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 of the exam, and 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 for you.

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, in order 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 and is available at hundreds of Prometric centers around the world. 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 WindowCMA Exam Dates 2020
Jan-Feb January 1 to February 28
 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 of:

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

Can be found here. Let’s look at the basics of what is in each section.

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; major differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS

Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

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

Performance Management

  • How to analyze the financial statement items such as revenue, cost, profit and investment 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 system e.g. job order costing, process costing, activity-based costing
  • Overhead cost allocation
  • Operational efficiency and business process performance topics e.g. 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 statement e.g. ratio and comparative analyses
  • Market value vs book value
  • Fair value accounting
  • Major difference 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, and financial risk and strategic risk.

Investment Decision

  • 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 of 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.

DurationNo. of QuestionsAvg Time per Question
Multiple Choice3 hours1001.8 minutes
Essay1 hour230 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 are 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 present 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 for reviewing 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 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

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, it’s important to invest in a quality CMA exam course. There are many out there, so I understand if it can be confusing trying 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 you could be. This will cause you difficult on the exam and could even impact your score, or your ability to pass one or both parts of the exam.

Here are my top picks for CMA review courses:

Wiley CMA Review

Wiley CMA has become one of the most popular CMA review courses available and it is top of my list of recommended CMA review courses because it hits all the tick parts for a quality course. In addition, there are different options for everyone, as there are three different courses available under the Wiley umbrella.

1. Wiley CMAexcel Platinum

2. Wiley CMAexcel Gold

3. Wiley CMAexcel Silver

You can learn more about them in this post that is all about Wiley CMA review, however, I can give you a shortlist of some of the benefits to choosing a Wiley review course:

  • bite-sized CMA video lectures
  • a free trial so you can be sure it’s right for you
  • free updates “until you pass” guarantee
  • access to instructors for when you have questions
  • a large test bank
  • CMA study planner to help you stay on track
  • CMA flashcards
  • a student discussion area
  • and much more

Because of this, I definitely recommend Wiley as one of the top in the industry for understanding the CMA exam format and prepping for the exam itself.

Gleim CMA Review

Next on my list is Gleim, which 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 40 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
  • 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.

Conclusions

In conclusion, the CMA exam is a highly respected and very useful exam to 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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  • 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!!

    • 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?

    • 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.

  • Mariel says:

    Hi! I am a CPA from the Philippines and my school happened to not be on the accredited list of Universities and Colleges. What option do I have to meet the educational requirement before taking the exam? Thanks for responding

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