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CMA Exam Tips

When it comes to taking the CMA exam, there are some key tips that can help maximize your CMA exam score. Learn how to get the most points on your CMA essays, how to avoid common mistakes on multiple-choice questions, and what to expect on exam-day.

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This page covers tips to use on your CMA exam. If you’re looking for information on making a CMA study plan or tips you can use to make the most of your CMA exam preparation, see our CMA study strategies resource page.

Multiple-choice question anatomy

The first obstacle you’re going to face on the CMA exam is the multiple-choice section. Knowing how to answer multiple-choice questions will be key to your CMA exam-day success.

To begin with, it is important to understand the anatomy of a multiple-choice question.

Question – This is the question or scenario you’ll be responding to. The information in multiple-choice questions can be classified as one of two types of—important information and distracting information. Important information is the information you’ll need to know to answer the question. Distracting information is everything else.

Distracting or extraneous information is all of the information within the question that has nothing to do with answering the question. Questions may provide a variety of distracting information.

NOTE: Most questions are straightforward and do not contain any extraneous information, so if you come across a “trick question,” read it again to make sure you’re not just overthinking things.

Correct answer choice – Questions sometimes have multiple answer choices that seem correct, but only one of the answer choices is the best answer.

Incorrect answer choices – Incorrect answer choices often seem correct at first glance or are the result of common calculation errors. These try to distract you from selecting the correct answer, just like the distracting information in the question, so it is important to carefully eliminate each incorrect choice as you work through a question. Incorrect choices are sometimes called “distractors” as they are designed to distract you from the correct answer choice.

Multiple-choice question tips for the CMA exam

As you can see, multiple-choice questions are designed to not have obvious answers (and later tested and vetted) to ensure you truly know the topics tested. Guessing without some familiarity with a topic shouldn’t result in more than one in four questions correct, which isn’t going to earn a passing score. As a result, you need to adequately prepare and carefully consider each question in order to answer successfully.

For that, you can rely on these simple tips:

Focus on what the question is asking

Read the question stem first, then go back and read the rest of the information provided to pull out what is needed. Don’t focus on all of the data that a question may provide until after you determined what the actual question is. This will help you filter out misleading information and save you valuable test-taking time

NOTE: Be on the look out for questions that ask for an exception. These questions will usually use words such as not, except, false, least, etc. These words will usually be bold on the CMA exam, but do not assume they all will be.

Predict the answer

Right after you’ve read the question, your mind will be the most focused. Make a prediction about what the right answer should be before you read the answer choices. Once you have an answer in mind, scan the answer options to see if your answer is present.

NOTE: Even if your predicted answer is present, read the other options to ensure none of them are better.

Read all of the answer choices carefully

Sometimes a question will have multiple answers that could be argued to be correct. Remember, you’re always looking for the answer choice that best answers the question.

In addition, sometimes reading the answer choices can clue you into what the question is asking. If all of the answer choices seem wrong based on your understanding of the question, you should probably reread the question to make sure you’re not missing something.

Watch for qualifying words like “always” or “never.” These words leave no room for exceptions and can often make an otherwise good answer incorrect because exceptions usually exist.

Answer every question on your first pass

You don’t lose points for answering questions wrong on the CMA exam, so never leave any questions blank. Even if you don’t know the answer, select one of the possible answers. This will at least give you a 25% chance of answering correctly, and if you’re able to first eliminate two answer choices through educated guessing, you can increase your odds to 50%.

If you don’t know the answer, use your educated guessing skills and then mark the question for later review. If you have time remaining in your 3 hours, you can go back and review questions you’ve marked to see whether you’re able to determine the answer. If you still aren’t sure, stick with your first choice and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Don’t be afraid of making an educated guess

The CMA exam covers a large amount of information, and even a well-prepared CMA candidate is likely to encounter some questions they don’t know the answer to. In these cases, an educated guess can make all the difference.

Follow these steps to improve your educated guessing technique:

  • Rule out answers you think are incorrect right away. Many questions, including calculation questions, will have one or two answers that are easy to eliminate if you’re familiar with the material.
  • Ask yourself whether one of the remaining answers more completely addresses the question than the others. You can usually narrow it down to two choices. Pick the best one of the two.
  • Once you’ve narrowed your options down, trust your instincts. Unless you realize you read the question incorrectly or made a calculation error, your gut is usually correct. Talking yourself out of a correct answer is a common reason for selecting the wrong answer, so select the one that makes the most sense and move on. Use that time you would have spent deliberating where it can make a difference.

Essay question tips for the CMA exam

Each part of the CMA exam has two essay scenarios. The CMA essays describe a scenario and ask several questions that require a written response, a calculation, or both. CMA essays are not graded by a computer. Your CMA essay will be graded by a subject matter expert, and partial credit may be given, so be sure to show your work!

For more information on how the CMA questions will look on the CMA exam, check out this comprehensive guide.

While the CMA essays can seem daunting, they can be conquered with a good study plan and by employing these CMA essay tips:

Skim the essay scenario before you read the questions

By skimming the scenario, you’ll have context to help you understand the questions. Then you can read the questions to determine which areas of the scenario need your focus (this will help you avoid extraneous information).

Read the question to determine the requirements for the answer

Focusing on the requirements of the question will let you identify the important information in the scenario. You will only get full credit if you answer all of the components of the question, so checking off requirements as you work through the essay can help ensure you don’t miss anything.

Answer the easiest questions first

Within any essay scenario, some questions will be easier than others. Getting a few easy questions solved before you tackle a tougher question can help you build your confidence and get your essay started. You can pick up a lot of points quickly, so if you have to spend a lot of time on the other questions in the scenario, you won’t lose the opportunity to earn the easy points if you begin running out of time later.

Make sure your solution answers the question being asked

It is easy to get caught up in writing an explanation, and this can cause your essay to go off topic. Be sure to rein in any off-topic explanations and focus on answering the question that is being asked. Off-topic information won’t earn you any credit.

Show as much of your work as possible in your essay solution

You can receive partial credit for any part of your CMA essay, so including all of your work allows graders to follow your analysis and assign all of the points you deserve. Even if your final answer is wrong, you could receive the majority of the credit for it if the bulk of your work is correct.

For example, if your final answer is wrong because of a calculation error, but you showed your work and the grader was able to determine you used the correct formula and chose the correct numbers, you can get partial credit.

NOTE: Graders will not penalize you for a mistake multiple times, so even if the mistake you made appears throughout your response, you’ll only be marked off for it once.

Organize your reasoning so the graders can understand it easily

Writing in an organized manner will ensure the graders can follow along with your process and thoughts. If a grader has to reread a section multiple times to understand what you’re trying to explain, that will probably cost you some points.

Remember, the reason there are essay questions is to ensure candidates can effectively communicate the reason behind the numbers and make recommendations based on their calculations to management. Your communication skills are just as important as your ability to calculate the answer.

NOTE: This really boils down to writing short sentences, staying on topic, and organizing your essay in a logical manner.

Go above and beyond the question requirements when time allows

Adding additional, on-topic content can be a great way to earn points on a CMA essay. If you have time and your essay’s organization allows it, adding more detail to a topic demonstrates that you understand the topic and might help improve the grader’s understanding of your essay.

NOTE: It is easy to go too far with this, so be sure you have a plan for what additional detail you’d like to add. If you just start adding random or off-topic sentences to an otherwise well-organized essay, it could cost you.

Quickly proofread your responses to verify that they make sense

Spending a few minutes rereading your responses will help you catch obvious errors that can cost you points. In addition, it is a great opportunity to notice if anything is introduced out of order or doesn’t make sense.

Time management tips for the CMA exam

The CMA exam is a 4-hour exam—3 hours for multiple-choice questions and 1 hour for the essays. Managing your time well is critical to passing the CMA exam. The only information you get during your exam is a clock providing the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining. There will be no guidance for breaks or time allocation within each section.

Spend an average of 1.5 minutes per multiple-choice question

With 100 questions on both parts of the CMA exam, spending an average of 1.5 minutes per question will leave you 30 minutes before you have to move onto the essays. This will allow you to spend a few minutes reviewing any flagged questions and any extra time will roll over to the CMA essay section.

NOTE: We suggest you limit your review to 15 minutes. This will leave you 15 minutes to carry over to your essay questions.

Practice in time-sensitive conditions

It isn’t good enough to wait until the CMA exam to try to limit the time you spend on a question. You need to practice under similar conditions.

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes and take a 20-question quiz.
  • When the timer goes off, review your progress and quiz score.
  • This is especially valuable on cumulative quizzes because it will ensure you’re used to quickly recalling information from different sources.

Make use of all of the time available

Time is your most valuable resource on the CMA exam, so don’t let any go to waste. Spending an extra 10 or 15 minutes proofreading your essay or adding extra details can earn you valuable points.

Set benchmarks to keep track of time

Since the CMA exam displays all of your time in one large countdown, it is important to set benchmarks for your progress to make sure you’re staying on track. Writing down what time (according to the countdown) you should be at after every 20 questions is a great way to monitor your progress.

Divide your essay time evenly between both essays

You will have two essay scenarios on the CMA exam, but each scenario will have multiple questions. Resist the urge to allocate more time to the essay with more questions. These essays have been designed to take 30 minutes each to answer, so a scenario with fewer questions will likely require more detail or calculations than one with many shorter questions.

NOTE: You will have 1 hour to complete both essays, at minimum. Any time you did not used during the multiple-choice section will be added to this hour. In addition, you will be able to freely travel between the two essay scenarios (but you cannot return to the MCQ section).

CMA exam-day tips

After all the preparation you’ve put into getting ready in time for your testing window, you’ll want to make sure exam day goes smoothly. To assist, we’re going to provide a few tips and a breakdown of what to expect on exam day.

To see what the CMA exam will look like, check out our cma exam interface page.

Stay hydrated

If you’re dehydrated, you’ll be prone to headaches and have a harder time thinking clearly. Drinking plenty of water the day before the exam will help hydrate you. Pace your water intake on the day of the exam so you don’t need to use too much time on bathroom breaks.

Use the day before the exam to relax

The day before your CMA exam is not the time to try to cram information in. If you want to study, keep it to a brief review of topics you’ve already learned, but you’ll benefit from allowing yourself some time to decompress.

Get a good night sleep the night before your exam

You will have a difficult time concentrating if you are fatigued during the CMA exam. Some people experience pre-test anxiety that can make it difficult to fall asleep, so it is often a good idea to plan to go to bed a bit earlier than you normally would. If you fall right asleep and wind up waking up early, you’ve got time to make yourself a nice breakfast.

Leave early for the CMA exam

You should plan to arrive near your test center about an hour before your scheduled exam time. You must be at the testing center at least 30 minutes prior to your appointment. If you can find a nearby place to wait (such as a cafe), you will be able to remove a bit of stress about arriving on time.

NOTE: Taking a Prometric test drive can help you learn a great deal about the testing center before your exam day, including how long it will take to get there. We discuss all the benefits of taking a test drive, and how to schedule one, on our scheduling the CMA resource page.

What to expect on CMA exam day

Ensure you have up-to-date directions to the Prometric testing center

If you did a test drive, you’ll already know where the testing center is, but most navigation systems (such a Google Maps) will give you real-time traffic information. Checking the map one last time can give you that extra peace of mind.

If you need to get the address to the testing center, you can make use of the Prometric locator tool to find your center again. In addition, the address should be on your testing confirmation.


Gather what you'll need for the CMA exam

Collect your authorization to test, government-issued ID, and your testing appointment confirmation email. The name on your ID must exactly match the name on your authorization letter.

NOTE: ICMA requires either (1) a valid, signed, government-issued passport or (2) two forms of signed ID, including a valid, government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license).

In addition, ICMA allows you to use a basic six-function calculator or an approved non-programmable calculator on the CMA exam, so it is a good idea to bring one with you.


Plan to arrive 30 minutes early to the testing center

Checking in for the CMA exam takes around 30 minutes, and you don’t want to be late for your appointment because a bit of traffic slowed you down. If you are more than 15 minutes late, you will lose your appointment and forfeit your registration fee.

Approved Calculators

You are allowed to bring a calculator to the CMA exam. The following calculators are approved:

  • A basic six-function electronic calculator that is not programmable and does not include any type of tape.
  • An approved financial calculator from the following list:
    • Texas Instrument BA II Plus
    • HP 10BII+
    • HP 10BII
    • HP 12c
    • HP 12c Platinum

Check in with the Test Center Administrator

When you arrive at the Prometric testing center, you will check in with the test center administrator (TCA), present your valid identification, sign a log book, and deposit your personal belongings into a locker that the testing center provides.


Go through testing center security

Security procedures include having your fingerprint and photo taken as well as turning out your pockets and going through a metal detector.


Receive an explanation of rules and regulations

The standard Prometric testing center rules and regulations and any specific rules that apply to your exam will be explained to you.


Receive testing supplies

The testing center will provide you with a pair of number 2 pencils and some blank paper to use for the exam. You will then be taken to your computer and given your final instructions before you can begin.


Ask questions and report technical issues

If at any point during the check-in or examination process you have questions, be sure to ask the TCA. If you need assistance during the exam, raise your hand and the TCA will assist you.