Monday, January 28, 2013

Some Tips on Tackling the UFE

Tomasz Popiel is a CA working in Ottawa, Ontario. Tomasz wrote the UFE in 2010 and has been mentoring CA candidates preparing for the UFE both internally and online through UFE Blog.

In 2010 when I wrote the Uniform Evaluation (UFE) the CA Training Offices (CATOs) were still a new evolution for the Chartered Accountants. Still reeling from the economic downturn that began in 2007-2008, the ICAO was also allowing candidates to write their professional exams, including the UFE, without being employed.  These events resulted in many CA candidates who did not have the same level of support or access to information that the Big-4 or more established firms provide their student. Often, Google wasn't all that much help either, not unless you were willing to shell out big bucks for courses or materials.

I was lucky in many ways. My CATO was able to secure a lot of material for us and I was sent on some of the very expensive, but useful, courses available to help me complete the UFE successfully. However, some systemic things did bother me still. First, there were many other candidates I encountered who weren't willing to share information or help you. There was a pervasive mentality that helping one person meant one less spot available for you. Second, there wasn't all that much current stuff available online in one place. I thought I’d experiment with tackling the missing information online and try to create more of a community among CA candidates. Out of this hippie idea the UFE Blog was born.

Having successfully completed the UFE not long ago and having interacted with many other candidates during that time and afterwards through mentorship, here’s some advice I would give to candidates writing the 2013 UFE.

Worry less about technical

I've found that the closer we get to the UFE, the more candidates are aching to study technical. Studying technical is easy because all you do is sit and read it. This is a passive strategy. While a decent level of technical is required, candidates tend to overestimate how much they need to write the UFE successfully. Most candidates will already have the technical they need when nearing the UFE and only touch-ups will be required, the energy should more often be spent writing simulations.

Worry more about writing simulations properly

Particularly in Ontario, writing simulations is the most important practice you can do to prepare for the UFE. The four weeks leading up to the UFE should be mostly spent writing simulations full time, two multis or one comp each day and then debriefing. Doing this in a strictly timed fashion will help you manage your time which is a critical skill for the UFE.

Learn something from each simulation (this is hard work)

Debriefing is a new skill most candidates learn only in the CA process. This is a vital skill that is necessary to get something out of each simulation. It’s also very hard work which is why many only do it half-effort. Debriefing requires you to trace each solution back to the original question paper and learn what triggers should have set it off for you, and where along the way you fell short. This is something I discussed during debriefing week last year.

Have a reasonable schedule

CA candidates are often very stressed and feel immense amounts of pressure to perform well on their professional exams. In some cases, jobs may even be on the line. Many candidates tackle this by putting in unreasonable amounts of time which leads them to burnout and performing poorly on game day. I would recommend, during the August-September study period, limit yourself to no more than 40 hours a week of writing simulations and other studying. The goal is to be at your best on the three days when you’re writing the real UFE. Don’t feel guilty about taking days off either, you’ll need one or two at least during the four weeks.

Study with the right person or people

Although many have gone at it alone, I think that studying for the UFE is best done with a partner or small group. Selecting the right partner or group is an important part of UFE success and so is the willingness to drop a study partner or group that isn't working for you.

First, a good study partner is one who can be honest with you and who you can be honest with about performance. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person so it should also be someone you can get along with.

Second, you’ll need to be in the same ball park performance wise. If you’re writing with a high performer and you’re only an average performer you will feel like you’re way behind when in reality you’re doing okay. The high performer will not benefit anything from the relationship either since they won’t know how to improve.

Final Thoughts

This is general advice and not doctrine. Every candidate may need to tweak it to how they study best. I've seen many successful strategies and there is a lot more detail that candidates need to know when preparing for the UFE which is at least a year-long process. I welcome any and all candidates and past writers to join us on UFE Blog to help the next generation of CAs succeed.

UFE Blog is an online web log and community dedicated to helping CA Students successfully complete the Uniform Evaluation (UFE). UFE Blog’s goal is to provide study resources, information about the exams and foster an online community dedicated to helping students succeed.


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