(Posted June 2023)

When it comes to preparing for the CFE, it’s just as important to know what not to do, as it is to know what you should do. Year after year we see candidates get themselves into trouble by over-studying and spending time on the wrong things. Don’t get us wrong, the CFE is a tough exam, but it is predictable and fair. Those who study the most are not more likely to pass. So, what is the secret to success? Knowing how to study smart.

Many candidates start with the Competency Map and think they need to learn everything. This is a sure-fire way to figure out how much you don’t know and start panicking.

We recommend you take the CPA Canada CFE cases over the past four to five years and write them, mark them (ideally with a study partner), and debrief them all within a limited time frame. If you are in Capstone 2, you will get this coverage in class, but don’t wait until you get your marked responses back; rather, mark and debrief them as soon as you write each case. Use these cases to understand how an issue is triggered. Use the marking guide (or our grids if you are part of the Densmore program) to understand what is required to score a C. And here is the kicker, use the cases to determine your technical review areas.

Using the marking guides will help you learn the technical. If you need more help to understand the material, go to a technical summary, like our Competency Map Study Notes, or your own resources to understand the material. Don’t go back to textbooks or the Handbook to learn it, as it will only overwhelm you with everything you don’t know.

Now, if you are efficient and let the case coverage guide your technical coverage, as long as you write and debrief enough cases from the last four to five years of CFE cases, you’ll see 90-95% of the technical that will be included in the CFE. The Board of Examiners concentrates on the most common areas an entry-level CPA should know. We call these repetitive testing areas. By letting these cases guide your technical, you will be well prepared.

There are some of you who want to know 100% of what the CFE will cover, so what would it take to learn that remaining 5-10%? Honestly, it would take every minute of your time. And frankly, there is no way you could know it all. Now don’t forget that you have access to the Handbook during the CFE, so spend time in preparing and understanding how to search the Handbook using Knotia. Then, when that obscure technical appears during the exam, you have two choices: look it up efficiently or fall back on the basic principles of accounting and write it from that perspective. You may hit it or miss it, but at 5-10% of the exam, it does not matter. Concentrate on the 90-95% that you can learn efficiently through your case writing practice.