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CMA for Non-Accounting Majors: Is the Exam Insanely Tough to Pass?

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One of the reasons to pursue a professional qualification is to switch or advance your career. If you are a non-accountant looking to work in the finance and accounting department, or that accounting knowledge will help take existing careers to new levels, taking the CMA makes a lot of sense.

Here are my thoughts on whether a non-accounting major can become a Certified Management Accountant, and if it’s ok, how to do it.

For those who prefer to read rather than watch a video, here is the same information in text format.

CMA for Non Accounting Majors: Does It Make Sense?

There is a tendency in some professions to get as many certifications as you can. There is nothing wrong to take several professional exams, as long as it’s relevant to your existing or future career.

Is CMA for non-accounting majors? To help you answer this important question, here are the benefits that CMA can offer.

  1. The CMA certification is the gold standard in management accounting in the US, and increasingly, in China and the Middle East.
  2. CMAs get paid more versus non-certified accountants, as shown in this IMA salary survey in US and in the world
  3. CMA skills are practical and in high demand, but CMAs are in short supply.

You can read more about the benefits on this page.

If this means a lot to you, it’s great and please join our CMA community. Otherwise, you may want to think twice before investing your time, money and effort.

Overview of the CMA Exam

The CMA program is designed for those who have existing knowledge in accounting. The core exam content is set at an intermediate to advanced level, with other related content at a slightly lower level.

Having said that, accounting and the CMA exam is not rocket science. The exam is 100% computerized and is divided into two parts. Effective 2015, the exam topics cover the following:

Part One

  • External financial reporting decision
  • Planning, budgeting, and forecasting
  • Performance management
  • Cost management
  • Internal controls

Part Two

  • Financial statement analysis
  • Corporate finance
  • Decision analysis
  • Risk management
  • Investment decisions
  • Professional ethics.

Reference Materials

If you are serious about the exam, let’s get up to speed with the basics. IMA has suggestions of relevant books for this purpose. You can download the suggested reading list here.

You can also get other books with similar titles from local libraries or bookstores. If you are an international candidate and your mother tongue is not English, feel free to get similar textbooks in your local language.

The idea is to get familiar with basic accounting concepts and principles. It is also a good way to decide whether you like this enough to take the exam.

When are You Ready for the CMA Review Course

Once you have a basic idea of accounting, you may want to get a review course. Their primary focus is not to teach you accounting, but to help you pass the exam.

Because of this, they don’t cover the basic concepts and therefore be prepared to stop and get back to your reference materials if necessary. You may need more than the typical 100-150 studying hours for each part of the exam.

Some review courses focus on practice questions while others more on explaining the concepts.

cma for non accounting majors

I personally find this Wiley CMAexcel course to be very suitable for non-accounting majors, because the main instructor, Professor Douglas Clinton, is excellent in explaining complicated concepts in a way that beginners can understand.

Any Questions?

If you have any questions on your unique situation, please drop me a note below. You may want to subscribe to my free e-course to learn more about the CMA exam:

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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  • Hiren says:

    Hello Sir,
    Myself Hiren (From India) I am from commerce background and I am not so good in accounts. After a gap of 2 years I am looking forword to continue my studies. I am an average learner, so is CMA is course for me.?
    After passing CMA examination (both parts) will I get CMA certificate without doing any other activity.?
    Please provide me information with your valauble feedback.

    Thank You!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Dear Hiren,
      You don’t need to be an A+ student to pass the CMA exam, but it is quite tough, as shown in the pass rate of 35% in Part 1 and 42% in Part 2. So you must be serious about studying, but if you are committed it is doable.

      You’ll need to complete two consecutive years of relevant experience to get the certification. For details please check out this page: https://ipassthecmaexam.com/cma-exam-requirements/

      Regards, Stephanie

  • Hesham says:

    My major managment information ststem (mis) can i take cma or no

  • James Novack says:

    What is the best CMA review course for someone who likes a step by step approach to solving CMA problems and a CMA course that has a lot of drilling?

    I don’t want a CMA review course in which I review the material and then have no idea how to solve the CMA problems.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi James, in my opinion the Wiley CMA Learning System (the text book) does a better job in explaining and they have good examples, but I prefer Gleim’s practice questions 🙂

      Maybe you can get Wiley first and if it is absolutely necessary, then Gleim questions as a supplement?

      I have more discussion on this topic here: https://ipassthecmaexam.com/cma-review-course/

      Regards
      Stephanie

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you for this resourceful site.
    I have a quick question.
    I am a non-accounting major who is trying to get into the accounting field of work.
    I have signed up for the membership at IMA site and requested my university to send my transcript to them directly.
    My question is, how do I find out if IMA has received my transcript? Is there a way to check if they did?
    Also, how do I know if I have been accepted to the program and sit for the CMA exam?
    Thank you in advance.

    Sincerely,
    Jenny

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Jenny, you are welcome! When you have the login details from IMA (via email), you can login to your profile on IMA website and it will show whether they’ve got your transcript and whether you are ready for the exam. Back then, I can sign up for the membership and register for the exam on the same day. This means you can submit your transcript at a later time. As long as you have all documents on file before the certification it should be fine. Hope it helps!

  • Munira k says:

    Hi
    Thank you for writing this article.
    I am a MSc IT in Software Systems, and working as an software development intern for 2 years. I plan to shift to a Finance related field. I was looking for ACCA as an option before I heard of CMA. I want to know if this would be a wise choice or should I first pursue ACCA and then go for CMA or then CIMA.
    Would appreciate your thoughts on same. Thanks.
    Regards
    Munira

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Munira, if you are working in the UK or commonwealth countries, the ACCA is probably a better route in my opinion, because they have a systematic program for non-accounting candidates to learn the basic accounting. Whereas for CMA, you are on your own to make up for those basic knowledge because it’s essentially only a qualifying exam. The flip side is that the ACCA takes a lot longer, likely 3-4 years.

      You probably don’t need ACCA and CMA/CIMA. I would rather focus on gain more practical experience than the certificates. Qualifications on paper can only get you that far in my opinion. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Jay says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am a working professional in portfolio surveillance/operations of a Dallas asset mgmt. firm however I am a bit rusty on my financial accounting. I purchased the WileyCMA review books part 1&2 and feel like at the outset of book 1, it has not been very comprehensive in financial accounting. Do you recommend refreshing elsewhere prior in this matter before jumping into the Wiley?

    If yes, I have an old CFA level 1 book that I was going to use as a review of financial reporting. Would the breadth of coverage be sufficient in your opinion to allow me to then tackle the Wiley Bk1?

    Thanks!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Jay, maybe you can refer to FSA/FRA section of CFA level 1 book. But it may be overkill…
      Any introduction to financial accounting (with examples) would be good enough to get you up to speed. The financial accounting section in CMA stays at the introductory level, but you do need to know the basics. Regards, Stephanie

  • Denzil says:

    I have an Engg in Computer Science and MBA in Finance from India. I have been in US for the last 20 years. I managed Portfolio for organizations and is currently involved with Methodology and Services to Program Management Office. How much time does it typically take to receive the CMA certification? How much preparation is needed for someone who has minimum accounting background? What are some of the pre-requisites that are needed for CMA?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Denzil,
      Normally it takes 70-150 hours for a candidate to study for each part of the CMA exam. If you don’t have much background in accounting, you may need to add some hours to that. There isn’t a specific requirement other than a bachelor degree (in any discipline).

      But then… Since you are in portfolio management, wouldn’t CFA be better? You may check it out here: http://financeresume.net/

      Regards, Stephanie

  • Daniel Kwak says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for the insightful post and comments.
    It really cleared a lot of questions I had.

    I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and currently I am working as the assistant to the CFO in my company. Due to my lack of knowledge in accounting, I am considering to prepare for the CMA exam.

    I’ve seen you mention it usually takes 150+ hours to prepare for each section. Is that for each subject within a section or the entire Section 1 and Section 2?

  • Rohan says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am currently working in the Management Consulting field and i have recently completed my MBA in Marketing. I do have an understanding of finance coz of my finance major in graduation. I wanted to understand if CMA will make sense if i intend to be in the same field of management consulting. Another question is to understand if CMA is more centric towards financial accounting as i am more inclined towards organization strategy and not accounting per se..

    Thanks a lot..
    Regards, Rohan.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Rohan, from what I know, management consulting doesn’t really require professional qualifications (or put it in other way, it doesn’t help to get promoted or salary increase). But it may be different in your case.

      On your second question on whether CMA is more on financial accounting vs organization strategy, it’s more on the latter. CPA is more for financial accounting. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Mohamed Kazzali says:

    Hi,

    I hold a master degree in construction management with bachelor degree in civil engineering, currently working as a construction planning engineer. My aim is to upgrade my career to next level which makes me to perceive the knowledge in accounts and finance predominant. Is it a good start to do CMA? thanks in advance.

  • PS says:

    Hi,

    I completed my graduation in arts stream and have no deep knowledge of accounting. Although, I am working as a Credit Controller and have attained a fair knowledge and experience in this field (almost of 9 years). I would like to grow on personal as well on professional front.

    I am thinking of opting for CMA but not sure whether I will be able to cope up with it since I am not from accounting background, educationally.

    Can you please help me by suggesting whether I should opt for a basic accounting course to brush up my accounting knowledge OR should directly enroll for CMA…?

    Request you to kindly also suggest the better accounting course and institute for CMA taking my education background into consideration.

    Thanks and Regards,
    PS

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi PS,
      Yes, an accounting course from a school offering continuing education in your area would be good. If you are very self-displined, you can also achieve that by getting an introduction to accounting (financial accounting first, management accounting later). If there are concepts you don’t understand, you can check out free resources such as youtube or khan academy for further explanation. Best of luck!

  • Lynn says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’m currently working as a a/p coordinator and wanted to pursue getting cma certified? I don’t have much experience in management accounting? Could getting certified help build my career?
    After passing the test, would I need to have my work experience to receive my certification or do I have to complete my work experience first after passing the test?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Lynn,
      Depending on your country, it should be helpful to get into management accounting and financial analysis without corporations. You can accumulate the relevant experience before, during or after the exam. Does your a/p coordinator role involve analysis? It might count. You may want to check with the IMA. Good luck! Stephanie

  • Senthil says:

    Hi,

    I am working as ERP consultant to implement financials modules(AR, AP,GL,Assets,Project and Job Costing accounting and inventories) and I have morethan 10 years of experience. I have been training finance professionals in the ERP system. I’ve been learning accounting through my work experience, by the way, I am an engineering graduate I do not have an accounting degree background.

    Am I eligible to take CMA Certification?

    Regards,
    Senthil Kumar, PMP

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Senthil,
      Sure you are qualified with a bachelor degree (in any discipline). The more important thing is whether this is beneficial to your career. Sounds to me that at least the concepts you are going to learn is relevant to your current job. Good luck! Stephanie

  • Iza Rosario says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have a bachelors degree in communication but from another country. I am a US Citizen and have been working as a hotel accounting manager in California for 5 years now.I want to pursue an accounting/finance career in a different industry so I can take a step up in my career and for higher pay as well. However, most positions are looking for a degree in accounting or finance.

    Is CMA certification going to help me with my goal without having to go through getting a 2nd bachelors degree in accounting?
    Will it help if I get certifications from a CA university, such as Certificate in Accounting or Professional Certificate in Finance? If so, should I get one or the other or both?

    Thank you!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Iza,
      Thanks for your note. I guess it helps to some extent but I have to say an accounting degree would be more helpful. I am not sure what you are referring to regarding the certification from a CA university, but I don’t think you need a CMA certification to get a diploma related to accounting, for example. You might also want to explore the continuing education and see if there are ways to get some sort of diploma?

      I am sure getting a CPA is very helpful for the switch, but CMA is more for those already in accounting. Sorry not be the ideal answer you are looking for but it’s my honest opinion. Hope it helps anyway! Stephanie

  • Pratik says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Currently I am looking after accounts payable of my organisation so will it be beneficial for me to pursue cma. I have two masters degrees one in Accounts and another in Finance.

    Thanks

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Pratik,

      In theory the CMA certification is probably the most relevant, but you’ll need to check out whether it is valued in your company, or, whether you can convince your boss that this is a value add or that it shows how you have the ambition to stay and move up. You are definitely more than qualified already with two master’s degree 🙂 Best of luck! Stephanie

  • Damitha says:

    I am BSc Engineering (Electrical) degree holder and currently work as Maintenance Executive in manufacturing Company. According to view Finance is must for career development. Can you explain benefits of CMA deeply with me.

  • JoJo says:

    Hello
    I am an I.T. graduate that had finance/business/accounting as part of our courses. I’ve been an accountant for the last 10 years in the U.S.

    My question is – Is it enough to get into the CMA review materials to pass the tests? knowing that I’m not an accounting graduate? Do I need to do additional accounting classes before getting into the CMA review courses in order to pass the test?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Jojo, the CMA review materials are fine, especially if you are an accountant by practice. No problem in my opinion. If there are any particular concepts you don’t understand, Youtube / Khan Academy is your friend 🙂 If you have Gleim, you can also seek help from the personal counselor. Hope it helps! Cheers, Stephanie

  • Khaled says:

    Hello Dear

    Thank you so much for your explanation.

    So i have a Bachelor degree in Finance. i am in a negotiation between ACCA and CMA but currently, i work in Financial Accounts

    From my understanding that ACCA first 7 papers equals Bachelor Degree in Accountancy and the next 7 equals masters degree

    But on the other hand, CMA is a 2 papers certification and its great for my growth professionally

    Kindly advice, i am looking for the next level in my career path

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Khaled,
      I would say it depends on where you plan to live/work in the long term. The US CMA certification is most useful in the US, followed by China and the Middle East. ACCA is good in UK and in most commonwealth countries. CMA certification is more focused on management accounting while ACCA is more for generalist (something like the CPA license in the US). Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Kehkasha says:

    Hi,
    The post is very helpful. I have done post grad for 1 Year in Finance and I am struggling to decide between CMA and MBA. Where can I find the books for CMA and how is the exam structured?

  • Sophie says:

    Hi Stephanie, I really appreciate your efforts in helping people advance their careers. Kudos to you and I hope you realize rewards from your efforts!

    I have a B.S. in Biochemistry but have been working in sales and more recently been trying my hand at forex trading. I have become more interested in the world of finance. I live in Dubai and it seems to me like CMA is in demand here. I am exploring CMA as an option to switch careers. I have been able to land a role to get exposure to accounting as well. My idea is to get into top management and finance in the long term and possibly to move to the US to be closer to family. Do you think my ideas are feasible or some lofty pie-in-the-sky dreams?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Sophie,
      Thanks for your note! Sorry to reply late… but on your question, I am glad you are able to get into accounting and start from here. I have to say accounting and finance (and forex trading) mean very different things, so if you are more interested in finance, the CFA designation is more relevant; but if it is more on corporate accounting, then CMA is the one to go.

      It is a tough environment to go work in the US these days… the easiest path is to have an internal transfer. This means getting to work in a big company with headquarters in the US, do an excellent job, and ask for the opportunity to work in one of the US regional office. If people like you enough (and if you like the life style) then it is a much easier path to get sponsored for longer-term visa etc. I hope this makes sense? It could a long path but it is doable. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • SAFA says:

    HI..ACTUALLY AM A SCIENCE STUDENT BUT AFTER 12TH I WANT TO GO FOR COMMERCE FIELD…AFTER 12TH GRADE I WANT TO PURSUE FOR A CMA COURSE…SO AS A SCIENCE STUDENT,CAN I GO FOR CMA SCOPE?

    DEARLY SAFA

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Safa,

      Yes you can since the CMA exam does not require candidates from a certain major, but in order to pass, you may need to familiarize yourself with basic accounting. The review courses are going to be really helpful but understandably they aren’t going to go through the really basic concepts as their course is cater to those with accounting background.

      I encourage that you take a look at some accounting and finance books and see if you are interested in the topics – there are lots of certification in this field and you should pick one that suits your interest the best. Best of luck! Stephanie

  • KUNAL ASHOK DONGRE says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am MBA(Operations) with 3-1/2 years exp in IT,Financial Reporting and accounting related variance analysis; Also have done Standard Costing for a Integrated Suuply Chain Unit for a MNC.
    Please let me know if CPA or CMA which is more relevant for my profile. Or if neither are relevant.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Kunal,
      Your current profile fits more as a CMA, but it also depends on whether you’d like to stay on and move up to be an expert in management accounting, or for a more general management role. The CPA designation is more for that. To answer your questions, both are very relevant so give them a good thought! Stephanie

      • KUNAL ASHOK DONGRE says:

        Thank you so much for the prompt Reply Stephanie.
        Looking for a change but dont have Accounting background so CMA or CPA which one would be easier for me to crack?
        Also looking for roles which are General Management with Finance/Data Analytics domain.
        Your valuable insights will be helpful to finalize and set my direction.
        Thanks in advance.

  • Jeremy Long says:

    Hello,

    I love how infromative your website is and the detail behind every question.

    I do have a question myself and it more goes into the basic accounting knowledge you need to have to successfully pass the cam exam.

    My question Is what specific accounting knowledge do you need to have for example understanding debits and credits or going to deeper into making sure you understand master budgets and sales budgets and also subsidiary ledgers will having knowledge of these things help in passing the cam exam? Also can you help highlight some insight on which accounting subjects helped you?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Jeremy,
      Thanks for your question. It’s a great one!
      I would say since 2015 after IMA has introduce this new section on financial accounting in Part 1, you will expect some questions from basic accounting – it stays at the intro level, but in a way intro level does involve the debit and credit, T accounts etc. Although it isn’t impossible, not having a decent foundation in accounting is a big disadvantage when taking the CMA exam because it’s hard really to build on the more advanced accounting knowledge without a good understanding of the basic. But no, you don’t need to be an expert in accounting by any means.

      CMA is more heavily focused on the costing side, so either you have a stronger background there, or you don’t mind putting the effort in studying more on this part. If you are ok with this, it’s all set. Not rocket science for sure. Hope it helps! Stephanie

      • Jeremy Long says:

        Thank you so much for your insightful reply. I am very serious about pursuing the cma certification just have a couple concerns before I pursue it. If you don’t mind may I ask you another question so I graduated from cal poly with a degree in finance minored in accounting my undergraduate gpa was a 2.7 and a business gpa of 2.9 if I pass both parts of the exam will I find it difficult, given my gpa, to find a job that will meet the experience requirement?

        • Stephanie Ng says:

          Hi Jeremy,
          The GPA doesn’t affect the exam itself at all (you are qualified as long as you pass). As to whether you can find a job with this grade, from my experience GPA is only a part of it – if your resume is convincing enough with other internships and other roles you did at school, I am sure this won’t be a hurdle at all. At the same time, able to pass any professional qualification exam can only be beneficial to show your diligence, academic ability and commitment to the accounting profession.

          Hope it helps and you are most welcome to ask any questions along the way. Cheers, Stephanie

  • Prashanth says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am a Commerce graduate and have 7 years of experience in data quality team and my nature of work is to verify financial statements. Is CMA a good option for me?

    Many thanks in advance.

    Regards,
    Prashanth Shetty

  • Mina A.T says:

    Hello,
    I really would like to go through the CMA program and get a certificate. Unfortunately I do not have a finance or accounting background. I graduated with a bachelors degree in liberal arts and have been working as a business consultant. I am worried that my basic background does not fit with the requirements indicated by IMA. Do you know whether this will be a problem?

    Thank you in advance.

    Mina

  • Shubha Saha says:

    I am sr credit manager with 9 year experience in retail, commercial and investment banking. Most of the experience either related to complex underwriting or management. I am interested in us cma. Can CMA help me to take my career a new level. Require expert suggestions. I did BBM and Pg in finance. I have basic accounting knowledge.

  • Chris Philip dandan says:

    Hello ,I am taking a course in general accounting from institute in Kuwait. is it enough to make the CMA exam after my preparation for the exam.

    • Meghan D says:

      If it’s just one basic accounting class, it doesn’t seem like that would be enough. You’ll want to get a review course to study all the very specific content that is tested on the CMA exam. Also, you’ll want to make sure you meet all the other requirements before you begin studying for the exam.

  • todd says:

    Hi there,

    Great site. 32 yr old with BA and MBA in finance and no work related experience. Can I sit for this CMA? without accounting background can I pass with your advice and prep material?

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