How to Pass the CMA Exam — The Basics

Becoming a CMA will certainly help your corporate accounting career and increase your earning potential. Roughly 80% of all accounting professionals work in some form of management accounting, and accounting professionals with the CMA designation earn nearly $28,000 more a year ($115,952 compared to $88,196) than those without any designation, according to an Institute of Management Accountants Salary Survey published in June 2014. But before you can bank that cash, you must first pass both parts of the CMA exam.

Only about one-third of those taking Part 1 of the exam passed Part 1, and less than half passed Part 2,  so it would seem that a lot of people could benefit from better preparation. But if you can make a commitment to 90+ hours of study for each section, you can pass both parts in as quickly as two months and comfortably under a year. For those of you who are ready to get started, here’s everything you need to know to pass the exam.

Decide Which Part to Take First

There are two parts to the CMA exam, and you need to pass both in order to receive your CMA. Part 1 tests your knowledge on financial reporting, planning, performance, and control, and Part 2 tests your skill in financial decision-making .

As far as which part to take first, it is up to you. People often take Part 2 first because they feel it is easier. However, if you have experience with manufacturing, then Part 1 might be a better first choice.

There are three two-month periods per year when both parts of the CMA exam are given. These are the months shown in green below:
JANUARY
FEBRUARY
MARCH
APRIL
MAY
JUNE
JULY
AUGUST
SEPTEMBER
OCTOBER
NOVEMBER
DECEMBER

Some people schedule one part of the exam at the beginning of a two-month period and the second part at the end of the same month period in order to give them enough time to study for each. Others decide to take each part during separate testing periods. Either way, you have three years to pass both parts after joining the CMA program.

Choose the Right CMA Review Course for Your Needs

Once you have decided which part of the exam you will be taking first, and when you’ll be taking it, you’ll almost certainly want to invest in a CMA review course. There are several highly regarded learning systems available to CMA candidates. You can sign up to try Wiley CMAexcel , for 14 days free. Most courses offer a discount for purchasing the Part 1 and Part 2 together, and student discounts are also common.

Make sure to review your options and verify they have all the learning tools you will need for the exam year you intend to sit for—the exam does change, and you should ensure you have up-to-date materials. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the review course you choose matches your learning style — you’ll be spending a great deal of time with over the next few months, after all, so make sure it’s a good fit.

Develop a Study Plan

Make studying a priority and make a place for it in your schedule. If you need to commit to driving to a coffee shop every night after work from 6–9 pm, then do it.

The amount of time you will need to study and prepare for each part of the exam depends on your study habits and where you are in your career. If you just graduated with a Masters in Accounting, you probably won’t need to study as long as someone who has been out of school for five years.

In general, you should commit to 90 or more hours of studying per exam. Depending on how long you can study per day, this can take anywhere from seven weeks to three months. But these are just general estimates. Some people might need to study for longer over a several-month period.

Study. Assess. Review. Repeat.

Because you’ll be studying such a large amount of material, it’s important to get a system in place so that you’ll making the most of your time. Many people find it really useful to round up a study buddy, who can help encourage you and keep your honest as well as help you understand whatever concepts you’re weakest in. Even if you can’t find someone to study with, someone who’s willing to read you flash cards and listen to you go review concepts can also be helpful. Check out some more study tips here.

Also keep in mind that you have a better chance of passing the CMA exam if you finish it. A lot of CMA’s identify time as a major obstacle. You will get three hours to answer 100 multiple-choice questions and one hour for two essay questions. You can get partial credit if you write out your work, so stay organized and write clearly.

In order to save time, some professionals suggest making educated guesses on difficult questions as to not waste time if you will not get the answer by working through the problem. Another trick is to use the arrow keys instead of the mouse to select your answers. This saves time, and every second counts. If you are running out of time on an essay question, make a quick outline of your answer. This could earn you some partial credit, instead of none for leaving it blank.

Taking practice exams can help you figure out how to manage your time and figure out where you may need to speed up. But make sure you are getting at least 75% correct on each section before moving on.

With proper time management and the right CMA review course, you will have everything you need to pass the CMA exam.

14 Comments

  • Alaa |

    thanks for useful information
    but I have a question ………. Currently I am studying CMA In A Big & Famous Institute , I have two publications of CMA (Glem Publication & Institute Publication)
    So, I want to know which publication I have to follow

    Thanks

    1. Amol |

      Institute books are more than enough..

    2. saurabh tripathi |

      Hey …as u r doing CMA …can u just help me here like how we can prepare for exams of CMA…from where we can study …as I don’t know anything about it…it will be kind if u will help me…thanks !

  • Adam Wade |

    @Alaa You should defer to your program and instructors’ wants when it comes to in-class grading.

    But most programs (even the big & famous ones) don’t always fully prepare you for the exam — often the question and exam formats are very different. So using supplement exam prep and knowledge drills is the way to go in the months up to the exam. In general, you should follow what the IMA supports and suggests. Good Luck!

  • hazem |

    really i want to know about the time of implementation of new curreculam
    exam .

  • Taha |

    I would really love to know what a full access to Wiley Cma Excel online course looks like

  • Trupti |

    Currently I am studying part 1 and I have my exam on 27Feb.The publication I use,I go according to their study plan and I am on track.But I got all the units I have studied yet as weaker areas with just 50% average .I am doing this with a full time job.And I am non accounting person.Can you please recommend me what should I do with preparing in the exam?I mean should I still go for it or should take it with ease and study for the next testing window.Please recommend me,I am searching for a proper guidance.Thank You

    1. Adam Wade |

      It might be in your best interest to push back your test date, but that might include a fee given it’s less than a month away. You need to weigh your comfort and options closely.

  • jaldeep |

    i wish to learn cma course details further

  • Lakshman Gaur |

    I am a CMA candidate i am taking part 2 exam first, i have given the one try in FEB 2017 for part 2nd but unfortunately i couldn’t appear in essay section got 190 marks i have attempted 60 questions only got failed due to inappropriate time management, because the question was too lengthy , and while preparing by wiley books and online test banks ( 1 year access) i was good and have solved all the questions in 3 hrs. (100 Questions) because in online test bank i was getting easy and short questions but in exams i have got different. Now again i am preparing by wiley only but the questions what i am getting all are same and i know the answers can i get the different kind of questions like exam wise. kindly help me out my exam is on 14 june 2017 and i want to clear it at any cost. and can i use the gleim or i should stay on wiley only, kindly help me. i am doing full time job. and my regular study hour is 4 hrs (reading + 50 questions minimum) per day and on holiday it is 10 hrs (100 questions and reading ), is it sufficient or should i increase the study hrs.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Lakshman Gaur

  • Qamar |

    iIf someome joined CMA, registered for exam, but didnt appear in the exam at all. in this case when his period in CMA will start, at the time of appearing in exam or at the joining date?
    please clarify.

    1. Adam Wade |

      Qamar – that’s an interesting question and you should reach out to IMA directly, as it’s not clear to us by their online information. http://www.imanet.org.

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