Regardless of whether you are a first-time or experienced writer, the single biggest factor you need to manage on the CFE is time.
It is fair game to test a candidate’s ability to make good decisions under time constraints. That is an important competency for any CPA. Time needs to be managed. That can be study plan time, case length time, as well as time allocations within the cases…it is poor time management that will derail you from CFE success.
We often hear from CFE writers struggling with time management that they are not sticking to the suggested time for their practice cases. This is non-negotiable. The first step to dealing with time management issues is to practice within the time you will actually have available on the CFE. This takes self-discipline and you need to exercise it! If you practice each and every case with more time than you will have on the CFE, you will not magically be able to manage your time within the suggested time when you actually get to the CFE. Stick to the suggested time for each case as you practice, no excuses!
The Board of Examiners has said that neither Day 1 nor Day 2 of the CFE should be time constrained; that is true if you stay in control and manage your time effectively. We have seen candidates create time management problems on the first two days of past CFEs in a variety of ways. On both days, candidates get sucked into trying to complete perfect quantitative analysis and then do not have sufficient time to balance with qualitative analysis. On Day 1 of the CFE, candidates often do not save time to look at some of the over-arching considerations that form part of the bigger picture strategic look at the company. Instead, they spend their time solely on the four specifically identified issues. On Day 2, candidates often get overly concerned with passing Level 2 and spend too much time on the common component requirements to the detriment of their role-specific requirements.
Day 3 is a beast for time management…every year, too many people get to the third case on Day 3 of the CFE with significantly less than the suggested time. We have had writers tell us they have ended up there with less than 30 minutes left…yikes! Talk about adding stress to an already stressful situation. On Day 3, it is critical to manage your writing time. Just stealing a couple of extra minutes here or there to improve a response adds up to many minutes by the end of four hours. It inevitably ends up with candidates scoring NA on several assessment opportunities elsewhere because they simply did not have the time to address them or scoring several NC rankings because they rushed through their analysis.
The CFE is a ‘scoring optimization’ game; not a ‘perfect answer’ game. You need to maximize your overall scoring by avoiding NA and NC rankings while scoring a sufficient number of RC and C rankings in the proper places. If you are not planning, allocating writing time to each required, and then monitoring those times as you write, you have created an environment where time management issues could cost you a pass.
So, how do you manage time well? Allocate time to each required on your plan and adhere to those time allocations when writing. Watch the clock while you write and cut yourself off when you have used the time allocated to a particular required. That self-discipline will help you manage time, your only real enemy.