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What Happens If You Fail the CMA Exam

fail cma exam

Whether you just received the bad news or you simply dread that moment, you need to know what happens if you fail the CMA exam. I know that failing the exam is devastating after you’ve made such a big investment of time, money, and effort. But if you are serious about passing the exam, you’ve got to move on from a failure. Let me help you consider your options, evaluate what went wrong, and, most importantly, discover how you can pass your next attempt.

What Happens If You Fail the CMA Exam

First things first: if you fail part of the CMA exam, you have 2 options. Your first option is to take that part again. You can’t do so in the same testing window, but you can sit in as many testing windows as necessary to pass both parts within 3 years.

Your second option is to quit the CMA certification process. Please don’t do it! Quitting on the CMA is unproductive because

  1. You’re already an IMA member and qualified to sit for the exam.
  2. You’ve paid the exam fees once.
  3. You still have a CMA review course.
  4. You’ve already put a good deal of time, money, and effort into the exam.
  5. You now have experience with the exam.
  6. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy the many benefits of earning the CMA.

These are just a few of the many reasons not to give up on the CMA. Doing so would be disadvantageous and wasteful. If you need more motivation to keep going, just remember why you wanted to become a CMA in the first place. That logic is still valid despite a CMA exam part failure. Once you’ve got your spirits up again, you can take the following steps to retake the exam part you failed:

  1. Register for the exam again
  2. Pay the exam fee again ($415 for professionals, $311 for Students/Academic members)
  3. Schedule another testing appointment with Prometric

4 Most Common Reasons Why People Fail the CMA Exam

After you decide to retake your failed exam part, you must determine why you failed. That way, you can correct your review process as necessary and pass next time.

Almost all candidates who fail the CMA exam do so for 1 of 4 reasons:

  1. Insufficient study time
  2. Inadequate study effort
  3. Shallow understanding of exam concepts
  4. Lack of time management

Reason 1: Insufficient Study Time

Unless you take the CMA exam right after or even before graduation, chances are that you will have to balance your schedule with work and studying. You may also need to allocate time to family or other commitments as well.

So, let me ask you: Before you failed, did you study all of your CMA review course topics? Or did you skim over the exam content without taking time to understand the details?

If the answer to that second question is yes, then congratulate yourself: You found the reason for your CMA exam failure.

Tips for Increasing and Improving Your Study Time

In this case, I would suggest you do the following:

  • Complete the Entire Course: You can go back to the beginning or continue to study where you left off if you feel you really understand the previous sections. You should also answer plenty of practice questions to make sure the concepts have sunk in.
  • Find Your Weak Areas Using the Diagnostic Tools: Most CMA exam test prep software includes diagnostics that you can use to identify your weaker areas. These areas should be your top study priority, so reread the text and answer practice questions about these topics specifically. As you answer the practice questions, read the answer explanations for both the right and wrong answers. Then, keep taking quizzes on your problem areas until you get high scores every time.
  • Utilize Your Idle Time: If you lack sufficient study time, you may have to sacrifice some activities, so you can come up with enough. For example, have you tried waking up earlier to study? If not, push your morning alarm back an hour or so. If you have a long commute, use it to flip through flashcards, read the textbook, or listen to audio lectures.
  • Choose a Better Study Environment: Studying at home can be hard at times because it’s a comfortable, familiar space with a lot of temptations (TV, bed, fridge, etc.). It’s also where your family is. Therefore, you might need to pull yourself away from your home base to study effectively. I know quite a few candidates go straight to the library after work to study for 1-2 hours. Have you tried doing that? You may also want to camp out in a coffee shop, park, or your office until you’ve clocked in some quality study time.


Reason 2: Inadequate Study Effort

If you failed the CMA exam, you have to honestly ask yourself: Have you really put enough effort into your studies? Consider whether you really understood the topics and the concepts behind them or if you just read through the text half-heartedly, only to forget half the information the next day.

You must also ask yourself how focused you were during your studies. If you gave yourself 2 hours to review, did you dive right into the book, watch some videos, and then complete several practice quizzes? Or did you make yourself some coffee, check your email, jump on to social media (*gasp*), and then answer some practice questions for the last half hour?

I know it’s hard, but you can’t let the temptation to take it easy prevent you from earning the CMA certification and enjoying all its benefits for the rest of your career!

To help you stay motivated, I’ve put all my treasured motivational quotes into this video clip:

I also have some more motivational quotes that you can use to succeed on the exam, in your career, and life.

Reason 3: Shallow Understanding of the Concepts

In some cases, you may know for certain that you spent enough time and effort on the CMA exam and still failed. At this point, the next possible reason for failure could be that you didn’t really grasp the concepts as deeply as you thought you did. Your CMA review materials may have been too general or too complicated to understand.

Tips for Improving Your Understanding of Exam Concepts

Earlier, I suggested that you re-read your textbook. But, I know that this step doesn’t always help non-linguistic learners very well. If reading and taking notes isn’t the best way for you to learn, you must find an approach that compels you to learn more actively.

If you’re a visual learner, you should watch the video lectures. Auditory learners should listen to the audio lectures. Kinesthetic learners should use flashcards or read digital textbooks, so they’re interacting with the computer. These steps will help you develop your knowledge in a way that addresses your learning style.

But one additional thing that everyone should do to increase their comprehension of the topics is to answer more practice questions. Answering practice questions allows you to apply what you’re learning. It also equips you to strengthen your weaknesses until the relevant concepts naturally come to mind when you read the question.

If you’ve chosen a course with a large test bank, you probably still have more than enough practice questions to answer. But if you believe you need a new set of questions, I recommend switching to Surgent CMA Review. The adaptive learning technology that powers this course will tell you where to focus your efforts. It will also continuously serve you the questions you must answer to be prepared for the exam. Surgent’s system is beneficial if you just want a supplement instead of another full review course.

Reason 4: Lack of Time Management

In my experience, more candidates fall into this category than the first 3. As they can verify, time management is crucial for CMA exam success.

The best way to improve your time management is to develop a time management system. Then, apply it every time you complete a practice quiz. Using a time management system allows you to refine the skill of reading, contemplation, and answering questions with the exam time limit. Remember, you must answer 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios in 4 hours. When you use questions that emulate the exam content and the exam format and functionality, you can also get comfortable with the Prometric testing environment.

To better manage your time, you must work with a test bank that covers all of the exam content and recreates the exam layout better than any other course. For this reason, I highly recommend using Gleim CMA Review. Gleim has the most comprehensive and exam-emulating CMA exam questions. Additionally, the Gleim course comes with a tried-and-true time management system.

Also, you can utilize Becker CMA, which allows you to have unlimited access at the Pro package level. This means you won’t have to pay for CMA study materials again even if you don’t clear the exam on your first attempt.

What to Remember If You Fail the CMA Exam

Failing the CMA exam is not the end of the world. You can overcome and pass that part. Don’t worry — the CMA exam is an exam that everyone can pass with the right knowledge and tactics. For more insight into recovering from a CMA exam failure, read the stories of guest bloggers Vinoth and Joan. If you’d like more specific advice for your situation, share your story below. I’ll try my best to help. Finally, check out these absolutely free CMA exam study resources!

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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