CPA CFE Questions & Answers – Aug 2022

With one month left to Sep 2022 CFE, I asked on Instagram what questions you have about the 3-day exam. Here are my answers to the most common ones.

If you are already freaking out and/or feeling unprepared, know that it is absolutely normal to feel that way. Remember, you still have all the evenings and weekends ahead of you. Create a plan, assess regularly and commit. You can do it.

I Am Freaking Out With Only Few Weeks Left to Study. Should I Withdraw From Writing CFE?

If you still have weeks/one month left, my short answer is no. Even though there is quite a lot of materials to go through to get you CFE-ready, it is still doable if you commit to a CFE prep plan no later than today. Assuming you are still working full-time (even better if you are on CFE leave now), you still have many evenings and weekends you can dedicate to CFE prep. Obviously, it is not going to be easy. However, it still wasn’t a walk in the park for me even when I started a lot earlier. Note, when it comes to CFE prep, quality matters just as much as quantity. The key is to learn something after every case you attempt. So, draw a calendar on paper or start a Google Sheet. The key is to create a plan that is challenging (attempt enough Day 2 & 3 cases in an exam setting) but manageable (don’t schedule 6-hour study session after work).

It is hard for me to tell you exactly what your plan should look like without knowing what you have done already. But here is a brief list if you have 4 weeks left:

  • understand how to pass Day 1
  • review the facts of your Capstone 1 case (KSFs, Stakeholders etc)
  • understand how to pass Day 2
  • attempt and debrief Day 2 cases
  • understand how to pass Day 3
  • attempt and debrief Day 3 cases (should be roughly 3x the number of Day 2 cases)

However, if your mental or physical health is suffering, please be kind to yourself and allow yourself a break. Burn out during CFE prep is real. As important as the exam is for your career, nothing is worth your health.

I have never written a CPA exam in person since I went through the entirety of PEP online. Any Tips?

Starting Sep 2022 CFE, candidates are expected to write the three-day CFE in person in a large hall (like the way it always was pre-pandemic). When I wrote CFE back in 2021, I wrote the exam in person in a hotel room (private bathroom was gold). However, when I wrote Core 1, it was pre-pandemic so I wrote in-person at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Several tips I have regarding writing any PEP exam including CFE in person:

  1. read the exam instructions as soon as they are ready and ask questions if you aren’t sure about something
    • there is no stupid or redundant question because it is better to be prepared than not
  2. make sure you are crystal clear on what items are allowed and what are not on exam days
    • when I wrote Core 1, I almost made the mistake of not bringing a wired mouse when wireless mouse was not allowed; not having a mouse would have slowed me down in terms of navigating and every second mattered
    • I was provided with ear plugs when I wrote Core 1 but they didn’t fit well but I didn’t find the noise from other writers too distracting; note, you will likely be in your zone and have no time/attention left to pay attention to others; but if it still worries you, I suggest playing some background office/typing noise (you can find them on YouTube) when you attempt cases during prep
  3. reliable transportation is IMPORTANT
    • I stayed at a nearby hotel when I wrote Core 1 because of two reasons: the “staycation” put me in a good mood and I was within walking distance; I did the same when I wrote CFE which allowed me to sleep in (relatively-speaking) and not have to worry about getting to the exam on time
    • however, staying away from home is NOT mandatory (probably more troublesome for some) but you need to ensure you have a reliable way to get there with minimal stress
  4. avoid chitchatting with anyone before the exam
    • I remember overhearing a conversation before I wrote Core 1 between two strangers and one of them freaked out just before the exam because she understood revenue recognition incorrectly
    • however, it is too late to stress over something you can no longer change; keep in mind passing CFE does not require you to be 100% correct on all AOs

I Have Been Prepping for Weeks. Why Do I Still Feel So Unprepared for CFE?

Ask yourself – do you know more about CFE/accounting than when you attended the Capstone 2 Module Workshop? If the answer is ‘yes,’ you are on the right track. Ideally, with one month left before CFE, you have begun attempting some past CFE cases in an exam setting (minor distractions and breaks are fine because we are humans). When I went through CFE prep, I struggled a lot with finishing Day 2 cases in one-go. I broke the day 2 cases down to common and role AOs more often than not and attempted them in two sessions. However, I focused on learning from every attempt and debriefed every time.

If you have a CFE plan (and you definitely should), you should be reviewing and assessing it regularly. If you don’t have a structure yet, I suggest you treat Monday as the start of the week. On Monday, you review the plan and focus on the week ahead. Then, on Friday, you review your plan again and adjust your plan for the weekend (unless you take weekends off) and upcoming weeks if necessary. This way, you get into a habit of making sure you are on track and working on weakness areas you have identified.

Only when you start tracking your progress will you be able to see progress.

For myself, about a week before CFE, I was so over attempting cases that I focused on reviewing my technical notes instead. I would say I felt ready for the exam then and merely doing what I can to stay sane and on top of what I already knew.

I Am Too Slow On Quantitative Analysis & Keep Running Out of Time. How Can I Improve?

When I was prepping for my own CFE, I did notice a pattern for the different quantitative analyses from all the MA and Finance AOs (exceptions exist but they are less common). Net Present Value, profitability, ratio analysis etc. However, only recently did I have the chance to look at the AOs systematically because I was working on my CFE Prep program. I don’t expect or encourage you to spend the time on tracking down the most common quantitative AOs but I do think you should spend time getting familiar with how quantitative analyses are laid out. A good resource for this would be the CPA’s detailed solutions or sample strong responses. When you debrief, focus on how organized and efficient the excel response is. Note, it is not about copying the solutions exactly. It is about extracting a basic format that will help you stay organized with your thoughts and case facts.

For example, ratio analysis often starts with the ratio, formula then calculations for multiple years or companies. An organized format can help you analyze the trend or compare them to industry benchmarks efficiently.

No one format works for all quantitative analyses. There is more than one way to calculate profitability but more often than not, revenue and expenses are the basis of the analysis. That way, all you have to do is to apply case facts and include a reasonable amount of adjustments. Being able to start with a basic layout will help save you lots of time and stress.

I Keep Running Out of Time On Day 2/3. What Should I Do?

First of all, congratulations on realizing this with weeks to spare. This means you can still work on your timing and rock on CFE days!

To address timing issue, you need to find out what the root cause is.

  • Are you typing too slow?
    • for reference, I was typing 77 – 89 WPM when I was prepping for CFE. Note, you will likely type slower on actual CFE days as you will be typing on the CPA-provided laptop.
    • if you are typing significantly slower than average (40 WPM per this source), research ways to improve your typing speed because the marker will not be able to mark what is NOT on your response
  • Are you lacking in technical knowledge (i.e., can’t think of anything to type)?
    • if so, identify areas of technical weaknesses as your debrief and utilize what CPA offers (detailed solutions, debrief documents, eBooks)
    • not only should you understand the technical (but don’t stress if you aren’t an expert), you should focus on how the knowledge was applied in the different situations; never memorize the answers without understanding the concept behind it
  • Are you not budgeting time/going over time anyways?
    • there is no magical solution for this other than budgeting time for each AO (but not to go overly detailed with your budgeting) and sticking to your budget no matter what
    • doing what I suggested offers two benefits: keeping you on track with time and also showing you what your REAL weaknesses lie; this way, you won’t be trapped in thinking that you are rocking FR when you in fact spend way too much time on it

What Kind of Food Should I Bring to CFE? Will I Have Time to Eat?

No, you will not really have time to eat even if you are starving (it’s tough… I know). Even if you did have time, I suggest you allocate the time to reviewing your responses on AOs you are unsure about.

With that being said, not eating for 5 hours (or 4 on Day 1/3) is not for everybody. It definitely wasn’t for me as I never managed to attempt a Day 2 case in full without taking a snack (if not a full on lunch) break. What I did on all three CFE days was having a full breakfast. I also brought coffee with diary alternative I am familiar with (to avoid upset stomach). During the exam, I had a smoothie. Was I full and satisfied from the smoothie? Not really. However, it gave me enough energy to last till the end of the exam + more because it took time for the exam to be collected at the end of the day. You also have to keep in mind that the adrenaline from the exam rush will somewhat suppress your hunger.

If you want to be super safe (because no one has time for an upset stomach), I suggest grabbing breakfast, coffee and your smoothie from a place you visit regularly. CFE days are not the time to try out a new restaurant (I did but it is not what I would suggest if you want to be ultra safe).