CFE preparation secrets revealed

May 7, 2024
CFE preparation secrets revealed
Photo credit: artisteer/iStock/Getty Images

With the May 2024 Common Final Exam (CFE) quickly approaching, we looked back at our interviews with past honour roll students to see what their secrets were to excel in the CFE. When asked, “Tell us about a breakthrough or ‘aha’ moment during your studies”, some common themes emerged. 

Many realized that striving for perfection wasn’t the key, and that taking care of their overall wellbeing was as essential as studying. Here’s what these past candidates, all of whom are now CPAs, shared as their breakthrough moments in preparing for the CFE.


Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies.


Haley Coss, CPA, senior accountant, KPMG Canada
I had a huge breakthrough when I realized that the key to performing well on the CFE was being able to manage my time effectively. I had to accept that the CFE would probably throw us some assessment opportunity [AO] curveballs (spoiler alert: it did!) and that I wasn’t going to be able to study everything. Instead, I practised moving on from an AO once my allocated time was up. This strategy helped me sufficiently address every AO on the CFE—even the ones I wasn’t prepared for.




Pamela Ho, CPA, senior accountant, Deloitte 
For me, it was understanding the importance of taking breaks and maintaining balance to recharge. I made sure to allow myself time to decompress and step away from CFE prep every day. I started every morning with a Peloton ride and finished most days with a long walk around Vancouver to clear my head.





Rose Salm, CPA, Canadian tax, BDO Canada
Initially, I was very overwhelmed by the breadth of topics we could be tested on during the CFE. For me, a breakthrough happened when I realized I should be focusing more on the communication and structure of my responses. I recognized that I needed to better convey how I was arriving at my conclusions, and I knew that if I practised communicating my thought process clearly, it would serve me well on all aspects of the CFE.





Caleb Steegstra, CPA, finance business partner, Westbow 
I realized early on that what matters most is your critical-thinking process, not your technical answers. Focusing on my thinking process unlocked my ability to make quick decisions and enabled me to take a methodical approach to writing case studies.






Jihae Yun, CPA, senior accountant, BDO Canada 
I had my biggest breakthrough when I realized that I shouldn’t be focusing on writing perfect answers. After that, I learned to identify and focus on the topics I was struggling with the most, and by thoroughly reviewing the marking guide and the solutions, I was able to come up with my own “attack strategy.”





Photos of Pamela Ho and Rose Salm by Kent Kallberg Studios. Photo of Haley Coss by Kelly Funk Photography. Photo of Caleb Steegstra by Brendan Robinson for Riverside Photography. Photo of Jihae Yun by Three Sixty Media.