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

One of the reasons to pursue a professional qualification is to switch careers, advance your current career, or get noticed by a potential employer. The CMA, or Certified Management Accountant, is a credential that measures your skills in accounting and financial management. Depending on your career goals, the CMA could be an important addition to your resume.

Taking the CMA Exam makes a lot of sense if you’re a non-accountant, but you want to work in finance or accounting. Or, if the additional accounting knowledge you’ll gain from studying will take your existing career to new levels, it also might be worth it.

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 with taking several professional exams, as long as it’s relevant to your existing or future career. After all, it’s a major commitment to study, pay fees for your exams, and finally get your credentials.

Is the CMA for non-accountants? Or is the CMA for an accounting major only? To help you answer these important questions, here are the benefits that the 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, too. In fact, the certified management accountant CMA is the fastest-growing professional credential in the world.
  2. CMAs get paid more than non-certified accountants, as shown in this IMA salary survey in the US and in the world. According to the IMA, or the Institute of Management Accountants, CMAs make an incredible 63% more than their non-credentialed peers.
  3. CMA accounting skills are practical and in high demand, but CMAs are in short supply.

You can read more about the benefits of becoming a CMA.

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.

Get Started with Reference Materials

If you are serious about the CMA with no accounting experience, then you should start by getting up to speed with accounting basics. You can browse your local library or bookstore for the same types of textbooks that you might use in an Accounting 101 class in college. Read them cover to cover and take notes to help you learn the material faster.

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

Overview of the CMA Exam

First, you should get familiar with the CMA Exam, the concepts covered, and the amount of time you’ll have to spend studying.

The Institute of Management Accountants administers the CMA Exam. The IMA CMA program is designed for those who have existing knowledge in accounting, so you’ll need to get caught up on your accounting skills before tackling the exam. The core exam content is set at an intermediate to advanced level, with other related content tested at a slightly lower level.

Having said that, accounting and the CMA Exam are not rocket science. You can become a CMA with no accounting degree if you give yourself enough time to study properly.

The exam is 100% computerized and is divided into two parts. As of 2024, the exam topics cover the following topics.

Part One

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

Part Two

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

How to be a CMA for Non-Accounting Majors

To get your CMA credential, you need to meet 7 CMA requirements.

  1. Have an active membership in the IMA, the Institute of Management Accountants.
  2. Pay the CMA program entrance fees.
  3. Meet the education requirement – you must have at least a Bachelor’s degree or a professional accounting certification.
  4. Take and pass both parts of the CMA Exam.
  5. Meet the experience requirement – you must have at least 2 years of qualified experience.
  6. Comply with IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.
  7. And finally, meet your CPE (continuing professional education) requirements each year.

Of these 7 requirements, the exam, education, and experience benchmarks are the hardest ones to reach. So, let’s go over how a non-accountant can meet each of these conditions.

CMA Education Requirement

Some professional credentials require that you have specific college degrees in accounting, finance, or business. However, the CMA is different. You have to meet one of the following education requirements:

Have a bachelor’s degree…

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. However, the degree can be in any subject, even those outside of accounting and business. Although most US bachelor’s programs are 4 years, some international programs are 3 years. But thankfully, the IMA allows bachelor programs that are a minimum of 3 years in length.

…or hold a professional accounting certification

If you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree, you can meet the education requirement if you have another accounting credential. The IMA has a complete list, which includes the CIA (Certified Internal Auditor), the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), the Chartered Accountant from the United Kingdom and India, and many more.


If you can’t meet either of these benchmarks right now, you could consider a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a closely related field. That way, you’ll be working toward the education requirements while learning about concepts that will be covered on the accounting CMA Exam.

CMA Exam Requirement

The CMA Exam is a big hurdle to becoming a CMA accountant, regardless of your background. The exam measures your critical accounting skills and knowledge of financial management concepts, so you need to be prepared for some tough questions. In fact, the CMA Exam only has a global pass rate of 50% or less. It takes most candidates 12-18 months to pass both parts.


That being said, it’s still possible to pass the exam if you weren’t an accounting major. The IMA recommends at least 150-170 study hours per part. However, that’s for people with accounting backgrounds. Therefore, plan on studying longer based on the level of your existing accounting knowledge.

Thankfully, there are tools out there to help you study and pass the exam. In fact, CMA review providers have online lessons and other learning tools that teach you the concepts that will appear on the CMA Exam. If you want my advice on CMA study material for 2022, click here for an article about the best CMA review courses and exam prep.

CMA Experience Requirement

Before you can receive your CMA credential, you’ll also need at least 2 years of full-time experience in financial management or management accounting.


There is no way of getting around this requirement. But it will give you valuable hands-on skills that you can’t get any other way.

The good news is that you have 7 years after you pass the CMA Exam to meet this requirement. So even if you’re a non-accounting major, you have time to find full-time employment and get this qualification.

When Are You Ready for a CMA Review Course?

Once you have a basic idea of accounting concepts, you may want to get a review course to help you study for the CMA Exam. 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. Therefore, be prepared to stop and go back to your reference materials if necessary. For instance, you may need more than 150-170 study hours for each part of the exam as recommended by the IMA.

CMA for Non-Accounting Majors: Review Courses

Some review courses focus on practice questions, while others focus more on explaining the concepts. Before you dedicate yourself to a review provider, think about how you learn. Do you like to study with videos and webinars? Or do you need hardcopy books to highlight and take notes? It’s hard to say which is the best CMA Exam prep for non-accounting majors because they are all different. However, I have some ideas in this article to help you find the best CMA review course for you.

Gleim CMA Review

For example, you could try Gleim CMA Review, which is good for non-accounting majors. Gleim utilizes professor-led video lectures and an e-learning platform that adapts as you learn. So as you work through questions in the test bank, the platform will recognize what topics you’ve already mastered and focus your questions on the content you still need to learn.

Gleim also offers personal support from experts. If you weren’t an accounting major, you will probably have questions as you work through problems. It’s nice to have a set of professionals to reach out to.

I have a full review of Gleim CMA and discounts if this program might be right for you.


In what order should I take the CMA Exam for non-accounting majors?

Honestly, you should take the exam in the order that you want. But if I were in your shoes, I would take the part that you find easiest first. That way, when you pass, you’ll get a boost in confidence.

What about the CMA for engineers?

It’s not uncommon for engineers to pursue the CMA credential to better understand management accounting for their own firms or to switch careers. Therefore, if you’re an engineer, you probably already meet the education requirement. After all, it’s likely that you at least have a bachelor’s degree. Plus, you can pass the CMA Exam with concentrated study efforts. I would start by reviewing basic accounting concepts. Next, follow up with a good CMA review course, and don’t forget about your CMA exam discount.

What about the CMA for finance majors?

Sometimes, finance majors decide to take a different path and move over to management accounting. Thankfully, you probably took some basic accounting classes in college. Therefore, if you have this basic skill set and general understanding, review the benefits of becoming a CMA. Then, it’s worth it to you, start studying with free CMA materials and a good CMA review course.

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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