Part 1: How to prepare for Core 1 of the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP) – readings and assignments

Part 1: How to prepare for Core 1 of the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP) – readings and assignments

By Caleb Hagemeister CPA, Manager, MNP LLP Chartered Professional Accountants. Caleb received his CPA designation in 2016. He was the 2015 Common Final Examination (CFE) Western Region Gold Medalist.

Caleb Hagemeister CPA, Manager, MNP

To give you an idea of where I was before starting Core 1, I thought I would start off this blog post with a little background on me. I graduated high school with honours and originally decided I was going to be a Physics teacher. Long story short, that path didn’t work out, and I ended up taking a year off from school to experience the workforce.

I spent a year working at my local hospital in the laundry department. But a few months on the job, I knew I’d be going back to school—it was time for me to get back in gear and sign up for the fall semester of university. So after my one year stint at the hospital, I went back to Medicine Hat College (MHC) and signed up for the University Transfer accounting program, which allowed me to transfer to the University of Lethbridge (U of L). I made it through MHC and the U of L with a strong GPA and was hired by a local firm—MNP LLP—in Medicine Hat.

When I started at MNP, the education program to become a designated accountant was in transition, and I had the option of either rushing into the last offering of a legacy program or holding off to enter the first offering of CPA PEP. I was advised to hold off, and as a result, I had the luxury of working for a year and acquiring valuable work experience before starting the program. You can’t beat experience!

The reason for this backstory is to highlight that everyone’s career progression will be different. Some of you will be starting Core 1 immediately upon being hired. Others will need to get through a probationary period. And others may not even be employed before starting Core 1. You’ll all have to find your rhythm and determine what works best for you. Core 1 isn’t quite like university where you can get away with leaving an assignment to the bitter end and procrastinating through it.

The same goes for studying. I would strongly advise against cramming and procrastinating, if at all possible. If you spend a little more time on assignments throughout the weeks and write the cases under exam conditions, you will be far better off come module exam time.

Core 1 has changed quite a bit since I took the module back in September 2013; however, (and pardon the bad pun here) the core material has remained the same. The module focuses on financial reporting, with assurance, tax, finance, and strategy/governance sprinkled in for flavour.

Over the course of this “how to prepare for Core 1” series of posts, I will be covering a breakdown of the time commitment you can expect, as well as suggestions on how to be prepared for the assignments, practice cases, multiple-choice questions, and the exam. Read on for tips on how to prepare for the readings and the assignments.

The readings

I generally found it useful to read the materials that were provided on a weekly basis. This provided me with a base understanding before I got into the week’s assignments, practice cases, or multiple-choice questions. The readings provide you with the background and give you a good idea of what you’re going to see throughout the week. Everyone learns differently though, so if you prefer to learn through application, dive right in.

The readings also give you a good idea of what might be tested on the exam. If they touch on it in the readings, odds are it will show up in the tasks, with the intention of preparing you for an exam question. There is also the competency map that lets you know where you should be at for a knowledge level on the exam for various topics (i.e., A depth, B depth, C depth, etc.).

The assignments

The assignments are where you apply the weekly readings. When I was in the program, it was called the Immersive Case—a case study that you followed throughout the entire module. I believe it is a bit different now, but the overall concept of the task is the same. You are given situations or problems and have to apply your knowledge to them. This could mean providing an analysis of financial reporting issues, or providing an audit plan to your audit manager/partner.

The best advice I can give anyone about the assignments is: put in an honest effort, but don’t spend an inordinate amount of time going for the perfect response. You will learn through trial and error, but no matter how much time you pour into the assignment, you won’t get a perfect response. If the assignment takes two hours to complete or requires 1,000 words, stop after you reach these specifications. It is more important to have a solid understanding of the issue at hand than to have the perfect response. You won’t be at the point where you know exactly what they’re looking for when you first start anyway.

Follow the methodical approach of the CPA Way—Assess, Analyze, and Conclude—to ensure that you are getting depth on your tasks. It is important to state what the issue is, what the relevant handbook criteria is, your analysis of the case facts, and then conclude on what your analysis tells you.

If there is a quantitative or qualitative analysis, ensure you are having a balanced discussion of the pros and cons of each alternative.

If you are presented with a control deficiency-type question, look at the weakness, the implication of the weakness (this is the most important part), and the recommended course of action to remedy the weakness.

I remember times when I spent too long on an assignment and ended up not doing that well on it. It is important to find that balance between knowing what you’re doing and giving a quality response. To reiterate the point I stated before, if you spend the appropriate amount of time accomplishing the weekly tasks, studying at the end won’t be as grueling, since you’ll be more prepared than the person who is cramming.

In Part 2 of Caleb’s “How to prepare for Core 1 of the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP)” series, he will tackle the practice cases and multiple-choice questions.

The views expressed in this post are those of the guest writer, Caleb Hagemeister CPA. Please refer to for the latest guidelines from the CPA Western School of Business.

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