CPA CFE – Guide on How to Plan for CFE Prep (Part 1)

Before I even started writing this post, I already knew one post will not be enough. If you are reading this, you may or may not be aware already: CFE prep is actually a years-long process. It is true that for most people, their ‘CFE prep’ begins two months before CFE (e.g., July for Sept CFE) when Capstone 2 starts. However, if you look at your CPA journey holistically, you might come to realize you have been prepping for CFE since you took that first accounting class at college. The 3-day CFE tests you on a variety of skills: technical knowledge in multiple areas, communication and time management.

Now that my own CFE is behind me (pending results release in two months’ time), I thought it would be the perfect time for me to share how to plan for CFE. Note, what worked for me might not necessarily work for you because we all learn differently. However, there are some basic principles you should follow to maximize your chance of success.

Note, I worked in the industry (versus an accounting firm) and got 2.5 weeks off excluding the 3 days for the exam. I had access to what was provided by CPA and Densmore.

Disclaimer: I worked with Densmore Consulting Inc and got access to their CFE prep with marking (full review here).

You Have to Be Aware of The Mental Challenges That Come With CFE Prep

You might think you did not come to this post for this because all you want is the juice on technical knowledge. However, I can’t stress enough how a good mental state will help you with your journey. So, please bear with me.

Naturally, I am an optimistic person. I tend to forget about the small stuffs that won’t matter much later. However, I am not going to sugarcoat it and tell you I had the best/most comfortable time of my life prepping for CFE. I encountered challenges and frustrations like everyone else. Also, I was aware of several things before I started:

  1. CFE prep was not going to be easy working full-time the majority of the time prior to CFE
  2. CFE prep was going to be a lot of work but thousands of candidates made it every year
  3. I did not want to end up resenting the work and challenges

The last point probably sounded weird to you but it actually kept me relatively calm during my CFE prep and on CFE days. I have always shared how I felt throughout CPA PEP as real-time and truthfully as possible here. With that in mind, I made a promise to myself to show you all how it can be manageable. I constantly reminded myself that there were endless things I could be doing with my time (e.g., another career or program) instead of CPA PEP. However, I chose this path and so did you. Negative thoughts are not avoidable completely because things will get hard but there is something you can do.

You need to remember and remind yourself throughout your CFE prep this: if you made it this far (minimum of 4 years of college and 2 years of PEP), trust that you have what it takes to cross the finish line.

Check out my Etsy shop for CFE guides:

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Are You At A Disadvantage If You Do Not Have Access to Extra Resources?

Another thing I want to address before I dive into the logistics of how to plan your own CFE prep is extra resources.

Most of my friends who worked in the industry did not have access to extra resources other than what was provided by CPA (e.g., Capstone 2). Like I mentioned in the beginning, I got access to Densmore CFE prep. On top of that, I had Densmore’s CPA Competency Map notes. Without going into details of the Densmore CFE prep (short answer: it was 100% value-adding), I will tell you for a fact you do not need extra resources to pass CFE.

This is because CPA provides more resources than you will need to pass CFE. My offering of Capstone 2 offered:

  • 2 Day 1 cases based on your Capstone 1 case
  • ~ 7 past CFE Day 2 cases
  • ~ 20 past CFE Day 3 cases
  • weekly webinars on different strategies
  • discussion boards

Every case came with multiple related documents such as the detailed solution and sample response you would be familiar with. Personally, I relied on the debrief notes for each case a lot. It went through each AO and highlighted what the weak candidates did for that year’s CFE (i.e., you can learn from their mistakes).

So, Exactly How Do You Plan for CFE Prep?

1. Discuss Your CFE Leave With Your Employer As Early As Possible

When I was interviewing for my current job, I already made them aware of when I planned on writing CFE (i.e., approximately one year from the interview). I did not bring it up with the intention of planning it with them (I haven’t even gotten the job then) but it was simply something we discussed when we talked about where I was with CPA PEP. However, it definitely was something on my manager’s radar when I started the job. About 5 months before CFE, I formally discussed my CFE leave with my manager. We eventually agreed to let me take one-and-a-half week off in mid-August before returning to work for a week for month-end. After that, I would take another week off to study before writing CFE the week after.

Depending on your company size and team structure, you may or may not need to return to work for month-end at all. It did turn out to be a little challenging to pause CFE prep, went into full month-end mode (I still studied a little bit in the evenings) and resumed CFE prep. However, I did not regret it because I knew I can handle the schedule and that doing so meant a lot to my team.

So, have your discussion with your manager as early as possible. They would appreciate the extra time so they can plan accordingly. Also, having your CFE leave set in stone early on will help you prepare for the rest of the planning.

2. Ask Yourself How Long You Can Study For In A Day

If you followed my CFE prep diary, you would know that I started CFE prep in March. I intentionally started a lot earlier than most for the following reasons:

  • I don’t like studying for long periods of time (e.g., some candidates prefer to study full-time for one to two months instead of spreading it out)
  • I wanted to go though trials-and-errors for the sake of sharing (e.g., so I can tell you whether it’s worth it to start technical review earlier)
  • I wanted to continue doing everything I wanted during CFE prep (e.g., see friends, binge shows)
  • I wanted to be conservative in case something prevented me from studying (e.g., if I got sick or if work got crazy busy)

So, depending on your learning style, you might prefer to cram everything in six weeks or spread it out so you can take it easier every day for a long period of time. Also, a friend of mine went through CFE prep with her newborn as a new mom (yes, definitely someone I admire) so she was only able to study for very short periods of time. Even though our results aren’t out yet but I have zero doubt she passed.

Everyone’s situation is different. You need to consider what yours is so you can plan accordingly.

3. Decide Early On Whether You Are Getting Extra Resources Or Not

If you are, decide on which one as early as possible. There are different paid resources available out there including these CFE guides created by myself.

I said this because the prices of these extra resources will not drop as you approach CFE. By getting them early, you can utilize these resources earlier on in your CFE prep. For example, I got the CPA Competency Map Notes (courtesy of Densmore) in July with two months left to CFE. I did not know exactly what it was earlier or I would have gotten it as early as when I was going through PEP. This specific product was not created for CFE. It actually covered the CPA Competency Map. While it was not meant to replace your full Knotia text, it provided value as a refresher (i.e., after you already learned the concepts).

As I mentioned earlier, CPA provides more than enough resources to help you pass CFE. However, if you do decide to purchase extra resources, do your research early. Also, it never hurts to check with your employer and see if they are will to cover the costs partially or fully. My friends have had varying degrees of success (some did not cover it and some covered it partially) but it definitely does not hurt to ask.

What Is Next In Prepping For CFE Prep?

In my next post, I will walk you through the various ways you can schedule your CFE prep and the resources available.

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