I have questioned much of my formal learning recently in regards to not just the ROI but the tortuous nature of some exams. Recently I read about the CFE (CPA certification exam- Common Final Exam) that takes over two years to acquire but the exam is three days long and is fairly intense. I understand the need for an intensive process and training for any professional but at what point is this excessive. It seems like many professional associations currently are more interested in making sure they collect their money and also maximize their profits as they are not focused on teaching but maximizing their profit. This often means charging a high fee and in reality, do not measure the knowledge of the student. I will explain my positioning further in this post. The CPA recently had some issue with their CFE (Common Final Exam) it is a three-day ordeal that currently on average passes just below 80% of the writers. I have written exams much like this or in University had two to three-hour exams each day for 3 days which is fairly comparable. The issue here is often very accomplished individuals who are more than competent struggle on exams and often the competence on a subject cannot be measured on a three-day gruelling exam- I have met some incredibly bright people smarter than me who have failed exams and certifications that I have passed. Often these older organizations struggle with change. The CFE debacle has not been solved as students unfairly still had to write exams without appropriate resources as well as long waits of over 12 hours with minimal access to nourishment. It is disappointing that the CPA did not perform their due diligence in regards to QA testing for their CFE exam. Some basic best practices in regards to quality/ user testing would have probably solved the issues that occurred. The question is now with the CFE exam providing an unfair experience for students what will CPA do. It seems like not counting this attempt is a start but I know if I was a student and had put in all that time studying I would have been devastated being put in this situation:
The lack of exam integrity as the writer mentions is at best poor. The other items that are disgraceful are the lack of communication, humility and responsiveness from the CPA. As the majority of these individuals are young professionals my suggestion is for them to remember this and eventually push for changes. Being realistic about it there relationship with CPA currently is they are needing to be subservient due to trying to gain there credential. In reality when you article at a firm you are often working long hours on a salary where you end up making less per hour than 80% of administrative roles. Your earning potential is largely hampered until you “get your letters”. Therefore the amateurish attempt of applying the CFE exam changes cost these students a lot more than an attempt but time and future opportunities as well a choice to not be doggedly worked. The other issue here is some cities had a lot of issues while others had none so basically with double-blind testing at a national examination center which I think is a great standard but now the disadvantaged individuals are against others who had no issues. None of this has been addressed by the CPA except for hiring a firm to do an independent investigation. This will take time and not help the students that wrote and do not pass the CFE. There supposedly on the Reddit page was also an offer to defer exams if students chose but in reality, this is an unfair option to students who spent months studying only to do it over again. Some students question the ROI of a CPA and are wondering if an MBA is another option but these students have gone pretty far and will probably complete there CPA’s as they have invested a lot into them. In reality, this was a torturous exam that was made worse with the poor process and lack of due diligence.
My experience has always been nervousness, stress and some uncertainty with exams but at the same time, I always understood that exams were generally a necessity for a course. I question this now as I am not sure a traditional exam measures competence as much as people think. So back to the CFE- to become a CPA is fairly intense and a three-day exam seems excessive but the opposing view would be it weeds out individuals who might not be competent enough. I would argue a three-day exam is much like many of my university courses where I crammed a bunch of knowledge into my head and then proceeded the next month to forget it and create space for other knowledge. I will say there was a lot of room for improvement in my first learning experience I ran into some incredibly traditional learning with tenured professors teaching the same way they had for twenty years. Many University’s and professional designations are systemically structured to resist change internally while claiming and showing that they are open to change. In regards to competence, I ask if an individual did not know something they could research it and often figure out how to apply that knowledge. My personal opinion is the application of the knowledge is more important to test than the knowledge itself. Often open book exams and assignments, and presentations that can be prepared for are more realistic and practical. I have now been working in a leadership or administrative role for over fifteen years and realize the skill of writing an exam is something I have seldom used. Often it is simple to accept this and be socialized to do what you are told but we should be looking at our education system and asking if this is the best way to learn and re-evaluate learning. Many post-secondaries are trending in evaluating how people learn and also the mediums they use to teach. The traditional exam is losing traction to practical learning and assignments that are more real-life and application-based.
I also remember many of the exams I have written had options for courses to help you pass the exam. The course was not focused on teaching the skill or competency but completely focused on how to pass the exam. I have now come to realize that in the pursuit of knowledge instead of certifications I have become more satisfied with the content and skills I have gained. I commend many companies who share knowledge and provide training. Intel and Amazon now provide free AI and machine learning courses and Hubspot now has Hubspot University and if you are a marketer it has great training. There is much more offered in regards to free learning and organizations need to start looking at the value of this. I recently went to Prosci training and there was not an intensive exam but what Prosci did incredibly well was allow its students to apply the concepts to their real-world examples.
Some feeds from the CFE/ CPA exam are below:
Fahim Ekbal Moledina is the Principal Consultant for Opti-Syn Consulting and is a business leader with expertise in project/change management, finance, lean/agile methods, as well as marketing and sales.
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