CPA CFE Prep – Do You Need It to Pass?

One of the most common CFE questions I get is this: should I pay for any CFE prep? On top of that, the same person would usually ask which CFE prep to get. There is no one answer fits all as it depends on so many variables – your learning styles, work schedules, technical knowledge, employer reimbursement and more.

If you didn’t already know, I passed Sep 2021 CFE and got designated in 2022. At the time of writing of this post, it has been over a year since I started CFE prep. For the sake of experimenting for my blog and to keep my stress level low (I burned out once), I made a conscious decision to start CFE prep earlier than most. As a result, I had a lot of time to reflect during my own CFE prep process and after my personal experience with the 3-day exam. In this post, I am going to give you my thoughts on when I think paid CFE prep is beneficial and which one. Also, if you have been following me on Instagram, you would know that I have been creating my own CFE prep. I would love to tell you it’s designed for every possible candidate but that would be a lie. I created it with a specific target audience in mind and I will share who they are.

Sign up for CFE Prep by jenthinks for Sep 2022 CFE.

The Big Question – Do You Need to Pay CFE Prep to Pass CFE?

The short answer is no, you don’t need to pay for any CFE prep to pass CFE. This sounds contradictory because I am spending hours creating a CFE Prep course but hear me out. Between the Capstone 2 cases (ones you need to submit) and the additional cases provided by CPA (additional past CFE cases), you have access to almost 40 past CFE Day 2 and 3 cases to attempt and review (this figure increases as CPA Canada releases the most current exams). Even though these past CFE cases don’t cover everything on the competency map, they cover a very healthy amount. If you apply the 80/20 rule to CFE prep, you would appreciate the efficiency that comes from putting in 20% of the effort to cover 80% of the content. In addition, there are weekly webinars you can attend live or watch the recordings of for 8 weeks leading up to CFE.

Also, depending on your schedule, you simply might not have time to utilize everything CPA offers (and you already paid for). For candidates working in the industry like myself, most of us would probably get a maximum of 3 weeks off from work (I got 2.5 weeks). If I started CFE prep much later than I did, I probably would not have time to go over more than what is already included in Capstone 2 because I also wanted to stay on top of my blog (I wrote over 30 posts while I was going through CFE prep).

However, if any or all the following applies to you:

  • you are confused about CFE prep and feel overwhelmed before it even starts
  • have the capacity because you have minimal commitments other than CFE prep when you are off work
  • have the financial resources (e.g., saved up for it, reimbursed by your employer)

I would like you to continue reading this post because you might benefit from one of the CFE prep options. If none of the above applies to you, I want you to save your hard-earned money and treat yourself to something else that makes you happy. It is important for you to take care of your mental health during CFE prep.

Also, in case you didn’t already know, much of Capstone 2 is self-paced like the rest of the PEP program. You have to attend the module workshop during week #1 and submit assignments regularly for 8 weeks. However, if your CFE prep strategy is to commit to the Capstone 2 submissions only (i.e., attempt the ~15 cases required for marks), you will likely be grossly underprepared for CFE. There are exceptions (e.g., someone who is exceptionally strong in technical knowledge and case-writing) but they are rare.

CFE Prep by jenthinks

If any of the following sounds like you, my CFE prep program is being created for you:

  • you get overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available
    • when I mentioned close to 40 past CFE cases, did that excite you because you will have so much to refer to or stress you out because you have absolutely no idea where to even start?
    • if it stresses you out (and it’s completely normal), that’s what my CFE prep is for because I am creating a guided weekly structure with some flexibility (can’t be too flexible because you still need to put in the work)
  • you struggle to know and keep track of what you should get out of a case and as a result, have always struggled with technical reviews during PEP
    • staying on track is more important than ever because unlike your core or elective modules, CFE covers all 6 competencies at once
    • for each past CFE Day 2 & Day 3 case, I am including a list of things to know and common mistakes organized by competency
    • this will help you keep track of what to study on your dedicated technical review days (yes those days exist!)
  • you don’t know what your case-writing weaknesses are
    • I am including a self-assessment questionnaire (nothing crazy, just 3 very important questions) in every case note because you can’t improve if you don’t know what you need to work on
    • if you are interested, I shared my case-writing weaknesses here

Sign up for CFE Prep by jenthinks for Sep 2022 CFE.

Densmore CFE Prep Courses

When I went through CFE prep, I had access to the Densmore CFE prep with marking courtesy of their team. However, I knew about Densmore way before that. It is no doubt one of the most popular CFE prep programs in the market. Even though the course has changed (mine was 100% virtual due to the lockdown) since I wrote CFE, I am sure the quality remains the same (if not higher). I covered the program in depth in another post so I will not go into details here.

In short, the Densmore’s CFE prep offers a lot of value. However, because of its associated cost ($1,199 to 1,459 CAD depending on marking or no marking), it is important for you to review their offerings in depth before making the decision.

For my full Densmore CFE prep review, click here.

Private One-on-One CFE Tutor

What my CFE prep and Densmore’s CFE prep do not offer is this: dedicated one-on-one tutoring. At an average hourly rate of $70 (last I checked before inflation), you can get a lot of value out of these tutoring sessions for less than a full CFE prep program. For example, the Densmore CFE prep with marking would cost you the same as 20.5 hours of tutoring. If you decide to check in with a tutor for an hour once a week for 8 weeks, you will still come out ahead financially (more money left for post-CFE celebrations).

Personally, I have never used a CPA tutor. However, I know candidates who have used a tutor in the past and have had good results. With a tutor, you can get personalized advice for areas like your case-writing skills (e.g., are you not explaining your WHY). Also, if you find a tutor close to you, you can also request to meet them face-to-face if that’s what you prefer.

However, like with other one-on-one service, your mileage will definitely vary depending on the tutor you get. As soon as possible, I suggest asking the tutor for references or questions to determine their teaching styles/background before you commit. The last thing you want to do is delay this process and be left with an incompatible tutor for such an important exam.

Looking for a list of CFE tutors? CPAWSB offers a list of available tutors upon request.

Ending Thoughts on CFE Prep

With almost everything that costs money, I focus on the ROI (return on investment). If you know you will utilize the CFE prep of your choice, go for it. As long as it is valuable to you, what other people do or say does not matter. However, I want to remind you that the fact that others are getting CFE prep is not a valid reason for you to spend your hard-earned money on it. Once again, CPA provides more than enough for you to pass if you utilize the resources efficiently. Ask yourself what you need help on – you might need guidance on how to structure your CFE prep, motivation during CFE prep or someone to talk to you about your progress at different checkpoints. I know candidates that passed with and without CFE prep and I know I would have passed without Densmore. However, regardless of whether or not you end up paying for any CFE prep, you still need to put in the work.

Lastly, do not forget to take care of yourself mentally and physically. CFE prep is going to be draining and you need to stay strong.