How to Prepare for the Essay Questions

how to prepare for the essay questions

The essay portion of the exams is worrisome to many CMA candidates, and this is for good reason. The essay questions consist of written and quantitative analysis and responses. Because of this, all CMA candidates should be well versed in word processing and electronic spreadsheet programs.

What to Expect on Exam Day

Each CMA exam has two essay questions, and each question presents a business scenario that will have multiple questions. You have 1 hour to answer both essay questions. You have 3 hours to finish the multiple-choice question section of the exam before starting the essay portion. If you finish the multiple-choice questions section before the 3-hour limit, the remaining time gets carried over to the essay section. The focus of the essay questions is on the CMA candidate’s ability to understand and apply concepts presented in the part being tested to a business scenario.

How Your Essay Responses Will be Scored

The subject matter experts who will score your essay responses will use a grading guide. There are more points in the grading guide than points that can be awarded. For example, there may be 120 possible points but only 100 can be awarded in total. The expert’s goal is not to deduct points from your essay answers, but to award you points.

Partial answers will also award you points. For example, if you had to calculate 10 ratios but were only able to calculate 6, the experts will award you partial points for your answer. So if you get a tough essay question, try to work on it as much as possible, even if you don’t complete it. You’ll be able to get some points. Be sure to show your calculations.

What You Can Do to Prepare

The essay section represents 25% of your overall score. It’s very important that you diligently prepare for it by including the following tips in your preparation:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Understand what essay questions ask of you and practice answering them. It’s very easy to go on a tangent on a response. Practice staying focused.
  2. Calculate what is asked of you, not what you think is asked of you. For example, if you are asked to calculate liquidity ratios, don’t calculate activity or solvency ratios because you think they’ll be needed. Stay focused.
  3. Know your formulas very well. You may need to calculate many figures before you can begin to answer the question at hand. The best way to memorize formulas is to write them down repeatedly and being mindful of them. Don’t daydream while you practice.
  4. Get your hands-on essay question samples to get familiar with the format.

The Most Important Advice

The most important advice that I can give you is to understand the material that you are studying. If you are just memorizing without understanding the WHY of things, it’ll be difficult to pass the exams, much less do well in the essay questions. The essay section will test your comprehension of the material in a real business scenario.

Many have passed the exams. I’m confident that with good preparation, you will too!

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If you have any comments and/or questions, feel free to drop them in the Comments section below. I will respond as soon as possible. Thank you for making this community the most vibrant CMA community online. I hope to connect with you soon and guide you to exam and career success!

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!

28 Comments on “How to Prepare for the Essay Questions”

  1. Hi Sir Nathan. What are the steps needed to apply for the CMA Admission? From registry to taking the EXAMS? THANK you.

  2. Thanks Nathan.Can u give me a quick advise on things to keep in mind while facing the exam, as I writing CMA part 1 tomorrow.

      1. Hello Nathan ,
        Thanks for this very insightful article , i have a masters degree in finance and treasury management from a French University and i wonder of i’m eligible for the CMA … is there a way to know please ?
        Thanks 🙂

        1. Hi Feriel,

          You meet the educational qualifications for the CMA, and there is also a work experience requirement that you can fulfill later on. Click here to learn more about it.

          If you have any follow-up questions, just hit reply 🙂


  3. Hi Nathan..
    I’m Faiyaz, can you please give me some exam tips for CMA part 1 .. Your tips will be helpful Sir.

    1. Hi Faiyaz,

      Check my Study Guide here. It’s packed with valuable exam tips and a weekly study plans that will help you prepare for the exam more efficiently.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.


  4. Hi Nathan,
    I am planning to do CMA and I have some old 2010 CMA material of Hock and Gleim (books, power point slides, flash cards, assumed knowledge, Practice question & answers, Study plan and supplemental problems). Is it outdated? should I buy new addition. And please guide me which is best Gleim or Hock?

    1. Hi Ramzan,

      With the recent change in CMA curriculum in 2015, I suggest that you buy the new CMA materials. But on the other hand, these review materials are still useful.

      To guide you on which course to pick, please see my article using this link.


  5. Hi Nathan…thank You so much..whatever be the doubt i have regarding essay question..all are solved after reading Ur article.thnks

  6. Hi Nathan,
    I am Aditi and want to enrolled for CMA exam in USA. But I didn’t get the continuing education thing? As to how it works and is it important for getting the CMA licence? Also, I have done my Bachelor’s degree in India and have 2 years work experience, so am I eligible to write CMA exam in USA?

    Would appreciate your response.


    1. Hi Aditi,

      You may fulfill your CMA experience requirement after passing the CMA exam within seven years.

      According to the CMA Handbook,

      “Candidates for the CMA Certification must complete two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management. This requirement may be completed prior to or within seven years of passing the examination. Academics can meet this requirement if at least 60% of their course load is in accounting and corporate financial management courses above the principles level. Professional experience is expected to be gained in full-time employment. However, continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week meeting the definition of qualified experience will count toward this requirement at a rate of one year of experience for every two years of part-time employment.

      Qualifying experience consists of positions requiring judgments regularly made employing the principles of management accounting and financial management.
      Such employment includes:
      • Preparation of financial statements
      • Financial planning & analysis
      • Monthly, quarterly, and year end close
      • Auditing (external or internal)
      • Budget preparation & reporting
      • Manage general ledger and balance sheets
      • Forecasting
      • Company investment decision making
      • Costing analysis
      • Risk evaluation

      Employment requiring the occasional application of management accounting principles such as in computer operations, sales and marketing, manufacturing,
      engineering, personnel, and general management will not satisfy this requirement. Internships and trainee, clerical, or non-technical positions do not provide appropriate experience to fulfill this requirement.”

      For complete details about the CMA exam, you may check the link below:


  7. Yes
    It was a nice article…everything now is in our hands to work hard to get through this hard target..

  8. Hello nathan….
    My name is shweta frm muscat, oman i appeared for cma part 1 exam ystrdy and cleared multiple choice quetsns n moved to essay…bt i have a small querry and its bothering me a lot i answered both d essay questns bt i dint save it and my tym was up… So wantd to knw if u dont end ur test n ur tym is up watevr ans u r writing dt tym dey wil consider it ? And wil it get saved automatically or not ?

    Waiting for ur reply….


    1. Hi Shweta,

      I believe that the system automatically saves your work but I’m not 100% sure of it. Sorry I can’t be of help.

  9. Hi Nathan

    really Im very thankful for you … you are doing a great favour for CMA candidates .

    please first let me tell you about my experiences in studying CMA.

    I start studying CMA in 2004 with Gliem Materials . for me , I found Gliem topics well ordered but not deeply explained.

    when I did my first exam try in 2005 I felt disappointed because I found the exam questions totally different than Gliem’s questions.

    so I stopped studying CMA and decide to study MBA . in 2014 I graduate as an MBA from Liverpool University , and directly

    planned to restudy CMA but from Hock materials this time.

    to be honest with you , I found hock better than Gliem because it gives detailed explanations as well as excellent examples.

    I almost finish reading part 1 and answering its questions ( remaining section E – Internal Controls) but yet I did not know anything

    essay questions.

    please Nathan I need some advices and recommendations from you because still I have some fears from the exam .

    thanks a lot to you Nathan .

    Mohammad Adnan
    Kuwait .

  10. Hi Nathan,

    At present I am living in Canada. I am not a computer guy. I am interested to enroll in CMA and has intended to appear in June 2016 attempt but due to financial crunch I can’t afford the cost of study material and due to scarcity of resources, I have lack of confidence to decide from where I have to take start and how should I track down the path/method to achieve my target including preparation and pass the exams. Although my educational background is in accounts & finance but starting again after gap of 5 to 7 years. Any help/guidance will be highly appreciated.

    Best Regards,


    1. Hello Kamran,

      I understand that the $997 price is out of reach for you at the moment. I’d also like to mention that I have another course at $597 if you are interested. It’s called Self-Study Mastery and includes all the tools you’ll need to self-study for the exam. You can learn about this program here:

      Either way, you can always check out my blog for free content, and I’ll continue sending you emails packed with valuable content about the CMA exam.


  11. Hello
    My name is Ahmed Zawar and i am from dubai UAE .i completed My BBA and now i am interested for CMA to start My career in finance field.Kindly can u advice me for this course..How it will be benefit to me…and also wana tell u that i dunt hve a background in accounts wether it will be a good option for mee to go for CMA course..what r the opportunities that i will get ?? kindly reply mee


  12. can you send my email CMA essay questions samples to improve my self and avoid any worrisome
    in exam

    1. Hello Mohamed,

      I currently haven’t developed sample questions. I’ve been focused on finishing up the study guide. Which study material did you purchase? Normally, they come with mock exams that include essay questions. If you didn’t get one, a quick email to their support team asking for it will get you one.

      If you have studied diligently and done your very best, don’t worry too much. Just take mock exams as many times as needed to score at least 80% in each section.

    2. Hi Mohamed,

      I was able to find free essay questions and answers online that you can use to practice. Please click on this link to get to the article. I hope this helps 🙂

      1. Dear Mr. Nathan
        i am searching about many sample of Essay question for helping me in the exam ,
        i am try to get your advises for studies planing within this site.
        could you help me for my above requests ,

        regards and thanks
        [email protected]

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