studying

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!

 

Steven

Common Myths About the CFE Exam

Hey everyone,

We’ve now reached that special time of the year for those writing the upcoming CFE exam…study season!

What I find interesting about this time of the year is that emotions are really mixed among students: some of you are laid back because you took some vacation before Capstone 2, some of you are excited to get into case-writing mode and making study groups, and others are already pulling out their hair.

Back in July 2016, I was one of those people pulling out their hair. And one of the main reasons why was because, like many of you, I had a tendency to pay very close attention to what other candidates were saying. What bothered me the most was that there was very little consistency across the “words-of-mouth.” For example, I heard that some CFE Honour Roll student out there would recommend taking three months off to study, some other successful writer would recommend taking only three weeks off, others would say that I should take at least a month off, and so on.

The truth in all of this is that while you will all be writing the same standardized exam, you are all individually unique in your abilities. Coming from a guy who spent two full years in the CFE process, the best advice I can give you if you’re already doubtful on how to prepare for the exam is to focus on yourself: make a plan that’s tailored to your own performance level. And there are many good CFE tutors out there who can help you figure out your unique “performance level” at this stage in the game (I’d be happy to get you in touch with them if you feel you need the help).

The purpose of this article is to address 5 common myths I repeatedly hear from CFE candidates each year (related to my point above about the inconsistent “words-of-mouth” statements I just mentioned), hoping that it can ease the anxiety that some of you may be experiencing right now.

 

Myth #1: You automatically fail Level 1 on Days 2 & 3 if you score NA or NC on an assessment opportunity.

Truth: false.

If CPA Canada were to do this, you would be looking at pass rates at less than 20%, if not less. I must stress again that this is a standardized exam, based on relative grading. Given how Day 3 is structured with very minimal time for each assessment opportunity across the cases, it is very common for candidates to run out of time to address an assessment opportunity, even at an RC-level. Even looking back at the 2017 CFE Board report myself (which was the year I passed), I can tell that there were a few assessment opportunities that I likely scored NA or NC.

With this being said, you still need to be very cautious about scoring NCs and NAs in your cases. You must keep in mind that Level 1 is still the most common level in which CFE candidates fail. CPA Canada assess passing level 1 as to whether “the aggregate competency was demonstrated sufficiently.” What this means is that you still need to achieve a certain number of RCs and Cs across Days 2 and 3 to pass this exam, and this number is based on how all other candidates score.

My recommendation: minimize the risk of failing. Still aim to score a C-level response in your practice cases and on the actual exam. However, do not beat yourself up (like I did) if you score NC or NA on an assessment opportunity here and there.

 

Myth #2: The markers care more about quantitative responses than they do qualitative responses for Days 2 & 3.

Truth: false.

The CPA Board of Examiners is not interested in inviting strict number-crunchers to the profession. Their goal is to bring in people who are well-rounded both in technical abilities and in the enabling competencies. This is why they would only give an RC (at best) to candidates in an assessment opportunity that requires a qualitative discussion, even if the quantitative portion is excellent.

As you proceed with debriefing your Day 2 & Day 3 cases during the study season, you will often see in the simulated marking guides that you MUST have some qualitative discussion in your response to bring your response from an RC to a C. Sometimes, you may even see that the solutions carve out the qualitative discussion as a separate assessment opportunity, so missing out on qualitative discussions may increase the risk of you failing on Level 1.

My recommendation: allocate at least 40 to 50% of your time on each assessment opportunity to have a qualitative discussion, and make sure that you stick to this time allocation. This is a great thing to try as you attempt the practice exams. Furthermore, don’t be fooled by assessment opportunities that only ask you to calculate something; there’s always something qualitative that applies to a calculation (such as impact the result will have on your client’s operations), and including this in your response will help you bring it up to a C-level.

 

Myth #3: Practicing with old UFE cases is sufficient enough to prepare for the CFE.

Truth: false.

I know this myth is going to raise some eyebrows.

Practicing old UFE cases should definitely be part of your study plan, as there is a lot you can learn from them – not only case writing techniques but also technical content (assuming you are debriefing well, which I’ll elaborate on below). Even for Capstone 2, most of the cases that CPA will provide you are derived from these old UFE cases.

However, I strongly believe that practicing old UFE cases alone is insufficient preparation. For CFE Day 1, the exam response format you’re expected to use, and method of evaluation, is nothing like what was offered in the old UFE (as it was derived from the former CMA exam program). For CFE Day 2, the exam question structure on the former Day 1 “comp” cases is somewhat similar if your elected depth role is assurance; however, the difference lies in the fact the old UFE comp-cases focused on all technical competency areas rather than just financial reporting, management accounting & your selected depth role. Lastly, for CFE Day 3, the old UFE “multi” cases generally had fewer assessment opportunities (i.e. 3 to 4 per case) compared to the CFE Day 3 cases, which have anywhere between 6 to 8 assessment opportunities per case. Ultimately, this means that you need to be a lot more careful with time allocation across the assessment opportunities.

My recommendation: to minimize the “shock” factor when writing the actual CFE, try to include cases from the prior CFE offerings (i.e. year 2015 & onwards) throughout your study period. You may also be able to obtain decent “mock Day 3” cases from third party CPA prep program providers. Whether you want to try these types of cases at the beginning, at the end, or spread evenly across your study period, that’s up to you. My personal preference is to spread these across your study period.

 

Myth #4: You need to work in audit & assurance to be successful on the CFE with assurance as your depth.

Truth: false.

While I was going through the CFE process, I was working in audit at a public accounting firm. The depth role I chose was assurance because I still wanted to pursue public accounting after getting my CPA, and I felt there were a lot more resources available from the old UFEs pertaining to assurance.

However, throughout the study period, I felt that the work experience that I was able to apply to the assurance assessment opportunities contained in the cases was limited. This was due to my limited involvement with planning assurance engagements on the job, contrary to the cases which usually ask you to perform planning work (whether it be a RAMP audit plan, control assessments, or what kind of assurance engagement to pursue). Instead, I found my resources to lie much more heavily on prior exam cases & technical content provided by my CPA mentor.

There may be some of you who do have a more senior-role at your job and are involved in the planning process. If so, then I’m sure that there are some things that are transferable to the actual exam. However, I want to stress that it is not a requirement for you to do very well on the CFE if assurance is your depth role.

My recommendation: If you see yourself working in public accounting later on in your career, choosing assurance as your depth role will open that door for you. If you do not see yourself doing this later on, I would still strongly consider assurance as your depth role, due to the many resources available from prior UFE & CFE exams in which assurance was tested frequently.

 

Myth #5: Writing more cases increases your chances of passing the CFE.

Truth: (partially) false.

I am a strong believer that for the CFE, practice makes perfect. However, it’s important to understand what “practice” really means.

I do not consider practice to be simply writing a lot of cases. By doing this, you are unable to gauge your performance. If anything, it may help you with time management, but even this benefit is questionable as you would not know if you perhaps missed assessment opportunities. The important piece missing in this is the DEBRIEFING.

Over time, I discovered that a proper debrief involves not only reading the solution after writing a practice case, but also comparing the solution to what you wrote, rewriting parts of your case response to bring it to a C-level, researching technical areas you are not comfortable with that came up in the case, and tracking your progress.

As you start in the study season, you will find that your debrief sessions take a lot of time. You may even find it takes twice or three times as long to debrief than to write the actual case – do NOT rush through this at the beginning! It’s a lot better to debrief one case thoroughly than to just write two or three cases in the same amount of time. I would reserve the strict case-writing near the end of the study season as you practice moving from case to case for Day 3.

My recommendation: Practice writing cases, but make sure your study plan allots a sufficient amount of time for debriefing each case you practice.

 

I really hope that this blog post helps you navigate through the complexities of the CFE study process. If you want to reach out to me, please give me a shout at stevenp2c@gmail.com.

 

All the best, and good luck!

Steven

CFE study group or partner best practices

Your CFE study partner or study group is one of the more important choices you’ll have to make early on. As with much of social interaction, results can vary.

I mentioned in a previous post, I do recommend studying with a partner or group.

My own study buddy/group experience is an example of how you could handle various kinds of situations. Under the previous exam structure in Ontario we had two exams needed to get through – the School of Accountancy (SOA) during the summer and then the Uniform Evaluation (UFE) in September. During SOA in June I lived with and also worked according to a common schedule with a single study buddy. It worked very well throughout June at SOA because we lived in the same place and it was easy to write an exam or two after classes, take it up and then debrief on our own.

This changed during my August UFE study period when commuting became a factor and it was more difficult to reliably follow a schedule. Within a week I could tell it wasn’t working for me or my study buddy and we parted ways. What works in one situation doesn’t work in another so it’s best to cut your losses. I ended up doing simulations with miscellaneous friends for another week in order to align my study schedule with another group I was planning to join the following week. I ended up doing some exams on my own as well which was naturally stressing me out a bit. Finally, for weeks 3 and 4 in August/September I joined a group of three others to form a four-member study group. For the last two weeks this worked extremely well and the four of us were successful.

Here are some things to consider before and during your study period. You might think of them as best practices.

Are you all sticking to a schedule where everyone is happy and moving forward?
Study partners or groups that are constantly late are wasting your time and energy. Buddies that are a bad influence on you by offering distractions, temptations, etc. may also not be suitable for this one month.

Are you all in the same skill league in terms of writing simulations?
When one writer is vastly superior to the others both of you are not benefiting. On one hand, the superior writer is probably not going to improve and on the other, you may be discouraged by the superior writer who is above average whereas you should be comparing yourself to the average.

Are you enjoying spending the day with your group or study buddy?
You are probably spending up to 8 hours a day with this person or group, so you want this time to be as enjoyable as possible. The writing and debriefing process can be difficult and stressful and you want to ensure you study with the right personality type to handle this. Maybe that is somebody who can make a joke out of a bad exam or maybe you need someone that takes it seriously all the time. Preferences vary.

Are you getting good feedback from your study buddy/group or are you just being used for yours?
Make sure that you are providing good feedback and getting it. The hard work is in debriefing but your partner needs to have some use by providing good feedback on exactly how your case reads to someone independent.

Are you and your group improving at all? If not, what might be the cause?
The purpose of the study partner or study group is to improve your simulations. If it’s been two weeks and you aren’t improving, find out quickly what the problem is. Are you debriefing badly? Is your group not providing any good feedback? Two weeks in is probably your last opportunity to fix the problem.

Fun Facts

The 2010 National UFE Gold Medallist Vicky Au studied with her boyfriend as part of her study group, who also made the honour roll. The 2011 National UFE Gold Medallist Juliana Yuen also had a boyfriend who wrote the 2009 UFE as her UFE mentor. Not sure I’d recommend this path but maybe they’re on to something!

Still need to find a study partner or group? Try out our Study Partner Search.

Should I study alone for the CFE?

Should you study alone for the CFE or as part of a group? It’s around that time when you should be thinking about your study plan for the upcoming CFE.

There are a few schools of thought on the issue of study partners or study groups. The majority of people feel that they are musts and it’s non-negotiable. The remaining minority aren’t sure or prefer to work alone including several who achieved honour roll.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve seen people fail due to having the wrong study group and I’ve also seen people do well without a study group. So the bottom line is that both situations are possible. This doesn’t mean that you can’t tip the odds in your favour.

 

Pros of a study group

  • You get independent appraisal of your cases. This is the single most important reason I would recommend a study group.On your own, you cannot be completely unbiased since you know what you meant when you wrote something. Although you may know what you meant, that’s not what may come across on your case. By working with a group you will get feedback about what you actually wrote in your case from someone that doesn’t know what you meant to say. This is very valuable feedback.
  • You are accountable to somebody else. It’s easier to say ‘Screw it, I’m not doing this today’ to yourself, but it’s harder when there is another person counting on you.
  • You have someone there who is going through the same thing. This can help you stay on track, not get discouraged and maintain perspective.
  • You have someone available to discuss tricky topics or get a different perspective on an issue.
  • You get to see what a realistic response looks like by marking your study partners/groups papers. Those sample responses you may have seen (or from the old UFE reports) are nowhere near what an average candidate might write and you might put undue stress on yourself if you think they are.

 

Cons of a study group

  • Your study group or partner may not be the right fit. I’ve seen it happen where a group is dysfunctional and it detracts from performance. This is more of a reason to choose wisely rather than not have a study group/partner at all.
  • When skill levels are different it can be discouraging for the person at the lower skill level and it can hinder improvement for the superior writer. Again, this is more of a reason to choose wisely rather than study alone.
  • Study partners/groups may become too much of a social gathering and waste your time.
  • You could end up with a study partner who is too emotional or stressed out and it could unnecessarily stress you out. I’ve heard of study groups which ended in tears many days for both parties, not even joking.

 

How big should your study group be?

This is another debateable issue. Most people I talk to believe that the smaller the group the better, with the ideal being just one study partner. I personally worked very well in a group of four where everyone would swap partners each simulation. I got three different perspectives from a variety of skill and progress levels. Everyone was decent at following the schedule, and if someone wanted a day off, you still had two other study partners left to discuss with. This might not work for everyone but I was good friends with my study buddies and we worked well as a group.

That said, there are of course pros and cons of smaller and larger groups so you will have to decide what is best for you. The possibility of problems tends to rise with larger groups, especially if they are dominated by any particular person.

 

In conclusion

I am strongly recommending some form of study group or a study partner, even if it’s just part time.

Remember, if you choose to have a study partner/group, it is only one part of a balanced study approach where you still need to put in the hard word writing and debriefing simulations. There is no avoiding that, no matter how good your study group is.

 

Need to find a study partner or group? Try out our Study Partner Search feature.

What’s going to be on the UFE – 2014 edition

Today is a guest blog post from Gus Patel who successfully completed the 2013 UFE

It’s that time again! If you haven’t already gotten a chance to read the 2013 UFE Report, we have and that means the yearly What’s going to be on the UFE post.

As in prior years, the theory is that the UFE tends to reflect observations made in past UFE Reports so it is a good idea to read this article in conjunction with last years’ What’s going to be on the UFE – 2013 edition.  We will again take the same approach this year and not go into specifics of each case (UFE Blog wouldn’t want to spoil the fun!) but provide some general guidance on the trends and what to look for going into the 2014 UFE.  As a disclaimer, the UFE Blog has no insider knowledge on the 2014 UFE, and it is of the discretion of the candidate to implement a balanced study plan to cover all aspects that may be tested in this year’s UFE.  It is of our opinion that the UFE Report provides some key insight and guidance on what to watch out for.

Without further delay, let’s dive in…

Overall, the introduction in the Executive Summary of the report tells us that the Board of Evaluators concluded:

  • The 2013 UFE contained 2 fewer primary indicators than 2012, but same number of primary indicators as 2011 UFE.
  • The overall level of direction provided on the 2013 UFE was comparable to 2012 UFE, and there was one less PQ indicator, however there was a highlight point that future exams will continue to have a mix of directed and non-directed indicators (thus may not be a trend).
  • Overall candidates’ performance in 2013 was weaker than in the prior year.  Funny enough, the report made several references to the 2013 UFE being easier than the 2012 UFE, being a writer of both I would tend to agree with this, but I wouldn’t take this as a trend that the 2014 UFE will be easier by any means.

Some other noteworthy points summarized:

  • Candidates are doing a better job at applying Handbook guidance to case facts and not using a “copy/pasting” approach,  however some canadidates are not recognizing the need to apply handbook guidance at all in their discussion (Page 6).
  • Consistent with 2012 UFE Report, another warning, that candidates were continuing to employ a dangerous exam-writing strategy that candidates were looking for a specific number of issues on each indicator, even though there were numerous issues outlined in the simultations (Page 6).
  • Candidates performed stronger on quantitative analysis, however were struggling when asked to quantitatively compare options (Page 7).
  • There is a lack of clarity and documentation of calculations, many candidates’ calculations were not well organized, which often resulted in omitting items from analysis and technical errors, this includes the need to document calculations and explain why items may have been excluded (Page 7).
  • Lack of comprehension and integration of case facts, there was a trend of responses to what members of the board thought were evidence of reading the simulations too quickly which resulted in misunderstanding of the simulations (Page 8).
  • The unusual roles assigned in the simulations to candidates in the 2013 UFE continued to be varied with only 2 simulations being traditional assurance roles (i.e. expect to see varied roles in 2014!) (Page 9).

What does this all mean and how should I take this going forward?

  • Remember to take the read and outline stage seriously, including understanding your role and the required. If you are in a unique role, you need to not only act and respond as if you are in that role, you need to consider your users (whether or not they are sophisticated) and as such, you need to tailor your response accordingly.
  • Don’t fall into the trap that discussing a specific number of issues only (i.e. 3 accounting issues always and move on). When outlining you need to bring all your case issues to your outline and look at how many issues there are within an indicator, it is your job to rank these issues and allocate your time to discuss a sufficient number – this could be 3 on one case or 6 on another, so do not get too comfortable with a specific number.
  • There will be a need to track calculations carefully when outlining as well as documenting them clearly so that the marker can understand how you are arriving to your conclusion, remember, the marker’s can’t read your mind or your cell calculations for that matter, so it is necessary to clearly show your work.
  • Remember, to display “competence” and get that “C” you need to have a strong technical knowledge base but also be able to apply the technical in a useful way to the users, do not just jump to conclusions for your issues.

 

Comments by Competency Area

Assurance

Candidates’ performance in Assurance was weaker than in the prior year.  The Board noted last year that candidates’ performance in 2012 was down from the previous year due to them struggling with some of the unusual roles they were given in Assurance, and the same can be said for this year (Page 9).

Here we see again another comment about the “unusual” roles, the theme here is that you really need to adapt based on the required given and consider who the end user of the information is.

… Candidates had difficulty dealing with indicators on which they were asked to look into reporting options and describe procedures that could be performed under the different reports (Page 10).

I think it’s safe to say that you should continue to expect emphasis on special reporting options along with some procedures.

Performance Measurement and Reporting

The report introduced this section stating again that candidates performed poorly in comparison to 2012 in this indicator, and discussed at length that the major issue here is to make sure you are properly analyzing an issue without just jumping to the conclusion.

The Board also noticed that some candidates avoided the more complex issues and discussed the easy ones from a technical perspective only

Remember, even though there are some challenging PMR issues presented in all UFE cases, you must rank the cases and address the major issues rather than pick and choose the ones you find easiest.

Taxation

The Board noticed a slight decrease in the overall performance of taxation responses (Page 11).

Once again, candidates have a tendency to deal with the easy issues and leave the more complex ones aside, instead of taking the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through a discussion of issues requiring more depth of analysis (Page 12).

I completely empathize here, Tax was not my strong point by any means, but sometimes the UFE forces you to discuss these issues regardless of your strengths or weaknesses – if you are noticing yourself running out of things to discuss within a tax indicator, chances are you are addressing the more minor issues and ignoring the major ones.

Management Decision-Making

Without giving case specifics away, there was a note that there was a lack of quantitative analysis within one of the indicators, and candidates often struggled with how to incorporate facts into quantitative analysis.

It is important to keep in mind that integration is important on the UFE, including integrating some of your previous calculations into your next ones since the results of one calculation can feed the input of another.

Finance

Canadidates struggled with two main elements (in Finance).  First, they had a difficult time providing consistent calculations.  Many candidates included elements that applied to both options in their calculation for only one of the options, or they included elements that applied to only one option in their calculation for both options.  Second, candidates had a difficult time accounting for the time value of money (Page 13).

It is important to outline properly and ensure that you are “slotting” case facts to the right indicator, and in this case, to the right calculations.  Without mentioning specifics, time value of money was a funny comment, as it was mentioned twice in the report. I took another look at the specific case which had this issue and no surprise that the writers’ results here were dismal.  Luckily enough most of you will take on this case prior to the 2014 UFE as part of your study program, when you do, make sure you debrief the indicator well.

Another comment from the above is to make sure that you apply case facts consistently when making comparisons. You cannot compare two options if you include/exclude different items from each.

Governance, Strategy, and Risk Management

Candidates seemed comfortable discussing the risks and drawing on case facts to support their discussions.  However, there was still room for improvement, as candidates sometimes had difficulty explaining the implication to the company of the risk they had identified or providing a viable recommendation to address the risk identified (Page 13).

Remember, it is always necessary to discuss why the company cares that you’ve identified this weakness by linking it to either a key success factor or a financial or non-financial indicator that the company is concerned about. Make sure to develop reasonable recommendations that would cover off the control weakness and also take into account the size and nature of the company (i.e. do not make grand recommendations that a big company could do if who you are reporting to is a family run business).

Pervasive  Qualities and Skills

This year, candidates seemed to do a better job of identifying the issues; however, they had difficulty discussing them in enough depth (Page 14)… they didn’t always support their suspicion or provide a recommendation of what the next course of action should be (Page 14).

Recurring theme in the PQ section, writers are getting better at seeing the big picture but are not always supporting their identification of the issue or providing a recommendation.  A good way to format these discussions are using issue, implication, reccomendation format, being sure to provide more than one supporting point to back up the issue.

If you haven’t yet, do go and read the 2013 edition as this is rumored to also heavily influence content on the UFE. Happy studying!

What's going to be on the UFE – 2014 edition

Today is a guest blog post from Gus Patel who successfully completed the 2013 UFE

It’s that time again! If you haven’t already gotten a chance to read the 2013 UFE Report, we have and that means the yearly What’s going to be on the UFE post.

As in prior years, the theory is that the UFE tends to reflect observations made in past UFE Reports so it is a good idea to read this article in conjunction with last years’ What’s going to be on the UFE – 2013 edition.  We will again take the same approach this year and not go into specifics of each case (UFE Blog wouldn’t want to spoil the fun!) but provide some general guidance on the trends and what to look for going into the 2014 UFE.  As a disclaimer, the UFE Blog has no insider knowledge on the 2014 UFE, and it is of the discretion of the candidate to implement a balanced study plan to cover all aspects that may be tested in this year’s UFE.  It is of our opinion that the UFE Report provides some key insight and guidance on what to watch out for.

Without further delay, let’s dive in…

Overall, the introduction in the Executive Summary of the report tells us that the Board of Evaluators concluded:

  • The 2013 UFE contained 2 fewer primary indicators than 2012, but same number of primary indicators as 2011 UFE.
  • The overall level of direction provided on the 2013 UFE was comparable to 2012 UFE, and there was one less PQ indicator, however there was a highlight point that future exams will continue to have a mix of directed and non-directed indicators (thus may not be a trend).
  • Overall candidates’ performance in 2013 was weaker than in the prior year.  Funny enough, the report made several references to the 2013 UFE being easier than the 2012 UFE, being a writer of both I would tend to agree with this, but I wouldn’t take this as a trend that the 2014 UFE will be easier by any means.

Some other noteworthy points summarized:

  • Candidates are doing a better job at applying Handbook guidance to case facts and not using a “copy/pasting” approach,  however some canadidates are not recognizing the need to apply handbook guidance at all in their discussion (Page 6).
  • Consistent with 2012 UFE Report, another warning, that candidates were continuing to employ a dangerous exam-writing strategy that candidates were looking for a specific number of issues on each indicator, even though there were numerous issues outlined in the simultations (Page 6).
  • Candidates performed stronger on quantitative analysis, however were struggling when asked to quantitatively compare options (Page 7).
  • There is a lack of clarity and documentation of calculations, many candidates’ calculations were not well organized, which often resulted in omitting items from analysis and technical errors, this includes the need to document calculations and explain why items may have been excluded (Page 7).
  • Lack of comprehension and integration of case facts, there was a trend of responses to what members of the board thought were evidence of reading the simulations too quickly which resulted in misunderstanding of the simulations (Page 8).
  • The unusual roles assigned in the simulations to candidates in the 2013 UFE continued to be varied with only 2 simulations being traditional assurance roles (i.e. expect to see varied roles in 2014!) (Page 9).

What does this all mean and how should I take this going forward?

  • Remember to take the read and outline stage seriously, including understanding your role and the required. If you are in a unique role, you need to not only act and respond as if you are in that role, you need to consider your users (whether or not they are sophisticated) and as such, you need to tailor your response accordingly.
  • Don’t fall into the trap that discussing a specific number of issues only (i.e. 3 accounting issues always and move on). When outlining you need to bring all your case issues to your outline and look at how many issues there are within an indicator, it is your job to rank these issues and allocate your time to discuss a sufficient number – this could be 3 on one case or 6 on another, so do not get too comfortable with a specific number.
  • There will be a need to track calculations carefully when outlining as well as documenting them clearly so that the marker can understand how you are arriving to your conclusion, remember, the marker’s can’t read your mind or your cell calculations for that matter, so it is necessary to clearly show your work.
  • Remember, to display “competence” and get that “C” you need to have a strong technical knowledge base but also be able to apply the technical in a useful way to the users, do not just jump to conclusions for your issues.

 

Comments by Competency Area

Assurance

Candidates’ performance in Assurance was weaker than in the prior year.  The Board noted last year that candidates’ performance in 2012 was down from the previous year due to them struggling with some of the unusual roles they were given in Assurance, and the same can be said for this year (Page 9).

Here we see again another comment about the “unusual” roles, the theme here is that you really need to adapt based on the required given and consider who the end user of the information is.

… Candidates had difficulty dealing with indicators on which they were asked to look into reporting options and describe procedures that could be performed under the different reports (Page 10).

I think it’s safe to say that you should continue to expect emphasis on special reporting options along with some procedures.

Performance Measurement and Reporting

The report introduced this section stating again that candidates performed poorly in comparison to 2012 in this indicator, and discussed at length that the major issue here is to make sure you are properly analyzing an issue without just jumping to the conclusion.

The Board also noticed that some candidates avoided the more complex issues and discussed the easy ones from a technical perspective only

Remember, even though there are some challenging PMR issues presented in all UFE cases, you must rank the cases and address the major issues rather than pick and choose the ones you find easiest.

Taxation

The Board noticed a slight decrease in the overall performance of taxation responses (Page 11).

Once again, candidates have a tendency to deal with the easy issues and leave the more complex ones aside, instead of taking the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through a discussion of issues requiring more depth of analysis (Page 12).

I completely empathize here, Tax was not my strong point by any means, but sometimes the UFE forces you to discuss these issues regardless of your strengths or weaknesses – if you are noticing yourself running out of things to discuss within a tax indicator, chances are you are addressing the more minor issues and ignoring the major ones.

Management Decision-Making

Without giving case specifics away, there was a note that there was a lack of quantitative analysis within one of the indicators, and candidates often struggled with how to incorporate facts into quantitative analysis.

It is important to keep in mind that integration is important on the UFE, including integrating some of your previous calculations into your next ones since the results of one calculation can feed the input of another.

Finance

Canadidates struggled with two main elements (in Finance).  First, they had a difficult time providing consistent calculations.  Many candidates included elements that applied to both options in their calculation for only one of the options, or they included elements that applied to only one option in their calculation for both options.  Second, candidates had a difficult time accounting for the time value of money (Page 13).

It is important to outline properly and ensure that you are “slotting” case facts to the right indicator, and in this case, to the right calculations.  Without mentioning specifics, time value of money was a funny comment, as it was mentioned twice in the report. I took another look at the specific case which had this issue and no surprise that the writers’ results here were dismal.  Luckily enough most of you will take on this case prior to the 2014 UFE as part of your study program, when you do, make sure you debrief the indicator well.

Another comment from the above is to make sure that you apply case facts consistently when making comparisons. You cannot compare two options if you include/exclude different items from each.

Governance, Strategy, and Risk Management

Candidates seemed comfortable discussing the risks and drawing on case facts to support their discussions.  However, there was still room for improvement, as candidates sometimes had difficulty explaining the implication to the company of the risk they had identified or providing a viable recommendation to address the risk identified (Page 13).

Remember, it is always necessary to discuss why the company cares that you’ve identified this weakness by linking it to either a key success factor or a financial or non-financial indicator that the company is concerned about. Make sure to develop reasonable recommendations that would cover off the control weakness and also take into account the size and nature of the company (i.e. do not make grand recommendations that a big company could do if who you are reporting to is a family run business).

Pervasive  Qualities and Skills

This year, candidates seemed to do a better job of identifying the issues; however, they had difficulty discussing them in enough depth (Page 14)… they didn’t always support their suspicion or provide a recommendation of what the next course of action should be (Page 14).

Recurring theme in the PQ section, writers are getting better at seeing the big picture but are not always supporting their identification of the issue or providing a recommendation.  A good way to format these discussions are using issue, implication, reccomendation format, being sure to provide more than one supporting point to back up the issue.

If you haven’t yet, do go and read the 2013 edition as this is rumored to also heavily influence content on the UFE. Happy studying!

Stick to the game plan!

Today is a guest blog post from Gus Patel who successfully completed the 2013 UFE

I hope everyone took the time to relax and enjoy the long weekend.  Many of you will be starting some sort of “pre-SOA preparation”, be it an internal prep program, or your own study plan before June.  I wanted to take the time to quickly address a very important point very early on in this process for new candidates: do not get overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge available to you during the school and within your programs.

When I wrote the SOA in 2012, I decided to be proactive and print out all my internal prep program materials, all the materials on the Boot Camp on the CPA website, along with all my Densmore study guides.  What I was left with after several hours of printing was easily over 3,000 pages of information, prior cases, strategy notes, etc. which sat firmly atop my desk at home.  Staring at this massive pile,  a large overwhelming feeling looming over me – how was I supposed to get through all this information in just a few months?

The reality is – you can’t possibly learn all there is to know about accounting in just a few short months.  The commitment you’ve taken on to learn this information will last more than just your time studying to pass the SOA and UFE.  To be a CPA/CA is establishing an ongoing commitment to professional development.

While I am not discounting the value of going through all this information – do not to get too stressed out and overwhelmed by the volume  available to you during your studies.  The most important and critical thing you can do is learn to write cases which means write cases and debrief them well.

You may be tempted to dedicate a large portion of time to just studying and memorizing technical, just like you did for exams in school, but this exam is very different, and the only way to learn how to score in these cases, is to practice cases.  The technical knowledge you need, you will learn directly from debriefing the cases.  In fact, you might be surprised as you go through the cases, how much (or little) “technical knowledge” you might need for competent on a given indicator.

What are you doing to prepare for the 2014 School of Accountancy?

What’s ahead?

Many of you, especially in Ontario, have been asking: what do I do now that I passed/didn’t pass the the CKE? What if I’m not in Ontario, what do I do?

The basic plan is to start with some more technical study and then work on your case writing muscles through the SOA (in Ontario) until the UFE. You want to have your technical knowledge down early because later on there won’t be much time to study it in depth since you’ll be working on cases.

Your skeleton Ontario schedule might look something like this:

January – February: Technical review and study (Wait! don’t panic! If you’re too busy it’s okay to take the time off from UFE study)

March – April: Technical review and study while starting writing cases, perhaps one per week or two. This will correspond with your courses if you’re taking one where you’ll learn some case writing techniques.

May: In Ontario this is pre-SOA time, you’ll continue to get into case writing, definitely doing one per week at this point.

June: School of Accountancy – long days and lots of case writing but very manageable.

July: Take a breather here while you wait for results. Yep, take the time to rest and recover because August is busy.

August: You’ll get introduced to UFE cases here and start writing a few.

August – September UFE Study Time: You will take off three weeks from any work to write/debrief cases 5 days a week and 8 hours a day leading up to the UFE.

September 9, 10 and 11th – the Big Day – the 2014 UFE! Hard to believe it’s only 221 days away.

See? It’s not so bad.

There are plenty of other paths. Some people work much harder, others don’t lift a finger until June but I think your average candidate follows this path (in Ontario, anyway). Other provinces have a much earlier focus on cases (and have two year programs in some cases). For example, in the CASB program you will have to pass a module in July so you will have to adjust your steps slightly. I believe it’s similar in Quebec as well.

 

A word on technical study from now on

The level of UFE technical is different from the CKE and also different from what you learned in University. It is not as high as you probably think. Both PASS and Densmore offer UFE-level technical study guides. I used the Densmore one and thought it was fantastic so I will continue to recommend it to candidates going forward. However, the best source of technical knowledge for the UFE will be the UFE (and SOA) solutions themselves. We’ll talk more about this in the future.

 

Past candidates: How did you study for the UFE? Tell us in the comments!
Today’s candidates: What are the big questions you still have?

What's ahead?

Many of you, especially in Ontario, have been asking: what do I do now that I passed/didn’t pass the the CKE? What if I’m not in Ontario, what do I do?

The basic plan is to start with some more technical study and then work on your case writing muscles through the SOA (in Ontario) until the UFE. You want to have your technical knowledge down early because later on there won’t be much time to study it in depth since you’ll be working on cases.

Your skeleton Ontario schedule might look something like this:

January – February: Technical review and study (Wait! don’t panic! If you’re too busy it’s okay to take the time off from UFE study)

March – April: Technical review and study while starting writing cases, perhaps one per week or two. This will correspond with your courses if you’re taking one where you’ll learn some case writing techniques.

May: In Ontario this is pre-SOA time, you’ll continue to get into case writing, definitely doing one per week at this point.

June: School of Accountancy – long days and lots of case writing but very manageable.

July: Take a breather here while you wait for results. Yep, take the time to rest and recover because August is busy.

August: You’ll get introduced to UFE cases here and start writing a few.

August – September UFE Study Time: You will take off three weeks from any work to write/debrief cases 5 days a week and 8 hours a day leading up to the UFE.

September 9, 10 and 11th – the Big Day – the 2014 UFE! Hard to believe it’s only 221 days away.

See? It’s not so bad.

There are plenty of other paths. Some people work much harder, others don’t lift a finger until June but I think your average candidate follows this path (in Ontario, anyway). Other provinces have a much earlier focus on cases (and have two year programs in some cases). For example, in the CASB program you will have to pass a module in July so you will have to adjust your steps slightly. I believe it’s similar in Quebec as well.

 

A word on technical study from now on

The level of UFE technical is different from the CKE and also different from what you learned in University. It is not as high as you probably think. Both PASS and Densmore offer UFE-level technical study guides. I used the Densmore one and thought it was fantastic so I will continue to recommend it to candidates going forward. However, the best source of technical knowledge for the UFE will be the UFE (and SOA) solutions themselves. We’ll talk more about this in the future.

 

Past candidates: How did you study for the UFE? Tell us in the comments!
Today’s candidates: What are the big questions you still have?

Continuing the Debate on UFE Partners / Study Groups

I’ll start by saying that there are still plenty of ads up on the UFE Study Partner search. If you’re still looking for a group or partner for the 2013 UFE do head on over and check it out. If you’re in need of a group or partner feel free to post an ad – they are absolutely free.

Now on to the meat (sort-of).

A lot of people wonder if having a study partner for the UFE is really necessary and some choose to go at it alone. I’ve known a few that did it this way and successfully completed the UFE so as I always try to say, there are many paths to success with the UFE and it’s not as black and white as some argue. I’ve had my own challenges and had to find a new study group when I was studying for the UFE a week into the process.  That said, I think having a study partner or group is a key success factor. I’ve written about this before so I won’t restate everything but do head on to my pro/con analysis I wrote for the UFE last year. Then join us in the comments to continue the debate!

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