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.
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 (40% for Part 1 and 50% for Part 2) is unclear.
|Exam Part||2013||2014||2015||2015-2016*||2016-2017||2017-2018 (?)|
*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 stayed there ever since.
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?
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%.
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.
Unfortunately, we only have regional CMA exam passing rates up to October 2015. But I think this information can still be helpful. So, here’s the CMA exam pass rate breakdown by country and part.
Source: SF Magazine (Sep 2016)
The worldwide CMA exam pass rate is a rather scary 31%-35% in this 4 year period, but if you exclude the Middle East, the statistics look much better. It is quite obvious from the charts above 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.
I don’t have details on the sudden jump in the Asian pass rate. It is likely that the IMA counted the pass rate of the local language (63%) vs the English language (56%) among Chinese candidates or the weighted average figure. They represented the vast majority of Asian candidates in 2015.
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.
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 percentage point difference in the pass rates for these 2 exam versions is statistically significant.
In light of this, international candidates should, therefore, practice English writing as part of their exam preparations.
The data reveals that the pass rate of Part 2 is considerably higher and even more significant in the non-English speaking regions.
The year-on-year improvement is 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 serve 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, 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.
Before you let these low pass rates scare you away, let me explain some other important details about the CMA exam.
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.
Second, the IMA lets candidates with just about any type of bachelor’s degree take the CMA exam. 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.
your chance of passing the CMA exam is much higher than the average CMA exam pass rate.
In this video, I summarize the above information using more pictures and charts.
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.
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.
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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