CFE Tips & Prep – What Worked for the CPA Governor General’s Gold Medal Winners?

Since I plan on writing the CFE (Common Final Exam) in Sep 2021, you can expect a lot of CFE content next year. From what I have heard and what I have read online, most candidates begin studying full-time four to six weeks before the 3-day exam. Since I know I prefer studying in small chunks over a longer period of time, I plan on taking another approach: starting earlier to study over a longer period of time. I will share my CFE study strategy in early 2021 so stay tuned.

Until then, I want to share what I have learned from the past winners of the CFE Governor General’s and regional Gold Medals. Even if winning the medals or being on the Honour Roll is not a goal for most of us, we can still learn from the candidates who achieved the honour by executing their study strategy well.

Support From Your Network

A number of past medal winners including Michael William Wong, 2019 CFE Governor General’s Gold Medal’s Winner, attributed their successes partially to a strong support network. It included their family, friends, coworkers and employers. That aligns with what I wrote about in my post on 5 things I wish I knew before I started Core 1. The CPA program affects more than you so makes sense that your support network should be involved.

Doing any CPA PEP module is hard on your own. Don’t make that mistake for CFE. Reach out to people, join a FB group or your local CPA chapter.

Help will always be given at Hogwarts, Harry, to those who ask for it.

Albus Dumbledore

Learn to Stay Calm Under Pressure

Writing 3 PEP exams to-date has taught me that a lot of the difficulty for a PEP exam is derived from the time pressure. CFE is definitely not an exception. If anything, CFE is the advanced version due to its length and complexity.

Mark Joseph Skinner, 2020’s CFE Regional Winner for Atlantic Canada, said his study strategy included making sure he was used to writing under time constraints. Attempting cases in a mock exam setting is the best way to practice thinking critically under pressure.

~ More CPA Posts ~
CPA PEP Core 1 – How to Study for the Module and the Exam
CPA PERT – Ultimate Guide on How to Get Your First Experience Report via EVR Approved
CPA PERT – Enabling Competencies Examples
Densmore for CPA PEP – Are The PEP Essentials Packages Worth It?
CPA PEP Module – Regular Module or Extended Module?

Believe In Yourself

Michael Richardson, one of 2018’s CFE’s Regional Medal winners, believed the most important advice he can give future CFE writers is that you need to believe in yourself. Listen to people who have done it and succeeded. Like all other PEP exams, CFE is designed to be challenging but not impossible. If you have made it as far as writing the CFE, you have accomplished a lot more than what you might have given yourself credit for.

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

Theodore Roosevelt

A Study Plan

Few weeks after the 2020 CFE results were released, in an interview with CPA Canada, Michelle Per shares how she “sat down in early July and planned out the next two months in great detail.” Some candidates might have passed their PEP exams by procrastinating, but the CFE is not designed to pass without significant planning and effort. A rare few might have succeeded by studying last-minute before but it is not recommended.

A flexible yet focused study plan will in fact contribute positively to your mental health leading up to the exam. This is because having a plan will allow you to verify whether you are on track and to have control over what will happen.

Many candidates, including Mark Joseph Skinner, who passed CFE reported taking the weekends off after studying full-time Monday to Friday. Therefore, having a plan is critical for this to happen.

A Way to Keep You On Track

If you think studying in a group is the only way to pass CFE, you should reconsider. Michelle Per achieved the highest standing in Canada in 2020 by studying solo as that was her study preference. It is important to note that it was possible because she has found that studying solo was more productive for her than in a group setting. What you will need to do is to find out which method works better for you.

Study Group that Works & Studies Like You

For candidates who prefer studying with a study group, Michael Richardson recommended finding a study group that works like you but thinks differently than you. It might be obvious that it will probably take some trials and errors before you find the perfect study buddy so I suggest you start as early as you can.

Go Solo And Keep Yourself On Track

For candidates who prefer studying solo like myself, make sure you have a way of keeping yourself accountable. Sharing my CPA journey on this blog has actually been an excellent way for me to keep myself on track. I understand not everyone is going to want to start a blog but there are many other ways to do it. Find a friend with who you are comfortable sharing your plan (that person does not need to be in the program at all), start a daily checklist of items you plan on doing or even asking your mentor if he/she minds taking up a check-in role.

A Plan to Combat “Burnout”

Depending on your study plan, you might be studying for 2 months or longer. If you have not done an extended module before, the longest module you would have done would have only been 8 weeks long. Since there is a lot of content to go through for a regular PEP module, you might not have a chance to breathe before it was over.

RELATED POST – What Is The Extended Module And How Does It Work Exactly?

Getting ready for CFE is a different beast. For the September CFE, Capstone 1 starts as early as May of the same year. That means you will be gearing up for the CFE 4 months before the exam. If you aren’t carefully monitoring your mental health or taking breaks in between, you might experience “burnout.” It is important to learn the signs of burnout early on so here is an excellent article with information.

Utilize As Many Available Resources As Possible

Learner Support 

CPA wants its candidates to succeed. Therefore, you should utilize as many free resources they offer as possible. One excellent resource I found when I was researching for this post is the CPA Canada CFE Board of Examiners Report. The report contains past CFE cases, marking methodology and suggestions on how candidates can improve their responses.


The CPAWSB blog is another excellent resource for CFE-related content. If you are reading this early on in your journey, don’t hesitate to check the blog out as well. It also offers a lot of useful PEP content.

Densmore Blog

I believe most CPA candidates have heard about Densmore. It offers training materials for CPA PEP and CFE for a fee. However, did you know they have a free section with informational articles?

It’s Never Just About Technical Knowledge

The last thing I learned from the past medal winners is just as important as all of the previous ones: play by the rules. Lawrence (Qianyu) Zhang, 2018 CFE Governor General’s Gold Medal’s winner, shared his winning strategy included focusing on case-writing technique and learning how to navigate the CPA handbook. It was not about memorizing, he said.

Considering the breadth and depth of knowledge being tested at the CFE according to the Competency Map, it is no surprise that you are not expected to memorize everything. One skill CPA places a lot of emphasis on is your critical thinking skill. To succeed in the CFE, you are expected to excel under pressure and analyze critically. It challenges you in ways beyond your technical knowledge.

Closing Comments

As you have learned from this post, succeeding in CFE requires a multitude of factors. When you are ready to start preparing for the exam, do not forget to take everything I shared here into account. Create a comprehensive study strategy that involves more than chapter readings or case-writing. You need to make sure it will be the full package.

Click here to sign up for my newsletter to get your free copy of How I Prepared for CPA CFE