CMA Exam Self-Study vs Instructor-led Online Classes: Which Is Right For You?

CMA exam self-study vs instructor

Once you’ve made the decision to write the CMA exam, there is an incredible amount of studying and dedication that goes into preparing for it. The next big decision is whether you should attempt CMA self-study, take classes, or find a program with more support.

It takes an incredible amount of studying and dedication to prepare for the CMA exam, and there are plenty of options when it comes to exam prep.

The reality is, not everyone learns and digests information the same way. Some people learn from a more hands-on approach, while others can self-teach with ease. It stands to reason that choosing a method of study for your CMA exam is an individual decision that may very well impact your success.

Luckily there are several ways to prepare for the exam, and the most common are self-study, instructor-led classes, and guided online review programs. Regardless of your individual learning needs, there are unique advantages to each method.

Let’s break it down, so you can choose a method with the right level of support for your CMA exam prep.

Originally published in 2015, this article was updated and republished on January 18, 2022.

Self-Study for the CMA Exam

Self-studying for the CMA exam is a popular way to go. With a combination of books, CMA practice tests, and online resources, some students choose to create their own program of study.

There are a lot of pros to doing it this way, but of course, there are also some cons.

Pros for CMA Exam Self Study

  • Self-paced: The ability to go at your own pace, or study for the exam while working or fulfilling other obligations, is a big perk.
  • Flexible: With self-studies, you have flexibility in terms of what you study on a given day or week.
  • Heightened retention: there is a potential for greater knowledge gains and retention through self-paced learning.
  • Easy access: CMA online classes you can take at your own pace are especially convenient if you are often on the road, travel for work or have a daily commute.

A lot of people interpret “self-study” and “self-paced studying” to mean they can go faster, but the opposite is also true. If you are working full time, are a busy parent, or have other commitments, self-studying for the CMA exam can give you a longer timeline in which to achieve your goals.

Of course, plenty of benefits doesn’t mean there aren’t some drawbacks.

Cons for CMA Exam Self-Study

  • Autonomy: Independence in CMA exam prep is a double-edged sword. If you don’t buy the right CMA exam review, you may lack the right guidance to cover all of the subject matter and materials.
  • Accountability: Staying on task when self-studying is entirely up to you. You have to be rigorous and disciplined to prepare for the CMA exam this way.
  • Software and technology: Depending on how tech-savvy you are, remember that self-studying is usually a software-based CMA program that is going to require you to learn the system. This may or may not be a comfort zone for you. Plus, if things go wrong or have glitches, your studies may be disrupted.
  • No support when you have questions: You will spend a lot of time researching answers, with no access to a coach or instructor when you don’t understand an exam concept.
  • Longer study time: Self-studying typically takes longer than other options because you’ll be navigating exam prep on your own. Guided review courses keep you moving at the right pace and help you along when you get stuck.
  • Guessing when you’re ready: Self-studying means you have to guess when you’re ready to write the exam. Other exam prep options provide tools and guidance to help you confidently decide on your exam date.
  • No community: With all of the flexibility and independence, you may feel isolated, cut off from peers, and on your own when you have questions.

Of course, some self-study programs have CMA coaching, tutoring, cohorts, and other features to provide touchpoints and personalized guidance, so this last con may be avoidable. However, these options involve additional costs and if you initially purchased a self-guided plan.

Compared to self-studying, CMA classes both online and in-person, have a lot more interaction.

Live Class CMA Exam Review

While self-study is great for some, others prefer to be led by a teacher and held accountable for their studies. In this case, a live class or an online instructor-led option is a better fit.

Group classes may include in-person classes, live group classes online with instructors, and fast-paced crash courses.

Classroom-based review programs keep you accountable by setting a specific study schedule. This is particularly beneficial for those who lack the discipline to follow a self-study program.

Another benefit of an instructor-led review is that you have access to an expert who can help you with questions that may be tripping you up.

There are fewer options when it comes to instructor-led review, which is something you might want to take into consideration.

Pros for Live CMA Classes

  • Structure: Live classes give you maximum accountability and structure: you have to show up at a certain time, get face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) with an instructor and participate.
  • Access to an instructor: Doing an in-person or virtual live class enables you to ask questions and get immediate answers or guidance.
  • Social support: Live CMA classes may have a social component, which means you have classmates who you are going through this with, and who can be a resource for you.
  • Pre-scheduled classes: Live classes are offered with a variety of scheduling and instructor options, so you can stick to a predictable, consistent study schedule.

Cons for Live CMA Classes

  • Missed classes: Because they are structured, if you miss a live class, you may miss either the chance to ask a question or learn important course material. While you can watch the recording, you miss out on the key benefits of a live class when you miss the session.
  • Inflexible pace: You don’t have the ability to self-pace, which means that if you’re struggling with a specific concept, you can’t “pause” and work on it longer.
  • Set order of topics: In live classes, not only pacing but also sequencing is set for you. This means that you’ll learn concepts and topics in a specific order, and not really get to switch it up based on your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Not enough time to master the content: The CMA exam requires not just knowledge, but thorough understanding and correct application of the concepts. Most classes don’t provide enough time to sufficiently absorb the study material and practice using it.
  • Inconvenient: A fixed schedule of classes, particularly if they are in-person and require travel time, is inconvenient for CMA candidates already juggling work, studying, and personal commitments.

It’s easy to see that whether you choose self-study or live, instructor-led classes, you’ll still need to make decisions for how to fit it into your life.

Weekly Guided Online CMA Review

Weekly Guided Online CMA Review

At CMA Exam Academy, we realized that there was a component missing out of both self-study and instructor-led course options. So, we added a missing puzzle piece, which turned into a weekly guided online CMA review program.

A guided review offers the best of both worlds when it comes to studying for the CMA exam: complete self-study resources combined with the accountability of a weekly schedule, weekly assignments, preset study milestones and unparalleled coaching support from US-based CMAs.

The candidate pass rate in CMA Exam Academy is 90% on average.

Most people need some structure to stay on track with their studying. They need accountability, but also flexibility. This CMA study resource is that perfect blend, and meets the needs of thousands of CMA candidates every year.

Pros for Weekly Guided Online CMA Review

  • Expert CMA support: 24-hour access to a qualified CMA exam expert to answer questions.
  • Personalized program: You get personalized recommendations and feedback on your study habits and exam progress.
  • Individual Coaching: Someone has your back, ensuring you don’t lose your way, focus too long on certain topics, fall behind, or miss a step.
  • Flexible schedule: While you’re in charge of when you study, a weekly schedule and weekly check-ins with your coach will keep you progressing at the right pace.
  • Knowing when you’re test-ready: You’ll know when you’re test-ready, because someone has guided you through the process and can give you that timely insight.
  • Community: Connect with other candidates in our private CMA community to share study tips, network, and support each other while you study.
  • Faster progress: A guided review program can get you exam-ready in half the time compared to self-study. With everything mapped out and quick support when you have questions, you can just focus on studying.

Cons for Weekly Guided Online CMA Review

  • Commitment: This program is designed for candidates who are committed to the goal of passing on their first attempt. You’ll have to put in the hours each week to stay on track.
  • Time limit: This program introduces an external timeline, which may be unnecessary if you have extraordinary levels of self-discipline. The guided review follows an ideal timeline of 16 weeks per exam part (although you’ll have access to study materials and support for two years).
  • Someone holds you accountable: You may feel pressured or stressed out by the idea that someone is watching your progress or holding you accountable, even while this same feature keeps you motivated.

The weekly guided CMA review program from CMA Exam Academy comes with weekly support calls from a CMA coach, unlimited email support, and weekly assignments with accountability.

Along with the video and audio lectures, textbooks, and an advanced test bank of practice questions, it’s a secret weapon for people who pass the CMA exam. Learn more about it here.

Which is Right for You?

There are so many study options out there to help you prepare for the CMA exam, so all you have to do is decide what you need out of a program. If you prefer accountability and access to a teacher, make sure you choose a course that includes enough support.

If you want to teach yourself the material on your own timeline, then self-study might be enough. Just make sure you use up-to-date study materials and establish a solid study routine.

There is no right or wrong way to prepare for the CMA exam, so be sure to choose an option that works best for you. If you have any questions about specific programs, feel free to drop a comment and I’ll reply back to you.

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!

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