What Should I Do in the Last Few Days Before the 2018 CFE?

This is a common question I get from writers who have been actively studying for the 2018 CPA Common Final Exam (CFE). In fact, when I first wrote back in 2016, I was asking the same thing in early September.


After rewriting and passing in 2017, I had discovered (through failure) that less is more. Here are the top three things I think you should consider doing in the last week of study:


1) Focus on the areas which you haven’t yet looked at or are still uncertain about.

Common things I hear that tend to “fall to the wayside” include: going over less-common technical topics that are still testable (e.g. accounting for NPOs), practicing with Day 1 CFE cases and debriefing parts of cases you already wrote that you simply ran out of time for. I don’t think it’s a good strategy to hope that these things do not appear on the exam. Instead, it is better to look at these things, even at a high level, so that way, even if these do appear, you won’t be as “stuck” compared to not looking it at all.


2) Take a look back at the cases you debriefed.

For each case, take a few minutes to reopen your notes, and try to answer the following question: “What did I learn from this case?” Perhaps you learned a technical topic you were unfamiliar with. Or perhaps you learned how to properly apply a case format (for example, W-I-R or RAMP if the case had an audit AO). The way how I see it, if you debriefed your case well, you must have learned something that is transferable to the exam. However, I would NOT recommend trying to memorize the facts in each case you attempted, as the case on the CFE will not be like what you’ve seen.


3) Relax, especially two days before the exam.

For me, this was the most difficult thing to do, especially when I was so used to doing cases & reviewing technical every day up until that point – it literally became a habit. However, even if you feel the temptation to open up cases, notes, textbooks, etc. on the last two days, I can assure you that whatever you will look at within those two days will make very little improvement, if any, on your exam performance. However, the thing that will make a difference on your exam performance is your mindset. Therefore, I think it is better to do things that will make the exam feel like it not so much of a threat to you – the best way is to simply not give a s@#t on the last two days.


Just a side note: if, for whatever reason, you will be unable to write the exam this year, you must keep in mind that the Institute requires you to formally withdraw before the date of the CFE; otherwise, your absence will still count as an attempt. However, if you feel you want to “pull the plug” simply because you are not ready, I strongly advise that you speak to a CPA exam trainer first, especially if that person knows you and your case performance well. It is normal for some candidates to panic during the final week, but just because this is happening does not necessarily mean it makes sense to not write this year.


I really hope that this blog post helps you out during this final week of study. Best of luck on the 2018 CFE!



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.



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!


December 2017 CFE Results (CPA)

December 2017 CFE Results

2017 CFE results time is here again: December 1, 2017 is the release date of the results for all candidates. We’re working quickly to break down the results. Even before the results are out, I’d like to congratulate all of the CPA PEP Candidates who took the time to write the exam. It’s tiring, and exhausting, and I remember my own time (I’m not that old) when I wrote and passed the UFE.

If you don’t know how to get data about the 2017 CFE results, I’ll populate this page with a summary of all of the available information from CPA Canada and the Provincial bodies.

CFE results time is upon us again! From the comments in the last few days here and from the candidates I’m working with I’m quickly brought back to my own results day a few years back now. Even before the results – congratulations for making it through the long and tiring wait.

If you’re not sure where to go to get the CFE results, below are some of the key spots to check for your results.

December 2017 CFE Results


Mr. John Wark, Crowe MacKay LLP, Yellowknife (NWT/Nunavut)

Regional Gold Medals:


Ms. Monica Gregory, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Conception Bay South (NL)


Ms. Faghya Samra Shafiq, Ernst & Young LLP, Toronto (ON)


Mr. Kaihua He, Deloitte S.E.N.C.R.L./s.r.l., Montreal (QC)

Mr. Philippe Sénécal, Chiasson Gauvreau Inc., Châteauguay (QC)


2252 Successful Writers! (up from 1249 in 2016 CFE)

Results released Friday, December 1 at 10:00am EST
Link to results: here


1121 Successful Writers!

Results released Friday, December 1 at 10:00am EST
Link to results: Here


(British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon)

1995 Successful Writers!

Honour Roll: Chelsea Bohonis-Schiemann (BC) Lorel Butalid (AB) Richard Dasler (BC) Thomas Drinkwater (BC) Kyla Gateley (SK) Paul Gotaas (AB) Shauna Hanson (AB) Trevor Hodgins (BC) Hardeep Kang (BC) Jason Koch (AB) Cole Leonoff (BC) Christine Liddell (AB) Hailey Maksymic-Harris (AB) Lissa Paul (BC) Paramveer Purewal (BC) Maria Seloza (AB) Thomas Simpson (AB) Ryan Slater (BC) Michael Stuart (AB) Erik Vagle (BC) Nico Van den Hooff (BC) Sarah Wang (BC) Jennifer Wells (BC) Man Yuen (BC)

Results released Friday, December 1 at 7:00am PST
Link to results: here


(Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Bermuda, Caribbean)

225 Successful Writers! (212 in 2016 CFE)

Results released Friday, December 1 at 9:30am AST
Link to results: here

September already!? Last minute advice for September CFE writers

First off: wishing all those writing the CFE this Wednesday, September 21 – Friday, September 23 the very best!

Whether you’ve been studying for 5-6 weeks or only squeaked a week or two, here are some final tips to get through the CFE:

  • Take a break before Wednesday. At minimum I would suggest taking Tuesday entirely off from work and study.
  • Sleep is super important. Get a good sleep before the exam and during the three days.
  • Don’t study during the exam, you need to rest in between each day to be fresh.
  • Remember, this is a three-day examination and every day counts. Don’t get discouraged if you have a bad day and think that you’ve failed so you won’t try as hard on what’s left. Most people feel terrible walking out of one or more of the exam days. Give your 100% each day. This isn’t the time to feel sorry for yourself.
  • Don’t talk about the exam until after all three days are over. There is little reward and lots of risk of getting discouraged because you missed something that somebody else had identified (correctly or not).

With that, good luck and best wishes!

Do I really have to outline?

This is one of those issues that can have strong opinions on both sides. On the one side, some say the outline is critical in organizing your thoughts and response and on the other end, people consider it a waste of time since you can just take notes on the simulation sheet.

For comprehensive cases I say the outline is critical and you cannot go on without it. For shorter cases (multis), I’ve seen people go both ways and write fine cases so it’s a personal choice but I recommend using one. I found it helpful to stay organized and especially helpful with ranking and time management which are especially tested on the shorter cases.

What is on a good outline?

A good outline will have the following elements:

  • A purpose and role. So you never forget what your role in the simulation is, and I like to have a purpose to all quants on the outline so that you understand why you need this quant. It helps you to avoid starting a quant and later realizing you didn’t need it or you went in the wrong direction. It also helps me step back and look at the bigger picture.
  • Who you are addressing and what kind of communication is it? You may have to do an audit memo to a partner to start and a report about a tax situation to the client afterwards. An outline helps keep this straight. The CFE may ask you to do more than one report in a single case.
  • A timeline should be used unless dates are not an issue in the simulation. Write down every date you are given and keep track of where you are in proximity on a timeline.
  • A diagram or organizational chart to keep track of who owns what or works where. This is often an issue in taxation indicators and will help keep things clear.
  • A list of the “required” for the case which ensures that you address everything that was asked of you. Most people recommend you write the required out word for word from the simulation so that you don’t misunderstand what is being asked of you.
  • Identify issues in the simulations. This is not the same as writing down case facts which should not be written down on your outline but referenced from it. Write down the issues you identify and then indicate on your outline which page(s) they come from and refer back to them once you are writing your response. Highlight the actual case facts on your exam paper.
  • You’ll want quant information easily available if there is a lot of it. Consider having a separate page full of quant information so you can easily refer back to it rather than searching (and possibly missing) the data in your question sheet.
  • Finally, after all is said and done, rank the issues and allocate time to them. You are going to need to know which issues you’ll be dropping and which you’ll be tackling before you begin writing and it’s best done when you have the whole case in front of you on an outline. This will take a little practice and experience before you master it. Remember to always stay on time.

How long should an outline take?

I’ve heard that some people dedicate up to 1/3 of the time to outlining, which is probably a good ceiling. You don’t want outlining to start impacting your actual case but it is where a lot of the hard work of composing your response occurs so don’t fly over it, either. For a comp I don’t think it’s unreasonable to outline for up to 1.5 hours.

Where to find practice CFE cases

With the May CFE rapidly approaching, you’ll be starting your CFE study period soon. The best (and in this blog’s opinion, only) way to study in the 4-6 weeks ahead of the CFE is by doing plenty of practice CFE cases. Since the CFE doesn’t have a large archive of past cases yet, you should use a combination of past CFE and past UFE (CFE’s predecessor) cases during your study period.

You can find some of the most recent CFE and UFE cases to practice on below.

CPA Canada Offers a number of examples to sift through – CPA Canada offers some practice cases as examples. This is a great place to start.


The remainder of your past UFE or CFE cases will be part of the annual exam report and you will have to pull them out individually. Download them and then print them ahead of your study period. Thanks to the CPA Canada and the CPA Western School of Business for the reports provided below.

This should be more than enough and unfortunately for some strange reason, the reports prior to 2010 you can only get by purchasing (for $40) from the CPA store. I believe some provincial bodies may offer this as part of their student area (you must login) so have a look in yours first before any purchases.

There are, of course, plenty of additional cases that you can purchase from various providers but in my view, there is more than enough to go around in the above package. You certainly won’t need to purchase anything more if you don’t want to.


Which cases are you planning to practice on for the next CFE? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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!

Interview with Erin Compeau, the 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Canadian Gold Medallist

Erin Compeau has the notable place in Common Final Examination (CFE) history, being the very first Canadian Gold Medallist which is awarded for the highest standing amongst the thousands of writers in Canada on the CFE. Erin is presently working for Deloitte Canada in Toronto and finished her BBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2014.

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


Interview with Erin Compeau, 2015 CFE Gold Medallist


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

I was fortunate enough to have several excellent professors at Schulich, particularly in areas such as tax and consolidation where students tend to struggle. This provided me the luxury of having a stronger foundational knowledge going into the CFE study process, which is so important considering the exam tests content from more than fifteen university courses.

Exam Studying:

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

I started my full time study leave on July 27th, and I took a week off of work before that to have a vacation and to do some light review before starting to study in earnest. At the time, I was concerned that this wouldn’t be enough time, but in retrospect I think that it was perfect – in the week leading up to the September 16th-18th exam, I felt ready for the exam process to be over.

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

Deloitte has a fantastic study program headed by a past UFE Gold Medalist and the firm provided a lot of invaluable support, including weekly in-class sessions during our study leave, and other resources such as study flashcards, case debrief material and practice exam marking.

Are there any must have materials you recommend?

I primarily used my study notes from school to prepare for the exam, but I also found the CFE/UFE Tax Guide by Jason Fleming helpful for some last minute review.

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

I studied in a group of three and would recommend it. I was initially hesitant to join a study group because I thought that I would be disciplined enough to study on my own, but there were actually a number of benefits to group study that I hadn’t anticipated, such as a platform to share concerns and receive feedback.

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

I am definitely a fan of mental health breaks. I would always take about two days off each week. You don’t want to go into a three day exam being exhausted.

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

I’ve always found it difficult to identify the most significant accounting issues in cases, and as a result, issue identification became a focus of my case debriefing early on in the studying process.

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

I think that the biggest issue that people run into is getting discouraged by their results on practice cases, and not debriefing properly because of this. Understanding the root of why you made a mistake in a case is much more important than the mark that you score yourself on it. Even if I assessed myself at a CD level in an assessment opportunity, I would still debrief the question and try to find at least one takeaway of how I could improve.


Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

I find strategy and governance assessment opportunities the most difficult because they tend to be very different case-to-case and have less consistency in the desired structure of the response.

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

Not at all! The unique thing about the CFE is that the exam is marked in sections, which makes it very difficult to evaluate how you performed. I felt very good about tax, but I was concerned about how I had approached the strategy assessment opportunities, which I dwelled on a lot while waiting for the results.


Final Advice:

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

One of the most important parts of case writing is to have confidence in your approach, since there is very little time on the day of the exam to second guess yourself. Don’t let a poor result on a practice exam startle you and stop you from trying to improve. Even if you don’t consistently score C’s in the weeks leading up to the exam, if you build a good response structure, you will be setting yourself up for success.

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

As odd as it may sound, enjoy the process! It can be difficult when you are studying to appreciate what an incredible milestone this is in your academic life and career.

Thank you Erin for taking the time to share your experience and advice. The take away from the interview that I got was that Erin’s is a perfectly ordinary experience for a CFE writer. A good undergrad experience, support from her employer, a study group, taking breaks to avoid burnout and most of all, strong debriefing skills.

Like this interview? Check out other great interviews!

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