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Everything You Need to Know About the CMA Exam

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What is the CMA exam?

The CMA exam is a 2-part professional exam made up of multiple-choice questions and essays. It’s designed to ensure you can perform the duties of a Certified Management Accountant and tests you on topics like financial planning and strategic financial management.

This page will cover everything you could possibly want to know about the CMA exam.

How is the CMA exam structured?

The CMA exam has two parts that you’ll take separately. Each part tests different topics, but they all follow the same structure. You’ll have 4 hours to complete the 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 2 essay scenarios included in each part. By default that breaks down to 3 hours for the MCQs and 1 hour for the essay scenarios, but if you finish your multiple-choice questions early, your remaining time will carry over to the essays. You can’t use any of your essay time on the MCQs however. 

What are the CMA exam sections?

The goal of the CMA exam is to validate that candidates have the necessary skills to meet the demands placed on CMAs by their industry. To best accomplish this, the CMA exam is split into two parts that test the different topics CMAs need to be skilled in.

Part 1:

Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics tests whether you have the knowledge and skill to perform the accounting-related CMA job duties at a high level.

Part 2:

Strategic Financial Management tests your ability to bring your knowledge and skill to business management contexts. There is still technical content, but you can expect more questions that require you to understand the “big picture.”

What gets tested on the CMA exam?

IMA Opens in new window, the association of accountants and financial professionals in business, conducts regular studies to find out the scopes of work CMAs are expected to perform. ICMA, the certification branch of IMA, uses this information to keep the exam up-to-date and relevant. They release two documents that serve as the syllabus for the CMA exam—the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) and the Learning Outcome Statements (LOSs).

Content Specification Outlines (CSOs)

Establish the foundation from which each examination will be developed.

Provide a basis for consistent coverage on each examination.

Learning Outcome Statements (LOSs)

Specify the tasks a CMA should be able to perform within the context of the CSOs.

Provide more specific and detailed explanations of the skills a successful candidate needs to possess.

In addition to the information above, CMA candidates are expected to possess a minimum level of business knowledge. This minimum level includes knowledge of basic financial statements, time value of money concepts, and elementary statistics.

The best way to ensure you’re prepared for the CMA exam is to work with a review provider that will do the heavy lifting for you. Mapping your studies to the CSOs and LOSs can be a full-time job on it’s own and would waste valuable time you could be spending preparing for the CMA exam.

Want to learn more about what is on the CMA Exam?

Gleim helps prospective CMAs apply, study, pass, and more!

What gets tested on Part 1 of the CMA exam?

Part 1 of the CMA exam tests your accounting knowledge and skills. It has six content areas, or “domains.”

Here is a high-level overview of what to expect from each domain in Part 1. It is not exhaustive. For a list of specific tasks, check the LOSs Opens in new window.

Domain #1: External Financial Reporting Decisions

The goal of financial reporting is to provide information that is useful in making decisions. There is the technical aspect of acquiring and consolidating data, but CMAs are expected to go further and make use of the financial statements and their components. An understanding of integrated reporting (IR) is increasingly important.

The CMA is an international designation, so CMAs must be aware of the major differences in reporting under IFRS vs. GAAP and the impact each has on analysis. Many large corporations have growing presences internationally, so to advise these companies, CMAs should be able to function effectively in reporting environments across the globe.

Domain #2: Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

CMAs should be able to use financial information to set long-term goals (as well as short-term goals that will help accomplish them) in service of their organization’s strategic plan or mission. This includes budgeting for proposed initiatives and forecasting how they will affect future revenues and expenditures.

Domain #3: Performance Management

CMAs need to be able to determine whether performance standards are being met with respect to operational goals. This includes topics such as standard costing, flexible budgets, variance analysis, the balanced scorecard, and more.

Domain #4: Cost Management

Being able to monitor and manage costs is crucial to goal setting and project management. As a CMA, you will need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of cost behavior, supply chain management, benchmarking, product market value, and more.

Domain #5: Internal Controls

Designing internal controls and ensuring they are being maintained is vital for all decision makers. New projects and goals must comply with existing controls and fall into the organization’s existing risk strategy.

Domain #6: Technology and Analytics

Added in 2020 to the CMA exam, this domain is a testament to how technological advancement is rapidly changing expectations of CMAs. As time passes, a CMA’s role is being defined as more of a data reporter and critical decision maker.

The Part 1 domains are further broken into specific tasks CMAs are expected to perform in the LOSs.

What is the CMA Exam Part 1 Content Outline?

CMA Exam Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
Domain Percentage (%)
External Financial Reporting Decisions 15%
Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting 20%
Performance Management 20%
Cost Management 15%
Internal Controls 15%
Technology and Analytics 15%

What gets tested on Part 2 of the CMA exam?

Part 2 of the CMA exam tests your business management knowledge and skills. It’s where the nuts and bolts of Part 1 come together to support CMA decision-making. You’ll still be tested on your ability to calculate, but in service of making a strategic recommendation to management. Similar to Part 1, it also has six content areas, or “domains.”

Here is a high-level overview of what to expect from each domain in Part 2. It is not exhaustive. For a list of specific tasks, check the LOSs Opens in new window.

Domain #1: Financial Statement Analysis

CMAs take the basic information reported in the financial statements and extrapolate data for use in decision-making. You will need to calculate and understand the uses of the current ratio, the quick (acid-test) ratio, the cash ratio, the cash flow ratio, and the net working capital ratio. Advanced accounting knowledge is a prerequisite to recommending or defending a course of action. You have to know how the numbers support your claims.

Domain #2: Corporate Finance

CMAs should know how to raise and work with capital. You will need to understand how organizations generate a return long term, how interest and exchange rates affect revenues over time, and how international diversification can offset the costs inherent to cross-border transactions.

Domain #3: Decision Analysis

CMAs need a firm understanding of product and production decisions. CMAs must employ cost-volume-profit and marginal analysis at an advanced level. The exam may ask you to calculate a break-even point, calculate the effect of operating income on a make-or-buy decision, evaluate and recommend pricing strategies, etc.

Domain #4: Risk Management

Risk assessment involving different types of systematic and unsystematic risks is integral because risks are a factor in every high-level business decision. An understanding of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) is generally required, more specifically, COSO Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework).

Domain #5: Investment Decisions

CMAs should understand capital budgeting with regard to investment decisions and be able to use the two main discounted cash flow (DCF) methods, net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR), to recommend project investments. This is an extension of the ideas established in Corporate Finance, but with an applied focus on investment decisions.

Domain #6: Professional Ethics

Underpinning all of this is the IMA’s focus on professional ethics, which may be tested in conjunction with any topic area.

The Part 2 domains are further broken into specific tasks CMAs are expected to perform in the LOSs.

Gleim Review Systems are mapped to CMA CSOs and LOSs, so you are guaranteed 100% content coverage. What’s more, our SmartAdapt™ technology directs you to areas that need improvement, taking the guesswork out of studying.

What is the CMA Exam Part 2 Content Outline?

CMA Exam Part 2: Strategic Financial Management
Domain Percentage (%)
Financial Statement Analysis 20%
Corporate Finance 20%
Decision Analysis 25%
Risk Management 10%
Investment Decisions 10%
Professional Ethics 15%

How are topics tested on the CMA exam?

As a reminder, each part of the CMA exam will have 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios. These questions can be grouped into 4 broad types of multiple-choice questions, plus questions about the essays.

A “Non-Disclosed Exam”

The CMA exam is nondisclosed, which means exam questions and solutions are not released to outside parties until they are retired by the ICMA and no longer included on the exam. IMA is partnered with several review providers, but no exam prep provider has inside knowledge of the exam.

That’s a crucial distinction to keep in mind as you consider CMA review courses. Every review provider, including Gleim, creates their own study materials, including practice questions and mock exams.

In 1981, our very own Dr. Gleim created the first CMA review course. Since then, more candidates have trusted us to help them pass the CMA exam than any other provider. We incorporate feedback from our candidates to improve our materials and provide comprehensive coverage of CMA exam topics. So many candidates pass with Gleim because our course is designed to make sure you feel confident when you sit for your exam.

Demo the most widely trusted CMA review course.

Put your best foot forward with Gleim

Multiple-choice questions

There are four different types of MCQs you might encounter on the exam:

Direct questions

Everyone is familiar with this type of question, and it’s the most common type on the CMA exam. You’ll either have to complete a sentence or be asked a straightforward question. You’ll have four single-statement answers to pick from.

Negative questions

These are questions that include negative phrasing, like except, not, least, etc. You’ll be given four options. Three of them will be correct, and you’ll have to choose the one that’s wrong. They can be tricky under a time crunch, but negative words should be bold.

Questions with two or three answer options

The exam will pose a question stem giving you a list of numbered statements that are distinct from the answer choices. The answer choices will have you decide which of the statements answers the question. It could be one, multiple, or none. Candidates agree this is the most difficult type of question to answer, so we’ve created a video to help.

Questions with several variables

These are actually almost the same as questions with two or three answer options, but their presentation makes them visually distinct. Rather than a list of numbered statements, your answer choices will have columns.

These different kinds of questions will challenge you to think about the CMA subject matter in different ways. But if you master the material, you’ll be able to find the right answer no matter how the question is posed.

Essay scenarios

The CMA essays don’t sort so neatly into categories. Broadly speaking, the essays will be one of three types: calculations, analyses, and explanations.

Calculation Questions:

These will require you to make a calculation. You don’t need to provide much, if any, explanation for these questions. But you will want to show your work and clearly indicate what the final answer is.

Analysis Questions:

These will usually require you to come to some sort of conclusion and justify your position. These may require calculations along the way, in which case you’ll want to show your work, but the focus will be on applying the correct concepts and rules to reach your conclusion and justify it.

Explanation Questions:

These will require you to explain different concepts or topics. You will often need to explain the relationship between multiple concepts as a part of these questions.

Why does the CMA exam have essay scenarios?

CMA exam essays exist to test your “real-world” skills in a way that MCQs cannot. You’ll have to evaluate data, make a judgment, and defend your position. Essay scenarios typically ask 4-7 questions each and you can receive partial credit, so make sure to show your work if a calculation is involved and include everything on-topic that you can think of.

Time management tips for the CMA exam

Getting comfortable with answering questions on a time crunch will help you prepare for exam day. Each part of the CMA exam is 4 hours—3 hours for multiple-choice questions and 1 hour for the essays. Managing your time well is critical to passing the CMA exam. The only information you get during your exam is a clock providing the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining. There will be no guidance for breaks or time allocation within each section.

Here are our tips for how to manage your time:

Spend an average of 1.5 minutes per multiple-choice question

With 100 questions on both parts of the CMA exam, spending an average of 1.5 minutes per question will leave you 30 minutes before you have to move onto the essays. This will allow you to spend a few minutes reviewing any flagged questions and any extra time will roll over to the CMA essay section.

We suggest you limit your review to 15 minutes. This will leave you 15 minutes to carry over to your essay questions.

Practice in time-sensitive conditions

Don’t wait until your exam day to try to limit the time you spend on a question. You need to practice under similar conditions.

  •   Set a timer for 30 minutes and take a 20-question quiz.
  •   When the timer goes off, review your progress and quiz score.

This is especially valuable on cumulative quizzes because it will ensure you’re used to quickly recalling information from different sources.

Make use of all of the time available

Time is your most valuable resource on the CMA exam, so don’t let any go to waste. Spending an extra 10 or 15 minutes proofreading your essay or adding extra details can earn you valuable points.

Set benchmarks to keep track of time

Since the CMA exam displays all of your time in one large countdown, it is important to set benchmarks for your progress to make sure you’re staying on track. Writing down what time (according to the countdown) you should be at after every 20 questions is a great way to monitor your progress.

Divide your essay time evenly between both essays

You will have two essay scenarios on the CMA exam, but each scenario will have multiple questions. Resist the urge to allocate more time to the essay with more questions. These essays have been designed to take 30 minutes each to answer, so a scenario with fewer questions will likely require more detail or calculations than one with many shorter questions.

You will have 1 hour to complete both essays, at minimum. Any time not used during the multiple-choice section will be added to this hour. In addition, you will be able to freely travel between the two essay scenarios (but you cannot return to the MCQ section).

Want more info about the CMA exam questions? Click here!

Frequently Asked Questions
About the CMA Exam

What do IMA, ICMA, and Prometric do for the CMA exam?

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is the association of accountants and financial professionals that focuses on education, research, and professional events for management accountants. It is a worldwide organization with a multifaceted mission. It produces conferences for CMAs; provides continuing professional education courses; publishes newsletters, books, and magazines; and assists with the logistics of administering the CMA exam, such as processing registrations. It does not create, write, or score the CMA exam itself.

The Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) is the exam administration and certification division of IMA. It is responsible for evaluating CMA applicants’ credentials and administering continuing education requirements.

Why does this matter for CMA candidates? ICMA actually creates the CMA exam. It writes the syllabus (Content Specification Outlines [CSOs] and Learning Outcome Statements [LOSs]) and questions, grades your exam, and ensures the integrity of the exam process.

Before you take your exam, you’ll have to schedule with Prometric. Prometric is a global test-administration company with over 3,000 locations worldwide. ICMA contracts them to administer the CMA exam. Head here to find a testing center near you and learn how to schedule your exam appointment. You can also schedule a test drive Opens in new window at the Prometric testing center where you’ll sit for your CMA exam.

Where can I take the CMA exam?

You can take the CMA exam at Prometric testing center.

Prometric testing centers are located throughout the U.S. and internationally. To locate a testing center, visit Opens in new window

When can I take the CMA exam?

The CMA exam is offered during three testing windows each year. You may take each part of the CMA exam only once during a testing window, but you may take both parts within the same testing window.

The testing windows are:

  • January – February
  • May – June
  • September – October

Learn more about CMA Exam Dates!

How many times can I take the CMA exam?

You may take each part of the CMA exam once per testing window.

Once you have entered the CMA program, you may sit for the CMA exam in as many windows as you need to during the CMA program’s three-year period.

There are three testing windows each year, so during your CMA program, you could sit for each part of the CMA exam 9 times.

How long does it take to study for the CMA exam?

For most CMA candidates, studying for Part 1 of the CMA exam will take about 170 hours and studying for Part 2 of the CMA exam will take about 130 hours. This means you’ll likely spend around 300 hours to complete both parts of the CMA exam. How long this takes will depend on your study schedule, but completing the exam within two testing windows is easily achievable for most candidates.

What is a passing score for the CMA exam?

In order to pass a part of the CMA exam, you will need a score of at least 360. The exam is scored on a scale from 0-500.

Learn more about the CMA exam pass rate!

When are CMA scores released?

You will receive an email of your CMA exam score report approximately six weeks after the end of the month in which you took the CMA exam.

Is the CMA exam offered in multiple languages?

While many accounting certifications have international candidates, the CMA certification is more widely used internationally than other common accounting certifications, such as the CPA. In addition, the CMA exam is only offered in English in most countries. This means that many CMA candidates are taking an exam, one with an essay portion, in a language other than their native one. The CMA exam is offered in Simplified Chinese in China.

Taking an exam in another language may be reflected in the low pass rates. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to study for the CMA exam in English. You’ll need to be comfortable with the format of the exam, the wording of the questions, and the topics in order to maximize your odds of passing the CMA exam.

Do I have to take part 1 and 2 of the CMA exam in order?

No, you may take the CMA exam in whichever order you would prefer. In addition, there is no limitation on how closely you can take both parts. As long as you pass both parts within the CMA program’s three-year time limit, you will meet the examination requirement.

Do I need to have a strong accounting/finance background to be successful on the CMA exam?

While you will need to have a basic knowledge of accounting principles and financial management, CMA candidates come from a wide variety of backgrounds. These backgrounds include, but are not limited to, engineering, economics, and business administration. 

Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can become a CMA. In fact, you can sit for the CMA exam before you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree. This means that some CMA candidates may not have a firm foundation in accounting on which to build their studies, which can result in poor scores on the exam. Many other accounting certifications require an accounting-related degree to sit for the exam, so the CMA exam attracts more non-accountants than other certifications.

Do I need to memorize formulas to pass the CMA exam?

Yes, you will be required to memorize some formulas to pass the CMA exam. These formulas will be introduced throughout your studies, so they will be easy to learn.

What do I do if I lose power or internet during my remote exam?

Your exam will pause if you experience a power or internet disruption during your remotely proctored exam session. You have a 20-minute allowance for disruptions. If you’re unable to reconnect before your disruption allowance expires, your exam will be terminated and you’ll need to reschedule.

If this occurs, contact Prometric Help Support via chat or phone.

Can I use scratch paper during my remote exam?

Yes, you can have four sheets of plain white paper. You’ll be required to show each blank sheet to the proctor before the exam and rip up the paper on camera at the end of the exam.

What can’t I have on my desk or around me during my remote exam?

Your phone must be in another room and your workstation must be quiet, well-lit, and free of pictures, office supplies, and electronic devices. As part of the CMA exam requirements, you cannot eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum during the exam.