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CMA Exam Pass Rate

Conquer the challenge of becoming a Certified Management Accountant

Everything you need to know about the CMA exam pass rate

The CMA exam pass rate statistics only tell one small piece of the story when it comes to passing the CMA exam. In addition to the CMA exam pass rate, it’s also helpful to know how the CMA exam is scored, when scores are released, how to prepare, and how to succeed even if it takes a second try.

What is the CMA exam pass rate?

The CMA exam is administered in two parts that you must pass separately. According to IMA, the CMA exam pass rate averages 50% for both Parts 1 and 2. These numbers are higher than in past years, possibly due to exam changes implemented in 2020.

While the new CMA exam released in 2020 appears to be beneficial for candidates, the sample size is small and CMA exam pass rates have fluctuated only slightly in recent years. These pass rates might seem disheartening, but there are multiple reasons why these scores are lower than you may hope.

Why are CMA exam pass rates so low?

  • Sought-after credential
  • Broad pool of candidates
  • Challenging exam
  • High-pressure environment
  • Overlooking the importance of preparation

Don’t let the numbers discourage you. Know that if you invest the time studying and practice for the exam day atmosphere, you can pass the CMA exam.

How does CMA scoring work?

The CMA exam has two parts. Each part consists of 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two essays. Within each exam part, 75% of your score comes from the MCQs and 25% from the essays.

Exam scores are scaled from 0 to 500 based on the difficulty of questions on the CMA exam administered to you. You must have a score of 360 to pass, but note that it does not equate to exactly 72% of questions answered correctly. You won’t know how much a given question is worth during your exam, but different questions can be worth a different number of points, depending on their difficulty. It’s how IMA keeps things fair across the different versions of the CMA exam you could receive. Additionally, essays can give partial credit.

Don’t worry too much about how difficult your version of the exam will be and don’t stress out if it seems like you got a tough draw. You can’t control this aspect, and the scaled scoring negates the variance in degree of difficulty. The purpose of the CMA exam is to ensure anyone who passes can perform the duties of a CMA. If you’re able to earn a score of 360 or higher, you’ve shown you have the knowledge required.

The MCQ Checkpoint

To advance to the essays, you need to answer at least 50% of the MCQs correctly. If you’re given the green light to keep going after the MCQs, keep your focus! A passing score is within reach. If you’re stopped at the MCQ checkpoint, you’ll need to register to retake the exam at a later time.

CMA multiple-choice questions (MCQs)

Give every MCQ your full attention (even if it means coming back to it later) and answer with your best educated guess. You won’t be docked for wrong answers, so there’s nothing to lose. Also keep in mind that your CMA exam will include an undisclosed number of “pretest” questions to gather data for future exam updates. Pretest questions do not count toward your score. If you’re struggling to answer a question, there’s a chance it may be a pretest question—but you don’t know, so again, answer every question based on the knowledge you’ve gained and can deduce from your general exam prep.

CMA essay questions

The essay portion of the CMA exam is broken down into various questions. Your answers are manually graded by a subject-matter expert, and essays can be awarded partial credit. Just like with the MCQs, never leave an essay item blank. Any knowledge you’re able to demonstrate can potentially help your essay score.

CMA graders are looking to give you points, not take them away. Write freely and at length. The more of your thought process you show, the better the chances are that the grader may find your work worthy of points. That said, you don’t want to throw unrelated topics into your essay. If you begin to write poorly or present conflicting arguments, the grader may have no moral choice but to dock for disorganized content.

Study Your Way to a CMA Passing Score

For in-depth information on how to study for the MCQ and essay questions on the CMA exam, visit our study guide resource page.

Moment of truth—CMA score release

CMA exam scores are usually released 6 weeks after the end of the month in which you took your CMA exam.

CMA exam testing month CMA score release
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Frequently Asked Questions
About CMA Exam Pass Rates

What is the performance report?

If you do not pass the CMA exam, you will receive a performance report via email from Prometric approximately 14 days after your exam results are posted. This report can be extremely useful and help set you on the path to succeed in your next attempt.

The performance report is broken down into the same content areas as the exam outline. The report assigns each content area a “Descriptive Level” that indicates your performance. There are three Descriptive Levels: Satisfactory (S), Marginal (M), and Unsatisfactory (U).

  • “S” is the strongest score you can receive. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t make any mistakes, but rather, that your understanding of the content area is well developed. If you sit for the exam again, light review of this material should be sufficient.
  • “M” indicates a score that is barely passing. You likely understand the general concepts but struggle to apply them at a higher level. Read through any relevant outline material and test yourself frequently with practice quizzes.
  • “U” covers a very wide range. You could have received a U because of an off-performance day and just missed Marginal performance by a question or two. Or, you could have missed them all (but probably not!). If you receive a U on a content area, you will need to prepare a robust study plan and stick to it.

While the performance report will help you determine your weak areas, it’s best to review everything again. You’re not just trying to make up the remaining points; you’re going to sit for the exam again, which means you need to maintain your mastery of topics you know well and improve across all others. The report should help refine your review, not limit it.

Is the CMA exam hard?

The short answer is yes, the CMA exam is difficult. But it has good reasons for being difficult—it’s a prestigious certification meant to verify you have the needed skills to be a CMA. That said, it isn’t necessarily as difficult as its low pass rates imply.

There are multiple factors that influence the CMA exam pass rates, but two of the leading ones have to do with the CMA exam administration and requirements—especially compared to that of other accounting certifications.

The CMA exam is an international exam

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, including writing essays, in a language other than their native. If you’re studying for the CMA exam, it’s crucial to study in English. Note that the exam is offered in Simplified Chinese in China.

The CMA exam doesn’t require an accounting degree

While many other accounting certifications require an accounting-related degree, 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. The CMA exam tests foundational accounting knowledge and many accounting-related topics. Review the CMA exam topics before you begin studying.

What if I fail the CMA exam?

Use your exam performance report to create a list of strengths and weaknesses.

Your performance report from your first exam will tell you some of your weak areas. Write those topics down so you know what you need to work on the most. But remember, you’ll also need to retain your knowledge in all areas, including those in which you previously performed well.

Make use of a CMA exam review system.

If you’re not using a CMA exam review system, finding one is a great way to improve your likelihood of passing the exam. A review provider like Gleim will help you identify more topics you need to review and will provide exam-emulating questions to test yourself against.

Use the information provided by your CMA practice exam, if applicable, to add to your list of review topics.

In addition to your CMA performance report, if you’re working with a CMA review provider, you’ll likely have a list of exam topics that could use attention from your CMA practice test (if you took one). Be sure not to ignore the results from your practice exam, even if the results differ from your performance report.

Discuss your study plan with a CMA exam expert.

After you’ve made your CMA study plan, discuss it with an expert—perhaps a mentor if you have one, or one of our Personal Counselors here at Gleim. A second mind and set of eyes can help ensure you’re not overlooking anything.

Create a study schedule using your list of review topics.

Now that you have a list of review topics, you’ll want to create a study plan for the CMA exam. Set weekly benchmarks for your review using a calendar and note your actual progress as you study. Be sure to include time for a general review of all topics and an exam rehearsal. Simply improving your weak areas is often not enough to pass the CMA exam the next time around. Your next CMA exam will have different questions and will weight topics differently, so you’ll want to invest ample time in reviewing all topic areas.

Schedule the CMA exam to align with your study plan.

Your study plan should include an end date. Use this date to decide which testing window to sit for the CMA exam and make an appointment. It’s best to try to retake the CMA exam in the next upcoming testing window while the knowledge is still fresh in your mind. Just like when you took the CMA exam the first time, staying motivated is key to your success. Note that scheduling your exam near the beginning of a testing window can be advantageous in the event you need to reschedule the exam later on.

Set the stage for success

When you sit for the CMA exam, use your exam tips and preparation to conquer the CMA exam and get one step closer to earning your CMA certification.