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CMA Exam Parts

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

How is the CMA exam structured?

The CMA exam is a two-part exam. Each part tests different topics, but they have the same structure. Each part of the CMA exam is four hours long and has 100 multiple choice questions and 2 essay scenarios. You will have three hours to complete the multiple-choice questions and 1 hour to complete the essay scenarios. If you finish your multiple-choice questions early, your remaining time will carry over to the essays.

NOTE: If you practice a time management strategy, you will be able to use your time when it counts.

How can I find out what is tested on the CMA exam?

IMA conducts regular studies to find out the scope of work CMAs are expected to perform. ICMA, the certification branch of IMA, uses this information to keep the exam up-to-date. 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 explanation of the skills a successful candidate needs to possess.

In addition to the information specifically called out on the CSOs and LSOs, 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 your 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 LSOs can be a full-time job on it’s own and would waste valuable time you could be spending preparing for the CMA exam.

NOTE: If you are looking for specific information about the CMA exam, check out our CMA FAQs!

What is 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.

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.

NOTE: 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.

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 effect future revenues and expenditures.

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, etc.

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 costing, etc.

Internal Controls

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

Technology and Analytics

CMAs are playing less of a role in internal auditing and increasingly involved with managing controls. Newly added for the 2020 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.

NOTE: If you’ve taken the CPA Exam, Part 1 is most similar to FAR with a bit of AUD and BEC thrown in. The BEC topics are tested more in-depth on the CMA exam than they are on the CPA Exam.

The Part 1 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 SmartAdaptTM technology directs you to areas that need improvement, taking the guesswork out of studying.

Part 1 of the CMA exam changed in 2020

A new section, Technology and Analytics, was added. Integrated Reporting was added under “Financial Statements” in the External Financial Reporting Decisions section.

For detailed, up-to-date information on CMA exam changes, check our guide.

CMA Part 1 exam content outline

CMA Exam Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics

External Financial Reporting Decisions – 15%

  • Financial statements
  • Recognition, measurement, valuation, and disclosure

Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting – 20%

  • Strategic planning
  • Budgeting concepts
  • Forecasting techniques
  • Budget methodologies
  • Annual profit plan and supporting schedules
  • Top-level planning and analysis

Performance Management – 20%

  • Cost and variance measures
  • Responsibility centers and reporting segments
  • Performance measures

Cost Management – 15%

  • Measurement concepts
  • Costing systems
  • Overhead costs
  • Supply chain management
  • Business process improvement

Internal Controls – 15%

  • Governance, risk, and compliance
  • Systems controls and security measures

Technology and Analytics – 15%

  • Information systems
  • Data governance
  • Technology-enabled finance transformation
  • Data analytics

What is 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. It 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.

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.

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.

Decision Analysis

CMAs need a firm understanding on 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 a pricing strategies, etc.

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) generally (and more specifically, COSO Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework) is required.

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.

Professional Ethics

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

NOTE: If you’ve taken the CPA Exam, Part 2 is most similar to FAR and BEC, but it is difficult to make an exact match.

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 SmartAdaptTM technology directs you to areas that need improvement, taking the guesswork out of studying.

Part 2 of the CMA exam changed in 2020

Business ethics was added to the Professional Ethics section. Sustainability and social responsibility are now included under “ethical considerations for the organization.”

For detailed, up-to-date information on CMA exam changes, check our guide.

CMA Part 2 exam content outline

CMA Exam Part 2: Strategic Financial Management

Financial Statement Analysis – 20%

  • Basic financial statement analysis
  • Financial ratios
  • Profitability analysis
  • Special issues

Corporate Finance – 20%

  • Risk and return
  • Long-term financial management
  • Raising capital
  • Working capital management
  • Corporate restructuring
  • International finance

Decision Analysis – 25%

  • Cost/volume/profit analysis
  • Marginal analysis
  • Pricing

Risk Management – 10%

  • Enterprise risk

Investment Decisions – 10%

  • Capital budgeting process
  • Capital investment analysis methods

Professional Ethics – 15%

  • Business ethics
  • Ethical considerations for management accounting and financial management professionals
  • Ethical considerations for the organization

Which part of the CMA exam should I take first?

You can take CMA exam parts in any order. To decide the best plan for you, review the CSOs and decide which best corresponds to your experience or which interests you the most, then take that one first.

NOTE: While many candidates may choose to take Part 2 first because the pass rate for Part 2 is regularly about 10% higher than for Part 1, it doesn’t necessarily mean Part 2 is easier. This difference could be explained by the “weed-out effect” of Part 1.

Anyone can pass with adequate preparation, so taking the part that requires the least study time or the one that you’ll find it easiest to set aside time for will make your first time testing much easier. After you pass one part, you’ll have the confidence you need to keep going.

Gleim’s Recommendation

We recommend most CMA candidates take Part 1 on the CMA exam first. Part 1 of the CMA exam can provide you with the foundational knowledge required to study for Part 2. 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.

Working Professional Exception

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.

Student Exception

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.

Check out this infographic that breaks this down in detail .

Student Study Plan for CMA Exam

How are topics tested on the CMA exam?

Each part of the CMA exam will have 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios. These questions can be grouped into different types of questions—4 broad types of multiple-choice questions and essay questions.

NOTE: The CMA exam is nondisclosed, which means exam questions and solutions are not released to outside parties until they are retired by the ICMA. All review providers use retired questions as a model to create our own of the same quality and rigor.

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, unless, 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 give you a list of numbered statements that are distinct from the answer choices. The answer choices will have you decide which of the statements answer 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.

For tips on how to study for the CMA multiple-choice questions, visit our CMA study strategy resource page.

Essay scenarios

The CMA essays don’t sort so neatly into categories. Broadly speaking the essays will be calculations, analysis, and explanations.

  • Calculation questions 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 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 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.

For tips on how to study for the CMA essays, visit our CMA study strategy resource page.

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.

Check out our CMA essay tips to help you prepare for the CMA essay sections.

Topic difficulty levels

The ICMA defines three levels of knowledge that candidates are expected to have—A, B, and C. Each level is cumulative and requires the skills of the lower levels.

NOTE: These levels aren’t for specific topics (all topics on the CMA exam are considered Level C). They apply to individual questions. There is no way to tell which topics will be tested at what level. The only way to pass is to learn all of the CMA exam content.


The lowest level of understanding. Consists of knowledge and comprehension.

  • Knowledge test memorization by requiring candidates to identify, define, and list principles.
  • Comprehension tests understanding by requiring candidates to classify, explain, and distinguish between different principles.

The middle level of understanding. Consists of application and analysis.

  • Application tests the ability to use principles by requiring candidates to demonstrate, predict, and solve problems.
  • Analysis tests the ability to recognize cause and effect, discriminate between behavior, and identify elements that a relevant to a judgment.

The highest level of understanding. Consists of synthesis and evaluation.

  • Synthesis tests the ability to relate ideas and formulate hypotheses by requiring candidates to discuss and formulate ideas and solutions based on principles.
  • Evaluation tests the ability to make judgments using the learned principles by requiring candidates to make justifications or draw conclusions on specific situations.