Part 1: Fool-proof methods of preparing a case response

Part 1: Fool-proof methods of preparing a case response

In this two-part series of blog posts, Chelsey Craig CPA and Allen Manuel CPA share the strategies and tools they used to plan a case response. Chelsey’s secret weapon was a pack of coloured crayons while Allen’s was a personalized template. The key to success, they say, is to figure out a strategy that works for you and start applying it early in CPA PEP. Read on for more tips and tricks from these pros.

Chelsey is an Accounting Supervisor at Cervus Equipment. She wrote the CFE in 2017 and achieved her CPA designation shortly after.

Chelsey Craig CPA, Accounting Supervisor, Cervus Equipment

When responding to a case, planning is vital to success. Although each individual’s strategy is different, reading through a case is an important aspect of planning. In this blog post, I share the supplies I liked having on hand when responding to a case, how I colour-coded my cases, what I did on the first and second read throughs, and how I formatted my outlines.

I liked using pencil crayons. It might seem silly bringing crayons to an exam or a test, but I found them easier to use than highlighters. In my opinion, highlighters don’t write well, don’t have a variety of colours, and can get messy. Pencil crayons allowed me to colour-code case facts that were important and make margin notes without changing my writing utensil from a highlighter to a pencil. I made sure to have two sets of pencil crayons with anywhere from four to eight different colours. That way, I didn’t have to waste time sharpening them. (It is also important to note that pencil sharpeners are not allowed in exams.)

I encourage you to test out a few different methods. Here’s how I colour-coded my cases:

A green underline indicated an important dollar figure. Some exhibits can contain so many different numbers. Underlining the right dollar amounts helped me find them right away when writing my response.

  • I recommend that you don’t write key dollar amounts in your outline. Instead, reference the page numbers in the outline, but enter the amounts in the spreadsheet where you will do your quantitative analysis. Writing the information in only one place saves time.

A red underline with an “R” in the margin (written and circled in red) indicated a required or Assessment Opportunity (AO). This made the AOs pop out, and I could quickly grab and include them in my outline.

A purple underline highlighted key characters. Some cases contain many different personalities, and keeping track of who is who can be challenging. Highlighting the top three personalities and the most important companies made it easier for me to keep things organized.

A blue underline made key facts stand out. Every sentence exists in a case for a reason, but some are more important than others. For example, if a sentence identified accounting standards or contained key background financial information about an organization, I underlined it in blue.

Remember to keep it simple. I suggest using four to six colours, at most. The goal is to make the case easy to navigate, but not so heavily coded that it becomes jumbled.

On the first read through, you can start identifying and colour-coding some of the key numbers, people, and AOs. You can also start adding headers to your outline. In Core 2, I was taught to divide my outline in four sections. But in the elective and capstone modules, you likely will have more than four AOs per case, and outlines can be several pages long. This is why it is important for the layout of your outline to be flexible.

I recommend reading through a case twice before preparing your response. On that second read through, you can start populating the outline with extra information and adding page numbers to reference where to find key facts in the case. This is also a good time to identify any underlying issues. You may not notice this now, but in the capstone modules, a case might contain subtle hints that help frame a bigger picture. It is easier to identify these hints on your second read through. Generally, the second read through should be quicker.

In my outlines, I identified myself, the client, and the reporting standard. I also left space for unknown issues. I ordered the AOs, placed a hard cutoff time against each one, and when I reached that time, I moved on.

It was also important for me to leave a few minutes at the end of the exam, test, or assignment for spell check and a quick review. I felt the review was impactful enough that it made a difference in my overall score.

Mastering how to respond to a case was an uphill battle for me because I implemented these techniques later in the program. The earlier you adopt good techniques, the sooner you will become a pro at approaching and acing each case response. Try different approaches and see what strategies work for you, then carry those with you throughout the program.

In Part 2 of this “Planning a case response” series, Allen Manuel CPA shares how he used a customized template to become proficient at case writing. Click here to read Allen’s post.

The views expressed in this post are those of Chelsey Craig CPA. Please refer to for the latest guidelines from the CPA Western School of Business.