CMA Exam Schedule Strategy

cma exam schedule strategy

Choosing to become a CMA is an excellent career decision, but it’s not the only big decision you’ll have to make in the certification process. You also must determine your CMA exam schedule strategy. To help you, we’ve presented some important information about the exam parts as well as our recommendations for your CMA exam schedule.

Understanding Your CMA Exam Schedule Options

The CMA exam consists of two parts:

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

Each CMA exam part consists of 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 2 essays. While the format of each part is the same, the topics are different, so you should use the content of the exam parts to inform your CMA exam schedule more so than their structure.

You’ll also want to consider when you can sit for the exam. You must take the CMA exam parts within the three annual testing windows, which are January/February, May/June, and September/October. You can take the exam sections in any order, and you can sit for them at the same time or on different dates. We suggest sitting for the different exam parts on separate dates so you can study for one part at a time. We also recommend that you register for your exam part about six weeks before you wish to sit.

Informing Your CMA Exam Schedule

Details about the exam content, pass rates, and candidate feedback may sway you toward starting with one part or the other, so you should review this information before creating your CMA exam schedule.

Exam Content

The two parts of the CMA exam address different management accounting and financial management topics.

CMA Exam Content Topics by Part

Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

A. External Financial Reporting Decisions

A. Financial Statement Analysis

B. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

B. Corporate Finance

C. Performance Management

C. Decision Analysis

D. Cost Management

D. Risk Management

E. Internal Controls

E. Investment Decisions

F. Professional Ethics

As you can see in the table above, there are fewer subjects tested in Part 1 than in Part 2. However, Part 1 tests a broader scope of material, so it can actually be more challenging and require more preparation than Part 2. This depends largely on your background and familiarity with the material, which we’ll discuss later. The ICMA does not indicate that one section is harder than the other, as the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) state both sections assess candidates for the same level of skill.

Exam Pass Rates

That said, there is some disparity between the parts in the published CMA exam pass rates.

CMA Exam Pass Rates







Part 1






Part 2






*The ICMA has adjusted when it releases data. These rates span January through October of their respective years.

The table above shows that the pass rates for Part 1 are consistently lower than those of Part 2. A possible explanation for this is that most candidates start with Part 1 and the less prepared ones don’t pass and don’t go on to take Part 2. At the same time, candidates who were adequately prepared to pass Part 1 are likely to prepare adequately for Part 2, and their experience passing Part 1 serves as an additional advantage for Part 2. Essentially, we think Part 1 serves to weed out the less prepared candidates and therefore receives a lower pass rate.

Candidate Feedback

According to candidates, the greater number of topics and the more complex nature of the questions makes Part 2 about as difficult as Part 1. Many additionally say that the topics in Part 1 provide a good foundation for understanding the topics in Part 2. As we’ve analyzed the relationships between the Part 1 and Part 2 topics, we’ve concluded that the Part 2 content builds off the Part 1 content, and feedback from our candidates has confirmed that.

Making Your CMA Exam Schedule

Because preparing for Part 1 can provide you with the foundational knowledge required to study for Part 2, we recommend most CMA candidates take Part 1 first, lower pass rate notwithstanding. This will help you maximize your study time and learn all of the exam content efficiently.

The exceptions to this rule are candidates with a strong background in finance and students who want to sit for the CMA exam during college. If you’ve been working in the fields of corporate finance, financial planning, commercial or investment banking, or money management for at least a few years, your experience will give you a head start on the Part 2 topics. If you’re a junior in a university accounting program, your fall and spring semester courses can really help you get ready for Part 2, so we recommend you sit for it during the summer before your senior year.

It is generally easier for these candidates to test the material they’ve been actively using or recently learning first and then move on to the more general topics in Part 1 they are likely less familiar with.

Additional Assistance with Your CMA Exam Schedule

Now that you know which part to take first, you can start making your CMA exam study schedule and register for the exam dates you want. If you need a hand crafting the ideal CMA study plan, you can rely on Gleim to provide personalized CMA exam help. Our exam mentors, who we call Personal Counselors, are here to walk you through the process of setting up a study plan, and they’ll even help you revise it if the unexpected happens. Access to a Personal Counselor and many other candidate support resources are included in the Gleim CMA Review System. See how well our course prepares you to pass by accessing our free CMA course demo today!