CFE Honour Roll Interview – Strategies from Jonathan

I chatted with Jonathan, an Honour Roll student from CPA CFE 2019. Below is the partial interview and transcript.



Why don’t we start with your background, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Melfort, Saskatchewan, I work at MNP, I’m a designated professional there, so I just got my letters a couple of weeks ago. I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, with high honours and great distinction there, and I actually wrote honours thesis paper that’s being published in the American Accounting Association Journal this February.

Why don’t you tell us about your CFE prep schedule, for example, how many weeks did you take off and how many hours did you study?
For sure. I took off from start of Capstone 2 onwards, I took a couple of weeks off before, just to relax and get ready, which I would highly recommend if you can, because it was really nice, I found that after a little bit of time off I was ready to start doing something again, so I could get started right into studying full-time.

I took 8-weeks off in total. I studied every day Monday to Friday from 8 to 5, I took a lunch in that time, I treated it like it was my full-time job during that time and then at 5 o’clock I stopped studying. I would just take the evening off and relax like I normally would if I was just working. I tried to maintain as much consistency as I could from working full-time to studying full-time for those 2 months.

Can you tell us how you debrief your cases?
Yeah, so I debrief a lot, I would say compared to some of my cohorts that were at the same firm, I would say I debriefed the most. I really valued that debrief time because I use that as a study period. Instead of just looking at the solution, I would use my debrief time to really dive in, to understand fully where the solution was coming from, what exact handbook reference do they refer to, how they applied them. When I was prepping, I was told that you should spend equal time as the case was to debrief and I definitely did that, if there was a 5-hour case, I spent at least 5 hours debriefing it. That was my main study resource, I never spent a whole day studying technical, most of my technical study was through debrief, so I would spend (for a 5-hour case) the whole next day debriefing.
* * *
I would have tabs in the tracking sheet for each kind of Assessment Opportunities (Management Accounting, Financial Reporting, Assurance, etc. all six of them) and then every case I would type in what was tested, what you were supposed to do, and how I performed on it.

Once you went through this process and you got to CFE, was there anything that surprised you, when you actually got to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, or was it like you expected?
I found it to be exactly but I expected it to be. For Day 2, we were warned ahead of time that there’s going to be FR [Financial Reporting] issues that you’re not going to know about, so I wasn’t surprised by them necessarily. I was surprised because I didn’t know about them, but I wasn’t surprised that there ones that I hadn’t studied yet.

Knowing that going in, there was really nothing on there that was out of the normal or bizarre, I would say, I found everything to be very, very expected, in how the questions were provided, how many assessment opportunities there are going to be, etc.

Do you use a computer outline or a paper outline?
I did not know what to do on the first day of Capstone 2.

I was a little overwhelmed. Other people knew what their approach was, going in there, their mentor told them to do this so they’re doing it, so I felt a little overwhelmed because I didn’t know what my approach was going to be.

In PEP [Professional Education Program], it wasn’t as essential, because I felt like I had more time in those exams or I could make up time easier so I didn’t feel as pressured to really nail down a strategy, whereas in the CFE, you don’t have extra time. So I played it by ear and tried out some different things, I found on Day 1 and 2, I did my outline on the computer and I did my outline very [in-depth], it was really fleshed out, it had the full AO [assessment opportunities] on it and it had a lot of points that linked back to the analysis underneath it so that it was kind of ready to roll, so that when I was actually writing my response, I was typing in, fleshing out the details, and done.

On Day 3, I didn’t outline on the computer, because I didn’t have enough time. Instead, I would just, on a piece of paper, I write down how many AOs were there, and the highlight of them (FR, Assurance, weakness-implication-recommendation) so I would do the highlights and then do how much time I have for each one, because it was such a short case, that I felt that I didn’t need to flesh out [the details]. I didn’t outline Day 3, it depends on what works for you, I could remember all of them and I found I was wasting time as I was outlining, I could have just been working on the answer.

But on Day 2, I really needed to outline, after 3 and 1/2 hours, it’s a lot of typing and it’s a lot of thinking, and you’re starting to get tired. I found it really beneficial that in that first hour, I had already fleshed out, you know, AO#8, so that at least when I’m typing it out I kind of already have a benchmark to go on and then I just need to flesh in the details and provide recommendation, what it may be.

(I totally agree with you, you just don’t have the time to do that in Day 3. Sometimes there is not even a point, because the requireds are a little obvious, they are jumping out at you).

Exactly, and you know there’s only there’s only gonna be 4-6, so it’s not as Day 2, 14 or 15 of them. You’re not gonna remember what 12 is vs 14, in hour 4, when you’re exhausted.

You mentioned earlier that you had a mentor assigned to you. Can you tell us a little bit about that and if you had just one mentor and if you had a study partner that you studied with and what was that like?
I selected the mentor, but it was all provided through the firm. I really valued having a mentor.

We didn’t live in the same location, but we chatted on the phone once a week, to talk how the week was and things like that. It was just really nice having a mentor because they’ve been through the process, so they know what to say to you, they know what you’re going through.

My mentor had just wrote in the last couple of years, she remembered the practice cases. When I said to her I just did this case, she said, “Oh, I remember that case, that one was terrible!” That was really nice, they knew exactly what I was going through, I really enjoyed that.

I did not have a study partner, I did everything independently at home. I did that the whole way through University and through CPA PEP, so for me that works and that was my preference, because I didn’t want to feel like I was comparing my performance to someone else’s, and I didn’t want to feel like I was holding someone else back because I wanted to study this more or vice versa, because I heard, leading up to it, that someone doesn’t want to study Day 1, for example, but you do, so I felt it was easier if I did it on my own.

Having a mentor was awesome, it was so important to me because they helped me stay grounded and continually remind me that Perfection is not the expectation and that was so important.

If there’s one, single best advice that you would give to future CFE writers, what would that advice be?
Just stay calm and relaxed during the whole process.

Without my mentor, I know I would have spiralled into a super stressed-out, high-strung state, during that whole 8-week and that is not what you need to do prepping for it.

It’s like what you said before about when you peak, you really want to peak at the end of the 8 weeks. If you are high-strung, if you’re studying all night in week 2, you’re not going to make it to week 8. For me that was really hard, because I’m used to [in] University studying all night, try to get the perfect answers, it was a really different study approach for me, but it was so essential, because I could have never maintained a full day and night study pattern for 8 weeks. On the day of the exam, I would have been totally burned out.

Let’s go into a little more technical side of things, we spoke about case outlining and how you do Day 1 and Day 2 on the computer, can you walk us through the exact steps?

* * *


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Dear Students,

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CPA Canada cancels May 2020 CFE due to COVID-19 pandemic

CPA Canada has announced that the May 2020 Common Final Exam (CFE) will be cancelled and all registered candidates will automatically roll their exam date to September 2020 CFEs. You can now choose from the following cases for Day 1 of the CFE:

September 2020 CFE:

  • Marmani Inc. (Marmani) v2
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v1

May 2021 CFE:

  • Waste Disposal Incorporated (WDI) v1
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v2

Sep 2021 CFE:

  • Creative Toys Incorporated case (CTI) v1
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v3


If you are a repeat writer from the September 2019 CFE, you can now re-write Marmani case only in September 2020 CFE. Previously, you could re-write it in May 2020 CFE. Similarly, you for Days 2 and 3, you will need to wait until September 2020 to write the exam. If you are a re-writer or a new writer in 2020, you should take the extra time to prepare and practice. Make sure you are well-prepared and have a solid strategy.

Pass the CPA Canada CFE Exam

I’m Gevorg. I’m an instructor and a CPA exam coach. I’ve been featured on CBC News and Google News as a CPA exam expert. If you want coaching with me, sign up for my CPA CFE Review Course, for a comprehensive prep package.

CFE Review by Gevorg CPA

CFE Honour Roll Interview – Strategies from Matt

I chatted with Matt, an Honour Roll student from CPA CFE 2019. Below is the partial interview and transcript.



Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I did my undergrad in accounting then I went on to do the masters degree in Tax, actually, then I’ve been going through the CPA PEP process for couple of years and I wrote the CFE in September 2019 and I wrote the Tax elective

What was it that made you want to take Tax?
Most people [do] take Assurance, that’s obviously the most common [role]. Even some of the people I know that work in Tax take Assurance for some reason. But I think for me my decision was easy, it’s just what I felt most comfortable with, I wasn’t going to jump on another bandwagon just because everybody else was.

When you reached the CFE, was there anything that surprised you or was it as you expected and prepared?
Not really. So I think for the most part, most of the AOs [Assessment Opportunities] were consistent with what was in prior years. There were couple areas that were a little lighter or little heavier, but I think for the most part it was very fair in terms of what they asked for.

When I read about Honor Roll students finding out they are on that list, I always read that they were surprised that they made the Honour Roll. Their reaction to the news is: Wow, I can’t believe it was me. Did you feel the same way when you find out?
I think a little bit. So I was doing well in the practice exams [cases], so I knew I was a competent student, but you know, when you write the exam, hundred things go through your mind, like oh, did I miss this, did I miss that. I was surprised but not shocked, I’ll put it that way.

Which of the CFE days – Day 1, 2 or 3 – did you find most challenging and least challenging?
In my prep, I always thought Day 3 was the toughest just because of time constraint, not necessarily because of technical material. I think on this particular year CFE, I think it was fairly easy and manageable from time perspective, so that’s what I was most worried about, but it was okay.

Do you use a case outline, and if so, is it computer-based or paper-based outline?
I did usually prepare an outline, but I’d say it was, you know, less detailed than maybe 90% of other writers, if not more. I kind of just wanted to make sure I had, you know, what’s the required, and if I noticed something that was a bit later in the case, that I would otherwise forget, I would jot in down, but for the most part I didn’t spend a ton of time outlining.

Any advice for future CFE writers?
I would say, you have to figure out what works for you. A lot of people try to develop this method of writing the CFE, and I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all approach, everyone has their own idiosyncrasies, so you have to do what works for you and you have to be confident with that. If it’s working for you on the practice cases, I think they’re pretty indicative of what the exam’s likely to be like. I think that’s the best approach

How do you write Day 2 and 3 cases?
First thing I’d do is …
* * *


The full interview is 30-minutes and 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, a live Day 2/3 case demo, and much more. Sign up for the newest CPA CFE Review Course for a comprehensive prep package.

CFE Review by Gevorg CPA


May 2020 and September 2020 CFE Day 1 Cases

 You can choose from the following cases for Day 1 of the CFE:

May 2021 CFE:

  • Waste Disposal Incorporated (WDI) v1
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v2

September 2021 CFE:

  • Creative Toys Incorporated case (CTI) v1
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v3

September 2020 CFE:

  • Marmani Inc. (Marmani) v2
  • Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) v1

May 2020 CFE: *Cancelled*
(Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the May CFE has been cancelled.)


If you are a repeat writer from the September 2020 CFE, you can re-write the Distinct Hotels Corporation (DHC) case in May 2021 CFE.

If you are a new writer in 2021, then you should write the case that you learned in Capstone 1, which is WDI-v1 for May 2021 and Creative Toys Incorporated case (CTI) v1 in September 2021 . If you are re-writing the Day 1 in the upcoming CFE, make sure you are well-prepared and have a solid strategy.


I’m Gevorg. I’m an instructor and a CPA exam coach. I’ve been featured on CBC News and Google News as a CPA exam expert. If you want coaching with me, sign up for my CPA CFE Review Course for a comprehensive prep package.

CFE Review by Gevorg CPA


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.
* * *


  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