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Use my CMA exam guide to learn all about the CMA exam application process, the education and experience requirements, and the exam curriculum and format. You'll also get the best study tips and successful exam day strategies. Finally, I'll even help you compare CMA review courses, find the best CMA course for you, and get a great deal on your CMA exam prep!

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What Is a CMA?

CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant.

A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is an accounting professional to whom the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) has awarded the CMA certification. The IMA developed the CMA designation in 1972 to supply an objective measure of an accountant’s knowledge and competence in management accounting.

The IMA grants the designation to candidates who have met specific requirements, such as passing the CMA exam. The Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA), which creates the CMA exam, regularly assesses the CMA exam content to confirm that its current topics are up to date and relevant for modern business. The CMA exam content represents the knowledge, skills, and abilities that a contemporary accounting or finance professional employs on the job. Such skills include financial planning, analysis, control, and decision support.

What Does a Certified Management Accountant Do?

Certified Management Accountants are uniquely equipped not only to play a critical role in the financial department of a company, but also to hold a high position of leadership in the management side of the company. CMAs have the financial understanding to make wise money decisions. Furthermore, CMAs also possess the business acumen to help the company operate efficiently and effectively. For this reason, Certified Management Accountants can fit into a wide range of positions and lead interesting and varied CMA careers.

So, what jobs can a Certified Management Accountant get? CMAs can hold these titles and more:

  • Budget analyst
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Cost accountant
  • Controller
  • Financial analyst
  • Financial manager
  • Internal auditor
  • Senior accountant
  • Staff accountant
  • Treasurer

Within these positions, a CMA’s job description includes analyzing and parsing data from multiple sources to inform steps toward performance improvement. CMAs also contribute insight into the company’s financial condition in order to influence strategic business decisions.

In addition, CMAs identify opportunities for investment management, supervise and mentor lower level accountants, prepare financial statements, create strategies to address internal and external risks, arrange funding and financing options, and more. Basically, CMAs have a lot of important duties and obligations and are therefore essential to the workforce.

Why Become a Certified Management Accountant?

When you earn the CMA, you’ll experience many major career benefits, including:

  • Higher Income

The CMA certification elevates your earning potential. Consequently, CMAs earn more than non-CMAs. In fact, in the U.S., you can make about 47% more than professionals without the CMA or CPA. Additionally, the IMA reports that a 22-year old CMA can enjoy more than $500,000 in additional lifetime earnings. Finally, the global median total compensation is 67% higher for CMAs than non-CMAs. So, with these 3 letters behind your name, you can charge more for your service and command a higher salary no matter where you go.

  • More Job Opportunities

As the list of positions CMAs can hold proves, you’ll have an array of highly desirable job opportunities available to you as soon as you secure the CMA. CMAs can work in an assortment of industries, such as:

  • Manufacturing
  • Finance
  • Business services
  • Trading
  • Education
  • Transportation and utilities
  • Construction, mining, and agriculture
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Non-profit
  • High tech
  • Insurance
  • Pharmaceuticals and biotech
  • Real estate
  • Media and entertainment
  • And within these industries, CMAs can work in many different departments, like:
  • General accounting
  • Finance
  • Corporate management
  • Budgeting and planning
  • Cost accounting,
  • General management
  • Education
  • Internal auditing
  • Information systems
  • Governmental accounting
  • Taxation

Undoubtedly, the CMA is a source of extensive career variety. Therefore, as a CMA, you won’t ever have to be bored with your job, and you qualify for a host of different positions.

  • Greater Job Security

The CMA opens up plenty of doors in the job market. Then, once you enter a new position, the CMA closes the door behind you. In the process of becoming CMA certified, you hone your understanding and sharpen your skills in management accounting. Then, you keep these abilities in peak condition by completing continuing education to maintain the CMA certification. For this reason, the CMA makes you attractive to future employers and keeps you valuable to current employers. With so much information about business and accounting in your mind, no boss is ever going to want to lose you. So, you can count on your position being yours for a very long time.

  • Increased Skills and Abilities

To earn the CMA certification, candidates must meet a series of requirements. These requirements demonstrate your knowledge and skills in management accounting, financial accounting, internal controls, audit, decision-making, budgeting, and more. Furthermore, one of the CMA requirements involves passing an examination known to be fairly difficult. Therefore, once you’ve earned the CMA, you’ve solidified your expertise in these areas. And as an expert, you’re ready to do more, perform better, and take on more responsibility, all of which improves your career trajectory.

  • Heightened Respect and Admiration

Once you’ve earned the CMA, you’ll also have earned an enviable reputation as an authority in accounting. With the CMA, you’ll understand the “why” behind the numbers, not just the “what”. Therefore, you’ll know all about accounting and all about business. And with such information, others will know you as the one with the answers. Consequently, your peers will come to you for insight and advice, and your superiors will trust you improve performance and deliver results. With the CMA, you can excel in both the business and financial sides of the company and receive all the attention and accolades that come with such competence.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Certified Management Accountant?

The IMA holds high standards for CMA candidates. And they enforced these standards in the form of the CMA requirements. The IMA lists 6 requirements in total:

  • Hold active membership with the IMA
  • Pay the CMA entrance fee
  • Fulfill the education qualification
  • Fulfill the experience qualification
  • Pass all parts of the CMA exam
  • Comply with the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice

As you can see, the IMA membership is indefinite. Furthermore, paying the CMA entrance fee and complying with the statement are one-time actions. Therefore, most CMA candidates focus most on the remaining requirements, all of which start with an E.

  • Education: candidates must satisfy 1 of the following education requirements and submit proof of their education to the ICMA within 7 years of finishing the CMA exam.
    • Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
      • You’ll find a partial list of accredited U.S. and international institutions here: http://univ.cc/world.php.
      • If you received your degree from a non-accredited institution, an independent agency must evaluate your education. You’ll find a list of such agencies at www.aice-eval.org or http://www.naces.org/members.htm.
    • Have a professional certification
  •  Experience: CMA candidates have to acquire 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management.
    • You can complete this requirement before or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
    • Teaching full-time counts as professional experience so long as at least 60% of your course load involves teaching accounting or finance above the principles level over a 2-year period.
    • The IMA expects full-time employment. But, they do accept continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week that meet the definition of qualified experience. You can count part-time work toward the experience requirement at a rate of 1 year of experience for every 2 years of part-time employment.
    • Whether your position is part-time or full-time, it must consist of regularly making judgments by using the principles of management accounting and financial management. Tasks in which you would employ these principles include:
      • Auditing (external or internal)
      • Budget preparation and reporting
      • Company investment decision making
      • Completing monthly, quarterly, and year end close
      • Costing analysis
      • Financial planning and analysis
      • Forecasting
      • Managing general ledger and balance sheets
      • Preparation of financial statements
      • Risk evaluation
  • Examination: candidates must pass all parts of the CMA exam. The CMA exam has 2 parts:
    • Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control
    • Part 2: Financial Decision Making

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Management Accountant?

A few of the CMA requirements take several years to finish. Therefore, the process of becoming a CMA can last for a while. However, once you pass the CMA exam, you only have 7 years to fulfill the education and experience requirements.

Usually, earning a bachelor’s degree takes 4 years. To satisfy the 2-year experience requirement, you can work full-time for 2 years or part-time for 4 years. So, these 2 requirements can take 6-8 years of your life.

How long does it take to pass the CMA exam? That depends on how much time you have to study for it. The IMA reports that candidates take an average of 12-18 months.

However, the IMA also recommends 150-170 study hours per part. There are 2 parts, so that’s 300-340 hours in total. If you study for 20 hours a week, you can pass both exam parts in approximately 4 months. If you study for 10 hours a week, you’ll have both exam parts done in 8 months.

Clearly, finishing the exam in a year is very possible. And, you could pass the exam while working on the experience requirement. Therefore, you could have the CMA in hand after about 6-9 years.

When you consider the lifetime benefits of the CMA, that’s not such a long time to wait. But if you need more incentive to put the time in, consider the fact that you’ll get $1,696 or more in returned lifetime earnings for every hour you spend studying for the CMA exam, according to the IMA.

How Do I Become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)?

If you’re interested in the CMA certification, you must follow these steps to becoming a CMA: 

  • Learn everything you need to know about the CMA journey
  • Become a member of the IMA
  • Prepare for the CMA exam
  • Pay the CMA entrance fee
  • Pass both parts of the CMA exam
  • Earn your bachelor’s degree
  • Work for 2 years in a financial management or management accounting position
  • Submit verification of your education and experience to the IMA
  • Receive a CMA certificate number and later, CMA certificate
  • Uphold the Statement of Ethical Professional Practice
  • Maintain the CMA certification by meeting the annual CPE requirements

What Is the CMA Exam?

The CMA Exam is an exam all candidates must pass in order to earn the CMA certification. The ICMA creates the exam, and Prometric testing centers administer it.

How many parts does the CMA exam have? The CMA exam has 2 parts covering a wide range of accounting topics.

The exam evaluates candidates’ knowledge of this information via 2 types of questions: multiple-choice and essay. Each exam part has 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 2 essay scenarios.

To move on to the essay section of the exam, you must answer at least 50% of the MCQs correctly. If you do so, the exam will present the essays to you after you’ve answered all of the MCQs or 3 hours have elapsed, whichever comes first.

Once you enter the essay section, you can’t go back to the MCQs. The essay section contains 8-10 written response or calculation questions that you must respond to using 2 scenarios, each of which describes a typical business situation.

What Does the CMA Exam Cover?

The CMA exam’s content specifications outline (CSOs) and learning outcome statements (LOSs) delineate all of the topics the exam addresses. The content areas and coverage percentages of each exam part are as follows:

How Long Is the CMA Exam?

You’ll have 4 hours of total testing time for each CMA exam part. You can use the first 3 hours for the MCQs and have at least 1 hour for the essays. However, if you finish the MCQs in less than 3 hours, your remaining time will carry over to the essay section.

Once you enter the CMA program, you have 3 years to pass both exam parts. Your 3 years starts on your date of entry into the program. If you don’t pass both parts within those 3 years, the credit you earned for any passed parts will expire. You will then have to pay the CMA entrance fee again and retake the CMA exam parts.

Because passing both CMA exam parts in a year or less is very possible, 3 years is more than enough time. However, finishing the exam in this time is a little trickier than it seems because the CMA exam parts are only available during 3 annual testing windows:

  • January/February
  • May/June
  • September/October

How Hard Is the CMA Exam?

The CMA exam is passable, but it is also not easy. A few different factors allude to the difficulty of the CMA exam.

The first factor is the CMA exam pass rates. What is the pass rate for the CMA exam? For the last few years, the average CMA exam pass rate has been 50%. But specifically, the most recent Part 1 CMA pass rate was 35%, and the latest Part 2 CMA pass rate was 50%. These low pass rates prove that this exam isn’t a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a challenging test for which you must thoroughly prepare. Based on the pass rates alone, you can’t take the CMA exam lightly.

Another indication of CMA exam difficulty is the depth of knowledge the exam expects candidates to possess. The CSOs identify and define 6 cognitive skills candidates must have in order to pass the exam.

  • Knowledge: ability to remember previously learned material such as specific facts, criteria, techniques, principles, and procedures (i.e., identify, define, list).
  • Comprehension: ability to grasp and interpret the meaning of material (i.e., classify, explain, distinguish between).
  • Application: ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations (i.e., demonstrate, predict, solve, modify, relate).
  • Analysis: ability to break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure can be understood; ability to recognize causal relationships, discriminate between behaviors, and identify elements that are relevant to the validation of a judgment (i.e., differentiate, estimate, order).
  • Synthesis: ability to put parts together to form a new whole or proposed set of operations; ability to relate ideas and formulate hypotheses (i.e. combine, formulate, revise).
  • Evaluation: Ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose on the basis of consistency, logical accuracy, and comparison to standards; ability to appraise judgments involved in the selection of a course of action (i.e., criticize, justify, conclude).

The CSOs then defines 3 levels of coverage for these cognitive skills:

  • Level A: Requiring the skill levels of knowledge and comprehension.
  • Level B: Requiring the skill levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis.
  • Level C: Requiring all six skill levels, knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The coverage levels build upon each other, so Level C includes Levels A and B.

Finally, the CSOs assign a coverage level to each of the major topics each part of the exam addresses.

Content and Skill Coverage Levels for CMA Exam Part 1

Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control

Main Topics

Content Percentage of Topics

Cognitive Skill Coverage Level

External Financial Reporting Decisions

15%

Level C

Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

30%

Level C

Performance Management

20%

Level C

Cost Management

20%

Level C

Internal Controls

15%

Level C

Content and Skill Coverage Levels for CMA Exam Part 2

Financial Decision Making

Main Topics

Content Percentage of Topics

Cognitive Skill Coverage Level

Financial Statement Analysis

25%

Level C

Corporate Finance

20%

Level C

Decision Analysis

20%

Level C

Risk Management

10%

Level C

Investment Decisions

15%

Level C

Professional Ethics

10%

Level C

Because all of the major topics in both parts of the CMA exam require candidates to have the deepest levels of cognitive skills, you must know the CMA exam content very well in order to pass. You can’t simply memorize some formulas. Therefore, getting to these levels of comprehension requires a great deal of time and focused effort.

With low pass rates and high expectations for candidate knowledge, the CMA exam is clearly a very challenging exam. However, it is not impossible to pass.

What Is a Passing Score on the CMA Exam?

The range for a CMA exam score is 0-500.

What score do you need to pass the CMA exam?

To pass the CMA exam, you need to score 360.

All CMA exam scores are scaled scores. Therefore, 360 does not represent the number of questions you answered correctly. Instead, the ICMA transforms your raw test scores (the number of correct questions) to the scaled score so that the CMA exam scores are uniform and consistent no matter which test form candidates take.

Though the CMA exam is computerized, you will not receive your CMA exam score immediately after you finish the exam because the computer does not grade the essay questions. Instead, humans grade all of the essay responses for a testing window at the same time.

To ensure all alternative solutions have been accounted for, the ICMA completes sample grading first. Then, once all the essay responses have been graded, the ICMA conducts an additional review of essay papers that are on the borderline of passing. Reviewers check the grading throughout this process.

After the essays are graded, the essay scores are added to the MCQ scores to produce the total weighted score of pass/fail. The MCQs scores account for 75% of your total score, while the essays contribute 25%. The scaled score you receive reflects the total weighted score, which determines the pass/fail status.  

What Time Are CMA Exam Scores Released?

Because humans must grade the essay responses, the IMA releases all of the CMA exam scores for a testing month approximately 6 weeks from the end of the month.

So, if you sat for a CMA exam part in February, you would receive your score around the middle of April.

The IMA emails your exam results to you and posts them in your online profile.

What to Do After Passing the CMA Exam?

Depending on the order in which you tackle the CMA requirements, you may need to finish acquiring the necessary professional experience or earning a bachelor’s degree after you pass the CMA exam.

You will also need to start meeting the continuing education (CPE) requirements after you complete the CMA exam, even if you have not yet received the CMA certificate.

The IMA requires CMAs and CMA candidates who have passed the exam to complete 30 hours of CPE ever year, 2 of which must be in ethics.

The IMA will award you the CMA certificate once you fulfill the experience requirement, and at this time, your CPE and IMA membership must be current.

Don’t slack off with your CPE, because the longer you keep your CMA certification up to date, the longer you’ll experience the benefits of the CMA!

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