Skip To Main Content
Portrait of Helen Liu
The Profession

Working in exam-like conditions is key, CFE gold medallist says

Helen Liu followed a highly organized daily schedule, writing cases and debriefing afterwards

Portrait of Helen Liu   Helen Liu is the winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the highest standing on the September 2022 CFE (Image provided)

Now that the September 2022 Common Final Examination (CFE) results have been released, it’s time to congratulate the 4,648 candidates who passed the exam.

Held over three days, the CFE is a critical milestone in the Canadian CPA certification program, which consists of education, work experience and examination.

Special congratulations are in order for candidates included on the CFE honour roll, which consists of the top one per cent of first-time CFE writers.

The prestigious Governor General’s Gold Medal (and a CPA Canada cash prize of $5,000) for the highest standing in Canada has been awarded to Helen Liu from D&H Group LLP in Vancouver, British Columbia.

CPA Canada also awarded regional Gold Medals and a cash prize of $2,500 to: 

  • Atlantic Canada: Brittany Harnum, Grant Thornton LLP, St. John’s (NL) 
  • Ontario: Aydan Schat, BLR LLP, Waterdown (ON) 
  • Quebec: Camille Rhéaume, Mallette S.E.N.C.R.L., Québec City (QC)

“The CFE is a demanding exam so the wonderful and joyful experience of passing is something the successful writers will remember forever,” says Pamela Steer, FCPA, president and CEO of CPA Canada. “These bright, dedicated and ambitious individuals are well on their way to earning a designation that can open many doors to rewarding careers because of the expertise, skills, integrity and unwavering ethics associated with being a Canadian CPA.”


When Helen Liu was called into a meeting room at D&H Group LLP, the firm where she is currently working, on a sunny afternoon in late November, it’s safe to say she was totally unprepared for the incredible news that was about to be delivered to her.

“The CFE results weren’t due to be released until the following week, so it didn’t occur to me that this meeting could have anything to do with the exam,” says Liu.

Once notified that she had won the gold medal, her initial reaction was utter disbelief. “It was almost surreal,” she says. “I asked the managers, ‘Are you sure it’s not someone else with the same name?’ ”

Of course, now that Liu has had some time to process the news, she is slowly coming to terms with what it truly means. “This is such an honour. It makes me really happy to see all my years of schooling culminate on such a good note with this win. I feel motivated to do even better now, to be worthy of this accomplishment.”


In addition to the support she received from family, friends and mentors, Liu attributes her success to a highly organized study regimen, concentrated in the summer months before the exam. “I had a day-by-day schedule, where I would write in exam-like conditions and then debrief afterwards using the resources provided by the CPA program,” she says. “Writing in those conditions helps you get used to working under time pressure. It trains you to react a little faster when you hit an unexpected issue.”

Liu also made sure to track her progress throughout the summer. “When you are in week seven, it’s difficult to remember what you did in week one,” she says. “So I made sure to make summary notes on each case, with tips on what to remember for my next one. That makes everything easier to review.”

Serious as she was with her study habits, Liu also learned to prioritize her well-being. “Toward the end of the summer, I might have become a little over-enthusiastic in adding more cases to my schedule. I started to see my performance dropping and that made me feel stressed.

So instead of writing entire cases, I just focused on planning and outlining, which provided a road map for the case. I also did some lighter technical review. This allowed me to still prepare for the technical aspects of the exam while ensuring that I would be able to write with a more refreshed mind.”

Liu also underlines the importance of surrounding yourself with positive energy. “My family, friends, CFE mentor and work mentors were all really encouraging. That gave me a little bit more confidence because they were confident in me. That really helps when getting yourself ready for the actual exam.”


Liu learned in high school that accounting might be a good career choice—her mother mentioned it as a possibility and it also came up in a career planning course. But it was only in university that she came to fully understand the benefits of having the CPA designation. “I realized that it could make me more versatile and give me the ability to fit into any kind of organization and support it.”

Since she was enrolled in the coop program at the UBC Sauder School of Business, Liu was also able to gain some early work experience which, combined with the CPA Professional Education Program, allowed her to solidify her conviction that she had chosen the right path. “Through my journey, I learned the value of becoming a professional—someone who can be relied upon to provide professional advice. That really puts meaning into the work because you can see that another person or organization is benefitting from your help.”


While Liu is not yet sure where her career might eventually take her, she is enjoying her work at D&H Group LLP. “In public practice, you are able to work with many different clients. There are so many opportunities to learn. Right now, I just want to do my best and continue gaining as much experience as I can, while using that experience to mentor other students.”

Liu is also grateful to her firm for all the support it provided. “They were really helpful in providing training and study tips. And when the exam was over on day three, several members came out to pick the CFE writers up from the Convention Centre. Next year, when it comes time to greet the writers, I want to be there too—just as those members were there for us.”


View the complete list of honour roll recipients and learn how these three CFE writers reacted to winning regional honours.