I Pass The CMA Exam!

CMA Exam Advice from Hari, Winner of Priscilla S Payne Award

Priscilla S Payne Award winnerI am honored to have Hari, a Priscilla S. Payne Award winner from our very own community, share his CMA exam journey with us.

(In case you aren’t aware, this award is given to THE candidate who achieves the highest score as a student in each testing period.)

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I  am writing down my experience of passing the CMA exam and winning the Priscilla S. Payne Award. I hope this is useful.

  • Currently Pursuing: Ph.D. in Management Accounting at Michigan State University
  • Educational Qualifications: Chartered Accountant (CA), BCom (Mulund College of Commerce, University of Mumbai)
  • Professional Experience: Co-Founder and Head of Academic Affairs at Raising a Mathematician Foundation, Visiting faculty at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), Faculty and Mentor at Enkays Classes (Kalyan, Maharashtra, India)

How I Began the CMA Journey

I met Lisa Beaudoin, Head of Educational Partnerships, IMA, at the Puerto Rico Mid-year Management Section meeting of the American Accounting Association in January 2017, where she mentioned to me the doctoral scholarships for students interested in pursuing CMA.

I thought about it for a week and decided to enroll for the same in that month. I took both of the sections in February (Part 1: 13th of February and Part 2: 27th of February). For me, the objective of taking this certification is to partner with IMA to bridge the gap between academic research and practice. The IMA will provide me with networking opportunities, and I hope to collaborate with companies on research.

As soon as I finished my exams, I was confident that I did well on my exams. But I didn’t expect to win the Priscilla S. Payne Award, which is given to the student who scored the maximum marks in an exam window. I am happy to receive this award because it is only given to one student globally.

Although it may come across that I studied for a month, I was instructing courses on Management Accounting for CA Final and Inter students in India for 8 years before I came to the US to pursue my Ph.D. Hence, my preparation for the exams shouldn’t be considered as one month but consider it as many years of hard work. Therefore, I won’t focus on what I did for the exam but will share my experience on how to prepare for such exams as a student as well as an instructor.

Who is Hariharan?

I completed the Chartered Accountancy (CA) from India in 2008 and have been passionately instructing students studying in schools as well as colleges.

As a student, I always focused on understanding the concepts and didn’t study to pass the exams. This is a good long-term strategy to succeed academically. It requires a lot of patience and work ethic, and sometimes one may question whether it is worth the effort because the outcome can only be observed over a period of time, and results are not always immediate.

I can confidently say that completing my CA has helped me tremendously to succeed in my CMA exam.

I have observed that most students try to study from past exams, put in less effort, and take shortcuts to pass the exam, but this is a disaster as one may not be able to apply what one has studied.

Students find the material difficult to comprehend because it builds on previous material, and it is very important to identify at what stage one finds the content difficult to comprehend and go back and work hard on that particular topic.

For example: A student may find absorption costing difficult to understand, but if it is primarily because of a lack of understanding of overhead allocation, it is very important to study the topic of overhead allocation before proceeding further.

CMA Exam-Specific Strategy

I used the Wiley material, and it was nicely structured. The CMA exam has 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) to be answered in 3 hours, followed by essay questions to be answered in 1 hour.

While preparing, I allowed myself one minute to answer an MCQ and will make a separate Word file for noting the questions which I didn’t get right. This gave me a question bank that I used for review.

Also, I made notes of every topic that I find difficult or topics that were new to me (SOX, Internal controls- these were US-specific). I could save at least 15 minutes from my MCQs and carry forward to essay questions. For MCQs, we need to practice so that we can reduce our time of answering, and that is equally important along with accuracy.


1) Focus on concepts. Don’t just solve MCQs or problems it won’t help you. Problem-solving is ancillary to conceptual understanding.

2) Practice not just to get accuracy but also to achieve efficiency.

3) Work hard. There is no substitute for hard work.

I want to conclude with a quote I believe in: “An amateur works hard till he gets it right, but a professional works hard till he can’t get it wrong.”


Note from Stephanie

We “met” Hari when he shared his good news of passing the exam, but we didn’t know he is the award winner until a reader identified him. So excited when Hari accepted my invitation to write this guest post.

I highlighted two sentences above because these are the perfect answers to the many questions I got from readers, that is:

1. Do I get a good job / instant salary increase / promotion / a ticket to move to the US once I pass the CMA exam?

From Hari: “It requires a lot of patience and work ethic, and sometimes one may question whether it is worth the efforts because the outcome can only be observed over a period of time and results are not always immediate.

Can’t agree more with this. Please see the certification as a longer-term investment.

2. How do I know if the same questions will appear in the exam / I heard this set of practice questions do not match those in the real exam. Should I go for another provider?

From Hari: “Focus on concepts. Don’t just solve MCQs or problems it won’t help you. Problem-solving is ancillary to conceptual understanding.

Some candidates aim to cover all practice questions because they want to increase the chance of seeing the same questions in the actual exam. They miss the point.

The purpose of going through the multiple-choice questions is to put the theory into practice. By applying the concepts in various scenarios in the form of different questions, you can feel how the concepts come to life in a real workplace.

I hope this sharing is helpful to you. If you have any questions, please drop a note below. I’ll see if Hari can spend some time answering your questions in the next few days or so.

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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