5 Reasons Why Candidates Fail CPA Canada PEP and CFE Exams

Sometimes we fail. When it comes to the CPA Canada PEP exams and Common Final Exam (CFE), there are specific reasons why some candidates struggle to pass. For some, it is not knowing how to study for the exam. For others, it is case writing difficulty and inability to answer AOs within the time limit.

Here are the top five reasons why candidates fail and how to avoid these pitfalls:

1. Bad technicals

There is a saying, “Technicals are not as important as case writing,” because you won’t have time on the exam to put it all down. I partly agree with this statements and partly disagree. Without strong technicals, you are not going to reach depth in AOs, resulting in insufficient marks for passing.

There are a few strategies that I’ve seen candidates take towards the technicals:

  • Full technical review strategy: Some candidates read everything and anything, trying to cram as much technical knowledge as possible. This often results in burnouts and forgetfulness.
  • Minimal technical review strategy: Some candidates find technical too difficult to study, so they skip the complex ones and study basics. This results in getting NA/NC in complex topics which come up on exams every time.

You should aims for the the middle:

  • Study some technicals, write cases: Instead of reviewing technicals day-in, day-out, study in chunks and apply to cases. In my CFE Review course, I provide a checklist of key technicals and a listing of topics for each case, so that candidates can review these topics before they try the case. By continually applying technicals to cases and adding to your knowledgebase as you debrief, you refine your technical knowledge and achieve mastery.

2. Suboptimal study plan

The PEP program takes 1.5-2 years to complete for most . The CFE time off is usually 4-8 weeks. It’s important to develop an effective study schedule that fits into your everyday schedule during these times.

I suggest planning day-by-day what you are going to do:

  • Review technicals in the eBook (Knotia),
  • Write IPs (if PEP exams)
  • Write practice cases
  • Debrief

It’s more important to plan nowadays since there are so many distractions in our daily lives and challenges with balancing work, personal life, and other commitments.

  • If you’re a morning person: Wake up early, study for a few hours, head to work, and study as much as you can in the evening before going to bed.
  • If you’re a night owl: Get good sleep, head to work, and do most of your studies in the evening.

3. Poor case writing skills

Case writing skill is an umbrella topic that includes several sub-skills, from proper case formatting to efficient outlining. CPA Canada PEP and CFE exams are unique in the sense that no other CPA designation around the world uses simulations (cases) to evaluate candidates. Cases prove to be challenging for candidates who are not native English speakers, fast typers, fast readers or who find it difficult to structure their thoughts under time pressure.

Here are the top 3 “must have” skills:

  • Stay organized: CPA cases are like puzzles. They throw different case facts and your job is to find and organize them, and solve the puzzle. When reading the case, put each piece in the right box. Use the BURN acronym to organize the key case facts: business information, users, required and necessary case facts.
  • Work on your typing speed: In my famous CPA Honour Roll student interviews, I ask top writers what is their typing speed. Most are above average, around 70-80 words per minute (WPM). if your WPM is less than 45, you need to work on that. 
  • Write efficiently: Ironically, CPA Canada solutions are not “solutions.” They are above-perfect answers that are unrealistic for candidates to write under exam conditions. You can use them to learn technicals, but you need “realistic solutions” to learn how to efficiently write cases. My PEP and CFE Review courses offer realistic solutions to several cases, that are actually manageable to write in the time limit.

4. Not understanding the CPA exams

Another common pitfall by candidates is that they don’t do enough research on how the PEP and CFE exams are marked and what specific concepts will be tested. If you are taking Core 1, or you’re an international trained accountant (ITA) challenging the CFE, you’ll find the CPA PEP and CFE blueprints confusing.

  • Research: Take the time to research on YouTube for CPA exam blueprints and how each exam is structured and tested. You’ll find more information on YouTube than in CPA Canada’s website.
  • Study resources: Use your study materials wisely and focus on few resources that add most value to your studies.

5. Mental unpreparedness

For some candidates, their internal emotions and their motivation gets in the way of their own success. There is lots of pressure on you, from co-workers, family, friends, and relatives. It seems that failing the CPA exam will disappoint everyone. However, fear stops your from focusing and thinking clearly. You have to stop fear and intimidation from getting the best of you.

  • Take time out, breath and relax. Other candidates are feeling as stressed and demotivated as you. It’s important that you find a study partner (study buddy) who will positively influence you and give you an extra boost of motivation. You can find a study partner by joining my CPA Canada Facebook and WhatsApp groups. It’s also helpful to schedule time off in your schedule for relaxation and rest.

If you have failed you CPA PEP or CFE exams attempting on your own or with another CPA coaching provider, now is the time to consider a change. Gevorg, CPA has strategies, study materials and markers that will help you study smarter, find answers quicker and get results. We have overall 90% pass rate across our courses and we provide personalized coaching that will help to focus your studies. 

Sign up for the Core 1 Review and CFE Review programs to learn the path to CPA success.