10 Study Tips for Surviving the Common Final Examination
July 19th, 2019

By Geoff Horne. 

A rite of passage for CPAs, the Common Final Examination (CFE) is no ordinary exam. Try as you might, there’s no way you’ll memorize the handbook, and cramming the night before won’t cut it this time. The key to passing the CFE is to study smart. 

Here are 10 ways to do that.

1. Debrief—and learn from your mistakes

It’s about quality, not quantity. Success doesn’t depend on how many cases you write before the exam but on how much your writing improves during that time. Practising cases is important, but by learning from your mistakes, you’ll better understand the questions and the areas that challenge you.

Debrief each practice case after it’s been marked. Carefully consider how your study partner marked your paper. Ask yourself: What is the minimum I should have included to earn a C? Do a second debrief by reviewing the feedback from CPABC on your case. Focusing on your biggest mistakes, rewrite sections to show yourself that you’ve improved.

2. Schedule your time 

Keeping a rigid schedule for your study break is vital to managing your workload and staying motivated. It will also help reduce study guilt. In other words, it’s OK to relax on Saturday because it’s scheduled as a day off! 

The CPA Capstone 2 schedule is a great starting point to build your own, adding cases where needed. Then stick to your schedule, which will give you a feeling of progress throughout the long study period. 

3. Pace yourself

Many students talk about the danger of peaking too early. At some point, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall and that your practice results are only getting worse. Don’t be discouraged. It’s important to recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. The best thing to do is take some time to relax, then revisit the case and do a thorough debrief.  

4. Be disciplined 

Depending on your personality, you may need to work hard to stay on task. If so, set weekly goals. Or do you struggle with the idea of taking a break? A weekend off will help reduce your anxiety and give your mind a chance to recover. In both cases, the key to remaining disciplined is sticking to your study schedule.

5. Say no to distractions 

Having a quiet study area is crucial. Put away your phone and avoid any other interruptions while you write.  

A major milestone in your life, the CFE may require putting other milestones on hold, whether it’s pursuing a new relationship, planning a wedding, or starting a family. Act wisely when deciding on your timing and priorities. 

6. Lean on your study buddy

Marking each other’s cases is an excellent way to learn how the CFE markers think, and it can vastly improve your case writing. Find 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 your study buddy 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 help you learn to correct them. The more cases you write, the fewer of these mistakes you’ll make.

8. Review technical topics early in the study period

Studying subjects like tax, assurance and financial reporting can be overwhelming and time-consuming, so tackle them sooner rather than later. This is also the best way to see improvement in your case marks early in the process. Your marks in less technical topics will naturally increase as you practise more cases. 

9. Use your resources

There are countless resources such as CFE prep courses, extra cases and technical books that can boost your odds of success. For example, many students find Densmore a useful supplement to Capstone 2. Because you’ll be graded relative to your peers, you’d be wise to join those students.  

10. Don’t get discouraged

It’s easy to get dismayed when you score low on a practice case. But remember: every case is different, and every low mark is an opportunity to learn something that will help you in the CFE. So don’t put yourself down—ask what you learned and move forward. Happy studying! 


Roanette Morency assisted with article content.

Posted in Walsh King

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