(Posted July 2024)

The CPA Common Final Examination (CFE) is one of the major milestones in an individual’s journey to becoming a CPA. A myriad of experiences contribute to these three letters, but few are as challenging and pivotal as passing the CFE. Because of this, candidates seek to find the best information to ensure their success.

Tips from past candidates who followed the recommended steps of a CFE prep course are also a source for good advice. In this blog post, we look at some of the insights shared by successful regional gold medalists who were also Densmore students.

Keith Abloa was the Atlantic Canada regional gold medalist for September 2023 and was asked by CPA Canada to talk through his study process:

“My employer facilitated my enrolment in the Densmore program, a crucial element in my successful preparation. I followed a strict and structured study plan, engaging in technical review, completing Capstone 2 and Densmore cases, and watching webinars to enhance my strategy. I partnered with a friend, and we collaborated on case marking and debriefed each other’s cases. Outside of studying, I tried to maintain a work-life balance by spending time with family and friends.” 1

Abloa speaks of topics we cover often in the Densmore course. Practicing self-discipline by sticking to your Densmore-provided study plan, which integrates both Densmore and Capstone 2 cases, balanced with taking time to rest and recover from the pressure of CFE preparation, are keys to success. We also encourage all candidates to find a study partner to mark your responses. Having an objective assessment of your response and learning from the writing approach of your peer will fast-track your preparation noticeably.

September 2018 Atlantic Canada regional gold medalist Bradley Smith had similar advice when he shared with CPA Canada his tips for CFE candidates:

“I was fortunate enough to go through the whole program with two amazing co-workers and a very supportive office. My advice would be to find a friend or two in the program or who have gone through the program, so they keep you on track.” 2

The benefits of partnering with candidates walking this road with you cannot be overemphasized.

Brittany Harnum was the Atlantic Canada regional gold medalist in September 2022. When asked by CPA Canada what advice she would share with those preparing to write the CFE, Brittany said:

“Complete the case studies within the time constraint—I think that is what contributed to my success on the CFE. Also, taking time off from studying is important if you want to avoid getting overwhelmed, especially in the lead-up to the exam.” 3

If you are a candidate preparing for the CFE and are not yet writing your practice cases in the suggested time, it is time to start. From the first to the final practice case you attempt, stick to the suggested time on the case, and stick to the time you allocate to each of its required. You need to be disciplined in your approach to preparing for the CFE. This is challenging work, and working hard must be balanced with resting hard. If you see your performance declining, particularly in the final two weeks before the CFE, take a break. Ground yourself by connecting with family and friends, pursuing your hobbies, or getting some physical exercise.

Finally, it is important to believe in yourself. When asked what advice he would give to others preparing to write the CFE, Abloa stated:

“Lastly, maintain confidence in your abilities. Reaching this stage indicates your capability to successfully navigate the final stretch.” 1

The CFE is not only a knowledge game, but also a skills game and a mental game. You need to adapt and learn from your weaknesses and mistakes, which can be mentally and emotionally draining. When stress is high, you should elevate taking care of yourself just as high to maintain your confidence. Schedule activities that feed you throughout your study period such as reading, being physically active, or visiting a favourite restaurant or local attraction. Ask your CFE mentor or your friends and family to regularly encourage you. Most of all, encourage yourself. You have demonstrated you have the skill and ability to qualify to write the CFE – you have earned the right to be here, and you can make it the rest of the way!

At Densmore, we talk to students often about the importance of taking good advice. There are many opinions about how to pass the CFE, and not all of them are useful. Taking a CFE prep course is one way to learn from experts on the exam. If you are unsure if a CFE prep course is right for you, visit our blog post, Choosing the Right CFE Prep Course.

  1. https://www.cpacanada.ca/news/accounting/the-profession/september-2023-cfe-regional-winners
  2. https://www.cpacanada.ca/news/accounting/the-profession/september-2022-cfe-regional-winners
  3. https://www.cpacanada.ca/news/accounting/the-profession/2018-12-18-honour-roll-regional-winners