Many aspiring CMAs with international background dread the essay part of the exam. The writing aspect of the exam can be daunting for many people. Preparation is key to reducing anxiety about the essay section. I’m going to help you with some CMA exam essay tips in this post.
Don’t get thrown off by the CMA essay questions. You can review and prepare yourself for this part of the exam when you know what to expect. What exactly are the examiners testing on, how are the essays graded, and how can you get a good score?
Let’s take a look in this video.
If you are unable to watch this video clip, the following covers similar tips regarding CMA exam essay prep.
First, let’s look at the exam structure and where the essay section fits into that.
You are given 4 hours to complete the entire CMA exam. If you are done with the MC questions in less than 3 hours, then you can have the remaining time to work on the essay. If you use up the 3 full hours on the MC questions though, you will have stop and move on to essay questions.
For candidates whose English is not the first language, I strongly encourage that you practice going through MC questions as quickly as you can so you can spare more time for the writing part.
Please note that you will be asked to complete the CMA exam essay questions only if you get at least 50% correct in multiple-choice questions.
The CMA exam has two parts:
Each part contains 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two essay scenarios.
There are two essays topics, each with a number of questions. You may be asked to complete a business writing or to work on a quantitative analysis.
The writing is done on a simple word processor that is similar to Notepad. For those essays that require a computational answer, you should create simple tables and show calculations within the word processor space provided. It is a good idea to get familiar with the testing environment before the exam day. If you’re familiar with typing in word processor tools like Notepad, it will be important to practice before exam day.
Note: If you are a retaker, you may want to know that the CMA exam has discontinued the use of the spreadsheet tool in the essay portion of the exam since January 2013.
When you reach the essay scenario section of each part of the CMA exam, the Essay Scenario screen will open in a separate screen, to the left of the screen that is displaying the Answer Box. Most exam prep courses will show you screenshots and possibly videos of this so that you know what to expect. This Essay Scenario Screen looks like Notepad, or a similar word processing program, and it will have several features to make it easier to complete your essay.
You will work through the essay scenario from this screen. Now, let’s look at how the essay section is graded.
To answer the CMA essay questions, you will be required to write a response, or to complete a calculation related to the scenario that the exam provides you. It’s important that you read the question very carefully so you can understand the requirements and adhere to them properly. If you’re doing a calculation, it’s essential you show your work. You can get more partial credit for the more information you provide related to the topic.
When answering the written response, it’s important you are as detailed as possible. You want to be concise and not use flowery language, but you want to be detailed and accurate. Mention anything that might be relevant to the topic you are answering to help you score more points. Brainstorm and then work through your first draft so that your answer is totally complete, then you can go back and proofread your answer, as time allows. This is why it is important to try to get through the MCQs faster, so you have more time for the essay.
Let’s take a look at how these CMA essay questions are graded.
CMA exam questions count for the following percentage of your overall score:
The essays are graded by trained subject matter experts using an approved scoring rubric to ensure objectivity and consistency. Why does the CMA exam contain essay questions?
This part of the exam is meant to test your:
This is a critical step to pass both the multiple-choice questions and the essay part of the exam. Besides reading and study materials, you should spend sufficient time in the practice questions so the concepts sink in, and learn how to apply the concepts in answering the questions. It’s about more than just memorizing facts. It is most important that you learn the material in such a way that you can apply it to practical scenarios that you might face on the job.
In the Wiley CMA Exam Review Learning System (part 1 for example), there are 2 detailed examples, together with 28 practice essay questions with model answers.
In Gleim CMA Exam Essay Wizard, you have a chance to practice typing in the answers in a simulated exam environment on your computer. This is a great way to familiarize yourself firsthand with what it will be like on the actual exam.
Knowing the CMA content-specific facts does not mean you know when and how to apply them. When you are faced with an essay question, you should:
I like to use a mind map to brainstorm as many relevant keywords as possible because the inclusion of the correct keywords can easily help you score points.
The CMA exam does not test your technical writing skills. Therefore, you should focus on simple and clear writing and leave out the flowery, complicated words. This is not the time to show off how many SAT words you remember.
Rather, they are looking for your ability to express yourself clearly and logically, as it relates to the CMA material asked in the essay questions. You can find the three general principles of effective business writing below. This will help you know how to best answer CMA essay questions on exam day.
Knowing how to use proper, standard English will be essential. Here is a breakdown of what that means of the CMA essay questions.
(i) Correct Spelling
All words should be properly checked to avoid spelling errors and typos. Colloquial, slang and text-message words should not be used.
For acronyms, they should be fully spelled out when they are first introduced in the essay. For example, ABC should be spelled out as “Activity Based Costing (ABC)” first and then the term ABC can be used in the rest of the writing.
(ii) Proper Punctuation
Avoid writing words in capital letters and exclamation marks because exaggeration is rarely used in business writing.
The piece of writing should have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
(i) Beginning Paragraph
The beginning should be an introductory paragraph which directly addresses the question. You can simply rewrite the question and this will be the best introduction you can get. Don’t copy directly from the question though — I don’t know the specific rules but copy-and-pasting is generally not a good idea.
(ii) Middle (Main) Paragraph
The middle paragraph is where you present CMA content-specific facts and ideas. You can choose to add a couple more paragraphs if you need to expand the ideas, such as adding examples to support your rationale.
Please note that the essays are graded positively and that partial credits are given: you get a point if the idea matches (or partially matches) with the one on the scoring rubric. This means that you should include as many points as possible as long as they are relevant.
(iii) Ending Paragraph
The last paragraph should be a short conclusion, typically with a couple of sentences summarizing the ideas presented in the middle paragraph.
While you should spend time writing all the related points you can possibly think of, present it in a clear and logical manner. It is very important to:
If you want to do your best on these essay questions, it’s essential you study and practice. We’ve talked about the study portion, and about what to expect on the essay portion of the exam, but let’s talk about how you can practice for it when you don’t know exactly what your essay questions will be. First, a great CMA review study course is a good place to start. I’ll give you my recommendations for that in a bit.
Secondly, you want to practice with essay test questions or mock exam questions. A quality review course will contain these and they give you the hands-on practice you need. If English isn’t your first language, or if you struggle with written answers and essays, you may also want to practice writing in general or brush up on your grammar and spelling, and other rules of the language before test day, as explained above.
Finally, another great way to practice for the CMA essay questions is to practice writing mini-essays on the CMA exam material. Try answering and writing just the way you would if you were taking the exam.
Now, what are some other questions you may have about the CMA exam essay questions?
Let’s take a look at some questions from readers that might help you.
If a question asks about a calculation, do I need to be formal and write it out as words or can you just type out the numbers? For example, if I ask for depreciation expense for one month of an asset with a 1,200 dollar cost and a 12-month life can I just write “$100” or “you divide 1,200 by 12 month to get 100 dollar per month which is your depreciation expense”?
Answer: You do need to show your work, but rather than saying “you divide 1,200 by 12 months to get 100 dollars per month” you could show “$1,200/12 months = $100 per month in depreciation”. This way, you will more likely get partial credit in case you use the right formula but just missed a number.
I am practicing on the essay questions, but there are no excel capabilities or even a table creation function that make tabular presentations possible. Do you have any suggestion on how to address this? Even underlining the numbers to indicate summation is not possible.
Answer: The examiners have taken away the spreadsheet function in recent years. Since the reader is a Gleim customer, I’ve asked the Gleim Team who has kindly provided the following answer:
There are no excel or table formatting tools in the essays on the exam or in the Gleim materials.
I have a few suggestions. First, practice with the Gleim essays because it will get them use to that.
Second, we have a video in the first study unit of the Gleim Online that is part of the supplemental videos that is a how to on the essays. It could be very useful as it discusses formatting and how to answer them.
Third and final, the key is to make sure that the answers are clear and organized and labeled well, but it doesn’t need to be formatted any special way as long as the grader can determine what you are answering and what your answer is.”
As briefly mentioned above, there are two sets of learning tools that can help you practice your essay writing skills.
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Wiley CMA Learning System dedicates a whole chapter on essay exam study tips, examples of essay question answers, and practice essay questions and answers.
I encourage you to get the latest version of the textbook for a good reference.
This online CMA test bank provides sample CMA exam essay questions for every study unit/topic to train you on how to maximize your points given your knowledge of the subject matter on essays.
They also show you the format (e.g. how to write out the calculations) in the answer explanations.
You can get it through the integrated review product — Gleim CMA Review System, or purchase it separately.
Don’t miss my mega post on the ultimate CMA exam prep guide, with 50 actionable tips to help you nail the exam!
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