(Posted June 2022)

First, the CFE needs to be experienced to be truly understood. It is hard for those outside of the process to comprehend what you are going through and how the CFE works. They may be wondering what all the stress and fuss is about. It is just an exam after all, and you have passed every exam so far, so what’s the big deal?

The Stanley Cup finals and pond hockey are technically both hockey games. Likewise, the CFE and university exams are both technically examinations. The differences in both cases are the skill level of the players involved, the value of what is at stake and the stress level the event creates. The CFE is the major leagues, and it is the first time many of you will face the possibility of not succeeding in an academic pursuit.


The CFE is a competency-based, or skill-based, examination that does not necessarily test intelligence. All candidates who get to the point of writing the CFE are intelligent. However, being bright is not going to help a candidate unless they have developed the examination-related skills that are crucial to passing. It is the learning and developing of these competencies and skills that candidates struggle with and get frustrated over. This is all new and candidates must fight their way through it. Ultimately, the CFE is about having confidence in your abilities.


Unlike university examinations that often reward the student who studies the most, preparing for the CFE will seem counter intuitive. CFE candidates who focus on the volume of technical review or writing as many cases as possible increase their risk of failing due to burn out. These candidates who focus on quantity over quality are also more likely to reach for outdated materials such as older UFE cases rather than focusing on the more relevant CFE resources because they believe they need to write as many cases “as is possible”. But possible and beneficial are not equivalent when preparing for the CFE. The competency map is updated regularly to reflect current expectations and the CFE is a different game than what candidates played in the past. Over-studying can put a candidate at risk of losing focus of the actual target and become distracted or confused by past expectations.


It is humbling, and more than just a little hard on the ego, to get blown away even on a CFE practice case. Candidates handle this in a variety of ways, but most do get by it and learn from the experience. It is difficult under the competency-based evaluation system to see and track progress. The cases are evaluated on only five levels for each assessment opportunity. Candidates get frustrated as they have trouble seeing progress.

The tracking and debriefing process by nature also emphasizes the candidates’ weaknesses and areas to improve which is discouraging for an extended period. In order to improve with each case debriefed, a candidate will spend far more time considering and correcting areas where they scored poorly than the areas where they performed well. This imbalance of negative to positive self-examination is draining and a little extra self-care and rest may be necessary a few weeks into the process.


The CFE pass rate for first-time writers has been between 71.3 – 75.8% for the past three years. The good news is that the CFE is a passable exam. However, that does not mean that it is easy. Candidates that are successful are those who have committed time and focus to learn from their mistakes, adapt their study habits to reflect how the CFE is an entirely different exam, and have made some sacrifices for their professional goals. In doing so, the majority of candidates are successful on the CFE, and you can be among them!

Share this blog with those you love, it may help them understand what you are up against this year!