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CMA Exam Pass Rate: What the Latest CMA Pass Rates Mean to You

Have you been told the CMA exam is easy? Or are you convinced that it is super hard? You don’t need to be uncertain. Instead, to help us understand the CMA exam difficulty, we can look at signs like the CMA exam pass rate. The latest CMA pass rates help us see how challenging the exam has been for past candidates. And with this information, you can get a better sense of how much you need to prepare to pass the CMA exam.

In this post, I am going to walk you through it and help you understand CMA pass rates and how it relates to preparing for the exam.

Latest CMA Exam Pass Rates

According to the latest percentages, the average CMA exam passing percentage is 45%. The Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) seems to have slowed down their release of the CMA exam pass rates in recent years. Looking at past statistics, we can see that the ICMA used to release CMA passing percentages for each exam part about every 9 months. But the exact time period for the latest CMA pass percentages (45% for Part 1 and 45% for Part 2) is unclear. We have to do the best we can with the information that is given to us.

CMA Exam Pass Rates 2018-2020

Exam Part 2017-2018 2018-2019 2020
Part 1 40% 35% 45%
Part 2 50% 50% 45%

Pre-2018 Pass Rates

Exam Part 2013 2014 2015 2015-2016 2016-2017
Part 1 35% 35% 36% 35% 35%
Part 2 42% 49% 55% 52% 50%

*In 2016, the ICMA adjusted when it releases the CMA exam pass rate data.

As you can see, the Part 1 pass rate was fairly consistent until it jumped up in 2017-2018. The Part 2 pass rate increased to 55% in 2015 but slowly fell back to the 2014 level by mid-2016, and now is quite close to the lowest it has been (2013 rates). There are different reasons for this pass rate, which we will discuss more later on. For now, let’s see how the CMA pass rate compares to the pass rates of other accounting certifications.

CMA Passing Rate Compared to Other Accounting Certification Exams

One of the most popular questions I get from my readers is: how does the CMA exam pass rate compare to that of other accounting certification exams?

Usually, this is because candidates are trying to determine which is the hardest accounting exam, or they are comparing while deciding which certification they are going to go for. It’s not a bad strategy, but pass rates alone are not enough to tell you which exam is the hardest (or which one is best for you).

Contrary to popular belief, the overall CMA exam pass rates are lower than those of the “most difficult exams”, such as CPA and CFA. The CMA exam pass rate is also much lower when compared to some niche qualifications. For example, the Enrolled Agent exam pass rate is 61-86%. These statistics usually surprise people, since they expect the CMA to be easier, and therefore, have higher pass rates.

Should we conclude that the CMA exam is indeed more difficult, or are there other factors to consider? Let’s take a closer look at the CMA exam pass rate details.

2020 CMA Exam Pass Rate

On January 1, 2020, the IMA executed an overhaul of the exam curriculum. Consequently, because of the CMA exam changes, the number of questions covering analytics and technology greatly increased.

CMA Exam Pass Rate Analysis

Doing analysis into the pass rate data we have for the CMA can help us determine patterns and also what factors contribute to these rates. Unfortunately, we only have regional CMA exam passing rates up to October 2015. But I think this information can still be helpful. So, I’ve retained this breakdown of the CMA exam pass rates breakdown by region and part.

CMA exam pass rate 2015

Source: SF Magazine (Sep 2016)

Now, we can analyze the Part 1 and Part 2 performances in more detail.

Part 1 CMA Exam Pass Rates

part 1 cma exam pass rate 2015

For this 4-year period, the worldwide CMA exam pass rate was a rather scary 31%-35%. That’s very low in comparison with other exams. But, if you exclude the Middle East, the statistics look much better. These stats show us the Middle East scored significantly lower in pass rates when compared to other parts of the world.

Consequently, the charts make it quite obvious that if your native language is English or you have a chance to learn English in your country (notably Europe, and to a lesser extent, Asia), you have a higher chance of passing. Another reason the Middle East could have lower scores is that they lack the same resources for study materials. Many candidates from the Middle East use local study courses that could be out of date. When the study materials are not high quality, it reflects in the pass rates of those taking the course.

I don’t have details about the sudden jump in the Asian pass rate. Likely, the IMA counted the pass rate of the local language (63%) versus the English language (56%) among Chinese candidates or the weighted average figure. They represented the vast majority of Asian candidates in 2015. How much does language really affect the CMA scores and pass rate statistics? This is another important factor to consider when we examine pass rates.

The Effects of English on the CMA Exam Pass Rates

The CMA exam tends to have wordy and complex questions that could be a challenge for those with slightly weaker English language comprehension skills. Also, the CMA exam comprises not only multiple-choice questions but also an essay section that human examiners grade. This essay section weighs heavily on your ability to read and write English. If you are not a native English speaker, this is one part of the exam you may want to give extra attention to when studying.

We find more proof of the importance of English in China where candidates can choose to take the CMA exam in English or in Chinese, as mentioned above. The 7% point difference in the pass rates for these 2 exam versions is statistically significant. In short, when candidates can take the exam in their own language, they perform better. However, this is not available globally yet, as the CMA is primarily a U.S. distinction.

In light of this, international candidates should, therefore, practice English writing as part of their exam preparations.

Part 2 CMA Exam Pass Rates

The data reveals that the pass rate of Part 2 during this time period was considerably higher and even more significant in the non-English speaking regions.

The year-on-year improvement was also encouraging, with the Middle Eastern region reaching an all-time high of 45%.

Reasons for the discrepancy between Part 1 and Part 2 pass rates may include the fact that many candidates sit for Part 1 first and, as we can see, many candidates fail. Therefore, Part 1 seems to weed out the less-prepared candidates. The candidates who go on to take Part 2 were well-prepared for Part 1. And, now that they are more familiar with the exam, they are even more prepared for Part 2. You can take the exam parts in any order, but starting with Part 1 is popular, and that may be partly why its pass rates are lower.

Another potential reason for Part 2’s pass rate success is the fact that Part 2 tests candidates on a narrower range of subjects and, consequently, requires a bit less preparation than Part 1. Part 1 covers a broad scope of topics and can, therefore, be more difficult for some.

Lessons from the CMA Exam Pass Rate

Before you let these low pass rates scare you away, let me explain some other important details about the CMA exam. These things impact the pass rates and it is important to how you view them. Let’s explore.

1. Diversified Pool of Candidates

First, while the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) welcomes CMA candidates from all over the world, the exam format is U.S.-centric. Candidates outside of the U.S. may not be familiar with the terminology in the multiple-choice questions, and if their native language is not English, scoring well on the essays can be quite challenging. We outlined some ways this impacts the pass rate above.

2. Low Barrier of Entry

Second, the IMA lets candidates with just about any type of bachelor’s degree take the CMA exam. It is not specific to accounting degree holders. In contrast, CPA Exam candidates must take a substantial number of accounting and business courses.

The low barrier of entry attracts candidates who just want to give the exam a try. These casual takers do not invest sufficient time, money, or effort into properly preparing for the exam. You don’t have to be one of them and add to the statistic of lower pass rates. That’s why we are going over it now.

Conclusion

Now that you know more about CMA exam pass rates, you can prepare for taking the exam yourself and passing on the first try.

Therefore,

  • If you have a good command of English, and/or
  • If you work hard and complete lots of practice questions to get familiar with the style of the multiple-choice questions,

your chance of passing the CMA exam is much higher than the average CMA exam pass rate. Don’t let the numbers intimidate you. When you study and prepare yourself properly, you can be in the percentage who pass. Below is a video that helps you summarize the information above. It’s also helpful for people who learn better through visuals vs. the written word.

Next, let’s look at some ways you can increase your CMA exam pass rate. No one goes into the exam wanting or expecting to fail. Preparation is key to your success.

Ways to Increase Your CMA Exam Pass Rate

Obviously, if you are planning to take the CMA exam and you are reading this post, you already have an interest in doing well. That’s great! It means you’re on the right track and you’re doing the legwork necessary to ensure you have a passing score the first time you take the exam.

To give yourself the best chance at CMA exam success, you must review thoroughly and study well. You can learn exactly how to do that in my ultimate CMA exam prep guide, which includes 50 actionable tips to help you nail the exam!

Another way to ensure that you have everything you need to pass the exam is to use CMA exam prep. You can learn all about the most popular courses and get my advice on which ones to trust in my CMA review course comparison.

How to Study for the CMA Exam

To ensure you pass the CMA exam parts 1 and 2, you need to study properly. As I mentioned above, one reason for the low CMA pass rates is that people simply did not prepare for the exam properly. They may have been told it was the easier exam, or they may have just dropped into it on a whim, without much preparation put into it. Furthermore, they could have taken the CMA exam when they were not an accounting major and without doing the proper research to ensure they passed.

You don’t have to be a statistic. When planning your study for the CMA, here are some tips:

  • Decide which part you are going to take first. There are two parts to the CMA exam and you don’t have to take them in order. Some people choose to take Part 2 first, since it tends to be easier. Once you know which part you are taking first, you can begin to study that part.
  • Choose which exam window you are going to test in. There are only three times of the year that testing windows are open: Jan/Feb, May/June, and Sept/Oct. You will need to schedule your exam for one of these windows. When you decide in advance which testing window you are going to register for, you will know how much time you have to study and prepare.
  • Create a solid study plan. I talked above about using study guides and review courses, but even the best guides are only as good as you allow them to be. It’s essential you make a study plan and then stick with it consistently. This is how you get efficient study in before your big day, so you can feel confident you will pass the exam.

Finally, to learn all about the CMA exam process, you can sign up to my e-course, which is completely free! Learn more about the course or sign up directly below.

​Get Free CMA Information!

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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