By Roanette Morency and Geoff Horne.
The CFE is not your ordinary exam. Try as you may, you will not memorize the handbook and late-night cramming sessions the night before the exam aren’t going to cut it this time. The key to passing the CFE is to learn how to study SMART.
10 Ways to Study Smart:
1 – Debrief: Learn from your mistakes!
It’s about quality, not quantity. Success is not determined by the number of cases you write before the exam but rather the improvement in the quality of your case writing over that time period. Practicing cases is extremely important, but by actively learning from your mistakes, you enhance your comprehension of the questions and achieve a better understanding of the areas that challenge you. Debrief each case after it’s been marked. Carefully consider how your study partner marked your paper, comparing this to the feedback guide. Ask yourself, “What is the minimum I should have included in order to reach that C?”. Do a second debrief by reviewing the feedback from CPABC on your case. Focus on your biggest mistakes, and re-write sections of the case to prove to yourself you’ve improved.
2 – Schedule your time
Maintaining a rigid schedule for your study break will be key in managing your workload and keeping you motivated. It will also help to reduce your study guilt. In other words, it’s okay to take Saturday off, because it’s scheduled as a day off! The CPA Capstone 2 schedule is a great starting point from which you can build your own schedule, supplementing additional cases where needed. Then stick to your schedule, as this will provide you with a feeling of progress throughout the long study period.
3 – Pace yourself
A lot of students talk about the danger of “peaking too early.” That is, at some point you may feel like you’ve hit a wall, and that your results are getting worse rather than better. Don’t get discouraged. It’s important to recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. The best thing to do is to take some time to relax. Then, revisit the case again and do a thorough debrief.
4 – Be disciplined
Depending on your personality, this may mean that you need to work hard to stay on task. Set goals for yourself on a weekly basis. For others, you may struggle with the discipline of taking a break. Taking the weekend off will help to reduce your anxiety level and give your mind the chance to rejuvenate. The key to remaining disciplined in both of these areas is sticking to your study schedule.
5 – Say no to distractions
Having a quiet study area is extremely important. Put away your phone and avoid any other interruptions while you write.
The CFE is a large milestone in your life, and may require some other milestones to be put on hold – whether it’s wedding planning, family planning or pursing a new relationship. You will need to act wisely in deciding on your timing and priorities.
6 – Use your study buddies
Marking each others’ cases is a great way to learn how the CFE markers will think, and can greatly improve your case writing. Find yourself a study buddy who is completing the same elective. Your buddy also understands your stress better than anyone else. Encourage each other, and lean on each other for moral support.
7 – Track common mistakes
If you keep making the same mistakes, list them. Before every practice case, review your list. This will keep your most common errors fresh in your mind and will help you to learn to correct them. The more cases you write, the more these errors will be a thing of the past.
8 – Review technical topics early in your study period
Studying topics such as tax, assurance and financial reporting can be overwhelming and will take up a lot of your time. Tackle them early. This will also be the best way to see improvement in your case marks early in the process. Your marks on less technical topics will naturally improve as you practice more cases.
9 – Use your resources
There are countless resources such as CFE prep courses, extra cases and technical books created to increase your chance of success. Many students find Densmore to be a helpful course and a great supplement to Capstone 2. Since your grade will be relative to your peers’ grades, you’d be wise to join these students.
10 – Don’t get discouraged
It is easy to get discouraged when you get a low score on a practice case. Remember, every low mark is a learning opportunity and every case is different. Each low mark you receive is an opportunity to learn something that will help you on the CFE. Rather than putting yourself down, ask yourself what you learned, and move forward!
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