(Posted June 2024)

The most common question we are asked by candidates is “How should I study technical for the CFE?” Candidates tell us that they have forgotten all the technical they learned in their undergraduate and graduate programs or in the CPA PEP Core and Elective Modules. That lost technical knowledge is on the minds of most CFE candidates.

Before we begin discussing the most common candidate experience, I want to acknowledge that this is a genuine concern for some of you. If you are a candidate who completed an accredited program or the CPA PEP modules several years ago and took time away from the CPA education program before deciding to write the CFE, reviewing your technical knowledge in greater depth is a critical step in your journey to the CFE. Contact us if you have questions. You may benefit from rebuilding your technical skills using our widely used Competency Map Study Notes. If you are a candidate who was internationally certified and are seeking a Canadian CPA designation, technical study will be essential to your journey and you can read more about this in our blog post, Navigating CPA Canada Certification As An MOU Candidate.

You are recalling, not relearning

However, for most CFE candidates, there has been only a few months since they completed their last PEP Module exam, or a year since they completed their accredited graduate program. This technical knowledge is not forgotten, it has merely been deprioritized.

Candidates often study for exams for up to a week before the exam and then need to shift their focus to new courses or responsibilities. This technical knowledge becomes a lower priority and appears forgotten, but in fact, it is not. The understanding learned and the concepts constructed still exist, you just need to reprioritize them and learn how to apply that knowledge in a new context.

The work of reprioritizing and recalling will occur naturally with each case you write, mark, and debrief. It will be difficult at first to trust the process, but like many candidates before you, you will find it holds true. In all my time preparing for the CFE, I recall discovering only one concept in a practice case that I had not ever learned before in my undergraduate or graduate program, and this topic was not even tested on my CFE. Most technical topics covered in practice cases and on the CFE are topics you have already learned and when debriefing, you will be reminding yourself of the concepts rather than learning them from scratch. This process is surprisingly efficient once you get started.

“That might work for other candidates, but I am different”

I have heard that above statement enough times from CFE candidates to know that there are too many “unique” candidates for any of them to truly be alone in their concerns. I have had candidates confess to me they never actually understood technical concepts, they just memorized them and that is how they passed their exams during university. This stress is common because the CFE is a different kind of exam, and you will have to apply the concepts differently, but this does not mean you never understood them. You have demonstrated countless times you have the technical foundation needed – if you had not, you would not now be qualified to write the CFE.

If you still do not believe me, do not leave yet. At the end of this blog, I will discuss some of the ways you can ease your concerns about having enough technical knowledge to pass the CFE.

Focus on your skills

Most of your effort in debriefing practice cases will not be spent learning technical, but instead developing the skills needed to:

  • Effectively read the case and plan your response
  • Integrate the technical and case facts together
  • Write with sufficient depth and detail
  • Achieve depth in a concise writing style
  • Manage your time
  • Use the Handbook efficiently and effectively, and
  • Understand how these factors above change on each day of the CFE

In your previous educational experience, you built foundational knowledge that you will recall with practice, and now you must learn how to apply that knowledge to the unique multi-competency case based CFE. This is where a CFE prep course will help you develop these new skills in case writing and approach that you may lack.

“What technical resources should I use to prepare for the CFE?”

There are some things you should do to prepare technically for the CFE:

  • Marking guides – The marking guides, or solutions, to CFE practice cases are your primary resource for learning technical topics. These demonstrate how the topics can be applied in a case setting, which is always how you should think about technical topics as you study. This will also introduce you to the commonly tested topics that you may see again.
  • Scenario Flowcharts Workbook – This resource is included in our CFE Prep courses and provides technical notes on commonly tested topics across each of the competency areas, as well as the thought patterns you should consider in a case setting.
  • Skill Drills – Also included in our CFE Prep courses, our Skill Drills are short case-style problems that allow you to learn key technical and practice it in a case-type setting.
  • Competency Map Study Notes (CMSN) – Our CMSN publication provides a concise description of the technical that is examinable on the CFE based on the Competency Map made available by CPA Canada. While you should not expect to read this entire resource in the months leading up to the CFE, it can be useful when debriefing challenging issues from a case when you feel the marking guide and Handbook have not been enough.

You do not have enough time between now and the CFE to study every concept and topic that is examinable in depth. This is why it is critical you focus on practice cases that prepare you for commonly tested topics and teach you the skills to case writing that will allow you to adapt to any case you face. Above all, remember you are not alone in your concerns regarding technical topics, and many successful candidates before you have felt the same.