The CMA Exam Essays: Everything You Need to Know

The IMA hosted a webinar this week about the Essay portion of the CMA exam. It was very insightful and informative.

I’d like to share with you the specific topics they covered and also what I’ve done to successfully answer the essay questions on the exam.

If you are worried about this section of the exam, learn what I’m about to share with you and you’ll be in a much better position to pass on your first try.

 What Will You Learn from this Post?

  • Why you should become a CMA
  • Understand the CMA exam format
  • The 12 best CMA exam essay strategies
  • What the essay section looks like and how to answer essay questions

Why Should You Become a CMA?

If you are reading this post, probably you have already decided to become a CMA. Kudos to you! But if not, let me tell you why becoming a CMA will do wonders for your career and success.

First of all, being a CMA confirms that you have a mastery of the critical skills and knowledge in planning, analysis, control, and decision support. This is in the realm of accounting, finance, and business management.

Lastly, salary surveys continue to show that CMAs earn substantially higher than their non-certified peers. On average, CMAs earn over $115,000/year.

Understand the CMA Exam Format

Part 1 – Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance and Control

4 hours, 100 multiple-choice questions, and two 30-minute essay scenarios

  • External Financial Reporting Decisions (15% of the exam)
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30% of the exam)
  • Performance Management (20% of the exam)
  • Cost Management (20% of the exam)
  • Internal Controls (15% of the exam)

Part 2 – Financial Decision Making

4 hours, 100 multiple-choice questions, and two 30-minute essay scenarios

  • Financial Statement Analysis (25% of the exam)
  • Corporate Finance (20% of the exam)
  • Decision Analysis (20% of the exam)
  • Risk Management (10% of the exam)
  • Investment Decisions (15% of the exam)
  • Professional Ethics (10% of the exam)

CMA Exam Structure and Feedback

  • 3 hours of multiple-choice questions – 75% of score
  • 1 hour of essay scenarios – 25% of score
  • Must earn at least 50% on multiple-choice section in order to advance to essay section. If in the exam you are not advanced to the essay section, it means that you failed the exam.
  • Cannot return to the multiple-choice section once you’ve advanced to the essay section of the exam.

CMA Exam Testing

  • Exams administered at Prometric testing centers
  • Schedule your exam date and time online, only after receiving your exam authorization from the IMA.
  • Three exam testing windows offered: January & February, May & June, September & October

 The 12 Best CMA Exam Essay Strategies

  1. Stay positive and don’t be afraid of this section
  2. If you show your work and assumptions, you can earn partial credits
  3. Expect 3 to 6 questions for each essay scenario
  4. You can scroll between questions and scenarios within the essay section. This will help you assess how much time you’ll need for responses
  5. Pay close attention to verbs. If it says compare or contrast, don’t spend your time defining something. Only do what is asked on the question
  6. Read the entire question to understand all requirements
  7. Focus is on the use of standard English, organization and clarity
  8. Graders are looking for effective writing skills
  9. Be brief and to the point. Bullet points are OK
  10. Don’t leave questions blank. If short on time, at least write an outline of your main points
  11. Graders are looking to give you points, not take them away. Make it as easy for the graders to give you points by showing your work.
  12. Be sure to use all the time available to you

What the Essay Section Looks Like

CMA Essay Sample Screenshot

Type your responses into the text box. This is similar to MS Word but easier and simpler. If you are familiar with MS Word, this won’t be an issue at all.

As you can see, the module shows you the number of questions on the top left hand corner, and your time remaining on the top right hand corner.

Don’t be afraid of this section of the exam. Many, including myself, have gone through it with success. If others could do it, you can too!

If you are new to this community and to the CMA journey, let me point you to a resource page that will help you get started. The CMA Toolkit page is packed with the best resources to make your CMA journey a total success.

Already know what you’re looking for? Head to the CMA Coach Shop and grab your study  materials now!

Best of luck on the exam!

Nathan-Signature

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44 Comments on “The CMA Exam Essays: Everything You Need to Know”

  1. Did the writing skill ,spelling and grammar effect the the answer if it is correct, specially for those the English in not the mother tongue ?
    thank you

  2. Hi,

    have got part 1 & 2 ver3.0 books of IMA from one of my friends.

    Would request you to suggest if these books are okay for studying or do I need to buy new books for taking exam in may14…?

    Awaiting your response.

    1. Bijit,

      With borrowed books you won’t have access to the online test bank, which I think is very important for your preparation.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    Must earn at least 50% on multiple-choice section in order to advance to essay section. If in the exam you are not advanced to the essay section, it means that you failed the exam. –

    If student gets 50 or more % in MCQs than does it mean that student has passed the exam or what ?

    1. Hi Adnan,

      Candidates must earn at least 50% in the MCQ section in order to advance to the essay section. That does not mean you have passed the exam. It means that you have earned sufficient points to move onto the essay section. If a candidate scores below 50% in the MCQ section and scores 25% in the essay section, the candidate will have failed the exam due to insufficient points. This is why the IMA doesn’t let candidates with a score below 50% move onto the essay section because they have already failed.

  4. I’m curious, in order to pass part 1 and/or part 2, one needs to score a 360+ out of 500. If the multiple choices account for 75% of the test, theoretically, I can pass both parts by answering all the multiple choices correctly. 75% of 500 is 375. I understand the degree of difficulty and improbability of answering all the multiple choices correctly, but I’m just speaking hypotheticals here.

    1. I think it’s not correct.
      75% of 500 is 375. Hense, the essay section would have 125 points (500-375=125).
      If you pass the MCQ section with 50% and essay section with 100% correct answers, you will get only 313 points (375/2+125=313), which less thn required 360.

  5. I didn’t press save in the text box of the essay question .dose it saves automatically or my reply will be blank?

  6. Hi Nathan,

    I am preparing for the Part II exam and my exam date is on 22.10.2014. I almost cover the topic and essay writing practice is pending. Now I am getting 80-85 score for gleim online.Expecting your advice for final review…

  7. Hey!
    Your article is really helpful. However, I am worried about one thing. Will we have the facility to make a table to document our response for the essay question? In other words, what does that response box allow other than plain text?

  8. Dear Nathan

    What should be the strategy to pass the CMA exam? Does practicing the online question bank provided by Wiley material sufficient to score 75% on the MCQs? Will the exam questions on the final exam day be based on the question bank provided by WIley? Kindly share your experience.

    1. Kartik,

      Is not enough to practice with the online test bank. You will also need to read the textbooks, use flashcards and get coaching if you need it.

      The MCQs in the test bank are retired questions so you will not see exactly the same ones on the exam. If you score above 80% consistently using your test bank, I think you’ll be in good shape.

  9. Hi Nathan,

    Your tips have been helpful for me.

    Wondering if Cost allocation techniques, Equivalent Unit ( conversion costs) have come up on essays over the last 3 -4 Part 1 exams??

    Thank you

  10. Hi Nathan,

    I have written essay question and when i mood to next and previous they were there. But I didnt click save button. How will it be.
    Furthermore, If I passed MCQ without essay Q. What is the chance to pass?

    Thanks and Regards,
    Alto

  11. Hi,

    What if we add more than what is required from us in the essay is that ok? eg. the essay question is asking to list 3 actions then I list 5 or 6 just to broaden my answer and to cover as much possible!

    1. HI Basem,

      If you have time to add more answers go ahead. It doesn’t hurt to give graders more information to grade you with. But do this only if you have extra time. Otherwise focus on finishing the exam on time and completing ALL answers.

  12. Hi Nathan,

    What is the probability of passing Part 1 of the CMA exam by knowing the theory 100% and just a little portion of the calculations?

    1. Hi Rilky, it’s hard to predict but if you are not ready to perform calculations during the exam, your chances of passing are very slim.

    1. Hi Ali, Both have excellent test banks. Are you looking strictly for a test bank only, or also textbooks?

  13. Hello,

    I’m a college student and I have my part 2 exam on the 25th of February. However, I’m really short on time because we are required to do a research paper as well during the coming month. I wanted to to know if it was honestly possible to study for part 2 in the remaining time with some hope of passing. It should be noted, most of the topics have been covered in my college syllabus.

    1. Hi Jessica,

      If you have covered these topics in college recently, then I think it’ll be possible to take and pass the exam if you dedicate enough hours from now until exam day. How many hours can you devote each week to study for your CMA exam? I would suggest at least 10 hours or more if you can, depending on how comfortable you are with the subject matter.

      Have you taken mock exams at all yet?

  14. Hello,
    Please how many questions are there in the essay session?
    Are there just two compulsory questions or they are more?

    1. Hello Jawula,

      There are two essay scenarios and each one may contain more than one question.

      Nathan

  15. Regarding P1 essay questions, if I say that the two essay questions will be about internal control and budgeting planning & forecasting respectively, would it be a safe bet? from a scale of 1 to 10. I mean, what’s the chance of each section being essay questioned.

    1. Hi Wenhao, thanks for your question. It’s really hard to predict what will be covered in the essay questions. Your best bet is to be fully prepared and know every section really well. Let me know if you have any follow up questions. Nathan

  16. dear , i wanna know that if a person has completed 50% score and he moves to 2nd window but there are remaining questions which are not answered yet then what will be the criteria for getting back and resolve them

    1. Hi Muhammad,

      You cannot get back to the multiple choice (MC) questions once you moved to the 2nd section. Unanswered questions will be graded as incorrect. That is why, it is advised to make educated guess if you do not know the answer or how to solve a particular MC question or you’re running out of time.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  17. I have written essay questions and when i moved to next and previous they were there. But I didnt click save button. Will it be saved?
    Furthermore, If I score 360 in MCQ without essay Q. What is the chance to pass?

    Thanks and Regards,

    Anitha

    1. Hi Anitha,

      The passing mark is 360 out of 500 scaled score. If you have scored 360 in MCQ, then you will surely pass the exam but you must finish the essay part to get a better score.

      For a complete discussion on the grading system, you may check the link below:

      http://www.cmacoach.com/cma-exam-graded/

      As per IMA, for the period May 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016, the passing rates for Part 1 and Part 2 are 35% and 52% respectively.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  18. Sir,
    How many marks carries a single multiple question….????
    And howmany mark carries a single esaay question….????

    1. Hi Sanooj,

      Each mutiple choice question or essay question will have the same weight regardless of difficulty level.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

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