Exam Knowledge

How each day of the CFE works

The Common Final Examination (CFE) is a nationally administered examination by CPA Canada and the provincial institutes. Candidates challenging the CFE are required to successfully complete the examination in order to complete their education component of becoming a Chartered Professional Account (CPA) in Canada. The CFE is a three day examination. Here’s what to expect.


Day 1 – Evaluating your soft / professional skills (4 hours)

The first day of the CFE is a Pass/Fail mark treated separately and distinctly from Day 2 or 3. You can pass or fail Day 1 regardless of how you do on Day 2 and Day 3. Similarly, if you fail Day 1, you need to re-do, and successfully complete Day 1 regardless of how you did in Day 2 or 3. Day 1 is linked to the Capstone 1 module with the case being directly tied to your Capstone 1 case. Likely a situation where you are a few years later and things have changed. You are provided with the original Capstone 1 case (not your solution) and the updated information on your CFE case. Day 1 tests your soft/professional skills, also described as “board room and senior management” level of discussion.  You are not expected to discuss accounting or other technical competencies in any great detail but focus on the ‘enabling competencies’. Tips:

  • Know your Capstone 1 case inside and out ahead of time
  • Broad thinking and integration of case facts into a holistic discussion
  • Decision making
  • Professional judgment
  • Assess the situation and what needs to be done
  • Analyze the major issues
  • Conclude and provide useful advice
  • Ensure your communication is clear


Day 2 – Comprehensive Case evaluating depth in your role and breadth in remainder (5 hours)

The second day of the CFE is comprised of a single case with a number of indicators which are related to technical competencies. Each indicator is linked to one of the technical competencies and is marked on a scale of NA (Not Addressed), NC (Not competent), RC (Reaching Competent), C (Competent) and CD (Competent with distinction). Day 2 is independent from any previous Capstone and the case will be original and new to you. You will have selected the elective role you want to play in the case (Finance, Tax, Assurance of Performance Management). You will receive the same case and four separate appendices each related to the role mentioned above. The requireds in this case should be very directed so you should understand what is being asked of you. Day 2 tests your technical skills with depth required from your elective role selection and the remainder of the technical competencies tested at a core level. Tips:

  • Ensure you answer in depth (C level) for your elective competency
  • Focus on technical competencies and ensure you cover enough of your non-elective competencies at the RC level
  • Wrap up with an executive summary
  • Avoid skipping any competencies


Day 3 – Small cases (usually three) testing core and enabling competencies only evaluating depth and breadth (4 hours)

The third day of the CFE is three to four (usually three) multi-competency cases testing the common core competencies and could also test the enabling competencies. Cases will range from 45 minutes – 90 minutes for a combined 4 hours. Same as in Day 2, each case has multiple indicators which are individually marked on the NA-CD scale. Everybody gets the same cases in Day 2. You will be required to answer certain competencies in depth and others in a more breadth fashion. You will have to show a higher level of judgment and integration than in your previous Core modules and likely have to do ranking of issues to make it in the allotted time. Day 3 tests your technical skills (and likely ranking) and will require you to answer in enough depth for Financial Reporting and Management Accounting (meaning to a C-level enough times) and breadth in all other areas (sufficient RCs) Tips:

  • Lots of practice with cases in advance
  • Try to answer to a C level and not more
  • Time management and outlining will be important
  • Don’t skip competencies

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