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CMA Study Strategy

Using a CMA study strategy will help ensure make the most of your study sessions and pass the CMA exam. Follow these strategies and tips to create a CMA study plan.

CMA study strategy – Study plan

Your goal is to pass each part of the CMA exam the first time you sit for it. This will require you to develop CMA study strategy tailored to meet your needs.

Ask yourself:

  • How familiar am I with the material on the CMA exam?
  • When was the last time I studied for an exam or took an accounting course?
  • How much available time do I have to study each week?
  • Do I have a deadline to become a CMA by?
  • How long can I concentrate in one sitting?

Be realistic about what you can expect from yourself and make a plan that you can keep. Everyone is able to study for a different amount of time each week, so really think about your schedule when making your CMA study plan.

We’re going to walk through the process of making study plans using two different criteria—

  1. Deadline-based study plans
  2. Hours-based study plans

NOTE: While it is likely you will have both limited hours per week to study and a deadline, the reality is that one of these two factors will be less important. If you have an absolutely firm deadline, you might need to make more sacrifices in your schedule to fit in the needed study hours. If the amount of time you can spend studying is set in stone, you may have to adjust your deadline to fit with your needed study time.

Finding time to study

Passing the CMA exam is not an easy task, so you’re going to need to spend enough time studying for each part of the exam. While it can be hard to find time to study, becoming a CMA will make your investment worth it.

You will need to make sacrifices in order to find time to study for the CMA exam. Some candidates find it best to make several small sacrifices (e.g., waking up an hour early, studying during your lunch break, or watching a bit less television). Other candidates prefer to make one large sacrifice (e.g., working fewer hours a week or taking a summer off of school).

The most important thing is to be honest with yourself—don’t plan on sacrificing something essential. Finding time to study is only worthwhile if you actually stick to your plan. Studying for the exam will be a marathon, not a sprint, so look over your weekly activities critically and make the time to study for the CMA exam.

Creating a deadline-based CMA study plan

Determine how familiar with the CMA material you are and your study needs based on the answers to the questions provided above.

Get a calendar (digital or physical) and mark your deadline on the calendar.

Working backwards from your deadline, mark off any days you will be unable to study.

Think about obligations you may have, holiday plans, or events that you have to attend.

Count the number of weeks from the time your studies will start to your deadline.

Divide the number of weeks by the number of hours you’ll need to study for (see the chart below) to get the number of hours you need to study per week.

Weeks where you have 3 or more days marked off should be counted as half weeks for this calculation.

NOTE: Determining your half weeks is not a one-size-fits-all rule. If you only study on Saturday and Sunday and even one of those days are marked off, it might count as a half week. On the other hand, in that same scenario, you could mark off every weekday and still have most of your study hours available. Use your best judgement when determining half weeks.

Average time spent studying per part of the CMA exam

CMA Part 1

150 hours

CMA Part 2

110 hours

Plan to begin your final review the week before your CMA exam.

  • Your final review will be a great time to touch up on topics you haven’t practiced for a while and focus on any topics you’re struggling with.
  • Plan to take a full-length practice exam at the beginning of this week and base your final review on the results of that exam.

Based on your calculations, set benchmarks on your calendar. You should have a benchmark every week to check your progress against.

EXAMPLE: If you’re studying for 15 hours a week and your first three weeks are full weeks, you should be at least 30% done with your studies by the end of the third week. Write down “30% done” for the final day of that week and check your progress when you get there. The last week of final review is included in the average hours chart.

Write down important exam deadlines on your calendar.

  • Your scheduled test day
    • This scenario assumes you have a testing day picked out as you’re working with a deadline. If you’re not sure of the exact day (despite your deadline), visit our guide on how to choose a CMA testing date.
  • The beginning and ending of testing windows
    • Testing Window 1: January – February
    • Testing Window 2: May – June
    • Testing Window 3: September – October
  • Testing window registration deadlines
    • Testing Window 1: February 15th
    • Testing Window 2: June 15th
    • Testing Window 3: October 15th
  • CMA exam rescheduling deadlines
    • 31 days before your testing day for free (no rescheduling fee)
    • 3 days before your testing day for a $50 rescheduling fee
    • NOTE: You may only reschedule a CMA exam within the same testing window.
  • Expected score release day
    • CMA score releases are only estimates. Your CMA score release date will be approximately 6 weeks after the last day of the month you took the CMA exam in.

As you make your way through your studies, mark your progress off on the calendar.

If you start to fall behind (missing 2 benchmarks in a row), you may need to adjust the remainder of your study plan. Do not abandon your study plan if you begin to miss benchmarks!

Readjusting your study plan involves the same steps as creating a new study plan, just using your remaining time.

As your exam day approaches, look at your recent benchmarks to determine whether you’ll be prepared prior to your CMA exam.

If you’re behind, you can still reschedule your CMA exam if you meet the requirements (at least 3 days before your testing date and rescheduling to a date within the same testing window).

When determining your schedule for the CMA exam, do not plan to cram the days just before your test. Cramming for the CMA exam does not have a good success rate, you’ll need time to process and practice applying the concepts after learning them.

Creating an hours-based CMA study plan

Creating an hour-based CMA study plan is very similar to creating a plan based on a deadline. Rather than deciding how many hours per week you need to study based on your testing date, you’ll decide your testing date based on the amount of time you per week you are able to study.

NOTE: You will want to select a testing date and schedule it as a part of this process. This will give you a deadline to work towards and help cement your exam prep as a priority.

To select a testing date you will need to:

Use a calendar to mark off the days over the next few months that you won’t be able to study.

Based on the amount of hours you can study in a week, count out how many weeks it will take to reach the amount of study hours you’ll need.

Weeks where you have days that account for half of your hours or more marked off should be calculated as a half week.

Select a testing date for the CMA exam.

You’ll want to select a testing date near the beginning of a testing window so you have plenty of time to reschedule if needed. Remember, you can only reschedule your CMA exam within the same window, and you have to reschedule it early to avoid paying fees.

For more detailed guidance on how to select a CMA testing date, visit our guide.

After you have selected a testing date, you can use step 5 through 9 from the deadline based approach to flesh out your study plan.

CMA study tips

These CMA study strategies are essential no matter what stage of your studies you’re in or what topics you’re studying.

Stick to your study schedule

Be sure to regularly check in on your study progress and compare it to your plan. If you’re falling behind, try to figure out why that is and adjust your plan accordingly. It isn’t a problem to adjust your schedule to account for needing longer to learn a tricky topic or having less time to study in a week than you’d thought.

The most important part is that you keep a plan and hold yourself to it. It is much better to adjust your plan than it is to abandon it completely.

Review material after you’ve “completed” it

The CMA exam is not an exam to cram for. You’ll need to really understand the topics in order to pass, and the best way to do that is to routinely review topics as you progress through your studies. This will take a topic from memorized to mastered and ensure that you have no trouble remembering material on exam day.

Reward yourself as you complete benchmarks

Give yourself a reward as you meet milestones in your studies. Whether it is a special meal or a night out, giving yourself small rewards as you complete your studies will help keep you motivated. Write down your rewards on your study calendar so you have something to look forward to.

Practice using exam-emulating software

Being comfortable with the look and feel of the CMA exam will help relieve exam-day stress. In addition, knowing how the exam interface works will keep you from wasting valuable time when you sit for the exam.

Take short breaks during your study sessions

Sitting down for 8 hours of studying is demanding, and it doesn’t work all that well long-term. It is much better to break that studying up into more manageable portions throughout your day. Study for an hour, take a short break (15-30 minutes), and then take a quiz on the topic you were studying. Then go back to another hour of study/review.

Breaking your studies into two-hour blocks will actually improve your long-term memory of topics. So even if you need to fit 8 hours of studies into one day, be sure to take breaks every few hours.

Take a Prometric Test Drive

The CMA exam will take place at a Prometric Testing Center that administers a wide variety of professional examinations. Prometric offers a test drive that gives candidates the opportunity to get accustomed to the check-in process and see the testing center ahead of time.

To get more information on the Prometric Test Drive and learn how to schedule one, visit our scheduling the CMA resource page.

CMA study strategy – Multiple-choice questions

Whether you’re studying for the multiple-choice questions on the CMA exam or trying to test your knowledge of a certain topic area while studying, MCQs are going to play a big role in your exam prep. Learn how to best learn from these essential exam-prep tools.

Learn from the answer explanations

Answer explanations are the biggest value-adding benefit that multiple-choice questions provide. It is important to know why an answer is right or wrong in order to make sure you’re learning the right lesson from the question. Sometimes you might select the right answer for the wrong reason or answer a question that isn’t actually being asked (incorrect answer choices are designed to capitalize on common mistakes), so take a moment to review the answer explanations once you’ve completed your quiz.

Avoid memorizing questions through variety

Once you start memorizing questions, you’re wasting your time. Use a large test bank and randomize the answer choice order so you’re engaging with the concepts and not answering by rote.

NOTE: It isn’t good enough to use a provider with a large volume of questions if most of them are on the same few topics. Make sure you have access to complete CMA content coverage. Many review providers allow you to select very specific topic areas, so be sure that the number of the questions in every area is large enough to provide variety.

Don’t overly focus on new topics; cumulative quizzes will provide more long-term value

Avoid making quizzes that only test the topics you most recently learned. Including content from areas you’ve already completed will improve your quiz variety and deepen your understanding of the topics.

Studies show that the best way to master a topic is through routine exposure over an extended period. Basically, testing on a topic routinely over a long period of time (i.e., weeks) is better than taking a lot of tests within a short period of time (i.e., hours or days).

Practice time management on all of your quizzes

Don’t wait to practice your time management strategy until right before you sit for the CMA exam. If you monitor the time spent on your CMA quizzes, you’ll learn to speed up your test taking and become comfortable answering questions at your exam-day pace.

The best way to practice is to firmly limit the time spent on a 20-question quiz to 30 minutes. Once that time elapses, put your pen down and start your review. This may seem hard at first, and you might not get through all of the questions, but you’ll get used to working on a timer and this will make the CMA exam seem just like another study session.

To learn more about a CMA time management strategy, visit our CMA exam-day tips page.

Make use of short quizzes to avoid burning out and improve your retention

It can be tempting to make large quizzes to burn through your study time quickly or to take 100-question quizzes to emulate the CMA exam. This isn’t in your best interest though. Taking several short quizzes will help you much more than one large quiz for a variety of reasons.

Gleim suggests taking 30 minute, 20-question quizzes as the foundation of your studies.

Short quizzes allow you to

  • Better practice time management by allowing you to see results quickly
  • Process the answer explanations and learn from them in your review while the questions are still fresh in your mind
  • Vary content more by mixing in cumulative quizzes with your focused quizzes
  • Turn your short-term memorization into long-term understanding by providing breaks between topic introduction

CMA study strategy – Essays

When you hear the word “essay,” you might imagine pages and pages of text, but that’s not the case with CMA essays. You can actually respond to these essay questions with short statements or bulleted lists, and when answering a computational question, you don’t even have to use sentences at all. You can just show your calculations and make sure to clearly state what the answer is.

Be comfortable with the CMA exam topics

The most important thing to develop while studying for the CMA essays is your knowledge of CMA exam topics. The CMA essays can be about any topic, and many questions will expect you to be able to combine different concepts to answer them fully. If you’re well-versed on the topics that the CMA exam covers, you’ll be well prepared for whatever questions the CMA essays ask.

Practice your CMA essay writing

Practicing CMA essays doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming. Set aside some time each week to write a few short explanations about the concepts that you learned that week. By the time your final review week starts, you’ll be used to writing explanations and essays on all sorts of CMA exam topics. Plus, these short explanations can be used to help you review later.

Use answer explanations to assist with CMA essays

A big part of the CMA essays is explaining why the correct answer is correct. You’ll be very familiar with this process by practicing with multiple-choice questions and reviewing the correct and incorrect answer explanations. Practicing with good MCQs can actually benefit your essay responses.

You can use multiple-choice questions to help you practice for the essays!

  • Open a multiple-choice question and try to determine the correct answer without reading any of the answer choices.
  • Write a brief statement explaining why your answer is correct.
  • Compare your answer explanation to the one provided with your multiple-choice question and see if you justified your answer.

Practice your English writing skills

The CMA essay scenarios are used to determine whether CMA candidates can synthesize concepts (i.e., use different concepts together to reach a conclusion) and communicate their data and judgments clearly. As a part of this, CMA essays are graded on grammar, punctuation, spelling, organization, and clarity.

The best way to improve your writing skills is to practice writing. Ideally you would spend time writing about CMA exam topics, but writing in general will improve your ability to communicate clearly. Just be sure to review what you’ve written (ideally after taking a break). During your review, mark any areas that seem confusing or areas that could be simplified to make your point more clear.