Accounting | The Profession

CFE regional winners reveal the secrets to their success

Dedication, organization and support from colleagues and friends helped these three winners pass the May 2023 Common Final Examination with honours

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Clockwise from top left: Hina Bhimani, Jenn Delaney, Stéfanie Lamoureux and Justin PouliotClockwise from top left: Hina Bhimani, Jenn Delaney, Justin Pouliot and Stéfanie Lamoureux (Photographs provided)

Passing the Common Final Examination (CFE) is a remarkable achievement that demands intense preparation, perseverance and proficiency. It’s an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated, and congratulations are in order for the successful 1,571 candidates who passed the May 2023 CFE and the 16 candidates who made the Honour Roll.

Hina Bhimani from Manulife in Toronto earned the Governor General’s Gold Medal and a CPA Canada cash prize of $5,000 for the highest standing on the May 2023 CFE.

CPA Canada also awards a $2,500 cash prize to the regional winners who received top marks.

Jenn Delaney from Marco Group in St. John’s, NL, is the Atlantic Canada winner; Justin Pouliot from JYSK Canada in Coquitlam, BC, is the Western winner and Stéfanie Lamoureux from Mazars in Montreal, is the winner for Quebec.

We asked these three regional winners to share the secrets to their success, including the inspirations and challenges they embraced along the path to certification.

CPA CANADA: What does being named as the regional winner mean to you?
Jenn Delaney (JD): It’s a great honor to represent Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Atlantic Provinces. I worked hard throughout the CPA program and the fact that I not only passed, but also performed so well, hasn’t fully hit me yet. To me, it reinforces the concept that effort leads to success, and I’m unbelievably proud of this accomplishment.

Justin Pouliot (JP): I feel extremely lucky and honoured to be named the regional winner, given the large number of dedicated and competitive candidates writing the CFE at the same time.

Stéfanie Lamoureux (SL): I think it’s a wonderful way to celebrate all the effort I put into this program. When I first started at the CPA school, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, worrying about what could happen if I didn’t do well and had to drop the program. I became even more dedicated to studying and discovered that it really does pay off. Being named the regional winner proved that I can achieve great things when I put my mind to it.

CPA CANADA: What was your reaction when you got the news?
JD: I was at work when I received the call from the Atlantic School and my stomach lurched—I thought they were calling to tell me I failed! When they said I passed, I started to cry, and then when they said I was the regional winner, I cried some more! I wasn’t confident in my performance on the exam, so it was a big shock, and I kept thinking they’ve contacted the wrong person. It was a very surreal experience.

JP: It was definitely a big surprise. I was on my way home from a fishing trip when my boss called and delivered the news. At first, I was confused because it was a week or so before the official release date. Once the news settled in, it was a huge relief to know I had passed, and then an incredible feeling to know I had the top mark in the Western region.

SL: I was at a restaurant with the friend who studied with me throughout the whole process when we both got our results. First, we saw that we passed, and both screamed in public because we were extremely excited. After that, I saw I made it on the honour roll and was totally speechless. And then, CPA Quebec called me and told me that I won the regional medal, and I just couldn’t believe it. I was confident in my answers, but really wasn’t expecting it. The fact that I did better than all the others is the most unbelievable part because there were a lot of very clever people in that room.

CPA CANADA: Talk us through your studying process.
JD: I am a very organized person, so I had a planner that listed the duration of all the practice cases, including technical review time in-between, so I was working on something almost every day. I used a whiteboard to write out types of scenarios and how to structure their responses. I had about a dozen different scenarios that I did this for, along with a generic template for the different types of quantitative analysis. I also attended all the webinars leading up to the exam and found these were great ways to get little nuggets of information.

JP: I am fortunate to have a supportive employer who encouraged and enabled me to take off the month of May in preparation for the exam. I made a study schedule that I strictly adhered to. I would start at 9:00 a.m. and finish by 5:00 p.m., seven days a week. After studying, I made sure I continued to see family and friends while also doing the things I enjoy, such as playing hockey.

SL: I took the 12-month program at HEC Montreal, and that helped me remain focused on my studies. Of course, I stayed on top of all the class requirements, but I always spent one or two days by myself, writing my study notes by hand to memorize them more effectively. I met up with my friend who studied with me the whole time and we would challenge ourselves with accounting questions. Especially as we got closer to the date of the CFE, we would meet up three or four times a week to quiz each other, focusing on things that we didn’t really understand, or the reasoning behind certain concepts.

CPA CANADA: What advice would you give those preparing to write the CFE?
JD: Do as many practice cases as you can. Attend the webinars or watch them afterward—they provide valuable information on how to prepare for the exam. Do at least one full mock exam. This way you’ll have an idea of when the exhaustion, or hunger, will kick in and you can be ready for it during the real thing. When practising, stick to the time constraints, and get used to checking the clock regularly so you can keep yourself on schedule. Save often.

JP: By the time you start preparing for the CFE, you should have already established the study methods that work for you. Stick to the methods that have been successful to date. I began to create exam-like conditions roughly two weeks before the exam and this fully prepared me for the environment that I entered on exam day.

SL: Be persistent in your studying and make sure you’ve seen and understand all the concepts. Take breaks and make time for yourself to relieve the stress. Most of all, believe in yourself. If you made it to the exam and did everything that was expected of you up to that point, you will succeed.

CPA CANADA: How has the CPA program helped to develop your professional skills and competencies?
JD: The CPA program really helped me to be more well-rounded in how I approach complex situations. Using the CPA way of assessing the situation and applying the case facts, as well as recognizing when something is outside of your expertise, has helped me become a better leader and employee.

JP: In addition to the technical knowledge the CPA program provides, it helped me to further develop my time management skills. This will enable me to better manage stressful or difficult situations in the workplace.

SL: It made me see the bigger picture. When I was doing my bachelor’s degree it was very technical, but by going through the whole CPA program, I was able to analyze businesses much better and understand them in a more practical way. This new view of the profession gave me the insight I needed to take my accounting scope to the next level and become more successful.

CPA CANADA: Are there any challenges you had to overcome in the pursuit of the CPA designation?
JD: I came into the CPA program as a mature student without a university degree, so my admission was based on work experience. This was a challenge for me because I didn’t have the same baseline education as other students. I had to spend more time learning and studying technical components. Yet, I have a lot of employment experience, so I was able to draw on real life situations and apply them to the education setting.

JP: There were no specific challenges to overcome, but like almost everyone who is preparing for the CFE, I experienced ups and downs. One practice case may go very well, while the next one doesn’t. It is important to not get too high or low when this happens. You just simply need to keep moving along and stick to your plan.

SL: It always comes back to sharpening myself, knowing that I belong where I want to be. That was the hardest part for me. My first semester, I was unsure if I was able to pass this exam. Yet, I put in the effort. I studied. I did so many cases and on some of them I did really badly, but on others, I did well. I was able to overcome that confidence challenge through hard work and dedication.

CPA CANADA: What are your career goals as a CPA?
JD: I love working with local companies that have strong roots in Atlantic Canada. I hope to continue to work and grow within my role at Marco Group. Marco is the largest construction company based in Atlantic Canada so, as the company continues to grow, the accounting team will also need to grow, and I hope to remain an integral part of that growth, including what Marco brings to Atlantic Canada.

JP: My plan is to keep learning and developing my skills as much as I can every day. I am lucky to have many knowledgeable mentors around me. Eventually, I would like to work my way up to become a CFO, lead teams and mentor others just like I have experienced so far.

SL: I’m planning to finish my 24-month internship before I start to think more about the future. I’ve always taken it one step at a time and that method seems to work well for me. Eventually, I would like to try many things. Right now, I’m in audit and I’m really enjoying it. Perhaps, I might want to try managerial accounting one day. Of course, if I could become a CFO, that would be my greatest dream. If I believe in myself and make the right connections, I know I can achieve that goal.

CHECK OUT THE 2023 CFE HONOUR ROLE

See the full list of honour roll candidates. Plus, read about how the Governor General’s Gold Medal winner landed the top spot.