interview

Interview with Michelle Bergsma – 2015 CFE Honour Roll Recipient

Michelle Bergsma is part of the first cohort of CFE writers who obtained the prestigious honour roll status as part of the September, 2015 Common Final Examination. Michelle kindly gave CFE Blog some time to ask a few questions.

Undergrad:

How did you find your undergrad program trained you towards writing the CFE? 

My undergrad degree is a B.Comm with a major in Marketing Management from the University of Guelph. Although the technical material obviously was quite different, the skills that transferred to the CFE included understanding exam strategies, focusing under pressure, managing stress, and using time efficiently. These cannot be underestimated for the CFE!

Exam Studying:

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

I took eight weeks away from work to focus on studying. A typical day would include writing, marking and debriefing a case, and some case-based technical review. I stuck to my schedule closely and felt prepared when the exam came. I think it was the right amount of time for me to study adequately while maintaining balance.

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

Crowe MacKay LLP has an awesome mentorship program and support system. During CFE leave, I met with my mentor weekly to check-in, receive feedback on cases, and track my progress. The firm provided valuable resources, advice and additional practice cases and kept on top of any new information about the exam.

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

CFE Puppy Therapy

Michelle recommends Puppy Therapy during CFE studying

I am so grateful for my study partner, Megan Coyne. As the first and only two Yukon CFE writers, we spent an enormous amount of time together, not only during CFE prep but throughout the entire Professional Education program. During the eight weeks leading up the CFE, we would write cases together almost every morning at 9am, mark each other’s responses and discuss any areas of uncertainty. She helped me stay focused and positive.

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

I was very conscious of balancing my study schedule to avoid burning out since that’s something I’m often prone to. My boyfriend and I ended up getting a German Shepherd puppy three weeks before I started study leave, which kept a huge smile on my face! Studying promptly ended when they came home each evening. I also made sure I got plenty of exercise and fresh air to keep my brain going.

What gave you the most trouble in your case writing?

I had to learn how to prioritize the issues and let go of perfection. As a very detail-oriented person, that was a challenge. I also found I was constantly reminding myself to focus on the qualitative aspects of the issues, since I have a tendency to get completely absorbed in my quants.

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

Too many people believe the saying “practice makes perfect”. Someone once told me “practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes habits” which I think is entirely true. As part of the CFE prep process, you have to take your errors from every practice case and use them as an opportunity to improve. If you don’t focus on improving your weaknesses, they’ll become habits and you’ll likely end up making the same mistakes on the CFE. Allowing yourself to stray from your time budget can be one of the hardest, and most critical, habits to break.

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

In general, the first day was the most challenging for me due to the broad scope of the case and open-ended nature of the response. I preferred the more technical structure of Days 2 & 3 because I felt I could approach the cases in a more logical and organized manner.

Also, this sounds strange but I had a hard time containing my excitement. Even going into Day 1, I had to force myself to focus on my execution and not get ahead of myself by thinking about that Friday afternoon feeling of relief.

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

I felt confident because I knew I had put in the hard work leading up to the exam, went in with a clear approach and stuck with my plan. I thought I had passed but I had absolutely no idea that I would make the honour roll.

Conclusion:

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

Focus on your case writing approach over your technical skills. Practice critical reading, planning and outlining to write a well-organized response. Approach every practice case as if it were the real thing. Put yourself in the marker’s shoes. Stick to your time allocations.

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

Find an activity that allows you to relieve stress and recharge, whatever that may be, and prioritize that activity daily. Challenge yourself to think positively and trust in your abilities, even on the low days when everything seems like a struggle.

 

Want to learn more about Michelle? Connect with her on LinkedIn! Thank you Michelle for your great advice and taking the time. Photo thanks to Christian Kuntz Photography.

Enjoyed this interview? Check out other great interviews!

 

Interview with Brent Vandenbrink, 2015 Common Final Examination Honour Roll Standing

Brent Vandenbrink is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Honour Roll standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). To achieve honour roll standing is to rank in the top 52 of the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam. Brent is presently working for Collins Barrow and finished his Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting from the University of Alberta in 2013.

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

Interview with Brent Vandenbrink, 2015 CFE Honour Roll Recipient

Undergrad:

How did you find your undergrad program trained you towards writing the CFE?

I did the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of Alberta. During this time I learned how to manage the pressure and time limitations that are part of exams. I also learned most of the technical skills in tax and financial accounting that I used when writing the CFE.

Exam Studying:

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

I took two months off of work leading up to the exam, from about the middle of July until we wrote in mid September. The first week I spent at Densmore’s course in Calgary. After that I spent the rest of my time studying at the University of Alberta. I tried to study normal workdays, 9 to 5, five days a week. I studied with a couple of friends from University during this time. The last week, we all studied on our own at home as we felt like this would help us become more focused.

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

I was mentored by one of the partners at Collins Barrow Edmonton LLP, who used to teach university accounting courses and has been on the board for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta. He helped me with understanding how to approach the exam and the best way to write cases. He also marked a few of the cases I wrote and gave me feedback on those.

Did you take any prep courses? What advice did you find most helpful?

As I mentioned, I took a weeklong prep course with Densmore Consulting Services Inc. My firm also purchased their practice cases and marking services. Densmore gave me a step-by-step process for how to approach the case for each day of the exam. This helped me to organize my thoughts while I was writing and gave me something to fall back on when the cases made me start to panic.

Are there any must have materials (books, videos, marking, tutoring, etc.)?

In terms of how to write a case, I got the most help from the Densmore approach. The approach that they provide in the Capstone 2 of the CPA program is also good though. The study material that I found the most helpful for technical review was the notes on htkconsulting.com. These gave me quick summaries of accounting handbook sections that helped me to quickly summarize accounting issues when I found them on a case. (I should mention that a couple of the notes on this site didn`t reflect changes made to handbook sections, it’s important to compare what you read with the most recent version of the handbook, as well)

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

I studied with two other people. They were both friends that I had met in University and went through the CPA PEP modules with. One friend and I both worked in public accounting and chose the Assurance elective. My other friend worked at a not for profit organization and chose the Tax elective. I think it was important for me to have a group of people to study with as this helped me get different perspectives on things I didn’t understand. It also helped keep me from becoming frustrated with having to study for an entire summer.

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

I tried to remain conscious of my mental health throughout the process. I only let myself study 9 to 5 on weekdays to try to make sure I didn’t burn out before the exam. This also gave me time to spend with my family, friends and church. It was important for me to keep my faith as my top priority. This helped me remind myself that the exam wasn’t the most important thing in my life.

What gave you the most trouble in your case writing?

The hardest part was knowing how much to write for each issue. On a lot of cases there is so much more I would wish I could have written. I just didn’t have the time. It was a challenge for me to learn when to cut myself off from writing on a certain issue so that I would have enough time to deal with the rest of the exam.

Would you say you had any unique strengths or weaknesses?

I think that I came into the studying process with a fairly strong understanding of the technical areas of financial reporting, assurance and tax. I had put a lot of effort into the CPA PEP modules and my time with Collins Barrow had also taught me a lot. I also think that I tend to write concisely, which can work as an advantage in the CFE.

I think I had a weakness of not always explaining my reasoning clearly enough. It was easy for me to assume that the marker would know how I reached a certain conclusion, but this wasn’t necessarily the case. I had to force myself to write down my entire thought process to make sure that I showed at the steps in my reasoning.

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

I think that sometimes people don’t realize how important time management is for the CFE. Students can decide not to time themselves when they write practice cases. I can see why they do this-it’s embarrassing to have your friend mark a case that you ran out of time on. I would say though, that it’s better to go through this embarrassment when you’re doing your practice cases than on exam day.

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

I found that Day 3 of the exam was the hardest. You don’t have to time to adequately address anything on this day. It turned into a continual race with the clock and in went by in a blur. The most important thing for me was to allocate time to each issue before I started writing a case and to make sure that I stuck to the plan.

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

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I passed. I didn’t seem to find many financial accounting issues to talk about on Day 2 of the exam and I wasn’t sure if I had done enough to make up for it on Day 3. It definitely came as a surprise for me to do as well as I did.

Conclusion:

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

I would try to make sure that they have a plan for approaching a case that they can stick to no matter what the case throws at them. I would try to also make sure that they understand how valuable time management is for this exam and that they learn how to make to most of each minute they are writing.

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

Don’t make the exam bigger and scarier than it already is. There is more to life than the exam.

I want to thank Brent for taking the time to share his CFE experience and actionable tips. I think every candidate can get some take aways here. I asked Brent what was next for him in his career.

What’s next for you in your career, any aspirations?

I don’t have that completely figured out. I’m enjoying my work at Collins Barrow and I’m learning lots there. Maybe one day I’ll specialize in tax, but for now I’m happy where I’m at.

Where can people learn more about you or connect?

People can find me on LinkedIn if they want to talk.

L'interview avec Justine Whissell, récipiendaire du tableau d’honneur de l’EFC 2015

Justine Whissell est parmi le petit groupe des candidats de l’EFC qui étaient sur le tableau d`honneur (ce qui veut dire se classer parmi les meilleurs 52 des milliers des candidats de l’EFC qui ont écrit l’examen).

Une fois que les résultats de l’EFC étaient connus, j’ai contacté Justine et elle a accepté de répondre à quelques questions et d’offrir des conseils aux lecteurs du blog de l’EFC.

 

Le BAC:

Comment est-ce que le BAC t’a aidé pour passer l’EFC?

Le BAC m’a appris à travailler en équipe lors des nombreux travaux d’équipe et ceci a été utile pour la réalisation du projet d’équipe (jour 1 de l’EFC). J’ai aussi appris la technique de résolution de cas. Finalement, les cours de BAC nous enseignent les normes comptables et plusieurs autres concepts, en fiscalité par exemple, nécessaires pour passer l’EFC.

 

Etudier pour l’examen:

 Peux-tu décrire ton horaire d’études avant l’examen?  Aurais-tu changé quelque chose? 

J’ai toujours été matinale, donc mon horaire était du lundi au vendredi de 8h à 17h. Je n’ai jamais ouvert mes livres pendant les fins de semaine. J’ai arrêté d’étudier 4 jours avant l’EFU.

Quel type de soutien as-tu recu de ton entreprise? 

KPMG m’a offert un programme de coaching qui s’étale sur tout l’été. Nous avons eu des séances théoriques sur les méthodes de résolution de cas. Nous avons aussi fait des cas qui étaient ensuite corrigés par le cabinet. Nous avions aussi un study buddy qui nous motivait et répondait à nos questions tout au long de l’été.

Est-ce qu’il y a des matériaux (livres, vidéos, etc.) qui sont absolument nécessaires? 

Je conseille à chaque candidat de faire son propre cartable d’étude, soit des résumés, en utilisant plusieurs ressources (résumés du BAC, notes du DESS, notes fournies par le cabinet, résumés d’amis ayant passé l’EFU auparavant, résumés sur internet, etc.).

As-tu travaillé avec un partenaire ou un groupe pour étudier pour l’EFC?

Je suis plus performante lorsque j’étudie seule. Cependant, ma coloc et moi avions cédulé les mêmes cas à chaque semaine. Nous nous sommes donc aidées à plusieurs reprises pour comprendre les réponses des cas. L’important c’est de choisir la technique qui nous convient et celle qui nous rend le plus productif. Si vous aimez travailler en équipe, étudier en équipe sera la bonne méthode pour vous.

À quel point le repos et la santé mentale étaient-ils importants pour toi pendant ton étude? (i.e. étais-tu capable d’étudier sans cesse ou as-tu pris des pauses?) 

Comme je l’ai déjà mentionné, mes fins de semaine étaient sacrées lors de mon été d’étude. Je faisais des activités tous les soirs et les fins de semaine et ceci me motivait énormément à être productive pendant mes journées d’étude. Je ne pensais pas à mon étude de toute la fin de semaine et ceci me permettait de bien commencer mes semaines d’étude. La fin de semaine avant l’EFC, je suis allée au spa avec une amie. Il faut faire des activités qu’on aime pour se changer les idées.

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour les études de cas? 

Dès le départ, il faut établir une bonne structure de réponse pour chaque type de question. J’ai pris trop de temps à développer ceci. Un autre défi était de respecter les limites de temps de chaque cas. Il faut vraiment arrêter lorsque le temps est écoulé pour bien simuler les cas comme à l’EFC.

As-tu des forces ou faiblesses uniques?

Je suis très forte en comptabilité de gestion et l’EFC 2015 en comportait beaucoup, ce qui m’a grandement avantagée. De plus, j’ai un style d’écriture efficace, c’est-à-dire que j’écris seulement ce qui est nécessaire en point form. Ma principale faiblesse est la fiscalité et c’est pourquoi j’ai beaucoup étudié cette matière durant l’été.

Selon toi, qu’est-ce que les gens font incorrectement en se préparant pour l’EFC?

Je pense que les gens n’étudient pas assez de théorie. Ils se pratiquent beaucoup à faire des cas, mais ne se concentrent pas sur les matières dans lesquelles ils excellent moins. Il faut faire un bon mix de pratique de cas et d’étude théorique, par exemple un jour par semaine d’étude théorique.

 

Le jour d’examen:

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour toi  pour l’examen? (un jour, un sujet ou une situation spécifique)

Le plus grand défi était de respecter le temps alloué pour chaque question. De plus, j’avais un peu peur de la fiscalité. Heureusement, il n’y en avait pas beaucoup et j’avais étudié suffisamment pour répondre.

Comment  t’es-tu sentie en sortant de l’examen? Savais-tu que tu avais réussi?

Lorsque les résultats sont sortis, les gens me demandaient sans cesse si je savais que j’avais «boardé» en finissant l’examen. En fait, c’est ce qui est particulier de l’EFC. On ne sait jamais si on a bien performé. J’étais confiante de passe l’examen, mais je n’aurais pas pu dire que je serais sur le tableau d’honneur.

 

Conclusion:

Quels conseils donnerais-tu aux futurs candidats?

  • Faites-vous de bons résumés et étudiez-les souvent
  • Révisez votre théorie
  • Prenez du temps pour vous
  • Étudiez maximum 35h semaine

Ne paniquez pas si certains cas vont vraiment mal, j’ai souvent eu des mauvaises notes dans des cas.

Est-ce qu’il y a d’autres conseils que tu aimerais partager avec les futurs candidats?

Si vous êtes bien préparés et que vous gérez bien votre stress lors de l’examen, ne paniquez pas et soyez confient, vous avez tout pour réussir l’EFC.

Quels sont tes futurs projets de carrière, as-tu des aspirations que tu voudrais partager?

Je travaille présentement chez KPMG. J’aime vraiment mon travail, mais je ne sais pas encore si je ferai carrière dans un cabinet. Certaines journées je veux devenir associée, d’autres je veux diriger un département des finances d’une entreprise et d’autres je veux reprendre l’entreprise familiale. Seul l’avenir saura nous le dire.

J’aimerais remercier Justine d’avoir pris le temps de nous raconter son expérience avec l’EFC et de partager ses conseils.  Je pense que tous les candidats peuvent bénéficier de l’expérience de Justine.

Vous pouvez trouver avec Justine sur LinkedIn

 

This interview is also available in English.
Like this interview? Check out other great interviews here!

L’interview avec Justine Whissell, récipiendaire du tableau d’honneur de l’EFC 2015

Justine Whissell est parmi le petit groupe des candidats de l’EFC qui étaient sur le tableau d`honneur (ce qui veut dire se classer parmi les meilleurs 52 des milliers des candidats de l’EFC qui ont écrit l’examen).

Une fois que les résultats de l’EFC étaient connus, j’ai contacté Justine et elle a accepté de répondre à quelques questions et d’offrir des conseils aux lecteurs du blog de l’EFC.

 

Le BAC:

Comment est-ce que le BAC t’a aidé pour passer l’EFC?

Le BAC m’a appris à travailler en équipe lors des nombreux travaux d’équipe et ceci a été utile pour la réalisation du projet d’équipe (jour 1 de l’EFC). J’ai aussi appris la technique de résolution de cas. Finalement, les cours de BAC nous enseignent les normes comptables et plusieurs autres concepts, en fiscalité par exemple, nécessaires pour passer l’EFC.

 

Etudier pour l’examen:

 Peux-tu décrire ton horaire d’études avant l’examen?  Aurais-tu changé quelque chose? 

J’ai toujours été matinale, donc mon horaire était du lundi au vendredi de 8h à 17h. Je n’ai jamais ouvert mes livres pendant les fins de semaine. J’ai arrêté d’étudier 4 jours avant l’EFU.

Quel type de soutien as-tu recu de ton entreprise? 

KPMG m’a offert un programme de coaching qui s’étale sur tout l’été. Nous avons eu des séances théoriques sur les méthodes de résolution de cas. Nous avons aussi fait des cas qui étaient ensuite corrigés par le cabinet. Nous avions aussi un study buddy qui nous motivait et répondait à nos questions tout au long de l’été.

Est-ce qu’il y a des matériaux (livres, vidéos, etc.) qui sont absolument nécessaires? 

Je conseille à chaque candidat de faire son propre cartable d’étude, soit des résumés, en utilisant plusieurs ressources (résumés du BAC, notes du DESS, notes fournies par le cabinet, résumés d’amis ayant passé l’EFU auparavant, résumés sur internet, etc.).

As-tu travaillé avec un partenaire ou un groupe pour étudier pour l’EFC?

Je suis plus performante lorsque j’étudie seule. Cependant, ma coloc et moi avions cédulé les mêmes cas à chaque semaine. Nous nous sommes donc aidées à plusieurs reprises pour comprendre les réponses des cas. L’important c’est de choisir la technique qui nous convient et celle qui nous rend le plus productif. Si vous aimez travailler en équipe, étudier en équipe sera la bonne méthode pour vous.

À quel point le repos et la santé mentale étaient-ils importants pour toi pendant ton étude? (i.e. étais-tu capable d’étudier sans cesse ou as-tu pris des pauses?) 

Comme je l’ai déjà mentionné, mes fins de semaine étaient sacrées lors de mon été d’étude. Je faisais des activités tous les soirs et les fins de semaine et ceci me motivait énormément à être productive pendant mes journées d’étude. Je ne pensais pas à mon étude de toute la fin de semaine et ceci me permettait de bien commencer mes semaines d’étude. La fin de semaine avant l’EFC, je suis allée au spa avec une amie. Il faut faire des activités qu’on aime pour se changer les idées.

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour les études de cas? 

Dès le départ, il faut établir une bonne structure de réponse pour chaque type de question. J’ai pris trop de temps à développer ceci. Un autre défi était de respecter les limites de temps de chaque cas. Il faut vraiment arrêter lorsque le temps est écoulé pour bien simuler les cas comme à l’EFC.

As-tu des forces ou faiblesses uniques?

Je suis très forte en comptabilité de gestion et l’EFC 2015 en comportait beaucoup, ce qui m’a grandement avantagée. De plus, j’ai un style d’écriture efficace, c’est-à-dire que j’écris seulement ce qui est nécessaire en point form. Ma principale faiblesse est la fiscalité et c’est pourquoi j’ai beaucoup étudié cette matière durant l’été.

Selon toi, qu’est-ce que les gens font incorrectement en se préparant pour l’EFC?

Je pense que les gens n’étudient pas assez de théorie. Ils se pratiquent beaucoup à faire des cas, mais ne se concentrent pas sur les matières dans lesquelles ils excellent moins. Il faut faire un bon mix de pratique de cas et d’étude théorique, par exemple un jour par semaine d’étude théorique.

 

Le jour d’examen:

Qu’est-ce qui était le plus difficile pour toi  pour l’examen? (un jour, un sujet ou une situation spécifique)

Le plus grand défi était de respecter le temps alloué pour chaque question. De plus, j’avais un peu peur de la fiscalité. Heureusement, il n’y en avait pas beaucoup et j’avais étudié suffisamment pour répondre.

Comment  t’es-tu sentie en sortant de l’examen? Savais-tu que tu avais réussi?

Lorsque les résultats sont sortis, les gens me demandaient sans cesse si je savais que j’avais «boardé» en finissant l’examen. En fait, c’est ce qui est particulier de l’EFC. On ne sait jamais si on a bien performé. J’étais confiante de passe l’examen, mais je n’aurais pas pu dire que je serais sur le tableau d’honneur.

 

Conclusion:

Quels conseils donnerais-tu aux futurs candidats?

  • Faites-vous de bons résumés et étudiez-les souvent
  • Révisez votre théorie
  • Prenez du temps pour vous
  • Étudiez maximum 35h semaine

Ne paniquez pas si certains cas vont vraiment mal, j’ai souvent eu des mauvaises notes dans des cas.

Est-ce qu’il y a d’autres conseils que tu aimerais partager avec les futurs candidats?

Si vous êtes bien préparés et que vous gérez bien votre stress lors de l’examen, ne paniquez pas et soyez confient, vous avez tout pour réussir l’EFC.

Quels sont tes futurs projets de carrière, as-tu des aspirations que tu voudrais partager?

Je travaille présentement chez KPMG. J’aime vraiment mon travail, mais je ne sais pas encore si je ferai carrière dans un cabinet. Certaines journées je veux devenir associée, d’autres je veux diriger un département des finances d’une entreprise et d’autres je veux reprendre l’entreprise familiale. Seul l’avenir saura nous le dire.

J’aimerais remercier Justine d’avoir pris le temps de nous raconter son expérience avec l’EFC et de partager ses conseils.  Je pense que tous les candidats peuvent bénéficier de l’expérience de Justine.

Vous pouvez trouver avec Justine sur LinkedIn

 

This interview is also available in English.
Like this interview? Check out other great interviews here!

2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Honour Roll Recipient Justine Whissell Interview

Justine Whissell is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Honour Roll standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). To achieve honour roll standing is to rank in the top 52 of the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam. Justine is presently working for KPMG in Montreal.

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

Interview with Justine Whissell, 2015 CFE Honour Roll Recipient:

 

Undergrad

How did you find your undergrad program trained you towards writing the CFE?

My undergrad program taught me to work in teams and this was useful for the group project (Day 1 of the CFE). I also learned how to write cases. Finally, the undergrad courses taught us accounting standards and numerous other concepts, including tax laws for example, which were necessary for passing the CFE.

 

Exam Studying:

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

I was always a morning person, so my schedule was Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.  I never opened my books during the weekend.  I also stopped studying 4 days before the CFE.

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

KPMG offered a coaching program which took place during the entire summer. We had technical sessions and also worked on cases which were then corrected by the staff at KPMG. We also had a study buddy who motivated us and answered our questions during the entire summer.

Are there any must have materials (books, videos, marking, tutoring, etc.)?

I suggest each candidate to make his or her own study binder including summaries based on various resources (undergrad notes, notes provided by their accounting firm, summaries from friends who passed UFE/CFE, summaries from the internet. Etc.)

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

I perform better when I study on my own. However, my roommate and I often scheduled the same case during the same week.  Therefore, we helped each other to understand the responses for the cases.  The important thing is to choose the technique that suits you and the one that makes you the most productive.  If you like to work in groups , then study groups will be a good method for you.

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

As I already mentioned, my weekends were sacred meaning off limits with no studying during my summer of studying.  I did activities every night and on the weekends and this motivated me to be productive during my study days.  I don’t think about my studies during the weekends and this allowed me to have a fresh start during my study week.  The weekend before CFE, I went to the spa with my friend.  It is important to do things that you like to clear your mind.

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

From the start, it is important to establish a good structured response for each type of question.  I took too much time to do this.  Another challenge was the time limit for each case.  It is important to stop when the time is up to mimic the real time constraints of the CFE.

Would you say you had any unique strengths or weaknesses?

I am very strong in management accounting and the CFE in 2015 had a lot of these questions, which was an advantage for me.  Moreover, I have an efficient writing style, meaning I only write what is necessary and in point form.  My weakness is tax laws and this is why I studied this material a lot during the summer.

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

I think people do not study enough theory.  They practice a lot for case studies, but do not focus enough on material where they are less strong.  It is important to do a good mix of case studies and theory, for example 1 day a week on theory.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

The biggest challenge is to respect the time allocated for each question.  Further, I was a bit afraid of tax but fortunately, there was not a lot and I studied enough to get by.

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

I didn’t know if I had done well.  I was confident that I passed, but I wouldn’t have been able to say that I was on the honour roll.

 

Final Advice:

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

  • Write up good summaries and study frequently
  • Review theory
  • Take time for yourself
  • Study max 35 hours per week

Don’t panic if certain cases aren’t going well, I always got mad marks when I panicked

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

If you are well prepared and you manage your stress well during your exam (i.e. do not panic and be confident), then you have what it takes to pass the CFE.

I want to thank Justine for taking the time to give us a detailed account of her CFE experience and actionable tips. I think every candidate can get some take aways here. I asked Justine what was next for her in her career.

I’m working currently at KPMG.  I really like my work and I don’t know where the future will take me. Some days I want to be a partner, other days I want to direct a finance department and other days I want to help out with my family business, only the future will tell.

You can connect with Justine on LinkedIn.

 

L’interview avec Justine Whissell en français.
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Interview with Caleb Hagemeister, 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Western Region Gold Medalist

Caleb Hagemeister is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Medallist standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). Caleb received the Western Region Gold Medal for highest standing in Western Canada. To achieve honour roll standing is to rank above the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam this sitting. Caleb is presently working for MNP LLP in Medicine Hat, Alberta and received his Bachelor of Management(Accounting) from the University of Lethbridge in 2012.

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

Interview with Caleb Hagemeister, 2015 CFE Western Canada Gold Medallist:

 

Undergrad:

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

I would say that my undergrad program provided me with the basic accounting knowledge necessary to get hired at my job and allow me to perform my duties there.  Also, the undergrad program provided me with the entry level of knowledge to begin the CPA PEP program through CPA Western School of Business (CPAWSB).  It is a necessary stepping stone in order to begin your accounting career.  In CPA PEP you are given scenarios that are relatively life-like, but are still quite “perfect world” scenarios, compared to what you actually see at work.  University was always that “perfect world” scenario where everything worked out nicely, but when you’re preparing for and writing the CFE, it never quite works out that way.  CPAWSB and the preparation for the CFE were definitely an eye opener for me, as they challenged me more than anything I had seen in my undergrad program.  Ultimately I would say that the undergrad program provided the beginning of the foundation or the “starter kit” building blocks for my accounting career.

 

Exam Studying:

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

I studied Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm from July 27 to September 11 in an office I have at my house.  I allotted myself two 15 minute breaks, one after I wrote my first case in the morning (usually around 10am) and one after I wrote my afternoon case (usually around 2pm).  I would also allow myself 30 minutes for lunch.  I would take weekends off completely during that time frame.  I did some review September 12 – September 15, but it was very, very minimal.  On days where I would write cases, the first case would be at 8am and I wrote until it was done, and then take my break and debrief until lunch.  If there was a case in the afternoon I would repeat these steps after lunch.  On days where I would write one of the 4 hour or 5 hour cases, I would ignore my 15 minute morning break and lunch until the cases were completed.

All cases were written under exam conditions and in Securexam.  On days where I just studied technical I followed the break schedules noted above.  I also kept very detailed notes on how I assessed myself on the indicators of each case and where I needed to improve.

The one thing that I would change is how I treated myself after we wrote the mock exam and I had a couple of bad cases.  I was very negative and hard on myself for about a week and it was truly counterproductive.  It is crucial to maintain a positive attitude and build yourself up, not knock yourself down.

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

My firm provided excellent support for the exam preparation.  We were allowed to take the duration of Capstone 2 off and they provided a certain number of study days during that period.  Additionally, I had two mentors from within the firm that helped mark my cases and provide feedback whenever I asked.  My mentors really helped give me the confidence I needed to keep slugging through the cases after some of the tougher ones.  Furthermore, the firm also put on a CFE prep course, which was 3 days long, if I remember correctly.  This course involved going over various techniques writers had used in the past, writing cases and debriefing with some of our designated professionals.  All in all they provided tremendous support in order to best prepare us for the test.

Did you take any prep courses? What advice did you find most helpful?

I took the CFE prep course that my firm put on and I went through Capstone 2 in CPAWSB, which was a prep course.  I didn’t take the Densmore course, but I did purchase the books.

The advice that I found most useful were probably the acronyms:

  • IGAR – Issue, GAAP, Analysis Recommendation;
  • ITAR – Issue, Tax Act Reference, Analysis, Recommendation;
  • WIR – Weakness, Implication, Recommendation;
  • RAMP – Risk, Approach, Materiality, Procedures; and
  • RASP – Risk, Assertion, Specific Risk Area and Procedure).

 

As simple as it sounds, these acronyms truly helped ensure that I hit depth on the indicators.  Also, repeatedly being told that I needed to take it a step further and say to myself “so what?”  This is a weakness… so what or because…  It is crucial not just to regurgitate case facts, but to apply them and take it that step further.  Making sure your procedures were specific enough was also very important, or basically describing your procedures as if you were talking to someone with no formal accounting training.  Listening to past writers who were successful is a great idea, as they can impart wisdom and provide insight on how to best prepare your response.

Are there any must have materials (books, videos, marking, tutoring, etc.)?

It’s not necessarily a material, but I would say having a mentor is a “must have material”.  Having someone to coach you and provide you with feedback is a great way to help yourself succeed.  As far as actual materials go, the CPA Densmore book was fairly helpful for some of the topics (Assurance, Tax, Finance, Strategy & Governance).  I personally preferred Densmore’s UFE book for Financial Reporting compared to the Densmore CFE book, as I preferred the organization better, but that may just be me being picky.

Having plenty of cases to write is also a “must have material”, so I would highly recommend that future writers have as many cases on hand as possible.  CPAWSB provided quite a few cases to help prepare, but the additional cases I wrote over the summer really helped with the case writing and making sure I was hitting depth where I needed to.

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

I did not have a partner or work in a group as a part of my studying for the CFE.  I spoke with several people that I went through CPA PEP with about the cases and got their thoughts and opinions on the cases we were writing, but I did not have a designated partner.  I generally prefer to study alone, and then bounce ideas off friends / colleagues after I have spent time writing the case or going over the material to discuss their thoughts.  I’ve heard of the partner / group system working for others, the writers just need to find what works best for them.

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

Rest and mental health are incredibly important while you are preparing for the exam, or at least in my opinion.  At 4pm each day or shortly thereafter I would power down the laptop and go and enjoy my evening.  I worked out 5 days a week to help keep stress levels down during the summer.  The first 4 to 5 weeks weren’t overly stressful, as you still had that sense of “there is still time left to turn it around”, but once it started to get into September reality began to set in.  I kept very firm to that schedule I outlined above.  Between September 12 to September 15, I put in a few hours here and there, but by the end you either know it or you don’t.  There is no sense trying to learn something new and scaring yourself resulting in a downward spiral.  Taking weekends off was also very important, as I was able to unwind on the weekends and prepare myself for another week of hard studying.  Keep in mind that I had the luxury of taking the summer off to study, because I’m with a public accounting firm.  The people in industry did not have that same luxury.  I feel for the people who had to work 8 – 10 hours a day and then go home and study.  Regardless, I still believe it is important to provide yourself with some rest or mental health breaks, whenever possible.  Studying for the CFE is a marathon, not a sprint.

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

There were many things that gave me trouble during the summer.  Probably not hitting sufficient depth most of the time was what gave me the most trouble during the summer with my case writing, or hitting sufficient depth on a couple of topics, but not enough to achieve ‘‘Competent’’.  Time management was never particularly an issue, but getting enough information out in such a short timespan could be tricky depending on how many accounting issues needed to be addressed to hit competent or what have you.  I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m a wordy writer, so cutting down and getting to the point was also something I had to work on over the course of the summer.

Would you say you had any unique strengths or weaknesses?

I was fortunate enough to work in a mid-size firm in a smaller city, so I saw plenty of assurance and taxation and other crucial components in my day to day tasks.  My assurance experience was also well rounded as I saw PSAB, ASPE, IFRS and NPO.  I dealt with personal and corporate tax on a daily basis as well, which also helped.  Seeing such a breadth of issues in my job helped with my studying and preparation for the exam. I don’t know if this necessarily is a ‘‘unique strength’’, but I definitely think it helped me in the long run.  As far as unique weaknesses go, I would say my own personal criticism of myself could be considered a weakness.  I’m critical of myself, so if I think I’m not performing where I need to be, I can become quite hard on myself. It came up a couple times over the course of the summer and my mentors had to provide me with some confidence that I was on the right track.  You need to make sure you don’t let you beat yourself before you even get into the exam.

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

I’m not exactly sure, because everyone is different, but I think that not taking the process or the exam serious enough is where many people go wrong in their CFE prep process.  Many of the successful writers from prior years would tell me to treat the studying like it’s a job.  Work hard, take it seriously and try your absolute best.  Your results ultimately reflect the level of effort you put in.  If you don’t practice how you plan to play you can’t expect to be successful.  Write the cases under exam conditions.  Write the practice cases in Securexam.  Stick to the time guidelines for the cases.  Properly debrief your cases and don’t just look at the solution.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

Day 1 was quite different than what we had seen in the practice cases that CPAWSB had designed for us.  I walked out of Day 1 thinking to myself, “What the heck did I just write about?”.  Adapting to the Day 1 scenario that they gave us was particularly difficult, but once I accepted that the indicators just were what they were, I wrote about them and hoped that what I had written was sufficient.  I found Day 2 to be the most challenging.  I can’t really go into any of the specifics of the case, but there was one indicator where I was legitimately stumped.  I was able to type up some stuff that I thought was right, based on prior courses / experience, but I was entirely unsure of what they were actually looking for.  They also threw a couple of curves at us with this case, but I suppose that is to be expected with the CFE/UFE.

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

After Day 1 I was confused and had no idea how I actually did on the case.  I felt like I was having writers block and I wasn’t able to get out everything that I wanted to, but that was probably for the best as I’m too wordy anyways.  After Day 2 I was convinced that I had failed, because I found the case to be incredibly difficult and just wasn’t sure if I hit sufficient depth on the indicators.  After Day 3, I felt like there was some hope that I could still pass.  Day 3 was the only day I walked out of and thought I actually did OK.  I was honestly just hoping to pass, because I thought I had failed after that Day 2 case.  It was the biggest surprise to find out that I had won the Regional Gold Medal for Western Canada.

 

Final Advice:

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

Write the cases under exam conditions (ear plugs – if you use them, calculator, pencils, scrap paper, paper copies of the cases, following the time frames to complete the cases, writing in Securexam, etc.).  Use acronyms to help you achieve depth in your cases (IGAR, ITAR, WIR, RAMP, RASP – explained earlier).  Organize your cases so that they are easy for the marker to read and understand.  Treat your studying and preparation seriously, put in your best effort and you will likely be rewarded for efforts.  This may be the most important … properly debrief the cases.  Don’t just look at the solution and think “Oh yeah, I totally would have got that”.  Go back and see where in the case that information was triggered, review their analysis and review your technical knowledge pertaining to that topic.  You should take just as long to debrief the case as it did to write it, maybe even a bit longer.

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

I think I pretty much covered everything above, but my last bit of advice would be to rest and relax throughout your studying to ensure that you are able to perform at your best while studying.  Pick up some activities, if there is spare time available, to help reduce stress.  Physical activity definitely helped me get through the exam preparation.

I want to thank Caleb for taking the time to give us such a detailed account of his CFE experience and actionable tips. I think every candidate can get some take aways here. I asked Caleb what was next for him in his career.

I’m working with the Tax team at my firm, but I miss working in Assurance, so I will have to decide at some point if I’m going to take In-Depth or if I’m going to go back to Assurance.  I don’t really know where my career is going to take me from here.  I want to end up doing something that I enjoy and can be passionate about it.

You can connect with Caleb Hagemeister on LinkedIn or Facebook. If you have any questions, Caleb has also agreed to keep an eye on the comments and stop by to answer so, what would you like to ask Caleb?

 

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Interview with Richard Huynh, 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Honour Roll Standing

Richard Huynh is part of a small group of CFE writers that achieved Honour Roll standing on the first Common Final Examination (CFE). To achieve honour roll standing is to rank in the top 52 of the thousands of CFE writers who wrote the exam. Richard is presently working for RLB LLP in Guelph and finished his Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management from the University of Waterloo in 2015.

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

Interview with Richard Huynh, 2015 CFE Honour Roll Standing:

 

Undergrad:

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

From a technical standpoint, I thought the accounting and financial management program at the University of Waterloo did a great job. I’ve only gone to UW so I can’t compare programs or anything, but I thought the curriculum was very rigorous and required a lot of hard work. It focused on accounting from the very beginning, whereas I believe other business programs specialize at a later time. Having co-op was also very useful as it allowed me to apply my in-class learning to the work place and vice-versa. This made learning some topics, like tax, much easier after seeing it at work. As for case writing, we saw a little bit of that starting in third year. However, most of the case writing comes in the diploma and Master’s programs that follow the undergrad program.

 

Exam Studying:

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

For the most part, we studied 9 am to 5 pm Mondays to Fridays starting in August (six weeks). Each week had three to four days focused on just multis (Day 3 cases) and one to two days focused on Day 1 or 2 cases. After each case, we would mark one of each other’s responses and then debrief individually afterwards (Day 1 cases were marked individually). If anyone didn’t finish debriefing, it was up to that individual to finish on their own time.

For the days with multis, we felt that we would remember more of a particular case for marking/debriefing purposes if we marked/debriefed it immediately after writing it vs writing two cases in the morning and then marking/debriefing both of them in the afternoon, but it really depends on preference. We did throw in one day where we wrote three straight multis (about two weeks before the CFE) just to get a feel for the time management required for Day 3. However, Densmore told the two of us that went that if we can manage our time for a single case, it’s not that much different doing it for three cases since you’re still just dropping everything and moving on after a certain time.

During the week of the CFE, I wrote maybe one multi. The rest of the time we spent reviewing our debriefing notes since we wanted to be mentally rested before the exam.

I don’t think I would change this approach at all. It was important that we worked hard, but not so hard that we’d burn out/peak before the exam. I know some of my friends did three multis a day and they generally stayed until 7 pm on those days. We’re already spending up to forty hours a week studying, so I think it’s important that once it turns 5 pm, that you just do anything to get the whole thing off your mind. I think it’s also important that you start taking it easier the week of the exam just so that you can give your brain a rest before the exam.

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

I was fortunate to work at a medium-sized firm. I had two mentors who were available to answer any questions that I had or mark cases if I needed. My firm also paid for the Densmore sessions as well as the extra Densmore cases. Study materials were covered by them too so I also bought Densmore’s competency map study notes.

Did you take any prep courses? What advice did you find most helpful?

As mentioned earlier, my firm paid for the Densmore prep course. I felt that their advice on ranking and time management were the most helpful. It’s helpful to know your technical, but if you don’t leave yourself enough time to talk about all the issues, then you risk missing out on breadth and depth on other issues since you can easily spend over half the case talking about any single issue. I initially thought it was a waste of time, but it only takes a couple of minutes to look at all the identified issues and rank the order you want to approach them (very helpful if the treatment/implications of one issue has an impact on another) and also estimate the amount of time it should take to talk about each issue (something you will get better with as your write more cases). Doing this will help you use your time more efficiently as you don’t have to go back and forth working on multiple issues at the same time (this will probably make you panic too). While writing down an estimated time will not prevent you from going over, if you’re disciplined enough, it definitely helps making it easier to know when to move on.

Are there any must have materials (books, videos, marking, tutoring, etc.)?

I honestly thought the Densmore prep course was useful and I highly recommend taking a prep course. The extra cases from Densmore were also useful since this was the first CFE and sample cases were very limited. Day 3 cases are pretty similar to the old multis so that’s not an issue, but Day 1 and 2 cases were limited to what the institute released.

As for the study notes, your mileage may vary. Some of my friends didn’t find them to be that useful since they were so summarized. However, if you wanted a more detailed explanation, you could always refer to your notes or textbooks from your university courses. I personally thought the book was useful, but that’s because I procrastinate a lot and didn’t have time to refer to more detailed notes (I used the book during my master’s program when studying for some of the exams).

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

Yes, I worked in a group of four. I’d advise having at least three since you may get too used to your partner’s writing over the span of six weeks. If your partner can guess what you’re trying to say, that’s not good since they’ll likely give you the benefit of the doubt. However, the actual markers don’t know what you’re thinking/assuming so you may not get the benefit of the doubt on the actual CFE if your answer is unclear. The additional benefit of having more than two people is that you get different perspectives when receiving feedback and that each person should hopefully have different strengths that they can contribute when a question comes up. However, if you have too many people, each individual may not get the amount of attention/help they need and it can sometimes turn into a party.

Overall, I think three is probably the best number, but if you want more, I wouldn’t have more than four.

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

For me, it’s not that important. I don’t need much sleep to function and can actually write exams off of less than one hour of sleep (thank you mutated BHLHE41 gene). However, as emphasized at the Densmore prep sessions, it’s still important to be well rested for the three days. As already mentioned, it’s important to take it easy going into the final week (spend less time writing cases and more time on reviewing your notes). I personally don’t recommend going all out when studying if you don’t need to. You end up being less stressed as you spend less time worrying about the exam and there is a lower chance that you’ll burn out before the exam. Also, doing a couple of extra cases isn’t going to help you that much in my opinion. Sure you’ll see different case facts and potentially different situations, but how you answer each situation doesn’t change. Hopefully after six weeks of regular studying, you’ll have all the required tools to answer most of the situations that could come up.

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

Although I got better, time management was the hardest obstacle for me to overcome. When you know the answer, it’s hard to just cut your answer off and move onto something else. For example, some financial reporting issues have so many criteria that it can be very easy to spend too much time on that single issue. Another example is when you do quants and have all the numbers to work with. However, if you look at some of the marking guides, all it takes to get competent is maybe using half of the numbers (ex. correctly using 5/10 of the numbers in your quant). Consciously omitting something from your answer is hard and takes time to get used to, but it will definitely help on the actual exam.

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

I haven’t really talked to anyone that failed so I’m not entirely sure. However, I would guess that they focused on the wrong things as they were studying. It’s easy to try to master your technical skills, but doing so might result in you neglecting your case writing skills. The resources are there in Securexam, so as long as you can effectively use that, you don’t need to have everything memorized. As mentioned numerous times already, being able to manage your time will allow you to reduce the risk that you miss talking about any particular issue in sufficient depth.

It’s also critical that you properly plan before you start your response. This not only helps organize all the key facts mentioned in the case, but will save you time from having to constantly go back to the actual case and rereading it. Sometimes I can remember enough about a particular excerpt just from my planning notes and can address the issue without referring back to the case.

Learning how to use the handbook and knowing where to find specific criteria is critical as this can save a lot of time and can help add depth since you’d be applying case facts to handbook criteria.

 

Exam Day:

What was the most challenging for you on the exam?

There were two things that I found very challenging. The first was the format and style of the Day 1 case. The CPAO only gave us two sample Day 1 cases to work with and they were nearly identical aside from the technical issues involved. The Day 1 case on the exam was completely different so I was quite shocked and this resulted in me panicking a bit, but I’m glad I was able to overcome this.

The other challenge related to an issue for the assurance role on the Day 2 case. I’m sure most people who did the assurance role know what issue I’m talking about, but it was something that was never covered in my curriculum (probably because of how unlikely it was that we actually needed to know it for anything) and was never encountered during any of my work terms. Fortunately, I had spent time learning where to find things in the handbook and was able to find the applicable sections on the topic rather quickly. Also, by allocating enough time to that particular issue and saving it for last, I didn’t really panic at all because I had time to read those sections for the first time ever and do some learning during the exam.

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

No, not at all. I’m sure like most people I thought I failed after the exam. My largest concern was the Day 1 case. People in general thought that was the easiest day since it focused more on enabling competencies instead of technical competencies. However, I thought I made a “fatal flaw” (whatever that means) by not doing a single exhibit since quantitative analysis is an enabling competency. I basically only used Excel as a calculator since I didn’t like the calculator that the CPAO provided and so the only quantitative analysis I did were quick one-to-two line calculations within Word. Although it turned out okay for me, I don’t recommend doing this on Day 1.

I wasn’t too worried about Day 2. You don’t need to get competent on every indicator to get depth in your role so I was fine if I messed up an issue or two (particular that one random one mentioned earlier).

Day 3 was so-so for me. I feel that it’s harder to get breadth on all the competencies if you only have three cases to do so (compared to having two days of multis for the UFE). In my opinion, if you mess up on one case then you really have to hit reaching competence on the other cases or else you might not hit the breadth requirement.

With that being said, I was worried about tax and strategy. The tax issues were not the ones that I am more comfortable with and the Income Tax Act in Securexam is completely useless so there was a lot of educated guessing going on there. As for the strategy issues, I sometimes struggled with those throughout my prepping. Strategy indicators are not as obvious to me as the other issues and so I was afraid that I didn’t pick up on all of them. Also, Day 3 was heavy on management accounting (not guaranteed to be like this in the future) so a lot of quants were involved if I recall correctly. Although I’ve been preaching time management this entire time, I was over my time budget from the get go and ended up using more than the allotted time for the first and second multis, resulting in 15 less minutes than suggested for the last case. It actually could have been worse, but by at least being conscious about it, I was able to cut back on some of my other issues to help gain back some time that I lost for the last case.

 

Final Advice:

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

After you do your planning, rank your issues and consider if any issues feed into other issues. It’s frustrating and can result in an inefficient use of time trying to address an issue when your answer requires something from another issue that you haven’t done yet.

After you rank, estimate how much time is required to address each issue and keep track of the time. If you’re about to go over budget, move onto the next issue. Don’t risk spending too much time on one issue as this could result in a subpar answer for another issue.

Learn how to use the handbook efficiently. Know where certain criteria can be found by making use of the table of contents or the search function. If you know keywords (ex. Searching up “feasibility” in HB3064 will get you to the six criteria for internally developed intangibles), use them.

Know your tax well. The Income Tax Act in Securexam is more than useless in my opinion (at least the search function). If you can use the ITA as effectively as the handbook, you deserve the gold medal.

Aim for competent, not competent with distinction. As you study for the exam, learn what is expected to achieve competent. For example, you do not need to be 100% accurate and use all the available numbers for a quant. Based on my experience, using 50-75% of the numbers correctly should be good enough for competent.

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

Try to have fun at the same time. Don’t just focus on studying the entire time. Once it is 5 pm, stop thinking about this and enjoy the rest of your day. At the end of the day, it’s just an exam and you can always rewrite it if you don’t pass.

I want to thank Richard for taking the time to give us such a detailed account of his CFE experience and actionable tips. I think every candidate can get some take aways here. I asked Richard what was next for him in his career.

I’m not too sure since my work experience has been limited to public accounting. For now, I’m just focused on getting the rest of my hours, but I’ll see where life takes me afterwards. My firm treats me pretty well so if anything, I’ll just stay in public accounting. I would love to work abroad at some point in my life though.

You can connect with Richard Huynh on LinkedIn. If you have any questions, Richard has also agreed to keep an eye on the comments and stop by to answer so, what would you like to ask Richard?

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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

Undergrad:

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!

Advice from 2010 UFE National Gold Medallist Vicky Au for this year's UFE writers!

Today we have a special post lined up for you. I recently had the opportunity to speak with 2010 UFE National Gold Medallist Vicky Au. Vicky captured the Canadian Gold Medal as the top writer out of 3,046 successful candidates and was kind enough to let me pick her brain about how she studied for the UFE. 

Despite her exceptional results on the UFE, Vicky’s study schedule remained fairly standard. Vicky largely followed the internal study schedule provided by Deloitte, which is similar to what is out there from the Densmore prep courses. Vicky felt that it was beneficial to mimic the actual UFE and therefore she spent Mondays doing her comprehensive simulations followed by a debrief session which often took her into Tuesday. When her debrief was complete the next day, she wrote one multi and debriefed.

Vicky mentioned, “I had a lot of trouble with cut-offs between exams so I would often write two sims in a row, particularly towards the end of the study process” which might be a deviation from the standard approach but solved her problem and provided strong results judging from Vicky’s final performance. The remainder of her standard study day was spent marking, providing and receiving feedback and reviewing a little technical with her group of three. It’s worth adding that Vicky’s entire group successfully completed the UFE with one other member finishing on the honour roll.

As mentioned in The Bottom Line interview, Vicky did have additional support through a Deloitte coach whom she spoke with often. Vicky told me, “The coach was for emotional support.” Vicky’s coach would review her marks tracker consistently, and above all, provide emotional support which helped Vicky deal with the stress. Vicky used this resource often and felt that it provided her a lot of benefit to be able to talk out loud with her coach away from her study group. On the days Vicky wrote the actual UFE she mentioned that, “I don’t like to talk about the exam after but I could talk to my coach for support.” This strategy helped Vicky maintain her confidence and not second guess her performance during the UFE.

Vicky felt that it’s important not to blindly follow everything you hear in a prep course but to understand the rationale for this advice. “I’m a little different, at night I got very nervous and felt like I had to be doing something.” Vicky understood that the reason for rules such as not studying nights was to avoid burnout so she was able to calm her nerves by completing some very light technical review. She felt like she was doing something while also not doing anything too intensive and burning out.

In Week 4, Vicky began to see a decline in her scores, “I couldn’t seem to get above an NC level,” which was nerve wracking so close to the exam. Vicky’s coach caught the change in her results tracker quickly and advised her that she was burned out and needed a break. “I didn’t do anything the Thursday and Friday; and for the last week, I ended up divorcing my group.” The break helped get Vicky back on track and she ended up studying on her own for the final week of her study period. Her advice: “You have to put yourself first. Your group will understand.” Vicky was spending too much time marking of her peer’s exams and this was impacting how much time she could spend on her own debriefing.

I asked Vicky if there was any must-have study material she recommends for the UFE. Although she had access to a lot of in-house study material, Vicky’s main recommendation is the marking guides, which “helped me extrapolate, I was able to quantify and qualify what was required and found them very valuable.”

Vicky discussed with me what she felt some of the more challenging aspects of studying for the UFE are. Without a doubt, “the pressure to pass … the results are published and everybody knows.” The way Vicky dealt with this pressure was to make it about something she wanted to do. “I wanted to do well, I wanted to pass this for myself and I have to go with what’s best for me.” So Vicky’s advice would be to try to disregard the external pressure and do it for you.

Any final advice for this year’s candidates? 

“Study smarter, not harder.” Vicky felt that candidates, in general, spend way too much time on technical and not close to enough time on figuring out what’s wrong with their cases. “It’s very valuable to get feedback from other people but [few] read the comments and learn from what you wrote”. Vicky felt that time is best used reviewing your case and learning what went wrong rather than jumping into studying technical or writing another case.

I would like to sincerely thank Vicky for taking time out of her schedule to share her advice with this year’s writers. Vicky Au currently works as a Senior with Deloitte’s M&A Transaction Services practice in Toronto, Ontario. She continues to be active in mentoring UFE writers both with Deloitte and providing marking services with Densmore Consulting.

Advice from 2010 UFE National Gold Medallist Vicky Au for this year’s UFE writers!

Today we have a special post lined up for you. I recently had the opportunity to speak with 2010 UFE National Gold Medallist Vicky Au. Vicky captured the Canadian Gold Medal as the top writer out of 3,046 successful candidates and was kind enough to let me pick her brain about how she studied for the UFE. 

Despite her exceptional results on the UFE, Vicky’s study schedule remained fairly standard. Vicky largely followed the internal study schedule provided by Deloitte, which is similar to what is out there from the Densmore prep courses. Vicky felt that it was beneficial to mimic the actual UFE and therefore she spent Mondays doing her comprehensive simulations followed by a debrief session which often took her into Tuesday. When her debrief was complete the next day, she wrote one multi and debriefed.

Vicky mentioned, “I had a lot of trouble with cut-offs between exams so I would often write two sims in a row, particularly towards the end of the study process” which might be a deviation from the standard approach but solved her problem and provided strong results judging from Vicky’s final performance. The remainder of her standard study day was spent marking, providing and receiving feedback and reviewing a little technical with her group of three. It’s worth adding that Vicky’s entire group successfully completed the UFE with one other member finishing on the honour roll.

As mentioned in The Bottom Line interview, Vicky did have additional support through a Deloitte coach whom she spoke with often. Vicky told me, “The coach was for emotional support.” Vicky’s coach would review her marks tracker consistently, and above all, provide emotional support which helped Vicky deal with the stress. Vicky used this resource often and felt that it provided her a lot of benefit to be able to talk out loud with her coach away from her study group. On the days Vicky wrote the actual UFE she mentioned that, “I don’t like to talk about the exam after but I could talk to my coach for support.” This strategy helped Vicky maintain her confidence and not second guess her performance during the UFE.

Vicky felt that it’s important not to blindly follow everything you hear in a prep course but to understand the rationale for this advice. “I’m a little different, at night I got very nervous and felt like I had to be doing something.” Vicky understood that the reason for rules such as not studying nights was to avoid burnout so she was able to calm her nerves by completing some very light technical review. She felt like she was doing something while also not doing anything too intensive and burning out.

In Week 4, Vicky began to see a decline in her scores, “I couldn’t seem to get above an NC level,” which was nerve wracking so close to the exam. Vicky’s coach caught the change in her results tracker quickly and advised her that she was burned out and needed a break. “I didn’t do anything the Thursday and Friday; and for the last week, I ended up divorcing my group.” The break helped get Vicky back on track and she ended up studying on her own for the final week of her study period. Her advice: “You have to put yourself first. Your group will understand.” Vicky was spending too much time marking of her peer’s exams and this was impacting how much time she could spend on her own debriefing.

I asked Vicky if there was any must-have study material she recommends for the UFE. Although she had access to a lot of in-house study material, Vicky’s main recommendation is the marking guides, which “helped me extrapolate, I was able to quantify and qualify what was required and found them very valuable.”

Vicky discussed with me what she felt some of the more challenging aspects of studying for the UFE are. Without a doubt, “the pressure to pass … the results are published and everybody knows.” The way Vicky dealt with this pressure was to make it about something she wanted to do. “I wanted to do well, I wanted to pass this for myself and I have to go with what’s best for me.” So Vicky’s advice would be to try to disregard the external pressure and do it for you.

Any final advice for this year’s candidates? 

“Study smarter, not harder.” Vicky felt that candidates, in general, spend way too much time on technical and not close to enough time on figuring out what’s wrong with their cases. “It’s very valuable to get feedback from other people but [few] read the comments and learn from what you wrote”. Vicky felt that time is best used reviewing your case and learning what went wrong rather than jumping into studying technical or writing another case.

I would like to sincerely thank Vicky for taking time out of her schedule to share her advice with this year’s writers. Vicky Au currently works as a Senior with Deloitte’s M&A Transaction Services practice in Toronto, Ontario. She continues to be active in mentoring UFE writers both with Deloitte and providing marking services with Densmore Consulting.

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