Before you embark on your journey towards this prestigious professional qualification, it is wise to gauge the CIMA exam difficulty compared to other exams. Is it worth your time, money and effort? Let’s take a closer look.
(CIMA in this website refers to Chartered Institute of Management Accountant. For Certified Investment Management Analyst, please click here.)
This is subjective for sure, but we’ll try our best to analyze the situation in an objective, analytical manner.
The CIMA exam is a very comprehensive series of tests with 12 papers. Its core is management accounting, but it also covers concepts in financial accounting, business, finance, internal control, ethics and governance.
In comparison, the US CMA exam is a much shorter exam with 2 exam parts. The coverage is also quite broad, but it does not go as deep.
With this observation, I believe most people would agree that the CIMA exam is more difficult in terms of exam coverage and syllabus.
One of the more objective criteria is pass rate. The CIMA has pass rates varying from 45% to 86%. Roughly speaking, the average passing rates of all papers is slightly above 60%.
The latest US CMA exam pass rate was 35% for Part 1 and 50% for Part 2.
On surface, it may look as if the US CMA exam is harder. But if we analyze further, we’ll see that the quality of candidates in the two exams is quite different.
I am not saying CIMA students are smarter, but they are likely more prepared for the exam. This is because the prerequisite to take the CIMA professional qualification exam is either the Cert BA, or an accounting, finance or business degree. This means that all students have sufficiently strong foundation in these subjects before taking the CIMA exam.
On the other hand, the prerequisite for taking the CMA exam is a bachelor degree in any discipline. There are candidates who might have never touched accounting but still go for the CMA exam, simply because they are allowed to try. This will certainly drag down the pass rate.
Because of this, pass rate is not a good measure in estimating the difficulty of the CIMA exams.
I have spoken to a few readers who took both the CIMA and CPA exams (so far, no readers have taken both CIMA and CMA). They find the level of difficulty to be similar, although for CIMA it digs deeper in each section, and the whole progress is longer.
For these candidates, they are find segments of the CPA exam more difficult, especially on US federal taxation.
My conclusion is that the two exams are difficult in their own ways.
All in all, the CIMA exam is very comprehensive, and one should expect to put in a lot of time and effort in the entire journey. At the same time, it is doable if you are able to dedicate the time, and prepare for each part one at a time, and step-by-step.
If you’re not scared by the challenges ahead, I encourage that you move forward and commit yourself.See how you can appy for the CIMA exam today!
If you live in an area where CIMA and CMA are equally well recognized (e.g. Middle East, or Indians aspire to work in that area), then it is good idea to check out the US CMA exam before making a decision.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.