pass every bit of it to you.  Like I said, you can do this – if you really want to.  Looking back on it a year later, believe it or not, it is somewhat of a blessing in disguise because it will make you a stronger person.

However, do not fret about any of it for now.  First order of business I want you to do is nothing.  When I say nothing, I mean it – keep your head out of the UFE game, it is of ultimate priority that you rest and recover so that you can hit next year ready to attack.  Your goal in the next little while is reach to your friends and loved ones for support, get past the feeling of depression, self pity and doubt, and relax and forget all about this process.  Have fun again and enjoy the holidays, and don’t even think about the UFE until the beginning of next year.

There are more resources than ever today for repeat writers. Don’t worry, UFE Blog will be right here, helping along the way.

A note from Tom, the UFE Blogger:

I want to personally congratulate Gus, who I’ve worked with for some part of this year. I was nervous to be one of the people clicking refresh on the results page at 12 noon. I was even more thrilled to see Gus’ name there shortly after. I’m happy to bring Gus’ voice, as an experienced writer, to this blog and I hope that the many candidates that must write the UFE a second or third time benefit from his experience and support. Congratulations Gus!

The post UFE-results experience, from an "experienced writer"

Hi readers!  My name is Gus Patel, and I have offered to help with updates to content on the UFE Blog.  I have recently been in your situation, having written the 2013 UFE.  Currently, I work as an Audit Senior at BDO Canada LLP.  In my spare time, I enjoy being active, as well as teaching students about accounting concepts.

Last Thursday and Friday were the days.

They were the days you’ve been waiting 12 weeks for. After writing, what might possibly be one of the most challenging and mentally exhausting exams of your life, it’s finally UFE results day.  You are anxious, quivering nervous excitement, hoping desperately to see your name on the UFE results page.  As it gets closer to the final hour your heart beats as you constantly refresh the main results page at 12:00 sharp in Ontario.  You quickly scroll through the page, not finding your name through a quick glance, you decide to look up and down the page, but your name is not there….  You sit back like you just hit a brick wall, and you get that deep sinking feeling in your stomach. I failed the UFE!  

Sorry, I know that was a bit dramatic, but for some people it is not too far from how you’re feeling, trust me – I was in that situation too.  Your mind often has a way of hyping a situation to always be the “be-all-and-end-all” situation.  That if you don’t pass the UFE the first time, that the world will be over.  It may feel that way at first, but at some point you’ll come to realize that it was just an exam (maybe not just any exam).

Looking back on the experience, I think the hardest thing to me was looking my eager friends, family, and my girlfriend, who were also anxiously waiting for me to tell them that I had passed, that I didn’t.  Of course, then there is that awkward moment where they stumble to try and find their words to console you.  I think the last thing any writer who doesn’t make it through the process wants to hear is, “Don’t worry – you’ll study hard and do it again next time”.  Not a lot of people can understand what you went through.  On a positive note, hopefully soon after, you will run into a successful repeat writers, perhaps several in your office – they will reach out to you in understanding support.  Actually, looking back I was really surprised by how many people did reach out to me, even being at one of the Big-4 firms.

The first thing to get into your head is, it does happen, people can be unsuccessful the first time, or even the second or third time writing, you can fail this exam.  The Board of Evaluator’s objective is designed to do just that!  It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.  If you get the UFE Success book by Densmore (which I strongly suggest you do at some point) it has some strong statistics, “… the flow-through rates (of the UFE) are as high as 99% in ASCA, are averaging around 97% in British Columbia and have historically been around 94% in Ontario but are rising. These statistics demonstrate that experienced writers can, and are, making it through the system. Passing the UFE is a very achievable goal.”  If nothing else, keep that in your head.  You can pass.

As for now, if you have just found out that you had an unsuccessful attempt, do not fret – it’s okay in the moment to feel upset, angry, emotional… it’s part of being human, but do not let it consume you.  I am a strong believer that things do happen for a reason, and coincidentally enough, there is always a reason behind why you didn’t pass.  It wasn’t an anomaly I can assure you of that.

You have questions, I know you do.  Luckily for you, I’ve been through this process once –  I was very meticulous in my second attempt in trying to reach at every possible resource in order to gain an advantage along my 2nd attempt, and I want to pass every bit of it to you.  Like I said, you can do this – if you really want to.  Looking back on it a year later, believe it or not, it is somewhat of a blessing in disguise because it will make you a stronger person.

However, do not fret about any of it for now.  First order of business I want you to do is nothing.  When I say nothing, I mean it – keep your head out of the UFE game, it is of ultimate priority that you rest and recover so that you can hit next year ready to attack.  Your goal in the next little while is reach to your friends and loved ones for support, get past the feeling of depression, self pity and doubt, and relax and forget all about this process.  Have fun again and enjoy the holidays, and don’t even think about the UFE until the beginning of next year.

There are more resources than ever today for repeat writers. Don’t worry, UFE Blog will be right here, helping along the way.

A note from Tom, the UFE Blogger:

I want to personally congratulate Gus, who I’ve worked with for some part of this year. I was nervous to be one of the people clicking refresh on the results page at 12 noon. I was even more thrilled to see Gus’ name there shortly after. I’m happy to bring Gus’ voice, as an experienced writer, to this blog and I hope that the many candidates that must write the UFE a second or third time benefit from his experience and support. Congratulations Gus!

Your major studying is behind you

Hey everybody – good news! Your UFE studies are mostly behind you after today.

As discussed before, I wouldn’t recommend you do any new mocks after today. Even today, I’d stick to the ‘feel good’ mocks. You might not feel completely ready but going too hard the weekend before isn’t going to do you much good so just relax a little and I highly recommend you take this weekend off completely.

On Monday, do some light technical review or one ‘feel good’ mock and call it at half a day. Don’t worry, you won’t forget everything you learned the last month.

The UFE writing days can be exhausting, you can’t go in half full of energy so don’t take any risks here. Get a good bunch of sleep prior to Tuesday and be at your best.

If you want to do one more little activity over the weekend or on Monday, try my suggestion to come up with a UFE DRP, just in case. Also a good recommendation, check out some ideas on dealing with stress and some snacks to bring for the long days.

Wishing everyone a great weekend!

 

Don’t go over the top

As SOA begins to wrap up slowly it’s important to start watching for signs of burnout or too much stress in your life. SOA, almost by definition, is a stressful time that will take a lot out of people and it’s tempting to just try to get through another week at the same pace as before.

I never like to operate using definitive rules on UFE Blog and I think CA candidates have good judgments to ‘know thyself’ and do what’s best for you but in my experience, going overboard and not watching for burnout are common occurrences during the final week of SOA.

For the final exam you want to be in the Peak Performance sweet-spot. Going overboard on studying to the point where you just can’t stand to look at another case or read another handbook section might be considered going overboard and there’s a real chance your performance will suffer due to the added stress.

This might be the week to ease up a little and take extra care of yourself. Medidate, do Yoga, get some exercise, whatever it takes to keep your stress managed and the good kind of stress. Here’s some more tips we’ve shared in the past. My favourite has always been to do a lot of laughing – watch funny stuff on TV or just be around people where you’re laughing a lot. I was lucky I had good study partners and friends at SOA which made it easy.

UFE Experience from a guy that never worked at a firm

Today we have a guest post from Minh D-N who wrote the 2012 UFE in Montreal, QC without any experience in a CATO or Accounting Firm. 

I’m Minh D-N from Montreal, QC. Wrote the UFE in 2012 and successfully passed it on the first attempt. Never worked in an accounting firm and never touched anything related to accounting outside school prior to this year.

I read UFEblog a bit too late… after the UFE and  found it interesting enough to provide my perspective on the UFE.  I think there are many tips and advice that are interesting on this blog. So I wanted to contribute my experience and views. I’m writing this entry to bring a positive light for the candidates of the UFE in 2013, especially those who do not work in a firm or never worked.

I never worked or touched any accounting related topic outside school until 2012, and I still passed the UFE. The UFE is only an academic exam. You should not stress because you are not working. In fact if you aren’t working, you have more time to study and write cases which is to your advantage. Plus, you don’t have to mix the theory (E.g. UFE examinable material) and the reality. If you don’t have a job, don’t stress about it, you’ll get one quickly after the UFE results.

To pass, all I did in the months preceding the UFE is focus on my studies without burning myself out, while enjoying every little free moment that I had escaping for a few hours the reality of the studies. It’s a long an grueling process leading up to the 3 days of the exam.

I don’t want to focus on what to do before and on the UFE days on this entry, but on the state of mind on those days. I did not over-stress or under-stress at the exam days; it’s just 3 days of cases writing, not that different than the weeks practicing before. Think about it, I can ‘pass’ the past UFEs, but I may fail this year. Why can I do well in practice but not on the exam? It’s because of what happens in my head. In my mind, if I am sitting in the examination center, it’s because I am capable and at the same level as the 3,000 other candidates through Canada.  I said to myself that I may not work in a firm, but I am there in the same room as the best and brightest of the Big 4/CATO, and I deserve the right to pass. The reality of the UFE is that you are battling time and yourself.

I hope my insight can provide some positive light for some, even if the UFE 2013 is in a few months.

UFE Blogger: Thanks Minh, for sharing your story. I think Minh makes an excellent point comparing the past UFE practice exams to the real thing, the big difference is a state of mind.

Dealing with UFE Wait Anxiety

It’s been two weeks since the 2012 UFE finished. If you’re seeing this then chances are it hasn’t left your mind yet (it should be getting better by now!) and you’re still suffering from UFE wait anxiety.

Here’s a couple strategies that may help.

1. Confront the Issue

Speak to someone whose done this before and it’s behind them, not someone in it like you. You don’t want to take others down. Get it all out and try to reason through it with the other person. I’ve done my best to explain that most people think they did terribly on the UFE but if you need more then talk it out with someone and say everything you need to say. Agree that after this is done you’ll let it go for the moment.

2. Distract Yourself and Change Your Thought

This is my favourite method of dealing with this anxiety. Like breaking bad habits, you have to interrupt the habit/thought/anxiety and change the topic in your head. Don’t dwell on it like you normally would but change your thoughts to something else right away. The more you do this the more it’ll be put behind you. If you must, get someone else to help you and keep your mind off of it.

I’m not a professional in this area but I’ve seen these two things work well so if you haven’t already give it a try. Best of luck!

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