I Pass The CMA Exam!

CMA Exam Format: Important Info on Question Type + Duration

Before you jump in to pursue the CMA certification, you might want to take a look at the CMA exam format, length, and intensity, as well as the type of questions you are going to see on the exam day. It’s always important to do your research first. This is a big time and monetary investment, so you need to be sure it’s right for you.

In this post, I am going to review these important details about the CMA exam format.

CMA Overview

It takes a lot of work and persistence to achieve your accounting certification, no matter which certification you go for. This is something to be highly respected. Of the various accounting certifications, the CMA is often touted as the best choice. It’s offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), one of the leading financial institutions across the globe.

The IMA helps make the process of becoming a CMA smooth for candidates, which is another reason it is so popular. The IMA gives clear, organized information about the exam, its structure, and the enrollment process to help potential candidates with the process. Becoming a Certified Management Accountant helps bridge the gap in financial accounting and management skills and fills a much-needed role in the industry.

Therefore, a CMA certificate is very helpful for success in an accounting business setting. Now, let’s take a look at the CMA format and other important information about the exam.

CMA Exam Format

The CMA exam is fully computerized. Candidates have the option of taking the exam at hundreds of Prometric centers around the world or online via remote proctoring. Candidates can take the exam 6 months out of the 12 each year. It’s important that you schedule your exam dates for one of the testing windows available that suits your needs. Since most people schedule themselves for the exam well in advance, it provides enough time to learn about the exam format and other important information before testing.

Testing Window CMA Exam Dates 2024
Jan-Feb  January 1 to February 29
 May-Jun  May 1 to June 30
 Sep-Oct  September 1 to October 31

There are two parts to the CMA exam, and you do not have to take them in any specific order. This means you can choose to register for Part 2 first if you want. You will not be able to apply for your CMA certification until you have taken and passed both parts and met the other criteria set forth by the IMA.

Each part of the CMA exam has 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 2 essay scenarios with multiple questions in each scenario. You have to answer at least 50% of your MCQs to open up the essay question portion of the exam. The MCQs are worth 75% of the weight of your total score on the CMA exam.

Exam content, pass rate trends, and difficulty: Links to more information

  • CMA Part 1– Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • CMA Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management

CMA Exam Part 1

  • External Financial Reporting (15%)
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (20%)
  • Performance Management (20%)
  • Cost Management (15%)
  • Internal Controls (15%)
  • Technology and Analytics (15%)

Next, let’s look into more detail at what each section covers.

External Financial Reporting

  • The basis of financial accounting
  • Preparation of financial statements
  • Valuation of assets and liabilities
  • Operating and capital leases
  • Impact of equity transactions
  • Revenue recognition, income measurement, and the major differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS

Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

  • How to make annual profit plans and supporting schedules
  • Different types of budgeting, such as activity-based budgeting, project budgeting, and flexible budgeting
  • Top-level planning and analysis
  • Forecasting including quantitative methods, such as regression analysis and learning curves

Performance Management

  • How to analyze financial statement items such as revenue, cost, profit, and investments in assets
  • Variance analysis based on flexible budgets and standard costs
  • Responsibility accounting for revenue, cost, contribution, and profit centers
  • Balanced scorecards

 Cost Management

  • Cost concepts, flows, and terminology
  • Alternative cost objectives
  • Cost measurement concepts
  • Cost accumulation systems, such as  job order costing, process costing, and activity-based costing
  • Overhead cost allocation
  • Operational efficiency and business process performance topics, such as JIT, MRP, theory of constraints, value chain analysis, benchmarking, ABM, and continuous improvement

Internal Control

  • Risk assessment
  • Internal control environment, procedures, and standards
  • Responsibility and authority of internal auditing
  • Types of audits
  • Assessing the adequacy of accounting information systems control

CMA Exam Part 2

  • Financial Statement Analysis (20%)
  • Corporate Finance (20%)
  • Decision Analysis (25%)
  • Risk Management (10%)
  • Investment Decisions (10%)
  • Professional Ethics (15%)

Now let’s look at a breakdown of what each section covers.

Financial Statement Analysis

  • Principal financial statements and their uses
  • Limitation of financial statement information
  • Interpretation and analysis of financial statements, such as ratio and comparative analyses
  • Market value vs. book value
  • Fair value accounting
  • The major differences between IFRS and US GAAP
  • Off-balance sheet financing
  • Cash-flow statement preparation, analysis, and reconciliation
  • Earnings quality

Corporate Finance

  • Types of risk
  • Measures of risk
  • Portfolio management
  • Options and futures
  • Capital instruments for long-term financing
  • Dividend policy
  • Factors influencing the optimal capital structure
  • Cost of capital
  • Managing and financing working capital
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • International finance

Decision Analysis

  • Relevant data concepts
  • Cost-volume-profit analysis
  • Marginal analysis
  • Make vs. buy decisions
  • Pricing
  • Income tax implications for operational decision analysis
  • ERM

Risk Management

  • Operational risk, hazard risk, financial risk, and strategic risk.

Investment Decisions

  • Cash flow estimates
  • Concepts of DCF (discounted cash flow), net present value, IRR (internal rate of return)
  • Non-discounting analysis techniques
  • Income tax implications for investment decisions
  • Ranking investment projects
  • Risk analysis
  • Real options
  • Valuation models

Professional Ethics

  • Ethical consideration for both management accountants and the organization.

CMA Exam Duration

How long is the CMA exam? This is a common question for anyone considering taking this accounting exam. There are two parts to the exam. Each part is 4 hours long and is divided into a 3-hour section for the MCQs and a 1-hour section for the essays.

First, you’ll have 3 hours to tackle 100 multiple-choice questions representing 75% of the exam score. The second section is essay writing representing the remaining 25%. You will be given 30 minutes for each of the two essays, for a total of 1 hour for the essays.

You must pass at least 50% of the first (i.e., multiple choice) section to advance to the essay questions. You can use any time remaining from the multiple-choice questions towards the essay portion.

Duration No. of Questions Avg Time per Question
Multiple Choice 3 hours 100 1.8 minutes
Essay 1 hour 2 30 minutes

CMA Exam Questions

How many questions are on the CMA exam? As explained above, each part of the CMA exam has 100 MCQs, so there is 200 MCQs total on the CMA exam. And each part has 2 essay questions, so there are 4 essay questions in total on the CMA exam.

You have four hours to complete the entire exam, and the MCQs will be presented in random order. You may not get the exact same questions as another candidate or as someone who has taken the test before you. If you’re trying to manage your time on exam day, you should try to complete the MCQs within the first 2 1/2 hours so you can open up the essay questions and have time to work on those scenarios.

It’s also important that you take some time to review the format of the questions. There are actually several different types of MCQs. Most of them will show up with four single-statement answer choices, and you will choose the best answer from the options provided for you.

Sometimes the questions will have a negative stem (words like not, except, false, least, etc.), so it’s very important you read carefully since these can be tricky. This is also why we recommend you allow time to review your answers at the end of completing them, too.

Question Type Compared to Other Accounting Certifications

Most aspiring CMAs are deciding between CPA or other management accounting certifications such as CIMA and CGMA. How do the question types compare?

CIMA has five different question styles that could show up on the exam. These include multiple-choice, multiple-response, number entry, hotspot, and drag and drop. In comparison, the CMA is simpler, with only two question styles.

When Compared to the CPA Exam

As you can expect, the CMA exam is similar to what you may encounter in the BEC section of the CPA exam and, to a lesser extent, FAR and AUD.

I find that the multiple-choice questions in the CMA exam could get quite complex and lengthy, so the exam cannot be called “easy” even when compared to the CPA exam.

Having said that, since there are only 2 parts versus 4 parts in the CPA exam, the total time spent on exam preparation is shorter. You can check out my analysis of CMA vs CPA on this page.

When Compared to CIMA Exam

The CMA exam is 100% computerized and comprises mostly multiple-choice questions. The advantage of having most questions in multiple-choice format is that it is easy to drill and monitor your progress using online prep software. Also, multiple-choice tests a candidate’s breadth of knowledge, not depth.

Please refer to my CIMA vs CMA comparison page for details.

When Compared to CGMA Exam

CGMA certification is brand new. Based on what I’ve gathered, the exam format is very similar to that in CIMA’s final exam, and therefore, the above analysis applies. I will include more details when more information becomes available. For now, you can check out this overview page on CGMA.

Next Step: Check out the Exam Syllabus

We have a quick video going through the Part 1 syllabus here:

CMA Course Details

If you want to have the best shot at passing the CMA exam, especially on the first try, investing in a quality CMA exam course is important. There are many out there, so I understand if it can be confusing to choose the one that is best for your needs.

It’s important to choose a course that is updated regularly. This is because the CMA content can change. The IMA posts when they have content updates and changes to the exam material, but you need a course that updates with it. Studying with an outdated course means you will not be as prepared as possible. This will cause you difficulty on the exam and could even impact your score or ability to pass one or both parts of the exam.

Here’s a summary of my top pick for a CMA review course (I have more CMA review courses comparisons, too):

Gleim CMA Review

To start, Gleim CMA Review might actually be my favorite. Gleim CMA has 3 offerings: the Premium CMA Review System, the Traditional CMA Review System, and the Mega Test Bank, so there is something for everyone and every need.

Additionally, the Gleim CMA Premium Course includes the following components:

  • 2 textbooks: 1 for each exam part
  • Over 70 hours of instructor videos
  • Unlimited course access that doesn’t expire
  • Hundreds of essays
  • Thousands of questions (both the essays and questions are part of the Mega Test Bank, and you’ll receive this test bank with the Premium CMA course)
  • Audio lectures
  • Digital flashcards
  • A personalized study planner
  • Access to a Personal Counselor/exam mentor
  • Support from experts who will answer questions about the course materials
  • A money-back that is easy to qualify for
  • The guided, easy-to-use online course

Furthermore, this is the perfect course for someone who does not already have a strong background in the CMA content. For example, if you are looking to take the CMA exam as a student or shortly after graduating and before you have a lot of work experience, a thorough course like Gleim may be just what you need.


In conclusion, the CMA exam is a highly respected and very useful exam for anyone looking to move into a career in accounting. If you’re planning on getting your CMA certification, you will benefit greatly from learning more about the CMA exam format, the structure, and the questions that could potentially be asked on it. Quality review courses are essential to getting the proper study materials and having the best shot at passing on your first try.

Do you have any additional questions about the CMA exam or its format that I have not already covered here? Let me know so I can cover them for you here on the site.

For Your Further Reading

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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