CMA Exam Essays

cma exam essays

Whether you’re an accounting professional or an accounting student, you probably prefer calculating numbers to writing essays. That is likely one reason you went into accounting. However, as a CMA candidate, you will need to call on your essay-writing skills once more. Passing the CMA exam requires you to write essays, so read on for answers to all your questions about CMA exam essays.


Why Does the CMA Exam Include Essays?

The CMA exam uses essays to test your ability to

  • Evaluate a given set of data
  • Make a judgment when given alternative solutions
  • Justify a selected course of action

Essays allow you to demonstrate these abilities and skills required as a CMA in a situation that more closely reflects the real world than multiple-choice questions can.

Furthermore, CMAs are called upon to provide analyses and recommendations based on the numbers, and fulfilling these responsibilities requires good written communication skills. As an accountant or accounting student, you’ve already learned how to effectively communicate. Therefore, you have no reason to stress about the essays. Instead, focus on learning the topics and practicing in an exam-like environment.

How Many Essays Are on the CMA Exam?

The CMA exam has two parts:

  • Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control
  • Part 2: Financial Decision Making

There are 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two essays scenarios in each part. The essay section contains eight to ten written response or calculation questions based on two scenarios describing a typical business situation. There are typically two to seven questions per scenario.

How Much Time Do You Have to Complete the CMA Essays?

The total testing time for each CMA exam part is four hours. You have three hours to answer all 100 MCQs. If you answer at least 50% of the MCQs correctly, the exam will present the essays to you once all MCQs are complete or after three hours have passed, whichever comes first. If you do not correctly answer at least 50% of the MCQs, your exam session will end and you will not move on to the essay section.

Spending the entire three hours answering the MCQs gives you a maximum of 1 hour (30 minutes for each scenario) to finish the essays. When you finish the MCQ section in less than three hours, your remaining time from the MCQs will carry over and extend the one-hour time allocation. We recommend you aim to answer each MCQ in 1 ½ minutes to give yourself either 30 extra minutes to review your MCQ answers or to respond to essays. You can also divide this time between the two activities however you see fit. But keep in mind, you cannot return to the MCQ section once you’ve entered the essay section, so you’ll need to complete your review of your MCQ answers before you move onto the essay section.

What Are the CMA Exam Essays Like?

These images and corresponding descriptions reveal how a CMA exam essay question looks and operates.

cma exam essays

  1. Question Number: Indicates the question being answered out of the total questions in both scenarios
  2. Time Remaining: Communicates how much time remains to complete and review the essays
  3. Scenario: Displays the current essay’s scenario
  4. Question: Displays the current question being answered
  5. Answer Box: Provides space for a response to the current question
  6. Word Processing Tools: Enable you to cut, copy, paste, and save the content of a response (much like a standard word processing program)
  7. Calculator: Allows you to make simple computations, like calculators found in common software programs
  8. Time Value Tables: Allows access to Present/Future Time Value Tables as needed
  9. Previous: Moves back to the previous question
  10. Next: Moves ahead to the next question
  11. Mark: Marks a question for later review
  12. Review: Leads to the Review screen, which contains a scrollable list of all the question numbers and indicates if the question has been marked for review, completed, or skipped

When you click the Review button or come to the end of the essay section, you will see the Review screen, which will look and function like this:

cma exam essays

  1. Review All: This button leads to the first question to start the process of reviewing all the questions. Clicking “Next” moves you to the next question. Double-clicking any question number in the list redirects to that particular question.
  2. Review Marked: This button takes you to the first marked question. Clicking “Next” moves you to the next marked question.
  3. Review Incomplete: This button redirects you to the first incomplete question. Clicking “Next” moves you to the next incomplete question.

When you become familiar with the format and functionality of essays before you test, you can devote more time and energy toward answering the questions correctly during the exam.

How Are the Essays Graded on the CMA Exam?

Each type of CMA exam question counts for the following percentage of your total score:

  • MCQs: 75%
  • Essays: 25%

MCQs are automatically graded online, but essays are not. Instead, subject matter experts grade the essays, and you can receive partial credit for your answers. For example, if an essay asks for three reasons why a selected alternative action is good for a business, and you provide only two correct responses, you will receive partial credit for those two responses. Likewise, you will receive partial credit for having the correct formula for a calculated response question even if your answer contains a mathematical error resulting in the incorrect answer. The possibility of receiving partial credit is the reason why it is important to show your work on the calculation questions on the CMA exam.

The ICMA grades essays on both the correctness of your answer, your knowledge of the subject matter, and writing quality (communication skills). The subject matter experts will only grade responses relevant to the question asked. The specific criteria for grading the essays is

  • Use of standard English: text includes proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Organization: response is arranged logically and coherently.
  • Clarity: analysis is clearly communicated with well-constructed sentences and appropriate vocabulary.

How Should You Answer CMA Essay Questions?

Each question within the CMA exam essay section requires you either to write a response or complete a calculation pertaining to the scenario provided. Read the question carefully so you can identify the requirements. Then, outline the grading concepts and any related information on a piece of scratch paper.

When submitting a calculation, show your work! The more on-topic information you provide, the more partial credit you can receive. To create a table, use the space bar to separate the columns, and label all columns and rows. Include all supporting calculations, but focus more on getting the question correct than perfecting the formatting.

When crafting a written response, be as detailed as possible and mention anything you can on the topic to maximize your score. Proofread and edit your answer once you finish your first draft, but only expand on it if time permits. You want to make sure you can address each question before the total testing time expires. So, you should hold off on improving your answers until you’ve responded to every question and started your review.

How Can You Practice Writing Essays?

When you prepare with the most-widely used CMA review course on the market, you’ll have everything you need to excel at the CMA exam essays. Gleim CMA Review covers the ICMA’s Content Specification Outlines and Learning Outcome Statements better than any other provider. We do this so you can be completely confident in your knowledge of the exam content. Our course also includes the largest test bank of exam-emulating MCQs and essay questions on the market. Such a high-quality test bank affords plenty of practice and familiarity with the exam questions. See how well Gleim prepares you to pass by learning more about the exam from our free CMA exam guide.