How to Study for the CMA Exam

Are you looking for information on how to study for the CMA exam? The IMA certifies you as a Certified Management Accountant and can qualify you for many lucrative jobs in the accounting industry. Becoming a CMA will greatly improve your earning potential and boost your corporate accounting career. And, of course, you’ll have to take the CMA exam to earn your CMA certification.

However, it won’t come easy for most people. Studying for the CMA exam will require digligent effort on your part, and it all begins with planning. Once you know how to study for the CMA, you will be prepared to sign up for the CMA program. So, let’s take a look at some information about the CMA exam and its format to get you started.

CMA Exam Format

Understanding the CMA exam format is a good place to start. It’s important to know the exam format, length, and intensity of the exam. You will feel more comfortable with the exam when you know what kind of questions you’re going to see on exam day.

The CMA exam is completely computerized. And the CMA exam is offered at hundreds of different testing centers through Prometric. However, you can choose to take the exam throughout 6 months of the 12 months in a year, but it has to be during one of the available testing windows.

You can learn more about the CMA exam format before you sign up for the testing. This is essential to preparing for the exam. Most people choose to schedule the exam far enough in advance that they have plenty of time to prepare.

Furthermore, you need to schedule your exam within one of the testing windows available for you, but with enough time to study first. Here are the upcoming exam windows for 2020:

CMA Testing WindowCMA Exam Dates 2020
Jan-Feb January 1 to February 28
May-Jun May 1 to June 30
Sep-Oct September 1 to October 31

Deciding Which CMA Part to Take First

There are two parts to the CMA exam, and you need to decide which part you are going to take first. Before you can enjoy the CMA certification benefits, it’s important to take and pass both parts of the exam.

Just how hard is it? Well, only about 1/3 of the people who take part 1 of the CMA pass it and less than half who take part 2 pass it. Those statistics show the importance of proper studying. Also, don’t let these stats scare you. Many CMA candidates don’t have an accounting background and there are others that struggle with English as well (the CMA exam is given in English, for a material number of all CMA candidates). These two factors, coupled with candidates not preparing with a proper CMA review course, are the primary reasons pass rates are so low.

You don’t have to take the exam parts in any particular order so it’s completely up to you which one you want to take first. Each part of the exam has 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) on it. Each part also has two CMA essay scenarios. Furthermore, each scenario has multiple questions, allowing you to earn partial credit for your essay responses.

Also, you need to get at least 50% of your MCQs completed to open up the essay portion of the exam. The MCQs themselves are worth 75% of the weight of your total CMA score.

How Hard is Each Part?

Opinions vary regarding which part is more difficult. Again, it can vary from person to person. If you have more experience in certain areas over another, you may find one part easier than the other. Review the stats on CMA pass rates and difficulty, as well as a breakdown of the exam part content to help you decide which you want to take first.

Exam content, pass rate trends and difficulty of:

  • CMA Part 1– Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • CMA Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management

A lot of people decide to take Part 2 first because they feel it will be easier. Again, the choice is yours. Once you decide which part to take first, you will need to start studying for that part. Don’t worry about the other part at all until you have studied, taken, and passed the chosen part first.

Planning to Study for the CMA Exam

You must plan to study for the CMA exam.  If you can commit to the proper hours of study for each section, you could pass both parts of the exam with ease. You also need to decide if you’re taking both parts of the CMA exam in the same testing period. The alternative is to do one part in one testing period and the next part in the subsequent testing period.

It’s vital to decide early on how closely you’ll take the 2 CMA exam parts. You have three years to pass both parts of the CMA exam after joining the program, and it’s not uncommon to pass both parts of the exam in 1-2 testing windows, so 3 years is generous. This doesn’t mean you have to take all three years, but it doesn’t mean that you must pass both parts of the exam within three years of signing up for the program, or you’ll have to start all over again.

A good CMA exam study plan all begins with understanding when and where to study.

CMA Exam Study Time

How much CMA study time do you actually need to study for each part of the exam? It can vary by person, but here are some recommended hours:

MinimumSafe
Part 180 hours170 hours
Part 260 hours120 hours

If that seems like a lot, just remember that the first-time pass rates are low for the CMA exam, which means statistics show other candidates are not studying enough.

Choosing the Right CMA Review Course

The next important step for you to take will be choosing the best CMA review course. There are many courses out there that promise to help you pass on the first try but the reality is, they are not created equal.

You must choose a high-quality course that is regarded in the industry so that you know you can trust the information it is giving you. One of these is the Gleim CMA Review System. Also, other good choices are Wiley CMA and Hock CMA.

Choosing a CMA Review Program

When choosing a CMA review program, look for more than price. While costs may be at the top of your mind since the entire CMA program is expensive, it’s important to look at more than just the base price of a review program or course.

You also want to look at what you get for the cost. How many review questions does it have? Does the course include mock exams or practice test questions? What learning style suits you best and does the review course accommodate it?

It’s important to take some time to compare CMA review courses before choosing the one that you think will be best for your needs. What works best for one candidate may not be best for you. Take all of the above points into consideration when making your decision.

And to help the financial aspect of purchasing a CMA course, you are free to use my exclusive CMA review discounts.

Develop Your Study Plan

Now, once you’ve chosen the study guide materials that will help you prepare for the exam, it’s time to create a study plan. You must make studying a priority and take it seriously if you want to pass. This is especially true if you’re trying to pass on the first try. This study plan is your insurance that you will pass the CMA.

Whatever you need to do to fit study time into your current schedule, do it. The amount of time you need to study for each part of the exam depends on your study habits and when you signed up for the exam. Some people like to study in small study sessions more frequently over a longer period of time.

Other CMA candidates like to cram in long sessions and then take the test as quickly as possible. There isn’t a right or wrong way of doing it. It’s all about understanding how you learn and how you retain information and adjusting your study plan to accommodate that and the dates you signed up to take the exam.

It can take anywhere from six weeks to three months for most people to study for one part of the exam. Again, you have up to three years to complete both parts.

Study and Assess – Study for the CMA Exam

However you choose to study and no matter which review course you choose to purchase, the most important part of how to study for the CMA exam is remembering to assess your knowledge. Many candidates find it very helpful to have a study buddy to help them with flashcards or review questions and to assess their progress along the way.

If you can’t find anyone to study with you, there are review course materials that can help you do the same thing. Basically, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, in addition to studying, you also need to review and assess so you can see where you have progressed and what areas still need more study.

Several review courses have built-in knowledge checks to help you identify your weak areas. What’s more, there are also review courses that provide you with exam mentors who can help keep you on track, just like a study buddy.

Practice Questions and Mock Exams

Practice test questions and mock exams are some of the best ways of doing identifying your weak areas. They will show you which questions you would get correct if you took the exam today and which ones you need more study for.

Another benefit of practicing questions and working through mock exams is that it helps you learn how to manage your test-taking time. You have the best chance of passing the exam if you answer all the questions. Some people don’t get to all their 100 MCQs, for example, because they take too long to answer each one.

If you get stuck on a difficult question, make your best guess and keep going. If you have time at the end, you can come back to to any flagged questions, but it’s better to guess and skip through it than to get stuck on it and not get to finish several questions.

Furthermore, another little insider “trick” to the exam is to use the arrow keys instead of your mouse to select the answers on the exam. This also helps you save time. If you’re really struggling and running out of time on an essay question, at least outline part of your answer. You can get partial credit for this and every point counts when it comes to a passing score.

All of this information combined will help you know how to study for the CMA exam. The exam is not easy, but it’s absolutely doable when you invest in the time and the tools to study properly. And it will all be worth it when you pass and get your CMA certification.

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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  • Keni Betts says:

    Do you have an updated study planner (Excel) that includes the 2020 exam content?

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