Densmore Blog


CFE Whack-a-Mole!

On May 6, 2016

Whack-a-Mole! Great arcade game. Lousy CFE-writing strategy.

You may be wondering what Whack-a-Mole has to do with the CFE. The simple answer is that it should have nothing to do with the CFE, but unsuccessful candidates are frequently guilty of playing it when writing. Let me explain further…

The game of Whack-a-Mole involves pounding a (fake) mole on the head with a mallet as soon as its head pops out of its hole. However, as soon as you whack the mole back into its hole, another mole pops out of another hole and you have to whack it, too. It’s fast, furious and a great way to vent your frustrations. However, you can never win the game. You can just spend money and wear yourself out in an effort to accumulate more points.



Imagine a CFE version of the game. The moles are assessment opportunities (AOs) that wear six different hats, one for each technical competency. The holes represent the four different levels from which they’ll appear (a metaphor for the four levels of CFE testing that Bruce Densmore explained in the previous blog). However, if you hammer a mole as soon as it pops out of one hole, another mole will pop up elsewhere. You can’t win the game by focusing on one hole. If you solve one problem, but create another problem, you’ll be no further ahead.

Here are two ways that this crazy game played out on the 2015 CFE:

First, before the CFE, lots of candidates were stressed out about Financial Reporting (FR) and the need to pass Level 2 (Depth in FR). When the FR “moles” started popping up on Day 2, these candidates hammered those issues mercilessly. They swung hard and frequently at the poor little critters and they passed Level 2 decisively. What they didn’t notice was all the Audit and Assurance (AA) “moles” popping out of the Level 3 (Depth in Assurance) hole. These candidates took some half-hearted swings at a few of the AA “moles,” but never whacked enough of them back deeply into their holes to pass Level 3. GAME OVER!

On Day 3, a bunch of Management Accounting (MA) “moles” popped up early in the first case. Distracted by these juicy targets, candidates spent too much time hammering them, and just as the only two Finance “moles” popped up from the Level 4 (Breadth in Finance) hole on the last case of the day, time ran out. GAME OVER!

So what was the lesson learned? Well, in some respects, the CFE is a game with detailed rules and specific scoring strategies. However, if you hammer one of the levels to the detriment of another, you won’t win the game. Passing the CFE requires consistency in scoring because all four levels matter.  You need ONE BIG MALLET that covers them all at the same time. We call this mallet the “basic approach” and it’s why we spend so much time covering this approach in all of our CFE training courses.

(Paul Morris – May 6, 2016)

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