Part 2: Fool-proof methods of preparing a case response

Part 2: Fool-proof methods of preparing a case response

Allen Manuel CPA passed the CFE in 2018 and works in accounting for the City of Edmonton. In part 2 of this series of blog posts, he shares his insights into effectively setting up a plan for responding to a case.

By Allen Manuel CPA

Allen Manuel CPA, Accountant, City of Edmonton

CPA candidates, as you embark on the road towards the CFE, you will find yourself responding to many, many, MANY cases. The earlier you become proficient at planning your response, the more prepared you’ll be to complete the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP).

When approaching a case, candidates often struggle with inefficient time management, insufficient planning, misunderstood requirements, incorrect application of technical knowledge, and ineffective communication. By properly planning your response, you’ll be able to manage your time more effectively, better understand and meet expectations, and respond fully to the requirements. As a result, you’ll have more time and brain capacity to devote to demonstrating your technical abilities.

The first step to responding to a case is setting up a plan. The plan provides you with a point of reference and clearly shows what you need to accomplish in your allocated time. It also gives you a checklist to refer back to as you write your response so you don’t forget about any requirements or key details.

A good plan will include:

  • Separate sections for each requirement;
  • Space to include the type of analysis required; and
  • An area to record relevant case facts.

While I was in CPA PEP, I created a standard template that I used for every case response I wrote, starting in my second elective module. I wish I had developed this system earlier, because it would have made my first modules much easier to tackle.

Above is the format I used for my plan. In boxes one to nine, I recorded each requirement as I read through the case, along with the time limit I allotted to that requirement. Depending on the case, I might not have needed to use all nine boxes. For each requirement, I included:

  • The types of analysis I needed to complete (quantitative, qualitative or both),
  • Case facts and information or figures directly relevant to the requirement, and
  • Time allocated to the requirement.

In the Key Info section, I recorded information that might be helpful later or provide a strategic perspective, like financial reporting standards I used, key success factors, or stakeholder goals.

I drew the plan by hand on a blank sheet of paper. Recording it all on this sheet saved me from flipping through the case to find a single number or small piece of information. I often wrote down the page and paragraph where the information was found, in the event that I needed to refer back to it later. I did this all by hand instead of typing because I found it was easier to switch between my printed case, the screen I was working on, and my plan.

On my case plan, I crossed off requirements when I felt they were fully addressed. This helped me keep on time, and I could see where I needed to return to at the end if I needed to.

It is really important to allot time appropriately—I typically spent 15-20% of my time planning and then split my remaining time between each requirement in 5-minute intervals.

[For more hot tips on time management, check out Employer Relations’ four-part blog post series.]

Once you master setting up your plan, the rest of your writing will become more efficient. Practice using this planning template on your next case assignment to see if it helps you as much as it helped me.

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