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The Profession

Top CFE medallist acknowledges importance of effective study schedule

Lixian Cao was careful to avoid burnout while preparing to write the May 2022 Common Final Examination

A businessman is shownLixian Cao is the Governor General’s Gold Medal winner for the May 2022 CFE (Image provided)

Written over three days, the Common Final Examination (CFE) is known for being challenging. All the more reason to congratulate the 1,640 writers who passed the May 2022 sitting, including the 16 candidates who made the Honour Roll.

The prestigious Governor General’s Gold Medal and a CPA Canada cash prize of $5,000 for the highest standing on the May 2022 CFE has been awarded to Lixian Cao from KPMG LLP in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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

  • Atlantic Canada: Daphne Ward, Newfound Mechanical Ltd., St. John’s (NL)
  • Ontario: Melanie Jagroop, Arterra Wines Canada, Inc., Mississauga, (ON) and James (Jake) Pamic, Canadian Payments Association, Ottawa, (ON)
  • Quebec: Julie Charbonneau Carruthers, Deloitte S.E.N.C.R.L./s.r.l., Montreal, (QC)

“Be proud of your accomplishment as the profession offers endless career possibilities,” said Pamela Steer, FCPA, CPA Canada’s president and CEO. “This is an exciting time to become a CPA with issues such as sustainability, data governance and technology creating new opportunities for professional accountants to excel.”


The day CPA Saskatchewan called Cao to share the news that he was the Governor General’s Gold Medal winner, he was skeptical at first. “My first thought when I answered was that it was a scam.”

He quickly realized that the congratulations were real, as was the $5,000 cash prize that accompanies the win. “I was shocked and couldn’t process what was going on at that moment. It was a very pleasant surprise as I was not expecting to get that kind of achievement in Canada.”

At 32, Cao has had a longer journey than some to writing the CFE. He came to Canada from Shijiazhuang, China, with an accounting degree when he was in his early 20s. After pursuing a Master’s in Finance at Simon Fraser University, Cao then spent the next few years as a bookkeeper before joining KPMG Canada as an indirect tax specialist in Saskatoon.

Being a bit older than the average CFE writer, he says he felt relatively at ease during the process. “I made sure I was well prepared going in. I was pretty confident I would pass, but I certainly was not expecting this kind of outcome.”


Organizing his study schedule for the CFE was critical, as Cao decided to pursue his studies while working part-time at KPMG. He prepared over the eight-week Capstone period, splitting his time between studying three to four days a week, and working at his job the balance of the weekdays.

Cao has seen many occasions when pressure has gotten the better of some candidates. “I know many stress a lot about the exam, but that kind of mental state is not good for studying. I had that with other exams where I tried to go at it as much as possible until I was ready to fall on the floor. I finally realized I was actually spending a lot of time doing nothing.”

The gold medallist has a few words of advice when preparing for the CFE.

  • Map out your study time “I made a calendar before I started and planned the time I would spend studying. Then I stuck to it.”
  • Only study when your mind is fresh “When you study five or six days a week, you burn out and can’t learn anything by the end of the week. When you do get tired, go do something else.”
  • Make good use of CPA program resources “The CPA program provided good templates I could use to fill in the case writing and debriefing, as well as all the technical studies.”
  • Try to get as much value out of each case you write “You should not try to write as many cases as possible. It’s more important that you understand what you did wrong with each one and correct it the next time.”
  • Don’t fixate on perfection “I am such a perfectionist; I want to get everything flawless. That doesn’t work on the job or in the exam setting. Learn to focus on the more important part of what you are working on.”


This latest achievement is further proof for Cao that he is on the right path. “I like logic and certainty of accounting. I’m a risk-averse person, and even though I have a degree in finance, I was never comfortable with the uncertainty in that field. With indirect tax, you always get to learn about new businesses, new tax laws and new approaches. Things are always changing.”

Cao says he would not have been able to achieve what he has without support. “I want to thank my wife Xinyi for supporting me throughout the whole process, as well as my colleagues and KPMG who provided me with all kinds of resources and tips.”

While he hasn’t had a chance to celebrate his achievements with his co-workers yet, he says, “I feel happy and excited about the gold medal. I definitely feel recognized for all the time and effort I put into getting to this point. My goal for now is to proceed with what I’m doing and get better at it.”


Find out how past CFE gold medal winners have prepared for the exam. Plus, see the complete list of Honour Roll recipients.