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Acing the Common Final Examination: GDipPA ’16 grads on “no surprises” and adopting good study habits

When Ian Spiegel (GDipPA ’16) was finally faced with the Common Final Examination (CFE) in Fall 2017, he was somewhat relieved.

“In terms of how the cases were presented and what we were asked to analyze and discuss, it went just as I had expected,” explains Spiegel. “Writing and preparing for the CFE is an intense experience, but it felt really good to walk into an exam and not be surprised by what was in front of me.”

Along with most of his classmates from the inaugural Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting (GDipPA) class, the first GDipPA class to write the CFE, Spiegel passed the exam.

Now, with the CFE officially behind them, these young professionals are well on their way to earning their CPA designation and launching their careers — and they’re happy to share their tips to acing the exam. According to these Rotman grads, it’s simple: be disciplined, refer to your GDipPA notes and keep a cool head.

No surprises with the GDipPA

Photo of Elaine VuongSuccessfully writing and preparing for the CFE can be a daunting challenge for most young accounting professionals. Leading up to the exam, they typically spend up to 27 months completing a six-module CPA professional education program and studying independently, while juggling full-time work and life commitments.

Since Rotman launched the GDipPA program in July 2016, hundreds of forward-thinking young professionals have opted to complete the 12-week diploma program, which runs during the summer months — right after most undergraduate accounting programs finish, but before most new grads start full-time roles. The program covers four CPA professional education program modules and GDipPA grads are eligible to write the CFE in just 15 months.

The true value of the program is that it lays out exactly what students need to know so that there are no curve balls when it comes to writing or completing the rest of their exam preparation.

“I think most of us felt very confident about the CFE when we finished undergrad,” says Spiegel, who graduated from the Rotman Commerce program. “But when we started the GDipPA, we realized that we didn’t have a clear idea of what was to come. That summer was focused heavily on preparing us for every situation.”


“Rotman gave us a head start.”

-Elaine Vuong, GDipPA ‘16


The program’s case-based approach to teaching sets students up perfectly for writing the exam and the capstone courses, says Alice Li (GDipPA ’16).

“The case competitions and assignments in the GDipPA mimic the way you will be put into teams and mentored by industry professionals in the capstone courses,” says Li, who completed the Rotman program after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Toronto Mississauga and before starting a full-time position at PwC.

“You can trust that your professors are teaching you exactly what you need to know, in an order and format that make sense,” she says. “You’ll just feel more confident about the exam and the preparation ahead of you.”

By completing such an intensive program early and without the distraction of work, these grads are at an obvious advantage. In the weeks and months leading up to the exam, GDipPA grads aren’t starting from square one.

“I was surprised by how much I retained,” says Elaine Vuong (GDipPA ’16), who completed the program after graduating from the University of Toronto Scarborough and before starting a full-time position at Deloitte. “When I went back to CFE studying the following summer, picking up the technical material again was a breeze.”

“Rotman gave us a head start,” she adds.

Some advice for the GDipPA class of 2017

Photo of Alice LiThough their days spent preparing for and agonizing over the CFE are long over, Spiegel, Li and Vuong still sympathize with grads from the GDipPA class of 2017 — the next Rotman cohort to take the exam in Fall 2018.

The CFE is a manageable challenge, the grads insist. But it does take discipline and a bit of resilience to do well.

“My advice is to find a study buddy who matches how you like to study. Make sure you keep each other accountable,” says Vuong, who earned honour roll standing on the CFE. “Take the time to mark each other’s work and debrief.”

“Don’t get discouraged by how much you don’t know as you start studying. Just keep reminding yourself it’s about the learning process.”

Li agrees and advises those taking the exam to keep a cool head.


“You can trust that your professors are teaching you exactly what you need to know.”

-Alice Li, GDipPA ‘16


“Don’t stress over small details. Take it easy, especially in the days leading up to the exam. You know what they are going to test you on,” says Li. “Take advantage, go back to your GDipPA notes and give yourself time to relearn and remember the material.”

Most importantly don’t forget the Rotman network, says Spiegel.

An important aspect of the GDipPA program is the continuing support and resources available to grads: they are welcome to check in with professors and are invited to take test exams with the current GDipPA cohort in the summer leading up to the CFE.

Spiegel remembers calling Elisa Zuliani, Academic Director of the GDipPA program in the days leading up the exam.

In addition to providing general advice, Zuliani encouraged Spiegel, who was immersed in his second year of law school studies and applying for summer internships while preparing for the CFE, not to defer writing the exam.

“Take advantage of the professors and resources at the School,” says Spiegel. “It will make the experience a lot easier.”


Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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