Hi, future CMA! My name is Stephanie. I'm a CPA Exam guide author and the person behind this site. I have been answering questions about how to best prepare for the Certified Management Accountant exam since January 2012.
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The acronym "CMA" stands for Certified Management Accountant. But, what is a CMA?
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.
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:
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.
When you earn the CMA, you’ll experience many major career benefits, including:
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.
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:
And within these industries, CMAs can work in many different departments, like:
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.
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.
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. Again, 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.
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.
The IMA holds high standards for CMA candidates. And they enforce these standards in the form of the CMA requirements. The IMA lists 6 requirements in total:
As you can see, these requirements involve time commitments of varying lengths. For example, you must maintain your IMA membership and complete the annual CPE requirements for the rest of your career. But, 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.
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. The exam has 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.
If you’re interested in the CMA certification, you must follow these steps to becoming a CMA:
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.
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:
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:
The CMA exam is passable, but it is also not easy. A few different factors indicate 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 about 43%. But specifically, the most recent Part 1 CMA pass rate was 40%, 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.
The CSOs then defines 3 levels of coverage for these cognitive skills:
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.
Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
Content Percentage of Topics
Cognitive Skill Coverage Level
External Financial Reporting Decisions
Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting
Technology and Analytics
Financial Decision Making
Content Percentage of Topics
Cognitive Skill Coverage Level
Financial Statement Analysis
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.
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.
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.
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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