CFE Honour Roll Interview – Strategies from Industry Candidate

I chatted with a candidate who passed CPA CFE 2019 with Honour Roll – and she has never worked in public practice. About 80% of all Honour Roll students come from the public practice. How did she do it? Here is my commentary, the interview transcript and the 6 key takeways.



What was your CFE prep schedule like?
I booked off the entirety of capstone 2, but retrospectively think this was too much time. I carried over 3 weeks of vacation from last year and used 3 weeks in the current year, so 6 weeks in total. My performance peaked at week 5. I studied 8hrs a day and took evenings/weekends off.

How did you practice writing cases?
I printed out most cases to simulate the exam setting. I used a tracking sheet that split up requireds by category (FR, MA, tax, etc.). For any NCs and RCs, I made notes on how I could take my response to the C level. This helped to identify any recurring mistakes I was making. I used to debrief D3 cases the same day and D2 cases the next day.

How did you feel about the CFE?
D1/3 were fine. D2 had strange FR AOs and also had MA AOs, which, while not unheard of, were unexpected.

Which Day was the hardest?
D2 was the hardest. D1 is the least technical so it could be considered the easiest. While D3 was time constrained I didn’t find it too bad, the FR on D2 was difficult. I felt better about D3 and thought that management accounting would pull me through level 2. The module exams were way easier in comparison.

I was definitely not aiming for honour roll, I just wanted to pass! I was just trying to accumulate as many C’s as possible. I don’t think aiming for CD is a good strategy – any time you spend perfecting one AO is time taken away from another AO, and a CD is worth no more points than a C.

Do you use an outline, and if so, computer or paper-based?
Yes, computer. But I make margin notes on the case itself and write down key facts and a timeline for a visual reminder.

Did you write intro in your case?
No intros – just go right into requireds.

Any tips on “pacing” for three days of case writing on CFE?
Rest for sure! I didn’t look at anything after the exam. I also avoided discussing what I wrote and reading anything about the CFE online until after the results were out.

How do you approach the Day 1 case?
Situational analysis – have the headings ready and fill them in as you’re reading the case. Only write down factors that you will use in the issue analysis.

Issue analysis – make sure you integrate the situational analysis into the analysis of issues; make sure you have both quant and qual analysis; conclude for each issue.

Conclusion – have an overall conclusion to summarize your recommendations.

Any advice for future CFE writers?
Don’t get discouraged if you get a lot of NCs/RCs at first – as long as you understand why you got NC and how to bring them up to C, you will be fine!

Speaking about that, as you were going through Cap 2, were you already at C/CD level or did you gradually improve?
It was a gradual process for sure, but that’s why debriefing properly is so important.
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  1. Take 4-5 weeks off and study 8 hours a day
  2. Print the cases to stimulate the exam setting
  3. Outline on the computer and make margin notes
  4. For NC and RC grades, make notes to yourself to identify recurring mistakes
  5. Give yourself time, it takes few weeks before you reach the C level
  6. Day 2 is likely going to be the most challenging, be prepared for it.


The full interview transcript covers how to outline and write Day 2 and Day3 cases, how to budget your time, structure quants, how to remember the APSE and IFRS criteria, and much more. Sign up for the newest CPA CFE 2020 Review Course for a comprehensive prep package.

CFE Review by Gevorg CPA