CFE Day 1: How to Approach, Outline and Solve

CPA Canada’s CFE Day 1 is 4 hours long. It contains usually 4 strategic issues, 2 operational issues, and 1 or 2 big picture issues.

Before heading into the exam center, it’s a good idea to have a strategy on how you’re going to approach and solve the Day 1 case. This strategy should be formulated during your prep time and practiced until it becomes second nature.

I described the basics of Day 1 here. So in this blog post, I’ll explain the Day 1 approach that I teach my students.

Day 1 approach

Step 1: Overview the case

First, we flip through all the pages. The goal is to understand what the exam paper is all about:

  • How many pages are there?
  • How many appendices?
  • What are the titles?
  • What are the appendices made up of (quant, qual or both)?
  • How long is the board dialogue?

This is a quick process that takes 1 minute max.

Step 2: Read narrative, board dialogue and F/S

Now that we know what the case is all about, we read the narrative (first few pages), the board dialogue (which is usually Appendix I) and F/S (if given). All of those are read in detail.

Step 3: Build the outline as you’re reading step 2

You can have either paper or computer outline. Whichever you choose, you should build an outline. It helps to capture the case facts, keep things organized, and saves you from re-reading the case.

Here in step 3, we build the outline. This is done simultaneously as we are doing step 2.

At this point in the approach, you should know all the strategic issues, operational issues, and the big picture issues.

Step 4: Quick read the appendices

Here in step 4, we “quick read” the remaining appendices. The goal is to find what issue each appendix belongs to and if there are any important case facts that might affect all other issues (ie, hidden big picture issues). Don’t read in detail, take 30 sec – 1min max per Appendix.

If any appendices affect SAF (for example, the big picture constraint), then go back to your outline and add the new information to it. This happened in the May 2022 CTI v1 case.

I recommend spending on steps 2, 3 and 4 (combined) 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Step 5: Finalize time budget

It’s time to allocate your remaining time budget and start solving the AOs. Exact time allocation techniques and time budget templates are available in CFE Review.

Step 6: Read appendix in detail & solve

Finally, we read each appendix in detail and solve the AOs.


Here’s the summary:

  • Step 1: Overview the case
  • Step 2: Read narrative, board dialogue and F/S
  • Step 3: Build the outline as you’re reading in step 2
  • Step 4: Quick read appendices
  • Step 5: Finalize time budget
  • Step 6: Read appendix in detail + solve

Extra resources

Extra resources are available at CFE Review course.