How Is the CMA Exam Graded?

How Is the CMA Exam Graded

The CMA exam is not just one of the toughest, but also one of the lengthiest financial exam. A commonly asked question by many candidates is: “How is the CMA exam graded?

It is important for every candidate to know beforehand the pattern of the exam and how to maximize their scores by knowing how grading is done. It also helps you focus your attention on the most critical aspects of the exam and prioritize your time accordingly.

To help you maximize your study efforts, I’ve put together this simple explanation for you to highlight on how the CMA exam is graded.

Division of the CMA Exam

The CMA exam is divided into two sections. The first section contains the Multiple-Choice Questions, popularly known as MCQs, which contains 100 such questions.

Candidates are given three hours to answer these MCQs. Each question has four answer options of which they need to select one.

The advantage here is that there is no negative marking for incorrect answers so it is highly advisable that you answer each and every question, irrespective of whether you are sure of the answer or not as that just increases your probability of getting an answer correct by 25%.

The next section contains the two CMA Essay Questions.  You are given thirty minutes each to complete each essay.

If you do manage to complete the MCQs before three hours, then you can utilize the balance time on the essay question. But once you do that, you cannot review those MCQs at the end, so be very sure before you proceed to the next section.

NOTE: The catch here is that you need to answer at least 50% of the MCQs correctly in order to be eligible to take the essay section.

What is a CMA Passing Score? How Scores are Calculated

The CMA exam passing score is 360. The scores are on a scale of 0 to 500, with 500 constituting a perfect score. Scores are scaled to account for different versions of the test having different questions, which could vary in their difficulty.

In terms of weight attached, the first section is the most important with 75% of contribution to the overall score while the second section has 25% importance.

Both these sections are scored on a scale of 0-500.

Since all the candidates are given different “forms” of the exam, it is mandatory for them to score passing marks for each form. This balances out the overall relative difficulty of the questions in each form.

A score of 360 indicates the minimum passing scaled score. This helps the candidates know how they have fared vis-à-vis the passing standard of 360. One form may require a passing percentage of 75% while the other form may require a passing percentage of 60%. It is for this reason that a standard scale score of 360 is established as a benchmark. The score doesn’t indicate the percentage of questions you got correct.

What You Should Do

If you must set a goal, then your endeavor should be to score more than 75% in both the MCQ and the Essay section. Working out the permutation and combination during the exam will not just be futile exercise, but also time consuming and may ultimately affect the quality of your answers.

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” – Vince Lombardi

Here’s my Youtube video explaining in-depth how the CMA exam grading system works:

Nathan Liao

Hi, I’m Nathan Liao (aka the CMA Coach)! For the last 10 years, over 82,000 accounting and finance pros came knocking at my door seeking guidance and help. If you’re also aiming to conquer the CMA exam on your very first try—without wasting away time or money—you’ve found your ultimate guide. Dive in deeper to discover more about me and the dedicated team that powers CMA Exam Academy. Click here and let’s embark on this journey together!

79 Comments on “How Is the CMA Exam Graded?”

  1. Hi
    Why a score of 250 points in MCQ is not allowing me to take the essay, how the rule of 50% is applied?

    1. Hi Ben,

      Please note that the way your score is calculated depends on how difficult your exam version is. The multiple-choice questions (MCQ) part makes up 75% of your total score, while the essay part contributes 25%.

      For further details on how to pass the exam, please refer to the CMA Handbook.

  2. Hi Nathan and community,
    I think I have got this differently from most of you (but I think I’m right ahah).

    The 50% pass needed in the MCQ is not on the 100 questions but its on the full exam. So ~66% of the MCQs have to be correct to pass to the essay and that will give you automatically a chance of passing if you score well in the essay section.

    Let me know what you think.

    1. Hi Stefano,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s great that you’re diving deep into how the CMA exam is scored. Let me clarify a bit. You do need to score at least 50% on the multiple-choice questions (MCQs) to move on to the essay section in each part of the CMA exam.

      So, you’re right that doing well on the MCQs is important. But you also need to do well on the essay part to pass the full exam. Both sections matter.

      Hope this clears things up.

  3. Hi Nathan,
    I appeared for part 1 and scored 250. It is 50% but still why I didn’t make it to essay section. How much I should have scored to get it to the essays?

    1. Hi Zeba,

      I’m sorry to hear the news.

      The scores are based on the difficulty level of the particular exam form. 75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section.

      To read more about exam passing scores, check out page 11 of IMA’S Handbook


  4. I appeared for CMA part 2 exam and got to the essay section. But, I noticed that some of the essay questions were related to part 1(for the first essay) not part 2. As for the second essay, the questions were related to part 2. My question is, Is it considered normal to ask such type of questions? And how my essay is now graded?

  5. Hi Nathan,

    I appeared the exam just last month. The MCQs were very difficult, time consuming. I made it to the essays section and essays section was very easy. I was able to answer all 15 essays questions very easily. Will I pass?

    1. Hi Raman,

      If you made it to the essay, there’s a good chance you passed. Fingers crossed!


  6. Hi Nathan

    I wrote cma part 1 this month and i am pretty sure that i got above 50MCQ correct but it didn’t open the essay window. And also i face some error in exam like , it didn’t show flag symbol on question number which i flagged and also i attempted 100 MCQ and showing the complete progress as 89%.

    1. Hi Abin,

      It sounds like there might have been technical glitches in the program while you were taking the exam. I’m so sorry they happened during your exam. Would you mind reaching out to IMA to report those issues and see if they have an explanation as to why they occurred?

      Thank you,

    2. Attempting all 100 MCQs will not show 100% completed exam because 2 essay questions are still unanswered. If you get 50% correct it will redirect to essay section.

  7. 1. Will the requirement of CMA’s in USA increase post-Covid Industrial scenerio ,& by what percentage. (Present figure in USA only ? )
    2. Kindly provide some detailed reasoning , with figures
    3) Which type of industries & sectors

    To decide carear

  8. Hi, i read in the beginning of the page, 100% exam pass guarantee on your page. how can you say this with so much confident? i would like to join you if it is guaranteed. kindly give me some tips to get through. i would like to achieve it maximum fewer possible time. thank you

  9. Hi

    I would like to know if in the essay section i have answered one question right and but the other i believe that it was very difficult and i didn’t answer it very well , will this badly impact my score i am so afraid however i believe that the difficulty of the mcq was moderate

    1. Hi Lobna, in the essay section, graders are looking to award you points, not take them away. So in your example, you won’t get points deducted by not answering one question right. Instead, you won’t get any points for that specific question alone. Thanks, Nathan

  10. Hi
    I just want to know if out of 75% I.e. 375 Marks in each part I cover from mcq only
    And I didn’t appeared for eassy question
    Can I consider pass in CMA exam?

    1. Hi Raj, if you don’t move forward to the essay section of the exam, it’s considered an automatic fail. To move forward to the essay section you have to get at least 50% of the MCQ questions correctly. Thanks, Nathan

        1. Hi Walyeldeen,

          Thank you for your question.

          75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section. The amount of points attributed to each question depends on the difficulty level of your particular exam.

  11. Hi
    I just want to ask 2 questions
    – are each MCQ’s graded differently according to the difficulty or equally
    – Why does the essay open with only 50% score in MCQ’s which will get you only 37.5 % total score and that means 100 % failure even if you get full 25 % in essays. Totals to 62.5% max.


    1. Hi Thansheed,

      Yes, all MCQs are graded equally. To learn more about how the exam is graded please check here my podcast with IMA’s Vice President, Dennis Whitney.

      Hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

  12. Hi Nathan,

    I just received the notification that i have passed the pt. 1 exams. Your tips and updates have helped me to keep going (as well as the academy‘s testbank). Thank you for the support during dark hours ?

      1. I wrote CMA part 1 in oct 2021 I got 340, too close but yet so far, please explain me, how much I might have scored in MCQ and in essays out of this 340…also was it just about 3 to 4 mcqs that would have passed me…..?

    1. Each section of an exam part is graded separately and converted into a scaled score which is added together for your total score. The total score will determine whether you pass or fail. A passing score is 360, and a perfect score is 500.

  13. Hi,
    so why then they say that you have to do the 50% correct at least for the MCQ if anyway even if you score the maximum score of 25%in the essay you will not pass. this does not make any sense.

  14. Hi Nathan,

    According to my understanding, minimum 50 correct MCQs needs to be answered in order to be eligible to go for essays.. but i believe that this percentage of 50% of MCQs will not save me to pass the overall required passing percentage of 72%, because simply MCQs are 75% of the exam, so answering only 50 correct MCQs means that I scored 37.5 % out of those 75%, so whatever great I do with essays and even if I get full mark of 25%, this means that 37.5 % MCQs plus 25% essay equal 62.5 % which means am still way far from passing percentage which is 72%.. am i right! so simply i must get at least 70-75 correct MCQs out of 100 along with good performance with Essays to increase my chances passing the 360 scale.. correct me if am wrong. Thanks

    1. Dear Akram

      Basis understanding the qualifying marks to clear the MCQ is 50% of the total 500 marks that is 250. & the balance 110 one should expect to get from Essay.

      As scoring 50% on 375 dosn’t make any sense.

      Hope i am right

      1. Hi Sourav,

        The scores are based on the difficulty level of the particular exam form. 75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section.

        To read more about exam passing scores, check out page 11 of IMA’S Handbook

        Let me know if you have any questions left.

    1. Hi Amit,

      Yes, you can. The CMA Exam changed in 2015, so your Wiley 2015 edition is still current.


  15. Suppose i scored 50 % mark in MCQ and what minimum percentage i need to score in essay to qualify each part

    1. Hi Reham,

      Yes, it will result to failure if a CMA candidate did not get at least 50% in the MCQ section.

      Thanks and Regards,

  16. Hi nathan,
    i wanted to know whether this 50% of score in mcq which is required is actually out 375 only or out of 500 points ? getting a bit confused .

    1. Hi Verghese,

      You must get at least 50% of the MCQ section to be eligible for the essay section. That is, at least 50% or 188 equivalent score (50% x 375).

      Thanks and Regards,

      1. Hello Nathan,

        You mentioned 50% of 375 which is 188 score in order to move to essay. But I scored 240 as per performance report and didn’t proceed to essay section. That means in order to reach essay one has to score 250 out of overall 500 (and not just 50 mcqs) , which is like 66 mcq’s..

        1. Atif, you need to get 50% of the questions in the MCQ section correct in order to proceed to the essay section. 10 of the 100 questions in the MCQ are not graded. Those 10 questions are “probe” questions the ICMA is testing as potential future exam questions. So in terms of actual minimum number of questions you need to get right in the MCQ section is 45 which is 50% of 90 MCQs. Hope this helps. Nathan

  17. I just need to know ( I have to pass the 50% in MCQ to open essay ) the 50% mean 50 MCQ correct or 50% from 75% score of the total MCQ.

    1. Hi Ibrahim,

      You need to get at least 50% of the MCQ correctly to move to the essay section.

      Thanks and Regards,

      1. Hi Nathan,

        I wrote my CMA part1 recently and waiting for results. I was able to open essays. I had a feeling that most of my mcqs were good and mostly they were one liners. Please tell me how much chance a candidate increases for himself for passing the exam if he opens an essay window (which will automatically means he did 50% right mcqs)

        1. Hi Muqtadir,

          If you made it to the essay, there’s a good chance you passed. Fingers crossed!

          The scores are based on the difficulty level of the particular exam form. 75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section. Trust that you’ve done your best 🙂

          I wrote an article where you can read more about exam passing scores: Understanding the CMA Exam Passing Score

          Let me know if you have any questions left.

  18. Hi Sir,

    I have appeared for my CMA Part 2 Exam yesterday and I had advanced to the essay section as well.Can you please let me know ,if I can stay positive that I will pass the exam and prepare for my part 1,or should I need to wait until the results are out.The institute where I have enrolled for coaching is assuring me that the chance of failing the exam is very less,as I have already cleared the MCQ’s. I have given the essays fairly well though not so impressed .Sir, do you think if it makes a sense, as far as my institute is claiming.I am bit nervous.Kindly advise.Thanks

    1. Hi Sriki,

      The best person to ask whether you pass or fail is yourself but it is generally encouraged to be positive.

      Thanks and Regards,

  19. So I appeared for cma part 1 and seems as though I have touched the 50% threshold for MCQ to get to th essay. My question is that lets say I score exact 50% in the MCQ and have faired decently well in the essay, does it mean that i have to get a minimum score of 15-20% to secure an over all score of 65-70% depending on the level of difficulty?

    1. Hi Mina,

      MCQ is 75% and Essay is 25% of your final score. You have to get 50% (or at least 50 correct MCQ items) of the 100 item MCQs in order to get to the essay portion. But that 50% should have a scaled score of at least 235 and have a perfect essay equivalent score of 125 to get a total of 360. The best way is to have at least 282 (75% x 375) scaled from your multiple choice questions and a decent score from your essay of 78-94 (62% to 75% of 125) to pass the exam.


  20. Hi Nathan, thanks for your clear explanation, but I would like to understand one thing if I get the full mark of MCQs ( extremely imagination ? ) which means get 75% of the result, in this case I will pass the exam whatever the result of essay answers?, thanks

    1. Hi Hany,

      You are right. If you got a perfect score in the MCQs, you wouldn’t have to worry about the essay portion. The MCQ is 75% of the exam which means its perfect scaled score is equivalent to 375 (75% x 500). However, it is best to give it your best shot in the essay as you will not know if you perfected the MCQ or not, the system will just calculate if you passed the MCQ portion and then proceed to the essay exam without informing your score in the MCQs.


  21. Dear Nathan,
    From your past experience or from your ur students what percentage of calculation required mcqs a one can expect in exam.

  22. Thank you so much for your guidance. But can u tell me, how is Hock book and Hock software for passing the CMA exam.. I have 1 month to prepare for paper 1. So kindly guide me for this short time period.

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