Similarities and Differences Between the Parts of the CMA Exam

As you know, several requirements stand between you and the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification. One is passing the CMA exam. (You can learn more about the others in our free CMA exam guide.) Understanding the parts of the CMA exam inside and out is foundational to sufficient preparation. In this blog, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between the parts so you can gain that understanding and start the process of passing.

Similarities Between the Parts of the CMA Exam

The CMA exam has two parts, and these parts have quite a lot in common. They have the same number and types of questions and the same total testing time. They also test you at the same skill levels.

Number and Types of Questions

Part 1 and Part 2 both have the same question counts, types, and scoring weights.

CMA Exam Questions

Question Type

Number of Questions

Scoring Weight

Multiple-Choice Questions



Essay Scenarios



You’ll start the CMA exam by answering the multiple-choice questions (MCQs). You must answer 50% of them correctly in order to move on to the essay section. If you do this, the exam will present the essays once you’ve completed all of the MCQs or three hours have passed, whichever comes first. However, just because you proceed to the essays does not mean you have passed.

There are several different types of CMA multiple-choice questions, but at the most basic level, they all consist of three parts:

  • The question stem: the question, the information necessary for answering the question, and extraneous information.
  • The best answer choice: the best response to the question out of the four choices provided and therefore the correct answer.
  • The three distractors: incorrect answer choices that distract you by seeming plausible; for example, in computational questions, they will be calculations resulting from common mistakes.

Both Part 1 and Part 2 also include essay scenarios. The essay section contains eight to ten written response or calculation questions divided between two scenarios describing a typical business situation. Typically, one essay scenario has two to seven questions.

The essays are designed to test your ability to

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

The essays also ensure that you have the written communication skills required of a CMA.

Clearly, the CMA exam contains a lot of questions, and getting ready for all of them takes a great deal of practice. A CMA review course with a test bank full of questions will give you plenty of practice, and only the largest test bank on the market gives you all the questions you need.

Total Testing Time

Both parts of the CMA exam offer a total testing time of four hours. You’ll have three hours to answer the MCQs and one hour to respond to the essay scenarios. However, if you finish all of the MCQs in less than three hours, the remaining time will carry over to the essays, giving you more than one hour to complete them.

Managing your time on any CMA exam part is essential for success. To ensure you have enough time to answer every question to the best of your ability, use a time management system. We recommend answering the MCQs at a rate of one and a half minutes per question and answering each essay scenario in half an hour.

MCQ Time Management System

Question Type

Total Section Time

Time Per Question

Review Time

Carryover Time


180 minutes

1.5 minutes for 100 MCQs (150 minutes total)

15 minutes

15 minutes

Essay Time Management System

Question Type

Total Section Time

Time Per Scenario

Review Time


75 minutes

(60 minutes + 15 minutes carryover from MCQs)

30 minutes

Seven and a half minutes per scenario

You want your time management system to be second nature by exam day, so apply it throughout your review. As you take practice quizzes and exams, limit yourself to one and a half minutes per MCQ and about 30 minutes per essay scenario. Unlike some other professional exams, you don’t need to use a watch to keep track of your CMA exam time. The timer on the testing center computer will display remaining exam time as hours:minutes:seconds. Just get in the habit of relying on the exam timer by thinking in terms of hours and minutes as you answer practice questions. When you study with the exam-emulating Gleim CMA Review, which features an exam timer and other exam components, you can get completely comfortable with the process of tracking your time and applying your time management system.

Levels of Coverage

Though the CMA exam parts focus on different content areas, they both cover their respective content at deep levels. You can count on the CMA exam to thoroughly assess your knowledge because the ICMA has specified the levels of coverage given to each content area. The levels of coverage designate the depth and breadth of understanding required. These are the ICMA’s definitions of each level accompanied by explanations of what the levels mean for you as a CMA exam candidate.

Levels of Coverage



Level A


This tests memorization. Candidates will be asked to identify, define, and list principles.


This tests the ability to understand the meaning of memorized material. Candidates will be asked to classify, explain, and distinguish between different principles.

Level B


This tests the ability to use learned material in specific situations. Candidates will be asked to demonstrate, predict, and solve problems based on learned principles.


This tests the ability to recognize causal relationships, discriminate between behaviors, and identify elements that are relevant to the validation of a judgment. Candidates will be asked to differentiate, estimate, and order principles.

Level C


This tests the ability to relate ideas and formulate hypotheses. Candidates will be asked to discuss and formulate ideas and solutions based on learned principles.


This tests the ability to make judgments involved in the selection of a course of action. Candidates will be asked to make justifications or draw conclusions from specific situations.

The coverage level for every content area on both exam parts is Level C. Level C includes Level A and Level B because the subsequent levels test the skills listed in the prior levels. The levels of coverage prove that the CMA exam expects mastery of high-level concepts. With the most comprehensive CMA exam prep available, you can achieve that mastery sooner than you think.

Differences Between the Parts

The two parts of the CMA exam are each defined by a few significant distinctions. The biggest difference is the content of each exam part. Another notable difference is the pass rates.

Content Covered

Together, the two parts cover the whole of management accounting and financial management, but each part takes on separate topics within these fields of knowledge. The Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) details the exam material in the content specification outlines (CSOs) and learning outcome statements (LSOs). These documents supply the syllabi for both exam parts.

CMA Exam Part 1 Syllabus

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

Content Area

Coverage Percentage

A. External Financial Reporting Decisions


B. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting


C. Performance Management


D. Cost Management


E. Internal Controls


CMA Exam Part 2 Syllabus

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

Content Area

Coverage Percentage

A. Financial Statement Analysis


B. Corporate Finance


C. Decision Analysis


D. Risk Management


E. Investment Decisions


F. Professional Ethics


The LOSs break the content areas down even further into topics and tasks. As shown in the table above, the ICMA-provided documents also denote the percentage of coverage afforded to each content area. These percentages help us see which topics the exam will test more heavily than others.

Conveniently, the content in Part 2 builds off the content in Part 1. You can take the exam parts in any order, but many candidates prefer to take them in numerical order for this reason.

Pass Rates

The worldwide average pass rate for both parts of the CMA exam is around 43%, so it’s considered a fairly challenging exam overall. But as illustrated in the table below, the pass rates for each part have differed notably in the last few years.

Pass Rates







Part 1






Part 2






*These rates span January to October of their respective years.

As you can see, the pass rates seem to indicate that Part 1 is harder than Part 2, though there may be other implications as well. One possible explanation for this discrepancy is candidate preparedness.

Most candidates start with Part 1, and some don’t study as much as necessary for their first CMA exam encounter. Many of the candidates who fail Part 1 don’t go on to take Part 2. Consequently, the candidates who prepared enough to pass Part 1 prepare just as well for Part 2 and successfully pass both parts. The end result of these events is that Part 1 serves to weed out the less prepared candidates and therefore maintains a lower pass rate. So if the pass rates tell us anything, it’s that you need to be fully prepared to pass the CMA exam!

Review for the Entire CMA Exam

Understanding the similarities and differences between the CMA exam parts will help you prepare for the unique experience of taking each one. To ensure you have the successful experience of passing both, you’ll need to depend on CMA exam prep. Gleim CMA Review, the first and most-widely used CMA review course, has everything you need to pass each part the first time. Our course is #1 in the industry because our comprehensive coverage and unparalleled support have helped more candidates reach CMA exam success than any other provider. We’ve proved our commitment to these two qualities by creating our free CMA exam guide. Take the next step in your CMA journey by accessing it today!