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CMA Exam Format: Important Info on Question Type + Duration

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cma exam formatBefore you jump in to pursue the CMA certification, you might want to take a look at the CMA exam format, length and intensity of the exam, and the type of questions you are going to see on the exam day.

CMA Exam Format

The CMA exam is fully computerized and is available at hundreds of prometric centers around the world. Candidates can take the exam 6 months out of the 12 each year.

CMA Exam Duration

There are two parts in the exam. Each part is 3 hours long for 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. Total testing duration is 4 hours.

You must pass at least 50% of the first (i.e. multiple choice) section in order 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

Question Type Compared to Other Accounting Certifications

Most aspiring CMAs are deciding between CPA, or other management accounting certifications such as CIMA and CGMA.

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 CPA exam, the total time spent on exam preparation is shorter. You can check out my analysis on 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 is used to test a candidate’s breadth of knowledge, not the depth.

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

When Compared to CGMA Exam

The 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:

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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  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie and others who have passed the exams,
    I want to take either part 1 or part 2 in the coming testing window (september and October).
    I was wondering which part you recommend I do in a 2 month period now?
    The other I could do in Jan.
    Which one would you do with a shorter study period (2 months vs. 4 months) if you were me?
    Thanks.

  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I was wondering for the essay questions, how long should our answers be? I don’t see any marks indicators in the margins so that we can gauge how much to write.
    That would help if they did that.
    Thanks.

  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I was wondering if the essay answers in the gleim book are considered good answers for the exam?
    They are called the “unofficial answers”
    Thanks.

  • geethanjali says:

    can somebody tell me as to what is the qualified pass score in multiple choice to be eligible to write essay part??

  • JC says:

    Hi Stephanie, I apologize if you answered this question earlier, but I believe you mentioned there are no breaks in the 4 hour testing duration. With that being said, suppose I complete the MC and Essay Portion with 15 minutes to spare, @ the 3hr and 45 min mark. Are candidates permitted to go back to the MC section to double check their answers? Or is the exam structured so that once you complete MC and enter the Essay, you cannot turn back?

    Thanks!!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi JC, as long as you don’t press the button to move on to the essay question, you can definitely use the remaining time to check the answers in the MC section. But once you indicate that you want to move on, you can’t go back. Hope this is clear? Stephanie

  • Ashley says:

    Hi Stephanie, are the questions in order (by the sections) or are they all randomly selected?

    Many thanks!

  • Meghana says:

    Hi Stepahnie,

    I wanted to recheck if the CMA exams would be for 500 am I right? Or does it change every year?
    Only the overall score.

    Also As far as I know there cannot be set answers for practical essay answer, all the others aren’t it subjective.

    Thanks in advance for your reply!!

    Regards ,
    Meghana

  • Moinuddin Ali says:

    hi Stephanie

    i want to ask if i take part I first .do they ask any questions related to part 2 in part 1

  • Divya says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Wrt ///You need to get 50% accuracy in the multiple choice in order to move on to the essay section. Regards, Stephanie//

    Does this mean that the computer will automatically move on to eassy questions once we have cleared 50% of the mc questions?

    or

    If we do not pass the 50 % limit the computer does not take us forward to essay questions?

  • Yusra says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Hope you are doing well.
    I’ve been practicing a lot of questions from Gleim for my part 2 exam in June.
    I just wanted to ask, will the questions be similar to the practice questions or will they be completely different?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Yusra,
      That’s great! I would say they won’t be the exact same questions but the style and level of difficulty is similar. Gleim does include some non-CMA questions in the test prep so I would say the actual exam is normally not as “out of the blue”. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Vineeth kurian K says:

    i am Vineeth,
    i plan to join CMA, i have only 1 yr exp. and completed my BCom with 52% mark. is am eligible to do the certification.
    what kind of questions are mostly in this certification.

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