Walkthrough of CPA Canada Performance Management (PM) Elective

Let’s look at CPA Canada’s Performance Management (PM) elective module. In this post, you’ll learn about the module’s: format, assignments, topics, exams, how it’s assessed, and study tips to help you pass.

Related readings:

What’s PM elective?

Upon finishing both Core modules in the CPA Canada Professional Education Program (PEP), you will choose two elective modules out of four potential options: Assurance, Taxation, Performance Management (PM), and Finance. Completing two electives is required before completing the Capstones 1 and 2, and the Common Final Exam (CFE). Your two chosen electives can be completed in any order.

The PM module is designed to test on the competencies required for students to contribute to strategic decision making, assessing performance, and managing / mitigating risk to support successful governance. You’ll dive deeper into complex settings and frameworks to improve a company’s performance and sustaining value. This elective can be taken by anyone, but it is not usually taken by those in public practice. It’s recommended to take PM after Core 2 due to the similarities in competencies, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

PM itself is not a competency in the CPA Canada Competency Map. Instead, the technical topics of PM are made up of Management Accounting (MA) and Strategy & Governance (SG). So expect almost all of AOs in the exam to be on these two, with only 1-2 on other areas. MA also includes the new DAIS (Data Analytics and Information Systems) competence. You can be tested on DAIS in the PM module exam.

Examples of PM topics include:

  • Vision, Mission, Values
  • Pricing Strategies
  • Sensitivity Analysis
  • Job Costing
  • Transfer Pricing
  • Budgeting
  • Internal & External Analysis (eg SWOT, Porter’s 5 forces)
  • Balanced Scorecard
  • Performance Measures

Similar to Core modules, PM module is held online, with all assignments, readings and quizzes taken on the website Desire 2 Learn (D2L). You’ll get access to the materials about a week before the module start date.

How long is it?

The normal PM module is 8 weeks. There is extended version where you can complete it over a 5 -month period. This is good for students who prefer a slower pace of study.

You can also challenge the PM module, where you skip the entire module and just take the exam. This is allowed only in special circumstances, such as for internationally trained accountants under MRA/MOU.

Is there an instructor?

Similar to Core modules, there is an online facilitator

PM module also has a Module Workshop (MWS). This mandatory two-day event has presentations and activities by a session leader. The activities include review of technicals and case writing. I previously worked as a session leader with CPA Canada.

Before attending the workshop, you must complete and submit pre-work to D2L dropbox.

What are the assignments?

PM module has weekly assignments that consist of:

  • Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)
  • Integrative problems (IPs)
  • Practice cases (PCs)

MCQs are small problem-based questions that test on technicals.

Below is an example of PM MCQ:


Below is an example of PM IP:

The PCs range from 80-minute to 120-minutes, they are designed to simulate the actual PM elective exam.

Below is an example of PM PC:

The IPs and PCs are to be completed using Microsoft Word and Excel, and uploaded to D2L weekly. The deadline is typically Friday night.

PM module exam tends to be harder than the PCs, so I recommend practicing with retired exam cases and mock exam simulations.

How is it graded?

Unlike Core modules, where you had 5 AOs, PM module cases have 6 to 8 AOs.

To be eligible to write the exam, you need to get at least 75% total grade from your weekly assignments. The course is weighed as follows:

  • IPs: 30%
  • PCs: 30%
  • Unit quizzes and MWS pre-work: 30%
  • MWS participation: 10%

Reaching this 75% threshold is not a challenge for most students. Passing the exam is the hardest part and it should be your main focus.

What’s the syllabus?

The syllabus lists the weekly readings and assignments. You can use the syllabus as a checklist and narrow down topics to study. To download the syllabus, click here.

What is the PM exam like?

The PM elective exam is 4 hours and consists of 15 MCQs and two cases for a total of 200 minutes. The maximum time for any one case will not be more than 120 minutes and the minimum will not be any less than 80 minutes.

All four electives (Assurance, PM, Finance, Tax) have this examination format (15 MCQ, 2 cases), which is different from Core modules, where you had 75 MCQs and one case. As you can see, the focus is being shifted from MCQs to case writing. In the CFE, it’s only cases.

Below is the exam blueprint that shows the weighing for the PM MCQs. As you can see, it’s primarily MA and SG focused.

Similarly, the cases will have mainly MA and S&G, but will integrate 1 or 2 other competency areas (ie, Assurance, Finance, FR, SG). While these other competencies can officially make up 50% of the cases, it’s typically around 20-30%, so only 1 or 2 AOs in each case.

For example, your case may have 5 MA and SG AOs (eg. Outsource – quants, outsource – qual, pricing decision, Porter’s 5 Forces, strategy) and 1 Tax AO (eg. basic personal tax planning advice).

Or it may have 6 MA and SG AOs (eg. Break-even point, BOD issues, performance measures, KSF, variance analysis, transfer pricing), 1 Finance AO (eg. sources of financing) and 1 Assurance AO (eg. basic WIR). This changes every semester and I can provide you tips and estimates on what I think will come up in my PM Lessons course.

All prior learnings from Core 1 and Core 2 are still testable in your exam.

How many tries do I get?

Similar to Core 1/2 modules, you have 3 attempts to pass. However, unlike core modules, after 3 unsuccessful tries, you don’t get de-registered from the elective. Instead, you can switch your elective and try 3 more times in a different elective. 

What are the textbooks?

The PM module follows the same Learning EBooks as in Core modules. Here is more information on how to download the CPA Canada Learning eBooks.

Unlike Core modules, the “cheat sheet” given in the exam will NOT have the common ratios. You can download and compare Core and Elective cheat sheets (“Examination Reference Schedules”) here.

What should I study?

Because this is an elective level exam, the biggest technical portion is that elective, ie PM area. I suggest spending most of your time studying the MA and SG topics. Electives test depth of knowledge, so the complexity of the AOs is higher than what you’ve seen in Cores. 

The key similarity between Core 2 and PM is that PM focuses on S&G and then MA (eg, 70% SG, 30% MA), while Core 2 focuses on MA and then S&G/Finance (eg. 70% MA, 30% SG and Finance). In other words, both Core 2 and PM cover mostly MA and SG. These are the technical areas that you should study and understand.

The SG competency is not difficult to master, because it’s mostly qualitative. You’ll need to have fast typing speed, organized templates (eg. KPIs, balanced scorecard, pros/cons), use case facts often and answer “so what” in your qual. I have more tips on studying and passing PM in this blog post.

You’ll find the MAs longer and more difficult than Core 2. Make sure to brush up on the common MA topics, such as:

  • Contribution margin (CM) analysis
  • Break-even point (BEP)
  • Variances analysis (VA)
  • Sensitivity analysis (SA)
  • Transfer pricing (TP)
  • Activity-based costing (ABC)
  • Budgeting
  • Decision analysis
  • DAIS
  • Pricing
  • Relevant costing
  • Cost allocation
  • Process costing

What’s the PM pass rate?

The PM pass rate is around 90%. 

Why do students fail PM?

Statistically, more students pass PM than the Core modules (see pass rate above). However, some parts of PM module can be more challenging. Here are the top challenges most students get:

1) Time management. Like other modules, PM is a self-lead course, which means you are responsible for managing your time, planning your readings, and understanding the material. Because the exam will have 2 cases, you must monitor your time effectively and not spend too much time on one case and less on the other. There are also lots of calculations like in Core 2. These calculations can be lengthy, so students end up spending lots of time on quants and running out of time in the end.

2) Applying templates/identifying the right quants. There are lots of quants in PM, so it’s challenging to think about the problem and solve/set up in Excel in the short amount of time. Having weak MA skills and poor formatting can cause you to fail. I suggest creating templates of common quants to help you with MA mastery. My MA Templates is a good starting point. 

3) Bad qual. While MA and calculations are a big portion of the exam, qual and S&G are even bigger. Students don’t write the qual implications, they don’t use enough case facts, and don’t link to the big picture (user preferences), which results in getting NC/RC.

Overall, time management, incorrectly identifying the quants tool, weak MA skills, and lack of depth in qual discussions are the biggest reasons students fail.

Do I need a tutor?

Hiring a tutor is a personal preference and it depends on your circumstances. A CPA tutor brings their expertise, helping to identify your weaknesses, reinforce your strengths, teach complex topics, reveal what topics are most tested, thus helping you speed up your study time and increase your chances of passing the exam.

If you attempt PM by yourself and don’t pass it, I suggest that you consider getting a tutor. But if you are successful, then you can keep doing what works for you.

Extra resources

Extra PM resources are available at PM Lessons course.