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 57% more than those without any designation, according to IMA’s 2019 Global Salary Survey.
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 of 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:
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 Exam 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 free for 14 days. 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 your flashcards 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.