Passing CPA Canada CFE for International Indian Accountants

When I got my Indian CA degree – being one of the toughest exams – it made me feel so proud and led me to believe that I could conquer it all. I was so happy to know that ICAI has an MOU with CPA Canada. With MOU, we do not have to go through the entire CPA Canada journey and instead give the CFE directly. Within one year of moving to Canada, I was super stoked to clear my CFE on my first attempt! I will share here my tips of what helped me pass the CFE.

CFE was an altogether different experience. Definitely being an Indian CA, the conceptual knowledge is strong but you realize there are so many differences. To start with:


We hadn’t studied IFRS nor ASPE back home, hence this was new. I wouldn’t say it was tough, but embracing that change and understanding how it goes felt different. I suggest that you give it a lot of time. Read the CPA Canada Handbook, the Learning E-book, and other notes helps immensely to strengthen IFRS and ASPE concepts.

The CFE format

The format is very challenging because we are not used to case-based exams. You must understand the format and this takes a while. Study the way you need to approach the paper, the case-based exams, and the kind of answers expected by CPA Canada markers. You need to allot a lot of time at first just on understanding how to approach the exam. I wrote more than 70+ cases to get familiar with this format.

Computer-based CPA exam

As it’s a laptop-based exam, not handwritten, both your typing speed and the time you spend seeing the screen matters. You need to practice many cases just to get comfortable with the screen usage. It can still get too much when you give the three day CFE exam. It can be really challenging as the exam is for 4-5 hours each day. It can be pretty exhausting when this is the first subjective professional exam on screen that you will be giving.

The right answer

We at ICAI have always focused on getting the right answer. The Canadian CFE focuses on hitting the right steps. It’s about the right time allotted to the Assessment Opportunities (AOs) and not always focusing on the right answer. Otherwise, you can be doing an AO right, but might lead you to not being able to complete the paper, which will cause you to be unsuccessful at the CFE. Hence balancing the questions in the right way is important. Remember: time management > right answer.

Open book CPA exam

In the Canadian CPA CFE exam, the Handbook is available. We may not have been exposed to that kind of exam in the past, so it’s helpful to study the sections of the Handbook which are important (eg Financial Reporting). In case you are tested on a topic that you don’t know, you need to know where to look for it. It can be overwhelming at first, hence getting used to the CPA Handbook early and familiarizing with the content in advance is important.

In summary, I suggest Indian CAs taking the Canadian CFE:

  • Make sure to allot time to understand the new standards and focus on writing answers in the right format.
  • Technicals are important but they must be adapted to the case.
  • You should get used to writing your cases on the laptop and solve as many cases you can because that’s a fantastic way to brush up your technical knowledge.
  • Don’t focus on hitting the right answer, especially in quantitative subjects like MA and Finance, instead focus on applying case facts and recommending to the users.
  • Ensure you take advantage of the open CPA Handbook but only for areas you believe you need to focus on because time management is key and you can’t waste a lot of time searching for answers.
  • Be mentally prepared for the back-to-back three days of 4-5 hour exams, that can be overwhelming.

This CPA exam is overall amazing and you learn a lot. It’s designed in such a beautiful way to be exposed to the Canadian systems that you only come out much more future ready in Canada!

Good luck!

Extra resources

CFE study resources are available at the CFE Review.

Author: Leela Pai, ICAI and successful CFE writer from Sep 2021