Becoming a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a worthwhile and achievable career goal. But first, you have to pass the CMA exam. This difficult test covers a broad range of accounting topics, and you’ll need a solid CMA study guide to get prepared.
If you’re in the process of how to become a CMA, here is your go-to CMA study guide. First, read through my best tips on getting prepared, and the basics of what to expect on the exam.
And don’t forget to download your free CMA Study Guide for everything you need to pass the exam on your first try.
What Does the CMA Exam Consist Of?
There are two parts to the CMA exam. Each part has 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions. You will have four hours total to complete each part of the CMA exam.
For the essay questions, you will be given one hour. The rest of the time can be dedicated to answering multiple-choice questions.
You will be allowed to take a calculator into the exam. There are some rules on what calculators you can use, so be sure to know the CMA Exam calculator rules and follow them.
CMA test questions cover financial statements, corporate finance, budgeting, internal controls, and a lot more. Each section is weighted a little differently. If you know how much each section is worth, it may help you prioritize your CMA preparation.
Here’s the breakdown of how the two parts of the CMA are weighted in terms of score.
|CMA Part 1||CMA Part 2|
|1. External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%)||1. Financial Statement Analysis (20%)|
|2. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (20%)||2. Corporate Finance (20%)|
|3. Performance Management (20%)||3. Decision Analysis (25%)|
|4. Cost Management (15%)||4. Risk Management (10%)|
|5. Internal Controls (15%)||5. Investment Decisions (10%)|
|6. Technology and Analytics (15%)||6. Professional Ethics (15%)|
Note, if you researched this a while ago, you’ll notice that 2020 had some CMA exam changes.
Here are the changes for Part 1:
- The IMA added Technology and Analytics to the CMA exam
- Internal auditing was removed
- Integrated reporting was added
Here are the changes for Part 2:
- Retitled Strategic Financial Management
- Business ethics, sustainability and social responsibility were added
- Off-balance sheet financing, bankruptcy, tax implications and transfer pricing were deleted
As long as you buy a CMA test prep program from a reputable company, your study materials will reflect these changes.
How to Study for the CMA Exam: 6 Tips
As you launch your CMA studies, there are some important things to keep in mind. You’ll want to begin by creating a study schedule that reflects your intended test date.
Decide on your timeline — how long to study for the CMA exam.
Many people take three months or more to study for each part of the CMA exam. Experts recommended 120 hours or more of study per exam.
It’s important that you make a plan based on your life: how many hours do you already work, go to school, or have family commitments? You need to be realistic about how many hours a day or week you can study.
Once you have a study plan, choosing the right CMA exam prep will help you stick with it and cover all the material. There are a lot of great options. Most courses will come with video lessons, written materials, CMA textbooks, and more valuable study materials.
Here are some other solid recommendations to help you prepare.
Join a CMA exam study course with a weekly program
Some people work much better when they have peer support and follow a planned weekly schedule. This can be a positive source of accountability. It also helps to know that other people are on the same path.
Studying for the CMA is a rigorous endeavor. You’ll have to make some life changes for a season. Working within a CMA study course that keeps you on track weekly can be a good way to not give up if the going gets tough.
With a weekly study program, you’ll always know people are counting on you to show up for study sessions, offer encouragement, and share your knowledge. You’ll get the same support in return, which can really make a difference in motivation.
Use more than one study resource
While you will probably choose to buy a CMA review course, that doesn’t mean that’s the only resource you should use. As you practice for the CMA exam, there are a ton of additional CMA study materials that can support your studies.
Use the CMA study guide (download below), the study notes and tips on this blog, and supplement in areas you particularly struggle with. With a little research, you will find additional videos, practice materials, and freebies that accelerate your progress.
As you saw above, the topics covered in the CMA exam are very broad. Whether or not you have a degree in finance or accounting, it’s going to take time to work through this range of materials.
Many CMA study programs will segment out your studies in a strategic way. Some cover a few topics at a time, circling back each day and revisiting or reviewing. Others will tackle single topics at a time with the aim of mastery.
Find a system that works for you (and stick to it).
Evaluate your knowledge regularly
It can be tempting, especially with a quality CMA program, to just trust that you’re making progress. Remember that, on test day, you get no supports or reference materials. Only what is in your brain will be available to you on exam day.
Ongoing evaluation throughout the course of your studies is going to double-check that you are actually retaining information. Set a bi-weekly check-in with yourself to do some practice materials or review what you learned. Most review courses include Certified Management Accountant practice tests for this purpose, too.
A CMA coach can provide accountability for these check-ins. If you connect with a coach for the CMA, they can give you one-on-one attention in realtime to answer questions and help guide your daily test prep efforts. Having someone else weigh in on your test readiness will ensure that you are optimally prepared for the big day.
If you are studying for the CMA exam in a longer stretch (six months or more) or even in a more standard timeline, you need benchmarks. These are micro-goals that you set throughout the course of your CMA studies.
Smaller goals will help you stay on track by giving you checkpoints to either celebrate your progress or get a reality check that you’re not where you need to be. The last thing you want is to show up on test day and be less prepared than you thought.
Benchmarks make your studies manageable and ensure that you are progressing at the right pace.
Find a CMA Coach
A CMA coach is going to be someone who has taken the CMA exam and passed with a high score. You want to find a coach or CMA tutor who can work with you through study materials and provide one-on-one guidance.
This is above and beyond the customer support you’ll get access to with a self-study review course. A coach can give you individualized counsel and provide you with a structured study plan to shore up your weaknesses.
Many people find score improvement and an easier time by using a resource like this in addition to a CMA study guide and prep course.
CMA Test Questions
For each section of the CMA exam, you will encounter 100 multiple-choice questions. You have three hours to complete these. That means that you have about a minute and a half per question.
The reality of that timing should incentivize you. You need a plan and you need to practice.
Practice test questions are one of the best ways to get your timing down. Going through a practice test bank over and over (with different questions) is one of the only ways to master the skill. All of the knowledge you are gaining as you study for the CMA will be fruitless if you can’t perform on the test itself.
The best CMA test banks are going to have practice test questions from parts one and two of the exam. This will ensure that they cover all of the topics that may come up. Regular practice with an exhaustive CMA test bank is going to be one of the best investments you make.
CMA Study FAQs
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the CMA exam.
How to study for the CMA exam?
Studying for the CMA exam is going to require dedication and time. Most experts recommend at least four months of study per section. In order to do well, you need to set aside time each day and week to study. Most people buy a CMA study program and CMA practice test questions. It may also be useful to buy time with a CMA coach. Students who prepare well can pass the CMA exam on their first try and move on to obtain their CMA certification.
How long does it take to study for the CMA exam?
Studying for the CMA exam takes about eight months total. Most people recommend that you study four months per section.
Is it easy to pass the CMA exam?
The CMA exam is not an easy test, as evidenced by a global pass rate of around 45%. For CMA Exam Academy students, the pass rate is 90%. That illustrates the power of premium CMA coaching and study programs.
The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and essay questions on a huge range of subjects in accounting and finance. Even if you have a degree in either of those subjects, the CMA exam is difficult and should be taken seriously. Most students make a sizable investment in a high-quality CMA course.
Can I self-study CMA?
It is possible to self-study for the CMA exam. If you are an experienced accountant, for example, you may have enough base knowledge to tackle new subjects. For most people, this is a recipe for disaster.
The CMA covers broad topics and requires significant knowledge. To independently find and learn all of the relevant material would be extremely challenging and require immense self-discipline and a commitment to the right study pace. CMA review courses package all of these materials together and often come with expert instruction.
Which CMA part is easier?
The CMA has two parts, which are divided by the topics they cover. There is no general consensus as to whether one part is easier than the other. People do better on the part with which they are already familiar. For example, if you know a lot about finance, you may do better on part 2. If you know more about accounting, you may do better in part 1.
How to Pass the CMA Exam
Your journey to passing the CMA exam can begin anytime. Just use your CMA study guide and get started.
Yes, it requires hard work and focused study. Yes, it’s going to mean that you opt out of some fun and relaxation for a while. But at the end of the day, becoming a CMA can set you up for a great career. Make good money, be a power player in any organization, and lead the way with strategic financial business decisions. The journey may be arduous but, for many students, it is well worth it.
If you have any questions or comments about this post, drop them below in the comments.
Thanks for reading!