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CMA Exam Essay Questions: Complete Guide to Ace this Section

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cma exam essay tips

Many aspiring CMAs with international background dread the essay part of the exam. 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.

If you are unable to watch this video clip, the following covers similar tips regarding CMA exam essay prep.

Exam Structure

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.

CMA Exam Essay Format

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 familiarize with the testing environment before the 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.

CMA Exam Essay Grading System

The essays are graded by trained subject matter experts using an approved scoring rubric ensure objectivity and consistency. This part of the exam is meant to test your:

  1. Knowledge of the exam content
  2. Ability to apply concepts in real business situations
  3. Ability to express clearly and logically in business writing

1. Knowledge of Exam Content

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.

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.

2. Ability to Apply Concepts in Real Business Situations

Knowing the CMA content-specific facts does not mean you know when and how to apply them. When you face with an essay question, you should:

  • Read each word in the question carefully to understand what the examiner is asking
  • Identify the major concepts being tested
  • Identify keywords that can be used in the piece of writing

I like to use a mind map to brainstorm as many relevant keywords as possible, because inclusion of the correct keywords can easily help you score points.

Ability To Express Clearly and Logically in Business Writing

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. You can find the three general principles on effective business writing below.

How to Best Answer CMA Exam Essay Questions

Use of Standard English

(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.

Organization

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 short conclusion, typically with a couple of sentences summarizing the ideas presented in the middle paragraph.

Clarity

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:

  • Read the question carefully to make sure you understand what is being asked
  • Double check that your ideas do not contradict themselves

Readers’ Questions

Question #1: 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 dollar 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.

Question #2: 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.”

Vinoth Hock CMA customerWaqar Gleim CMA customerBloggers’ Sharing

Waqar and Vinoth talk about their first-hand experience in preparing this part of the exam.

Learning Tools

As briefly mentioned above, there are two sets of learning tools that can help you practice your essay writing skills. Disclosure: The I Pass Team may be earn a small amount of compensation if you purchase from our links; our team uses these revenues to maintain the site and produce awesome free content just for you!

1. Sample CMA Exam Questions from Wiley

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 get the latest version of the text book for good reference.

2. Gleim CMA Review Mega Test Bank & Complete Course

gleim_cma_reviewThis 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.

For Your Further Reading

cma-exam-prep-effective

Don’t miss my mega post on the ultimate CMA exam prep guide, with 50 actionable tips to help you nail the exam!

You may also want to sign up and receive my 1o-day e-course with study planning strategies exam taking tips for the CMA exam! You may type in your email address in the box below, or click and see what this free course offers.

Join us if you want to get tips on how to plan,
study and pass your CMA exam… on your first attempt!

About the Author Stephanie Ng

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.

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  • haris says:

    Hi stephanie, thank a lot for putting the time and effort to note these pointers to us

  • Saad says:

    Hi Stephanie, I want to ask you the following:
    (Theoretically) If I completed the MC part within 2 hours does that mean I have an “additional” hour to utilize with essay part of the exam? Essay will be 2 hours?

    Regards,
    Saad

    • Ramzeen says:

      yes… but i think its not possible..its upto you..
      for essays, 1:15 hours is enough…
      try to complete your MC questions in 2:30 hrs…

      • Stephanie Ng says:

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ramzeen. I agree that if possible, try to allocate more time to the essay. Most of my readers seem to find the MC questions more difficult than the essays though.

  • Anoop John says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have an important question to ask, is it possible to take the Part 2 of the CMA exam first and then the Part 1 later? I mean can I take and clear ‘Financial decision making’ first and then later take the ‘Financial planning, performance and control’ exam? Please clarify. Moreover I have heard that Part 2 is easier than Part1, is that true?

    Regards
    Anoop John

  • sarika says:

    hi i am planning to give cma part – 2 in this coming may-jun14 window.

    i want to know what should i refer to solve more question form Gleim.IMA or HOCK, so i can clear my cma in first attempt.

    Thank u,

    Sarika

  • ryan justin says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for the information this is very helpful.
    I’m planning to take the exam next year.

    Br,

    ryan

  • nhie says:

    I just want to ask about the difficulty of the essay part of the exam?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi nhie, most readers find them quite straightforward when compared to the multiple choice questions. I agree with them. Unless it takes the candidate a lot of time to write in English or that he/she makes a lot of grammatical mistakes, it shouldn’t be an area to worry about. Regards, Stephanie

  • jasir says:

    Dear stephanie,
    i would like to know how much questions will be there in essay window, is there any more optionals than 2 questions.

    thank you in advance

  • Lancy says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    My question is – What is the score/marks for the MCQ each questions?

    Regards
    Lancy

  • Kareem says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Normally to study CMA part 1 and be ready for exam, How many month i have
    to make my schedule?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Kareem, it depends on how many hours you can devote to the study each week, as well as whether you have existing knowledge in the exam content, but I would say about 70-80 hours for basic studying, and double that for very thorough studying. Hope it helps! Regards, Stephanie

  • Juls says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Do we have to save our essay answer? I just took CMA part 1 exam. Halfway through answering the essay I saved my answer, I didnt save towards the end. I’m worried my answers will not be counted.

  • Noel says:

    HI Stephanie,

    Am a bit worried about the essay questions, and a little bit on the MCQ’s

    will practicing on gleims software of multiple choice questions build a strong foundation to face the exams, I know passing is not guaranteed if we do practices on MCQ. but will there be a strong advantage of clearing the exams if more and more MCQ are tackled on Gleims software?

    how may essay questions will be asked, is it like they would ask us 2 essay questions and we only need to answer one, can you let me know on the same. will there be options on the essay question?

    My last question is, if I score maximum marks in my MCQ’s then I can just score the balance in the essay to total to 350 Points to clear CMA part 1 is this true, or is it that essay also has a percentage of passing needed?

    your advise to me will be of great help

    Noel

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Noel,
      If you go through the entire study course including all the online practice questions, you are in pretty good shape. it’s hard to generalize but most of my bloggers use Gleim and they seem to have pretty good pass rates. Gleim isn’t the only reason of course; they worked pretty hard.

      No you don’t have a choice on the essay questions. You have to answer all of them.

      From what I know, you need to pass both the multiple choice and essay questions. But almost all candidates I talked to find the essays straightforward (this includes non English-speaking candidates). If you know the materials and can write decent English (not a problem for you, judging from the above), then no need to worry about it.

      The MC questions can be long and tough — so I would make sure I nail those in the practice questions. Cheers, Stephanie

  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I am working on the essay’s for gliem.
    I was wondering if we need to memorize word for word the IMA standards details. I have the jist of each standard and can describe it well but I have not memorized word for word.
    thanks

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      No I don’t think so Rob. As long as you can articulate that they are and what they mean, it’s good enough. Cheers, Stephanie

      • Rob says:

        Hi Stephanie,
        The reason I asked is because when you look at the answers on the essay part, they basically quote the book word for word. If you think the idea is more important then the exact words. The concept is 100% accurate though.

  • Sooraj says:

    These tips really works for me.
    I have started writing essays in mind and small essays in paper when I get time.
    And when I started writing and when I read them later, I can find my own mistakes and it really helps me to improve a lot. Thank you very much.

  • Abdus Salaam says:

    Hi stephinie,

    I recently took my CMA part II exam but during essay session i m not sure whether i saved my answers or not.have u any idea about it?my answers are still there or gone unsaved?please reply i am much worried

  • Mich says:

    Hi stephanie! I took my cma exam two days ago, while i was writing my last answer in the essay box, the time was up and the screen shut down on the essays and took me to the survey part,l. Am worried about the answers if they were saved or not beacuse the time was up

  • Lance says:

    Hello All… I took recently the CMA Part 1 Exam. The essays comes with 2 business scenarios and covers 10 questions with 1-3 sub-questions each. The whole topic in Part 1 was like briefly thrown in these questions and requires calculations and on point essay writing. Now, just waiting for the result which will release after 6 weeks I guess?

  • Rohan says:

    Is CMa more valuable if done with cpa?

  • Salim says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I appeared for the CMA Exam part II ( Yday). Cleared the MCQ section and moved on to the Essay. I had two questions:

    1) Does the essay section save answers automatically ?, I think I have not saved it every time, I changed it.

    2) In the MCQ , I think I just about managed to get through, My essay section was very good though. What would be my chance of clearing ?

    Thanks
    Salim.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Salim, no worries, the system saves answers automatically. I am afraid there is no way for me to know your chance of clearing though, but I am really glad that you feel good about the essays. Just take a well-deserved break and get the results 6 weeks later. Try not to think over this too much in the meantime 🙂 Stephanie

    • Farida says:

      Hello ,

      Same question here.If you complete your 50% MCQ and move on to essay part and essay is good.Then are the chances of passing high?

      I too appeared for my part two yesterday. MCQ were tricky and time consuming so i got panic and also blank.Luckily,essay part was good.

      I just want to know fair idea.

      As somewhere,in blog i read that 75% for MCQ and 25% for Essay and 500 scaling.i.e 375 for MCQ and 125 for essay.If you move to essay part you manged to clear 50% i.e 250/375 is 66.67 % .

      If you clear MCQ and move on to essay that means you cleared 50% i.e 250 points .And Now in order to clear you require extra 25 %.
      if overall 75 % passing required or 360 out of 500 which comes to 72 %.

      In that scenario, should I understand that i managed to score 250 points and additionally I will require only 110 points to get 360 score in order to pass.Or i scored in MCQ 66.67 % and now only balancing percentage require to clear??

      Well,friends in order to give my review on part two.I would like to say practice lot of questions and time is a big challenge.

      Also,what i noticed is that continuous doing gliem as i referred to that review system.I knew half of the questions and after doing lot practice you feel that questions are same repeatedly and you have gone through that.So next time ,when you appear you don’t read question carefully as you have gone through that and your time get saved and also in practice exam you score good above 75 %

      Here,it is a big disadvantage because in exam scenario you have to read question carefully and all the facts and numbers are new which is time consuming and then select.Sums on Capital Budgeting,CVP analysis are lengthy….

      Hope my efforts get well paid off and I pass with flying colors.Wish me luck)

      • Stephanie Ng says:

        Hi Farida, wishing you the best luck on your Part 2!
        On the grading system, it is more or less correct except that we cannot compute the percentage, because this assumes that each question may not carry the same point. It is not. There is an elaborate weighting mechanism based on the difficulty level, among other factors. You can get a general idea here:
        https://ipassthecmaexam.com/cma-exam-scoring/

        But I would just relax and wait until you see the score a few weeks later. In the meantime, it is great to spend some energy on preparing the next part 🙂

  • Salim says:

    Thanks, Stephanie.

  • Gyan Singh says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have taken my Part 2 exam in last window (June’2016). i was short by 20 marks to hit the target.

    It was hard to me to accept the fact because had done quite well in exam & expecting 75%+. I have now been received my score card and i fail to meet the requirement in essay section and GOT C grade which indicate that I couldn’t meet the expectation of IMA exam.

    I have one doubt here that, i haven’t click the save button. is it role of not clicking on save button??

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Gyan, as mentioned in another reply to you, there is an autosave function but it is possible that the latest version was not saved. I believe the reason of not passing is due to other factors as well (very small factors adding together, giving you are close to the passing score). When you work on the practice questions for your next attempt, try to achieve 80%+ and make sure you rework the 20% you did wrong previously. This way, you have a bigger buffer. Best of luck!

  • Nilesh says:

    Hello. I failed twice in part CMA exam. second was quite good and attempted. I failed to score good marks in essay questions. Now I would like to know, where can I get a access to essay questions for practice?

  • Keerthan says:

    Hi stephanie,

    I wanna appear for two parts of CMA exam at a time(day by day)by preparing for a period of 6 months. Should i take two parts or prepare for one exam,appear for it and respectively for other?much confused to start

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Keerthan, you can do it either way, but usually it is better to do it one at a time – 3 months for each part so you can focus on getting one done first. Regards, Stephanie

  • Nithisha says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am persuading b.com (2nd year) in India . I would like to do cma usa , is it necessary to have work experience ? And what will be the difficulty level of this exam .

    Regards, nithisha

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Nithisha,
      Sure, in fact students have discount to join as member and to take the exam
      (more info here: https://ipassthecmaexam.com/cma-exam-fees/)

      You need experience to become a CMA, but not for taking the exam. So what people do is to take the exam first, and accumulate the necessary experience during or after the exam. Guess it would likely be after in your case, which isn’t a problem at all.

      In terms of difficulty, I would say it is quite difficult in terms of how the questions are framed. They can be lengthy and complex. But as long as you understand what are being asked, it’s basically questions in accounting, internal control, strategic planning, finance etc. Not rocket science. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Anthony says:

    Hello,
    I’m in the early stages of trying to figure out if taking the CMA exam would be a good fit for me. My main question is about the CPE requirements and how to go about completing them each year along with the approximate cost.

  • Devarsh says:

    Hello ma’am ,
    is there any specific source where should questions come from??
    I’m doing my Wiley question bank , is that main sourc. of questions in IMA ?

  • Judy says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Goa University and Post Graduate diploma in Financial Management is from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Both are listed on your website. Do I need to send the Original transcripts to Naces or do I sent it to IMA?

  • Vivek says:

    I would like to know if 2 months is sufficient to prepare for both part 1 and part 2 of us cma exam

  • Kamlesh Vaishnav says:

    hi, Stephanie, I took the exam of part 1 and the result arrived and unfortunately, I failed I scored 290 that means a minimum of 250 in MCQ section and have confidence that my essay section was also good but what I did was did not click on the end button during my exam in essay section which I did in MCQ section and let keep going the time until the end of the exam and after the time ended the window disappeared. So my question is whether the essay section has not graded or graded or zero or I am wrong? because my essay section I did was good in the exam and expected a score of mine was at least 70% which means 125*70% = 87.5%. Kindly answer.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Kamlesh,
      The essay was auto saved, so I would think that section should have counted at least a bit. It isn’t a straight formula so it’s hard to tell whether you were getting at least 250 on your MC question, but you are correct that you should at least get 50% on the MCQ section of the exam.

      Regards, Stephanie

      • Lawwrence Merkel says:

        Getting a 50 % on the MCQ will automatically result in a failing grade. 50 % of 375 = 188points and if one scored a 100% on the essay, one would end with 313 points.
        One must score at least a 65% on the MCQ section and a 93% on the essay to achieve a passing grade of 360.
        Scoring a 72% on both sections will yield a passing score of 360 Points.
        I pressed the IMA to provide more detailed scoring on the exam but have been reluctant to do so.

        Good luck, I failed both parts 1 and 2 and quit studying, too expensive

        • Meghan D says:

          Sorry to hear this! Accounting certification examiners are usually reluctant to reveal their scoring processes. But maybe you shouldn’t give up just yet? Have you asked your job to sponsor your exam fees so that you can keep going?

  • Kamlesh says:

    Ok thank you.

  • Dei Gutiv says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Just want to ask if I’m eligible in CMA having the following credentials:

    • Bachelor of Science in accountancy – for 2yrs (under graduate)
    • Took up Modern Accounting Course (Essentials of Accounting, Budgeting and Costing, Financial Statement Analysis , Intermediate Accounting)
    • 3yrs accounts working experiences

    Thanks,
    Dei

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Dei, I believe the IMA normally requires the bachelor degree to be at least 3 years, but there could be exceptions especially that you have taken up extra accounting courses. Please contact the IMA directly for them to evaluate your situation. Best of luck! Stephanie

  • mayi atienza says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I just recently took the exam. I reached the essay part but I am a bit worried because there were 11 questions and each have sub questions.
    Due to time constraints, I only answered each in one sentence. I am really worried that I failed the essay part. If say I am confident that 5 out 11 were answered correctly, since it’s less than half of the total questions, did I failed already?

    How do they grade the essay part? Is it based on how long your explanation for each questions?

    Thank you! Hoping for your feedback.

  • MOHAMMED says:

    hi stephen,

    i just complete my part 1 exam yesterday, and iam now worry about i had’t save the essay question and it will dissappeared automatically when the times up .

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