When / Where / How to Get Started on Your CFE Study

Writing the CFE in 2024? You are likely starting to think a bit about your CFE study plan at this point. You may have limited time to study since you are likely balancing a pretty demanding job and perhaps some family responsibilities as well, so you need to be super intentional about where you spend your study time. 

But it is not as simple as just working your way through the eBook, you don’t have time for that. The CFE is a comprehensive exam, meaning it covers all of the competency map. But it does not cover all of the eBook, so you need to be careful that you spend your time where it will actually matter. Certain topics in the eBook are covered in more depth and at a higher level of difficulty than others, depending on your role. And Certain topics come up over and over while some are rarely tested.

So what should you do? When should you start? What study resources should you use? What are some concrete steps you can take right now to improve your chances of passing?

When to get started?

This varies based on…

…your existing technical knowledge

…how long it has been since you took your Core and Elective technical courses

…how much time outside of work you can spare for studying on a part time basis

…how much time off you have leading up to the CFE

…whether you are writing all 3 days of the CFE or just Day 1 or just Day 2&3

…whether you still need to pass Capstone 1

Lots of variables! But in general after years of working with successful candidates, and taking the time to understand what separates those who pass from those who fail, one of those factors is the candidate’s ability to honestly assess their technical knowledge, and especially technical knowledge under time pressure. If you struggle here, getting started early is important so you have the time to expand your technical base.

If you are a candidate who has failed the CFE, or has taken a while to get through PEP, or is writing via MOU, typically it has been some time since you took your core technical courses. That means you will need to spend more time than the average candidate on your technical refresh because the technical will not be as fresh for you vs a candidate who took their core courses last year.

So. If you completed your technical courses recently and are writing the CFE on time, shoot for 240 hours of total study time. If you have 6 weeks off work, that means you don’t have to do much in advance of that (6 weeks x 40 hrs / week. That said, you should start doing some spot checks on your technical in early January, to ensure that your technical is in fact still pretty strong.

If it has been a while since you took your technical courses and need more of a technical refresh, shoot for 320 hours of total study time to give yourself some extra technical refresh time. If you know you REALLY struggle with the technical, then get started asap in case you find you need more time. It’s best to find that out sooner vs later so you can adjust your schedule when you still have time to do so.

Note that the 240 hours and 320 hours referenced above also include case writing time.

Then based on how much time you plan to take off, and how much time you have to work on CFE study part time while working (consider time needed for Cap 1 here as well, about 5-15 hours per week), work backwards to determine your start date. Doing this exercise now may also make you realize that you need to ask for more time off or figure out a way to increase your part time study or get started earlier than you anticipated. 

Where to get started?

There are lots of CFE resources out there, and you need to be strategic about where you focus your time. 

The 3 KEY Resources (Free with your CFE Registration)

1. New Ebook

This will be your #1 resource for technical. It is written by CPA Canada and therefore it covers the CFE competency map. That said, this is a COMPLETE technical resource and therefore it contains advanced concepts that will only be tested on Day 2 role. So you need to be careful that you focus on the parts of the eBook that are applicable to you and your role. The eBook is split out by competency.

CPA Canada Ebook. Volume 1: Financial Reporting cover

You will NOT be reading the eBooks from front to back (thank goodness! Nobody has got time for that!)  BUT they are an invaluable technical resource and you absolutely will use them frequently, but in a more targeted way (more on that below in the “How” section).

There is a textbook for each competency. Found on D2L. Everyone has access to this. If you went through the PEP program you will already have the eBooks loaded in your D2L. If you are writing the CFE via MOU, you will need to register for the CFE first, and then you will get access to D2L where you will find the eBooks.

The eBooks used to be hosted on Knotia.ca but were moved to D2L in January 2023. The new eBook is based on the old one but has more examples and practice problems.

2. Knotia

This is the website (www.knotia.ca) where the exam reference material is housed, the FR Handbook, The Assurance Handbook and the Income Tax Act. You will have access to these resources during the CFE. So you want to get used to working with these resources right from the start. You will NOT have access to the eBooks during the exam.

There is no longer any special software that you need to install on your laptop before the exam and learn how to use and search properly. The reference material will look like and is searchable in the same way as you use it online at www.knotia.ca, so make sure you open it up and get used to it now.

Everyone should get very familiar with using the FR Handbook, so use it from the start of your studies, don’t wait until you start writing cases 8-12 weeks before the CFE. Assurance Role candidates should get familiar with the Assurance Handbook, especially the Table of COntents and what is available. It will likely be useful for 1-2 AOs on the Day 2 Assurance case. As for the Income Tax Act…forget about it! Nobody is using it as it is much too cumbersome to find what you need in a time efficient way. The only exception is if the CFE case gives a specific paragraph reference number that you can look up, and this would only happen for Tax role candidates.

3. Past CFEs

This will be your #1 resource for case practice, there is one board report for each CFE offering. The May 2023 Board Report will be released in Feb 2024 and the Sep 2023 Board Report will be released in early May 2024. All of the assigned Capstone 2 cases are past CFE cases. 

Both May and Sep 2024 writers will have access to 13 past CFEs and solutions. That is more than enough to keep you busy during your case writing period. Capstone 2 only has 4 past CFE scheduled in the 8 weeks preceding the CFE. We recommend you shoot for completing 9 past CFEs in the 8-12 weeks preceding the CFE. The more cases you write, the better chance you have of passing. But trying to fit in 13 past CFEs will likely be overkill unless you have LOTS of time off. You can typically write and debrief one CFE per week, so doing all 13 would require about 13 weeks off (and the vast majority of candidates just don’t have that kind of time – that is ok.)

You can find the past CFEs here: https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/become-a-cpa/certification-resource-centre/resources-for-cpa-evaluation

The cases + solutions form part of the Board Report, which also has comments from the Board on each question. These comments can be helpful in assessing whether you were “with the pack” on your answer or not. It is a lot more concerning if you struggle on an AO where everyone did well vs on a challenging AO where everyone did poorly – the Board comments will help you gauge that.

Note that the Day 1 solutions are not released until that particular case is retired (i.e. given for the second time).

If you are exempt from Cap 2 because you are writing MOU, you should still opt to take Cap 2 “Not-for-Credit”. This means that you do not get any marking and do not need to turn in case assignments, but you do get all of the materials. While you can access the past CFE cases and solutions free via the board reports linked above, you will not get the “Feedback Guides”. These guides are a suggested marking key. Not the marking key that was used at the CFE National marking centre, but the Cap 2 team’s best guess at what the CFE marking key would have looked like. Candidates find these very helpful. You will also need the Cap 2 materials to get access to the three Day 1 practice cases that are specific to your Day 1 Case.

How to use these resources during your technical refresh period?

Save the past CFE cases until 8-12 weeks before your CFE. Since there are 13 past CFEs that 2024 writers will be able to use for studying, it is ok if you want to burn one or two now by having a look and giving them a try. But save the rest for your case writing period. 

During your technical refresh period, before you start case writing, focus on using the eBooks spotlight summaries, looking up the criteria highlighted on those summaries in the Handbook on knotia and then doing the practice problems at the end of the eBook chapters.

Work through the eBook one competency at a time, starting with FR. 

To prioritize which topics to spend more time on, use our free guide to the Most Tested Topics on the CFE, which shows if, when and how many times each topic has shown up on past CFEs. For example, in this excerpt from the FR section, you can see that Rev Rec is very important!

You can download the full super pack with all 6 competencies (free!) here: www.cfesuccess.com/all-common-topics-tested

Additional Sources of Study Material

While the above sources of study material are incredibly helpful, there is one missing piece: practice putting the technical into ACTION CFE style before being pushed into the deep end (i.e. writing a full fledged CFE Case).

PEP Cases and Integrated Problems 

The CFE tests Core 1, Core 2 and your elective, so working through those cases and integrated problems will give you applied technical practice. Just make sure you attempt the case or problem without looking at the answer and debrief well. YOu won’t have time to do all of these but picking a few from each course can help you decide where you are weak and where you need to focus your efforts.

You will only have access to these if you went through the PEP program. 

MCQs

This is only here to tell you NOT to spend your time on the MCQs! No MCQ on the CFE and not the type of knowledge that is tested (i.e. memorization). Your time is better spent elsewhere.

Past UFEs

 Before the CFE (the “Common Final Examination” came along, there was the UFE (the “Uniform Final Examination”). The 60-90 min questions on past UFEs can be helpful for reviewing case based testing of technical competencies. If you would like to test yourself on a particular technical topic, you can use our Most Tested Topics Superpack to look up a UFE question where that topic was tested. 

So, for example, if you wanted to try a contingency question, without burning a past CFE, you could look up question 2-2 on the 2014 UFE:

CFE Success Academy AO Style Drills

In my prep program we provide practice problems that are structured and marked exactly like a single Assessment Opportunity on the CFE. We provide feedback guides so you can learn how each type of topic is marked before you even open a full CFE case. The AO style drills are organized by topic so you can watch a technical spotlight video on a topic and then complete the drills for that topic right after. This is a great way to ease your way into CFE case writing as jumping right into the deep end (i.e. a full CFE case) can feel overwhelming for many candidates.

How to Get Started?

1. Right after you finish reading this post, decide on the amount of time you need, the amount of time you will take off work, and how much time you can study part time while working, then work backwards to set your start date.

2. Decide what specific days and time of the week you will block off for studying, then block them, and get buy-in from your family if needed.

3. Attend our 4-Day FR Challenge starting Monday Dec 4 – Thursday Dec 7, 2023 (free!). During the challenge, I will walk you through the lifecycle of studying one FR topic. You will get a 10 minute activity each morning to work through and we have a couple live sessions planned so I can address questions. Sign up here: www.cfesuccess.com/frchallenge

4. Attend our time management masterclass on Dec 12 or Dec 14 (free!). More details to come – make sure you are signed up for my Newsletter and watch your email

5. Get Revenue Recognition done over the Holiday Break (or by April if you are writing in September). This may seem like a small step but Rev Rec is actually a pretty big topic with many permutations. It has also been tested on almost all of the past CFEs, so let’s just say that there is a >90% chance it will be there in 2024. Getting started is the hardest part, and this is a manageable goal so build up some momentum by ticking this big topic off your list asap. You can use the process you learn during the 4-day FR challenge to get this done efficiently and effectively.

In January, continue on with FR, then MA, then Role, Then the Day 3 Breadth Topics. 

The key here is to focus on ACTIVE study over passing study. This means focus on actively DOING rather than passively reading. Active study is more than just writing notes, Active study is attempting practice problems, drills or cases, and then making notes when you debrief. Most people will not remember much if they just start reading eBook chapters or reading past CFE cases, so this unfortunately just ends up wasting time that you probably don’t have.

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