CMA Exam Scoring Guide (Grading System Uncovered!)

cma exam scoreThis article is a quick summary of how the CMA exam is graded and your score calculated.

The CMA Exam Score and Grading System

Here is an overview of the CMA exam grading system and testing strategies:

If you prefer to read the text, please find the same information written below.

There are 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two essay questions. You can expect to see 75% of points coming from the multiple choice questions and 25% on the essays. On the MCQs, you will have to get a minimum passing rate of 50% to proceed to the essay section.

You are allowed 3 hours for the MCQs and 1 hour for the essay question. If you manage to finish early in the MCQ section you can use the extra remaining time on the essays. Once you confirm that the MCQ section is completed, you cannot go back and make changes.

Is The Exam Adaptive Like The CPA Exam?

No. Each question is equally weighted. What can be seen similar to the CPA Exam is that there are different “forms” of the exam and that the difficulty of each form varies slightly. For example, the passing score could be 70% in a particular form but 65% in the other. The raw score is converted to a uniform scoring system of 0 – 500, and 360 being the passing mark.

In other words, if you get 400, it doesn’t mean that you get 400/500 = 80% correct.

What Does It Mean to You?

I don’t think you need to dwell on analyzing the CMA exam score and grading system. It is robust enough to give you a fair score. Having said that, there are test-taking strategies that you can use based on this particular scoring mechanism:

1. The Exam Is Positively Graded

There is no penalty for wrong answers. Therefore, you should attempt all questions — even blind guessing if you run out of time.

2. You Only Need an Overall Passing Mark

You don’t need a passing mark for BOTH multiple choice and essay sections, but this means that you need to do relatively well on both. In terms of study strategy, you should pay attention not only on the multiple-choice but also on how to answer the essay questions properly (see below for tips).

Part 2: How the
Essay Section is Graded

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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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  • […] How is the exam scored? […]

  • Pavithra says:

    Very good mini course! Informative and helpful!

  • Marlene says:

    Very good information

  • Doruk Eltugay says:

    Hello Stephanie,
    I have been following your tactics since I have registered to IMA. Thank you for the valuable information you send on CMA process. I have a question for you about CMA scoring.
    I took the CMA part I exam on 31st of October. The exam was more difficult than I expected, the questions were very long and time consuming to understand and answer. I bearly finished in time with guessing between 5 to 10 MC questions. After I have finished the MCQ, I was able to see the essay section and essays are easier than MCQ. I have checked on the internet that in order to see the essay section, a candidate must answer 50% of MCQ correct. However another source in the internet says that in order to see the essay section, a candidate must earn 50% of the total exam grade which approximately equals more than 67 questions in the MCQ section. Which one is true? I think second one is makes more sense because if a candidate can answer only 60 of multiple choice questions correct, then even if s/he gets the full socre on essay section s/he cannot pass the exam.

    Thank you

  • Sai says:

    Hello stephanie,
    This is sai and i am india.The information what you gave is very useful to my carrer. Iam very glad to say that the information what you published in your website is good job. There is no website in our country which gives as much as you. I wish more from you…
    Thanks stephanie,


  • Felys says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I was just wondering if the passing range on each exam has any specific implications. Is passing with a 360 and a 450 more or less the same? Is there any specific grade based on your score, even if you have passed? Giving my part 2 exam in ten days.

  • Paula says:

    I was just listening to one of your videos on how they calculate scores.
    I took my first cma exam and got a grade of 404. They said I failed.
    But you said if the grade was over 400 it was a passing grade. Please explain this to me.
    I am a bit confused. I am scheduled to take the exam again in April of 2015.
    Please help.
    Thank you Stefanie

  • Fahad says:

    I have a question. If one gets into the Essay section, is this a sign that he/she can pass the exam if do well in essay section. OR even get maximum in essay but can fail because MCQ section was not good enough to get 360 in total score. I asked this because if one proceed to essay from MCQ and MCQ section was not scored enough to pass the exam even get full score on essay than why need to waste one hour time than. Computers should be smart enough to reject the candidate initially.

    • Hi Fahad,
      I see what you mean. let’s say if we get full mark on the essay, that’s 25% of the score. Then we get 50% of multiple choice correct, which is 50% x 75% = 37.5%. Adding the two section gives 62.5% which is lower than 360/500 = 72%.

      Reality is, the CMA exam score is not based on the above simple calculation. As mentioned above, the raw score is converted to a scaled score based on difficulty. But the system does indicate that anything lower than 50% in the multiple choice section cannot lead to an overall pass regardless how the candidate performs in the essay section. So it’s already taken this into account and not wasting the candidate’s time. Because of this, I believe you can assume that if you pass the first section of MCQ, there is at least a chance that you can get an overall pass.

      • Fahad says:

        Thanks for your response to my question. Your above calculations are the things I always had in my mind so now almost clear. What I understand from your explanation is that if someone pass the MCQ section than he/she can pass the exam IF do well in Essay section. This means that no need to worry about MCQ and now focus on Essay section. So there is always a chance to pass the exam if one gets to Essay section.

  • Odai says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    i would like to ask you about my exam
    I have just finished my CMA part one exam,
    and i would like to tell you that when i get into the essay questions, the first branch in the first scenario consist of four branches, therefore i though this is the whole question without any other branch, it was so easy for me to answer it and i had about 15 min exceed time to write more, therefore i wrote more and more information. when i skip to the next scenario after 30 min i realized that there is 3 more branches belong to the first scenario but i have no more time to answer the three more branches, but the answer of the 3 branches was so easy and i already answered them as a part of the first branch. Do you think they will take it into consideration or not when they will read my full answer in the first branch, further more i answered them by just a key answers without further explanation??
    many thanks

  • nicholi80 says:

    Do you think my logic is sound?

    360 is passing standard
    50% correct to proceed to essay
    360-125=235 Scaled Score required to pass MC if essay section is perfect
    235/375 = 62.67% scaled % required to pass
    62.67% (scaled) – 50% (raw) = 12.67% variance scaled to raw
    There is a 12.67% buffer added to your raw score to arrive at the scaled score which I would imagine buffer diminishes as one reaches a perfect MC score.

    • Hello, if the questions are equally weighted, then yes. But I understand there are some adjustments in the difficulty of the exam so in this case we can’t really derive a percentage out of this. What I understand is that it’s not a straightforward calculation.

  • Mohammed Jassim says:

    Hello Stephanie,

    I wanted to know if you know anybody who prepared for the CMA exams using the Wiley CMAexcel Learning System and cleared it and if yes..then how did they prepare, by that i mean what did they do first, how much did they score or attempt to score in the Online Access Mock tests or Practice sessions.Also how did they prepare for the Essay Questions and from where.

    I hope i can get a detailed answer from you as I am getting quite anxious (specially as there are fewer questions compared to Gleim) as my exam is fast approaching.

    • Hi Mohammed,
      I am sure there are lots of people who passed using Wiley CMAexcel. Other than that, I don’t have a case study to show you exactly what people do… I suggest that you keep your cool, relax, work on your weaker areas (which should be showing in the CMAexcel system) and get mentally prepared. Confidence is very important for professional exams like this. Best of luck! Regards, Stephanie

  • Zohaib says:

    How are you. I have again attempted my Part 2 exam today as last time I failed with 350 score. Today again I was able to proceed to essay section and there were two questions with five mini sections each. I did very fine in eight out of ten parts there but guess on another two as well but not confident about those twos. I have a question that what do you think my score will be say if on MCQ part was just 50% pass can i still pass the exam in this situation? I am asking because last time i was short of just 10 score it was 350, now again in tension.

  • Tejas says:

    Hello Ma’am
    I heard from a resident of America itself that if you are from India who must possess CA degree before attempting CA

    Is it true the state board is biased with the International Candidates ?

    • Hi Tejas, I don’t know enough about the Indian CA exam to comment. In the US, I have to say Indian CA is hardly recognized…
      State boards of Accountancy do not administer the CMA exam. Maybe you mean the US CPA exam? Regards, Stephanie

  • Riham says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    My exam (part2) is in 14 days, been studying for this exam for 6 months now and I’m worried because I’m using gleim online examination samples and can’t seem to score more than 65 right answers out of 100. I thought I should score minimum 75 right to move to the essay part and have a chance to pass without getting the full essay score . I just want to know out of 100 questions approximately how many should be correct to pass if I’m not prepared well for the essay part(can answer questions from any topic but can’t seem to memorize steps and specific terminology) so can only score half of the essay score.
    Would appreciate your help because I’m so anxious that I even considered giving up and not going to the exam.

    • Hi Riham, first of all, don’t give up! You have worked on this for 6 months and you should at least give it a try. Then, on the score, while I also encourage you to get a better score, note that Gleim tends to be slightly more difficult than the real exam, and that you will unlikely be getting the same exact questions any way. The point is to get familiar with the style of the questions, identify your weaker areas so you can focus on understanding the concepts in those areas.

      So, among the questions you did wrong, is there a pattern? As in is there a specific topic area or a specific type of questions that you always get wrong? Work on those, and your score will improve considerably. Don’t rework on the correct ones as those won’t give you extra points. Just work on your weaker areas a small step at a time. You can only gain (slowly but surely) with this strategy.

      Best of luck! Stephanie

    • Katie says:


      I am curious how you ended up doing? You have almost perfectly described my current situation. I am still about 6 weeks from my exam date, but I am also using Gleim and am glad to hear Stephanie say they tend to skew harder than the exam. Would you mind sharing if you passed and any final thoughts you have?

  • Yaser says:

    Hello Stephanie ,

    So I appeared for cma part 1 and seems as though I have touched the 50% threshold for MCQ to get to th essay. My question is that lets say I score exact 50% in the MCQ and have faired decently well in the essay, does it mean that i have to get a minimum score of 15-20% to secure an over all score of 65-70% depending on the level of difficulty?

    Regards ,

    • Hi Yaser, it isn’t a straight-forward formula so I am afraid we have no way to find out. The good thing is that you are done and that you reached the essay section. Just want for 6 weeks to get the result! Stephanie

  • Tejas Gore says:

    Can you please tell me the toughness of Wiley Online review material like the Test Bank as compared to the actual examination ?

    • Hi Tejas,
      The difficulty of actual exam varies, so it’s hard to tell for sure. But generally speaking, it could be a tad easier just because one is stressed out during the exam and often this makes the exam seem more difficult.

  • Tejas Gore says:

    Can you please recommend any software practicing Essay type questions on a spreadsheet ?

  • daya sagar jha says:

    what is a passing n0 in a cma

    or what is a passing marks in one subject in first attem

  • Thamer says:

    Hello Stephanie and many thanks for this great efforts
    Can you please inform us if it is allowed in the exam to use; some short notes, dictionary, smart phone, and blank papers for tacking notes from the questions and doing calculation?

  • Mike says:

    Hiii…can you plz tell me the minimum marks to pass the CMA us exam??

  • Thamer says:

    Thank you Stephanei

  • Thamer says:

    Hi again
    Are there a calculater available in the screen of the exam computer?
    One more question please , do I need to provide my certification of education and experience before regesteration to the exam.
    Thanks a lot

    • Hi Thamer, yes there is a calculator, but you are also allowed to bring any of the approved calculators to the exam center:

      Candidates are supposed to send in the transcript to the IMA, but I think they allow you to take the exam before physically getting that. Having said that, you must have this done (together with the work verification form completed) in order to get the CMA certification.

  • Hari says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    What is the average score required to get a certificate of distinction awarded to student appearing for both parts in same window?

  • Sar1 says:


    I plan on taking the CMA part 1 in October and I wanted to know which study materials do you recommend? Author or website?


  • Saurabh rai says:

    Formula attempt marks in CMA?

  • Athena says:

    I passed with a 515 what’s the average to pass and in a % what is this score considered?

    • I don’t know that the IMA has ever released an average score. Also, the IMA doesn’t calculate in terms of a %. In fact, neither do the CPA or CIA exams. Usually, exams just have cut score, which for CMA, is what the 360 represents.

  • Rolando Rivera says:

    Hello, my name is Rolando, i passed the Part I in June, and took Part II now in September. I just want to ask, there are mcq’s that don’t count in the exam? And is possible to pass the exam just by answer correct 50% of the multiple choice and a doing great on the essays?

  • Jordan says:


    I just took the CMA Exam Part 2. This was after 3 months of intense studying learning the material inside and out via Gleim. I rarely scored less than 90% on any randomized 20 question study session for all 10 units. I took the full practice exam, which was completely randomized, and only missed 4 out of 100 questions followed by the two essay questions. Come exam day I feel like I was blind sided by a hot iron, getting multiple choice questions that seemed like they were from another planet. How can this happen. I don’t know if Gleim failed me, or if I was given a difficult version of the exam. Either way, 6 long weeks to know if I passed. Is it possible to re-take an exam before knowing a score on the one taken?

    • Hi Jordan!

      First, don’t doubt yourself. There are questions on the exam that are called pre-test questions. These questions don’t count toward your score and often look like nothing you’ve ever studied before. It sounds like you saw these on exam day, so take some deep breaths and focus on something else over the next 6 weeks. I know it’s hard, but you won’t be able to re-take the exam at this time anyhow, so I recommend either moving on to the next part or doing something else entirely.

      I hope this helps!


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