Students CFE News 2020

Canadian accounting students ready for reopening of national exam

First exam since September 2019 to include safety precautions, integrity measures

Author: Colin Ellis
Gevorg Grigoryan, CPA
CPA program instructor and coach Gevorg Grigoryan is optimistic about the delivery of the September 2020 Common Final Examination.

TORONTO, July 10, 2020 – Aspiring accountants across Canada are generally positive about the prospect of taking their three-day national accreditation exam in-person this September during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) has announced it will deliver the September 2020 Common Final Examination (CFE) in-person, with dramatic measures in place for social distancing and safety. The beleaguered exam was beset with technical problems in September 2019 and then cancelled in May 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The candidates’ feedback to the announcement is positive,” says Gevorg Grigoryan, CPA, an instructor and coach to students in the program. “Academic integrity is a concern for many students and the in-person delivery format will help to substantially reduce the risk of dishonesty.” 

In a significant departure from past practices, students in the CPA program of professional studies will write the CFE in individual hotel rooms across the country, rather than taking the exam in the group settings of conference or academic facilities. Hotel room doors will remain open and invigilated by the examination support staff. Candidates will not be allowed to sleep in the rooms but can book rooms in the same hotel. 

Personal protection equipment including face masks will be provided on each day of the examination and exam start times will be staggered to reduce the number of candidates entering and exiting the hotels. Students will also be provided laptops with Word, Excel, and Folio Views software pre-installed. Many students on Reddit have expressed relief that Surpass software, an application for secure environments, would not be used on the exam. 

“Candidates were glad to hear that laptops with pre-installed software will be provided by CPA Canada,” says Grigoryan, who runs the website “The 2019 CFE incident had left some concerned that another technical issue may manifest this year. CPA candidates are extremely detail oriented and information such as the size of the laptops, the versions of Word and Excel and the type of computer mouse helps to reduce their stress and exam concerns,” adds Grigoryan. “This is a good move by the profession and I’m optimistic about this year’s CFE delivery.” 

According to CFE 2020 guidelines, candidates will also be required to sign a waiver confirming that they do not have confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. The waiver also confirms that neither they nor anyone in their household have experienced symptoms of COVID-19, travelled outside of Canada, or come into contact with a person who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. 

Not all candidates are pleased with the reopening, however, and have expressed their views to Canadian Accountant: “CFE September 2020 will be the first CFE since the last year's mess, under the influence of coronavirus, the possibility of screwing up again is even higher than last year,” wrote one student to Canadian Accountant. “This year, if CPA screwed the CFE up again, it would not be just time being wasted, students' health would also be jeopardized.” 

The student added, “I want to finish the CPA designation as soon as possible, but a three-day, 15-hour exam is not worth putting your health in danger.” 

COVID-19 Cancelled the May 2020 CFE

It has been a year since the last national accreditation exam. The technical failures of the September 2019 CFE were labelled "a huge black eye on the auditing and accounting profession," in the National Post by Professor Steven Salterio of Queen's University. Many students who failed the September 2019 CFE were looking forward to the May 2020 exam, knowing that a failing mark on the ill-fated 2019 exam would not count as one of a limited number of attempts (three) to pass. Instead, with the outbreak of the coronavirus, CPA Canada shut down a number of elements of the CPA program due to COVID-19. 

“The profession has been both prudent and proactive in addressing the pandemic issue,” says Grigoryan, who notes that students in all levels of the CPA program were affected by the cancellation. While waiting for the reopening of the program might cause students to lose their momentum, Grigoryan counselled students to use the extra time productively and prepare a study plan to review technical materials, write past cases and debrief case attempts. “This will help to stay in shape and keep [current in their] knowledge.” 

In the “r/accounting” group on Reddit, many Canadian accounting students expressed concern over the cleanliness of hotels in general, but counselled others to bring their own disinfectant wipes. Many students were simply pleased with the certainty of knowing there would be a September exam. 

Colin Ellis is a contributing editor to Canadian Accountant. Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay.

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