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CMA Exam Study Time: How Many Hours to Study for the CMA Exam?

When discussing CMA exam study time, people often ask one another: how many hours do I need to study for the CMA exam? You want to pass the CMA exam, preferably on the first try, and this means you need to study properly. So, how long to study for the CMA?

CMA Exam Study Time: How Many Hours of Study Do I Need? 100? 200? 300?

The IMA suggests that you study at least 150 hours for each part of the exam (there are two parts). That comes out to 300 hours of study time in total for both parts of the exam. This is, of course, a rough estimate, as we all have vastly different backgrounds, experience, and frankly, study efficiency and effectiveness. So, how long should you study for the CMA exam?

There isn’t a magic number that will guarantee you pass. Again, we’re all different. There are some guidelines to help you, but you need to keep in mind that it’s also important to study efficiently. What is the benefit of studying for 80 hours if you are using outdated material, multi-tasking, or otherwise not really soaking up the information?

To give you more helpful guidance, I created the following estimates to help keep you on track.

Minimum  Safe
 Part 1  80 hours 170 hours
 Part 2  60 hours 120 hours

The “Minimum” refers to the time required to go through the Gleim CMA Review System. This includes taking multiple-choice quizzes, watching instructor-led videos, answering True/False questions, reading the textbook, and completing one practice exam at the end.

“Safe” refers to the above plus answering all the practice questions in the Gleim CMA test bank, plus the time needed to carefully review the incorrect answer explanations.

The amount of time you need to study also comes down to your study schedule. How much are you studying each day? Each week? If you were to study for 20 hours a week, you could prepare for both CMA exam parts in 3-4 months. Conversely, if you study for just 10 hours a week, you can finish your studies in 6-8 months.

Studying for 20 hours a week means averaging almost 3 hours a day, whereas studying for 10 hours a week means averaging about an hour and a half a day.

If you need to prep faster, then you need to put more time in each day.

You may need more or less time, depending on your background

If you are very familiar with a concept, you may be able to devote fewer study hours to it. One of the best features of Gleim CMA is that the system identifies your weak areas. This means that you can spend less time studying the areas that cover the concepts you already demonstrated proficiency in.

On the other hand, if these concepts are mostly new to you, you’ll need extra time to review the topics. Plus, you may also want to answer more questions that cover your weak areas.

How to Study for the CMA Exam

First, it’s important to know what you’re working toward. Take time to understand the CMA exam, how it is scored, and what you need for a passing score. For example, you need 360 points out of 500 to pass. This means you don’t need to stress about getting a perfect score. Therefore, you don’t need to go over the same study unit again and again until you score 100%.

Rather, a better tactic is to focus on the 80/20 rule. Shoot for getting at least 80% of the practice questions correct and then move on to the next study unit or topic. Don’t get bogged down with perfection when perfection is not needed (or practical) to pass the CMA exam.

Choosing the Right Study Guides

Choosing the best study guide or review course is the key to your success and reducing your study time. It is most important to pick a review course that fits your own background and learning style. I encourage you to:

Always purchase the latest course version so miss points due to studying from outdated materials. It’s absolutely worth it to pay the extra money in order to study the RIGHT topics. The ICMA changes the syllabus as often as each year, and this is why there are new CMA study materials every year as well. The CMA review providers map their materials to the syllabus to ensure you’re studying the right materials for your exam.

Create a Study Plan

Once you have your study materials, it’s important to create a study plan. If you approach this haphazardly, saying “I’ll fit it in whenever,” then you’re not likely to get the proper study time you need to pass. Instead, you need to treat it very seriously and block out specific periods of time for your studies. If you are using a review course like Gleim or Wiley CMA, then you have a structure to what you’re studying. Consequently, if you are using Gleim or Wiley, you’ll also have access to a helpful study plan that is mapped perfectly to your study course. So, to use either course’s study planners, all you need to do is enter the dates you cannot study and your estimated (or actual) CMA exam date.

If your course does not include a study planner, you’ll need to create your own. In this case, you should mark your study time on a schedule from Monday-Sunday. Whether it is 1 hour per day, 2 hours 3 days a week, or any other realistic number of hours per week, the point is to make the schedule and then commit to it.

When creating your study plan, it is always preferable to space out your study and prep time, rather than try to cram at the last minute. Not only is cramming stressful, but it’s also not a very good strategy for this type of test. CMA exam prep is not just about memorizing facts. Rather, it’s about knowing the information so that you can make a decision based on a real-life scenario that might happen in a job setting. This is called application-based testing, so memorizing questions will not help you with the actual exam.

Simulate Real Testing

Another excellent way to make the most of your study and prep time is to simulate with real test questions. Mock exams and practice test questions included in review courses will help you with this. You also want to simulate the environment that you will be in when taking the real test.

Try to practice in an environment similar to the actual exam. For example:

  • Practice with questions online (because the exam itself is fully computerized)
  • Study in a quiet, isolated work station. This could be your office, an undisturbed room at home, or the library.

Make Use of your Idle Time

When looking at study tips and how much time you need to study for the CMA, it’s also important to make proper use of your idle time. In the months that you study for the exam, the CMA will be your life. Most study courses are digital so you can access it on your phone or tablet and study nearly anywhere with a WiFi or data connection.

This is a great opportunity for you to use your idle time in waiting rooms, riding the bus, or anywhere else you may find yourself with some spare time. This doesn’t have to be factored into your scheduled study time as outlined above, but it will go a long way toward familiarizing you with the material.

To build on the guidance above, I’ve compiled 50 CMA exam tips to help you study for the CMA. I’ve combined over 10 years of study research into this guide for you. You can use these tips to make the most of your study time.

My 8 Ways to Reduce CMA Exam Study Time

Another big way to cut down on the number of CMA study hours is to ensure you’re studying in the most efficient and effective way possible. To make the best use of your study time (and reduce your overall study time), you’ll want to:

1. Cut the Multitasking Habit

Research has shown that multitasking doesn’t work. Period. It may be okay to study and multitask if one of the tasks is mundane or passive (e.g., washing dishes or watching a kid sleeping), but you can expect to only hit a 50% efficiency level if you do this, at best. Since you value your time, you should strive to focus 100% on studying, as you don’t want to study things more than once if it’s not necessary.

A better alternative is to reduce your mundane tasks altogether by delegating and outsourcing (e.g., hire a temporary helper or nanny). If it is not possible, at least focus on one task longer to reduce the cost of task-switching.

2. Create Shorter Study Sessions

It is better to learn in shorter bursts (e.g., watching 15-minute videos or going through practice questions for no more than half an hour). Why? Because your brain simply can’t handle too much information at once.

Also, it is easier to make yourself concentrate for a shorter period of time, thus maximizing the efficiency in your study sessions.

3. Take Breaks for Your Body and Mind

Between these bite-size studying sessions, let your body and mind rest. Pick a quiet place and do something that lets your mind be at peace. You could stand up and do some jumping jacks or jog in place to burn off excess energy and help your body relieve stress from study sessions.

4. Make Your Own Flashcards

If flashcards weren’t included in your CMA review course, you can make your own in any format. This is a tried-and-true method of studying because it works.

I have readers who would go so far as to write out all the concepts or formulas, throw away the paper, and write again — multiple times. This is an extreme case, but it shows you how important it is for the concepts to go into your head through writing.

If this is too much for you, I suggest at least making your own highlights and notes in the margins of the textbook. It helps a lot for retention vs. passively reading the book over and over.

5. Leverage New Tech Learning Tools

I personally prefer a good old notebook, but you may consider making good use of today’s technology at the same time. Most CMA review courses include apps or are mobile-compatible.

6. Test Your Knowledge

Passive learning is inefficient. Instead, you should constantly apply your newly-acquired knowledge by testing yourself. Stick to this rule: never skip the few practice questions at the end of each chapter even if you are not confident in getting them right. Accuracy is not the point. Quizzing is a way to reinforce what you’ve just learned.

7. Take a Mock Exam in Simulated Environment

Don’t take your mock exam at Starbucks — it’s livelier than a Prometric testing center.

The ideal place would be one that closely resembles the testing center — a quiet room with rows of workstations. If not, any quiet place with people around, such as a library, would be a good choice.

8. Stay Positive!

Keep telling yourself: it will be over once the exam is done. You can do it!

On exam day, try to visualize a successful individual with strong problem-solving skills who keeps his or her cool in a difficult situation. This simple trick works wonders for taking exams.

If you have additional questions that you don’t see answered here in this post, please leave me a comment. I want to help you make sense of your CMA study time and get the most benefit from the time you study. If I’ve left anything out, let me know.

Good luck!

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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