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In addition to my regular long-form posts, I thought it will be fun for me to track my CPA CFE prep in a diary format. They will be less informational and more about what I did or did not do every day leading up to my CFE in September. As of the writing of this introduction, I was 2 weeks away from my last PEP exam (Performance Management) and just registered for Densmore CFE Prep last week. As starting too early is not always recommended in case of burn-out, I most likely started thinking about CFE prep earlier than most of you would (my previous CPA CFE posts). I am confident that I will be fine as I am quite familiar with the learning style that works best for me. However, as a safety precaution, I am going to note down “how I feel” in every entry. If I sense the slightest hint of burn-out, I will adjust my plan accordingly.

Also, I understand not everyone will be using Densmore or other CFE prep programs to supplement what CPA already offers. To make this post more relevant and applicable, I will try my best to include the equivalent CPA-provided or free materials/exercises.

Note, this post contains a product that was sponsored by Densmore Consulting Consulting Services Inc. However, all opinions are 100% my own.

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Contents show

Mar 20, 2021 (Day 1 of CFE Prep)

I finished watching the introductory videos on Densmore a couple of days ago. They were great videos that talked about the CFE, technical review, their program and critical reading. Since I had done a lot of reading on CFE already, there wasn’t much that surprised me. After that, I finalized a schedule where I will be tackling one skill drill (14 of them split between Management Accounting & Finance) per day for the next week or so before I go back to studying for my PM exam. I did my first skill drill for Management Accounting (Divisional Analysis) just now and it took less time than I expected. Since it was a topic I was familiar with, it only took ~30 mins or so.

How I feel: a little tired from work (finished an exciting but challenging task today) but looking forward to watching Brave New World since I am already done studying
Skill Drill equivalent: old CPA PEP Core 2 cases that tested on Management Accounting or Finance competencies (avoid re-doing the whole case but just pick out the required and work on that)
Recommended free resources: CPA Alberta’s post, LinkedIn post, CPAWSB’s post & Densmore post.

Mar 21, 2021 (Day 2 of CFE Prep)

When I got home from dinner, I contemplated working on a Finance skill drill (harder for me) instead of a Management Accounting one (easier). However, I decided against it as I wasn’t feeling 100% (blame cramps). Tonight was Contribution Margin and Break-Even analysis – another topic I was comfortable with. I set a timer as suggested and actually wasted several minutes being lost on the format. I thought I wasn’t on the right path as I was thrown off by a tricky part (extra revenue from a side business). I took a peek at the solution when I was about done with the first 2 parts (there were 3) and realized I was actually on the right track. This has shown me how important it will be to be able to stay calm during the CFE. Since I was only practising, I was able to simply look at the answer. Obviously, I won’t be able to when I write the exam and things could go downhill really quickly if I don’t manage my emotions well. I spent ~30 mins on this tonight (suggested 45 mins).

How I feel: thanks to cramps, I have been sore and tired all day; luckily, I knew these skill drills wouldn’t take long so I managed to convince myself to finish one anyway
Recommended free resources: Youtube videos on (1) break-even analysis (2) contribution margin

Mar 22, 2021 (Day 3 of CFE Prep)

I got the Densmore Scenario Flowchart in the mail (much earlier than expected) today and flipped through it. I always knew Taxation was one of my weakest areas since I never understood it fully in college. It was painfully evident when I scanned through the taxation section in the flowchart and had a lot of trouble following. Not gonna lie but that was quite discouraging because it meant I have a lot of work ahead. However, better now than later.

I didn’t end up studying after we came back from a walk after work. It is not unusual for me to end up chilling on Fridays anyway. I do have to come up with a study plan for Taxation on the weekend though.

How I feel: I have been feeling unproductive all week and after speaking to Eric, I think I have come up with a solution that I will try next week.
Densmore Scenario Flowchart equivalent: I have not come across anything like their flowchart yet (read the Densmore post to find out what it is) so I can only think of creating one on your own (you will most likely see value in creating one as you will be studying too)

Mar 23, 2021 (Day 4 of CFE Prep)

I meant to be way more productive than I ended up being today. I did get around getting another Management Accounting skill drill done. It was budgeting this time and was probably the easiest one so far. It tested on cash vs. non-cash, sunk costs & relevant costs. After completing 3 skill drills, I realized I can probably get more than 1 done per day as they only take ~30 mins each or so. However, once I have my game plan for Taxation technical reviews, I will probably set aside time on that instead. Planning that will be a must-do for me tomorrow.

How I feel: hopeful because we had a promising showing for our condo today *fingers crossed*
Recommended free resources: this cash budget tutorial video by one of my favourite YouTubers

Mar 24, 2021 (Day 5 of CFE Prep)

I reviewed quite a bit of tax technical today: definition of “persons” per Income Tax Act (ITA), tax filing deadlines and penalties, employee vs. contractor/self-employed, employment income for individuals and deductions. My tax courses were quite easy to pass in college so my foundation was so-so. Luckily, I have been filing my own taxes since I started working so I was comfortable with personal income tax (T1). The real challenge would be corporation tax and I can’t say I am super excited about reviewing (or rather, learning) them. I basically relied on the Knotia e-book and competency map to guide my review today. I saved the Taxation chapters as a PDF and scanned the Taxation competencies before I start reading the chapters. I made notes using this technique called Cornell Note Taking with little success as I have never tried before. The concept seems promising though so I will most likely keep trying.

How I feel: happy because I studied more than I planned on today!

Mar 25, 2021 (Day 6 of CFE Prep)

Another review day for tax technical: accounting income vs income for tax purposes adjustments, CCA, personal-services business and a bit of property income. I relied on the Knotia e-book and competency map to guide my study again today. I highly recommend utilizing the competency map as it stopped me from reviewing a complicated topic (level C for terminal loss/capital loss for non-arm’s length transactions) in more depth. I would have wasted precious time trying to understand it completely. It’s not that learning more about something would have been a complete waste but I had to remind myself that passing CFE is the main goal. As always, I tried to watch YouTube videos whenever I could. It is not always easy as Canadian CPA content is not as abundant as American content. On top of that, I tend to stay away from outdated materials in case the standards/policies have changed. However, I have found a couple of videos and an article that worked well for me today.

Also, if you know me well, you would know that I love finding multiple ways to understand a concept. To understand how corporate tax flows on a T2, I played around with this form designed to estimate corporate tax payable. You will see how the difference pieces fit together to give you your corporate tax payable.

How I feel: today was as good as a Monday can get 🙂
Recommended free resources: a video on Personal-Services Business, one on eligible and non-eligible dividends & an article on Corporate Tax by Bench Accounting

Mar 26, 2021 (Day 7 of CFE Prep)

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Today would mark the last day of CFE review before I switch gear back to reviewing for my PM exam in a week. I probably won’t need the full week to study but I thought it would be better for me to finish PM first in case I need more time than expected. Like the last couple of days, I reviewed tax technical today: property income, other income for personal, other deductions for personal and tax planning opportunities (RRSP, TFSA etc). I was going to review a bit more until I decided to call it a night after taking another look at the competency map. I am getting more and more comfortable with navigating the different sections of the map as I use it more. It is important for me to know which topic requires level A proficiency (able to demonstrate knowledge and analyze problem) and which requires only a level C (high-level understanding). If you haven’t used the competency map before, it might seem confusing at first. However, the more you use it, the clearer it becomes.

How I feel: I have been enjoying the tax materials – I think it’s because tax is the topic I am least comfortable with so the reviews have helped me feel more at ease

Mar 27, 2021 (Day 8 of CFE PM Prep)

I didn’t study. I worked, went to a virtual networking event (so much fun) and watched Bones.

How I feel: I knew I dreaded studying for PM because I wanted to study more tax. As a result, I compromised and had a slack day instead.

Mar 28, 2021 (Day 9 of CFE PM Prep)

I struggled with how I wanted to study for my performance management exam next week. I knew I didn’t want to read the assigned chapters again. Most of the chapters were a repeat from Core 2 and I re-read them once before the module started in January already. I wanted to make sure I study in a way that will prepare me better for the exam without overstudying (since I could go back to studying tax instead). I decided to review the PM practice cases from the module again. I had the excel feedback guide and the solution PDF side by side and made notes of what a ‘C’ response would be. I paid attention to how the response was structured and the level of depth required. If I identified a technical area I wasn’t familiar with, I would review that quickly.

I finished 4 practice cases and intend to finish the other 4 tomorrow. I don’t normally review integrated problems as they are not formatted like an exam. However, I might if I find myself struggling with certain topics and wanted more reviews. If all goes as planned, I will attempt another practice exam on Saturday. By then, I should have a pretty good idea of where I stand.

How I feel: I can’t wait to finalize when I am moving (still selling our place) so I can finalize my study schedule for the next few months – not knowing for sure is annoying
Recommended free resources: what is TQM – Total Quality Management

Mar 29, 2021 (Day 10 of CFE PM Prep)

I didn’t study, again.

How I feel: Fridays are probably the most common slack day for me so I am not surprised.

Mar 30, 2021 (Day 11 of CFE PM Prep)

I don’t normally sleep in on the weekends but I sure did today. I woke up and ate before going back to bed. I ended up leaving the bed officially at 1 PM. Luckily, I got sometime before my Among Us session so I squeezed some reviews in. I went through the remaining 4 practice cases (same methodology as Day 9) I was supposed to yesterday and reviewed a couple of integrated problems.

How I feel: Annoyed because the showing was a no-show but I was proud of myself for not taking another slack day

Mar 31, 2021 (Day 12 of CFE PM Prep)

I was surprised I can still go to bed before midnight after sleeping in yesterday. We grabbed brunch and spent the rest of the day home. I studied for several hours (worked on a post in between) and finished going through all of the Integrated Problems (same methodology as Day 9). I also attempted practice exam #2 on CPA D2L. I did not work on the case under exam condition fully but made sure I knew what to write and how much to write. Since the practice exam was an actual case used on a past PM exam, its feedback guide looked a little different than the ones for practice cases. For example, instead of specifying the number of risks candidates need to identify for a ‘C,’ it used adjectives to award marks (e.g., reasonably quantifies the impact). I never noticed this before and thought it was worth mentioning. At the end of the day though, I think knowing the ballpark of how many pros and cons would constitute a “balanced response” would serve you well.

How I feel: ready for the PM exam but torn between spending more time on PM or going back to CFE
Recommended free resource: my post on what to study for the PM exam (shameless plug)

Apr 1, 2021 (Day 13 of CFE PM Prep)

This is most likely be my last day reviewing PM. I reviewed some chapter reading notes (on the strategy formulation process) and realized I might have missed several concepts. However, I think it is too late for me to review any more than I already have. I still feel quite confident about the exam based on what I already know so I will just leave those missed topics. I did attempt the last Practice Exam on CPA D2L (there are 3). Same as the first 2, I didn’t write it in exam condition to save time. I followed the case writing method and did a proper outline, attempted the quants and verbally finished the qualitative. Ideally, I would love to go back to reviewing for CFE but I think I will just take it easy tomorrow.

How I feel: feeling ready for the exam and also ready for quarter-end at work!

Apr 2, 2021 (Day 14 of CFE PM Prep)

As intended, I didn’t study at all so I can take it easy the night before my exam. I did, however, wrote a post with my final thoughts on the performance management module. In short, I was glad PM was my last PEP module as it was a lot less time-consuming compared to Finance (which I took extended).

How I feel: ready for the exam!

Apr 3, 2021 (Day 15 of CFE Prep)

This was my PM exam day. I woke up, had A&W for breakfast and got my favorite coffee from Starbucks. The exam was easier than expected. Simple calculations with a lot of writing. There was an unexpected topic for me (sole proprietorship vs incorporation) but I think I did pretty good overall!

How I feel: actually a little sad now that all my PEP exams are done

Apr 4, 2021 (Day 16 of CFE Prep)

I am finally back to reviewing for CFE! I did a bit of work this morning (holiday but also quarter-end so I volunteered to work half-day which I will get back later) so I didn’t study until after lunch. I went back to tax and finally finished with personal taxes. I used the same review method as I did a week ago: read the Taxation chapters from Knotia and utilized the competency map to make sure I was not focusing on the wrong topic. For example, if the competency was only applicable to Elective candidates, I would skip it completely since Finance will be my CFE role. I sensed myself getting distracted after just over an hour so I called it a day.

How I feel: the concepts are not really sticking right now but this was expected as it was only my first review
Recommended free resource: videos on Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption (LCGE), Corporate Income Tax

Apr 5, 2021 (Day 17 of CFE Prep)

My morning was busy so I didn’t start reviewing until mid-afternoon again. I managed to review tax for about an hour-and-a-half (including 20 mins of scrolling on my phone). I can’t say I am feeling confident about my tax technical but I definitely know a lot more than I did before I started my tax review a couple of weeks ago. I contemplated continuing with my tax review but I caught my mind “floating away” so I stopped. There are only several topics left for tax so I should be done tomorrow!

How I feel: definitely glad I started revewing techincals early because I had very limited knowledge about some topics I reviewed – would have been a disaster if I waited till Capstone 2

Apr 6 to 7, 2021 (Day 18 to 19 of CFE Prep)

I did nothing but watched Bones & Mr. Robot. I blame this on the “back-to-work-after-long-weekend” syndrome.

How I feel: little guilty but I promise I will pick up my pace!

Apr 8, 2021 (Day 20 of CFE Prep)

Did I not say I will be done with tax technical already? Well, I was wrong. I spent another evening on it and stopped with a couple of topics left. I reviewed quite a few topics today: corporate structures (CCPA, partnership, sole proprietor etc), tax planning opportunities (salary vs dividend, income splitting), GAAR (General Anti-Avoidance Rule) and trusts (still a bit confused). I studied more than my attention span was ideal for so I had a hard time understanding the last topic (trusts). I didn’t watch any YouTube videos or read online articles like I normally do when I struggled with the text. However, after reviewing the last bits for tax tonight, I plan on doing just that.

How I feel: excited and a little scared to start reviewing Financial Reporting soon

Apr 9, 2021 (Day 21 of CFE Prep)

I am done with tax technical review! I finished the last of trusts (highly recommend the videos below) and the chapter on GST. For GST, the chapter was laid out the same way as the Competency Map so it was much easier than other topics to review. It also helped that I filed GST at work so a lot of the content was not new to me. I haven’t decided whether to go back to the skill drills provided by Densmore or start my technical review for Financial Reporting.

How I feel: quite proud of myself for finishing technical review early – it made me feel a lot more at ease!
Recommended free resource: this video on Estate Planning for Canadians by Jacky Kuk (briefly touched on testamentary trust which is on the competency map but practical info nonetheless) and this one on Graduated Rate Estate (GRE)

Apr 10 to 12, 2021 (Day 22 to 24 of CFE Prep)

Instead of moving on to the next competency, I took 3 slack days in a row instead. My excuse? My mind was preoccupied with selling our place. We finally got an offer so there were a couple of emotionally draining days in my personal life on top of a busy work week (quarter-end).

How I feel: I am not 100% relieved yet as subjects have yet to be removed on the offer but *fingers crossed*

Apr 13, 2021 (Day 25 of CFE Prep)

I started reviewing Financial Reporting today! On my last entry before my 3-day slack session, I mentioned I was debating between moving on to Financial Reporting or Densmore skill drills for Management Accounting. I ultimately decided to review Financial Reporting as I haven’t reviewed those chapters since I finished Core 1 over a year ago. I did the exact same thing I did for Taxation: downloaded the Financial Reporting chapters from Knotia, opened the Competency Map (Section 7-1) and took notes by hand. I went back and forth between taking notes electronically and by hand during my whole academic life and decided my preference is writing notes on paper.

How I feel: little guilty for taking such a long consecutive break from studying but I knew I was way too distracted to focus with the offer going on
Recommended free resource: not CPA-related but here is an interesting read on pen & paper vs laptop for note-taking debate

Apr 14, 2021 (Day 26 of CFE Prep)

I shared on my Instagram story that I almost took another slack day today. After work, we went out to pick up dinner and picked out a bike. It took longer than expected so by the time I ate and showered, it was already close to 7. Luckily, my Google assistant didn’t hear me the first time I asked her to turn on the TV so I took that as a sign to study instead! It wasn’t a long session – maybe 45 minutes or so. I got through more chapters for routine transactions like financial instruments.

How I feel: was reminded how easy it is to give up and how important it is to have an inner supportive voice!

Apr 15, 2021 (Day 27 of CFE Prep)

I reviewed for close to an hour today: goodwill & intangible, impairment of assets and decommission provision. Following the Competency Map as I have done since I started reviewing for CFE really helped as non-routine transactions only require a B competency (versus A for routine). This helped me decide how much time I should spend on each topic.

How I feel: FR is not as bad as I thought it will going to be – working in the industry definitely helped!

Apr 16 to 18, 2021 (Day 28 to 31 of CFE Prep)

I took another break and this time lasted even longer than last time (4 days this time). I blame the perfect weather and the bikes we picked up last week. Eric and I went out biking after work for hours instead of studying. I had no excuse for the weekend other than the weather was perfect again and I started a new (to me) show called Castle.

How I feel: immense guilt… but I can’t resist the nice weather.

Apr 19, 2021 (Day 32 of CFE Prep)

I finally convinced myself to study after a longer than expected break. I tried to do it in the morning before work (it worked last year around this time) but I stayed in bed until I had to work instead. I did squeeze in about an hour after work and review few more FR topics: foreign currency translation, assets held for sale, hedge accounting and government assistance.

How I feel: I am trying to convince myself to wake up early to study in the morning before work but we will see.

Apr 20, 2021 (Day 33 of CFE Prep)

I reviewed a little bit of FR (employee benefits) before heading out for a ride. I meant to continue my review after but it turned out to be another long ride so I was exhausted by the time I came home.

How I feel: wish I spent more time studying but I think exercising is a pretty good excuse
Recommended free resource: read this excellent CFE advice Reddit post

Apr 21, 2021 (Day 34 of CFE Prep)

I was taking notes by hand (as I have since I started CFE prep over a month ago) when I decided it was taking too long for FR. I found it useful for taxation but I just didn’t feel the same for FR. There were too many criteria (e.g., development costs capitalization) and tables (e.g., IFRS vs ASPE) and I didn’t feel like I was remembering anything at all after writing them down (not that I expected myself to memorize all of it). Since I have the Densmore Scenario Flowcharts & PDF summaries on Knotia, I decided to start reading the chapters without making any note.

How I feel: anxious about my dentist appointment this weekend – I hope I don’t lose all will to study after
Recommended free resource: a quick refresher video on basic vs diluted earnings per share (EPS), a video (by one of my favourite Youtubers) on how to calculate diluted EPS and one on accounting changes

Apr 22 to 23, 2021 (Day 35 to 36 of CFE Prep)

I skipped the business combination chapters (leaving the heavy ones for last) and read the easy topics first: MD&A, Changes in Accounting, Events After the Reporting Period, Operating Segments, Interim Financial Reporting & Statement of Cash Flows. These were all short and easy-to-understand chapters so I thought it was appropriate to tackle them before I finish off with the business combination, public sector & not-for-profit.

How I feel: dental appointment soon – please no pain!!!
Recommended free resource: a video on changes in accounting (IAS 8)

Apr 24 to 26, 2021 (Day 37 to 39 of CFE Prep)

I was completely wiped out after getting my tooth extracted so I basically stayed in bed the whole weekend other than running a couple of errands. I watched A LOT of Castle.

Apr 27, 2021 (Day 40 of CFE Prep)

Phew – finally back to work and study! I finished reading the remaining FR chapters today (skimmed through Business Combination chapters because they were tooooo dry). I watched a Youtube video from Silvia of CPDbox after and understood IFRS 3 a lot more. I actually find her channel super helpful for IFRS so I encourage everyone to check it out!

How I feel: the surgery left a couple of canker sores in my mouth and they hurt!
Recommended free resource: as mentioned already, Silvia’s channel is an amazing resource if you are struggling with IFRS!

Apr 28, 2021 (Day 41 of CFE Prep)

I basically finished with FR now but thought I would watch several more of Silvia’s IFRS videos. I watched them in bed on my laptop so I can’t say I was 100% alert but hey, better than nothing!

How I feel: my mouth continued to hurt!!!!!!

Apr 29, 2021 (Day 42 of CFE Prep)

I decided to move on to Assurance today but I did not go far at all. I reviewed the first introductory chapter and watched a video on the difference between an audit, a review and a compilation before calling it a night.

How I feel: can my mouth stop hurting already?

Apr 30, 2021 (Day 43 of CFE Prep)

Another day for Assurance. I continued with the Knotia chapter reading and made notes (back to making hand-written notes instead of simply reading). I didn’t get far though – probably just over a chapter.

How I feel: love introductory chapters – so easy to understand.

May 1, 2021 (Day 44 of CFE Prep)

We had a couple of errands to run today so I made sure I got in my review before we headed out. More Assurance chapters – still haven’t encountered the complicated stuffs so I am happy about it 😀

How I feel: love it when I manage to study before I go out and about!

May 2 to 3, 2021 (Day 45 to 56 of CFE Prep)


May 4, 2021 (Day 47 of CFE Prep)

I find month-end week to be the hardest when it comes to studying after work. However, I am trying really hard not to take too many slack days in a row now that Capstone 1 is upon me. I didn’t realize until yesterday that my weekend will be consumed by live module workshop. I was expecting it to be pre-recorded videos again like the two modules I took before but guess not. I am REALLY hoping for awesome groupmates so I can have a smooth couple of months.

In terms of studying, I continued with Assurance. I reviewed the fraud, going concern and audit approach chapters. I was tired from writing by then but not quite finished with reviewing so I read the analytical procedures chapter without making notes.

How I feel: I am REALLY dreading the 60-page case I need to read for Capstone pre-work. Why?

May 5, 2021 (Day 48 of CFE Prep)

If you follow me on Instagram, you would know this already. I read the Capstone 1 case for the first time. The case is 59-page long with appendices. Since I am a first-time writer for the Sept CFE, my Capstone 1 case is Waste Disposal. I knew it was going to be boring and dry before I read it but boy was I underprepared. It was actually quite hard to get through the material when you don’t care about the business at all. I did it anyway… skipping more sections that I should.

I also had to write up a summary of strategic & operational issues while I read the case so I did that as well. I used bullet points though so that did not take long. I figured we will be taught how to manage such a long case at the workshop so I spent too much time on it.

How I feel: I wish I got the hotel case instead.

May 6, 2021 (Day 49 of CFE Prep)

I was going to tweak my Capstone 1 workshop pre-work a little before handing it in but I decided against it. I spent the evening writing a post instead.

How I feel: I feel accomplished every time I write a post.

May 7, 2021 (Day 50 of CFE Prep)

Slack day. We went downtown to drop off my old work laptop and picked up a bunch of take-outs on my way back. I had a very great Friday night!

How I feel: I was extremely full.

May 8, 2021 (Day 51 of CFE Prep)

It was the first day of my Capstone 1 workshop today so that was the only CPA thing I did. It was live and online so I didn’t have to wake up too early. However, I was quite tired at the end as there was quite a bit of information and several activities.

How I feel: I am ready for Among Us!

May 9, 2021 (Day 52 of CFE Prep)

Day 2 of my Capstone 1 workshop. We spent the morning on group presentations and most of the afternoon working with our groups. It was quite a productive meeting so we got half of the week #1 submission done! I really wanted to slack after the workshop but convinced myself to write a post at the end.

How I feel: I am proud of myself for fighting the urge to slack!

May 10 to 11, 2021 (Day 53 & 54 of CFE Prep)

Slacked but I really should be working on my parts for our group project… I guess I will wake up earlier tomorrow.

How I feel: No matter what… can’t let my groupmates down.

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