Although you don’t have to take the CMA Part 1 first, passing both parts of the CMA exam is the first and most crucial step to becoming a CMA.
Since each part covers different topics, it’s important that you study for each part separately. If you decide to start with CMA Part 2, study and pass the exam before starting on Part 1 content. I recommend using a solid CMA exam study guide and spending at least 16 weeks preparing for each part.
This article will give you a crash course on what to expect on CMA Part 1, starting with syllabus and exam topics. You’ll also find a simple study plan to get started.
Read on for everything you need to know to start preparing for the CMA Exam Part 1 and pass it on your first attempt.
Originally published in 2012, this article was updated and republished on January 19, 2021.
CMA Part 1 Syllabus
The CMA exam is difficult, no doubt about it. The sheer quantity of content spanning both parts can be a little overwhelming. It is definitely a benefit that it is broken up the way it is.
The CMA syllabus for Part 1 covers the following:
- External Financial Reporting Decisions (15% of your score)
- Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting (20% of your score)
- Performance Management (20% of your score)
- Cost Management (15% of your score)
- Internal Controls (15% of your score)
- Technology and Analytics (15% of your score)
In order to do well, you’ll need to exercise the following skills:
Keep in mind that the CMA exam requires a higher level of thinking than just reciting facts or working with basic equations. You’ll need to demonstrate the skills listed above in each knowledge area on the test.
Let’s dive deeper into what you need to learn for those topics.
CMA Exam Part 1 Topics: Financial Planning, Performance and Analytics
Some of these topics may be familiar to you if you’ve completed an accounting degree before going after the CMA. Since there’s also a CMA experience requirement, some candidates already have practical knowledge of a few of these topics.
Even so, you’ll need to spend time reviewing everything and make sure you not only know the material, but can apply your knowledge under pressure.
Here is a further breakdown of each topic area, with a reminder of their percentage for relative weight range:
A. External Financial Reporting Decisions – 15%
This section of the CMA largely deals with financial statements for accounting information. External financial reports are viewed by people outside an organization, so they have to align with specific requirements.
They may be prepared by accountants within a reporting entity and are usually some type of disclosure, statement, or summary. You’ll need a fairly thorough knowledge of external financial reporting and financial statements for this section of the CMA exam.
- Balance Sheets
- Income Statements
- Statement of Changes in Equity
- Statement of Cash Flows
- Integrated Reporting
Recognition, Measurement, Valuation, and Disclosure
- Asset Valuation
- Valuation of Liabilities
- Equity Transactions
- Revenue Recognition
- Income Measurement
- Significant differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS
B. Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting – 20%
This section of the CMA will test your ability to blend accounting concepts with practical skills in finance. This is where you will demonstrate the high-level strategy skills Certified Management Accountants are known for in planning, budgeting, and forecasting.
A lot of the study you will do for this section will require you to work through financial scenarios using sound budgeting and accounting principles.
- Analysis of internal and external factors affecting strategy
- Long-term mission and goals
- Alignment of tactics with long-term strategic goals
- Analytical techniques and Strategic planning models
- Characteristics of successful strategic planning process
- Operations and performance goals
- Characteristics of a good budget process
- Resource allocation
- Other budgeting concepts
- Regression analysis
- Learning Curve analysis
- Expected value
- Annual business plans (master budgets)
- Project budgeting
- Activity-based budgeting
- Zero-based budgeting
- Continuous (rolling) budgets
- Flexible budgeting
Annual profit plan and supporting schedules
Top-level planning and analysis
- Pro forma income
- Financial statement projects
- Cash flow projections
C. Performance Management – 20%
Topically, this section of the CMA exam will deal with flexible budgets, transfer pricing methods, a balanced scorecard, standard costing, variance analysis and more. Ideally, you’ll practice defining a standard cost system and identify the reasons why that system will work best.
There will be a lot of defining and developing as questions will address your ability to explain the relationships between metrics like KPIs and a strategic financial plan.
Cost and Variance Measures
- Comparison of actual to planned results
- Use of flexible budgets to analyze performance
- Management by exception
- Use of standard cost systems
- Analysis of variation from standard cost expectations
Responsibility Centers and Reporting Segments
- Types of responsibility centers
- Transfer pricing
- Reporting of organizational segments
- Product profitability analysis
- Business unit profitability analysis
- Customer profitability analysis
- Return on investment
- Residual income
- Investment base issues
- Key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Balanced scorecard
D. Cost Management – 15%
Cost management will deal with accounting and operational aspects of business, like costing, overhead, and supply chain. You will need to apply your understanding of how to use different methods to identify portions of mixed costs.
There will be a lot of analysis-oriented questions, including ones on process value, best practice and business reengineering.
- Cost behavior and cost objects
- Actual and normal costs
- Standard costs
- Absorption (full) costing
- Variable (direct) costing
- Joint and by-product costing
- Job order
- Basic Financial Statement Analysis
- Fixed and variable overhead expenses
- Plant-wide vs. departmental overhead
- Determination of allocation base
- Allocation of service department costs
Supply Chain Management
- Lean resource management techniques
- ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning
- Theory of constraints
- Capacity management and analysis
Business Process Improvement
- Value chain analysis
- Value-added concepts
- Process analysis, redesign, and standardization
- Activity-based management
- Continuous improvement concepts
- Best practice analysis
- Cost of quality analysis
- Efficient accounting processes
E. Internal Controls – 15%
The procedures for internal controls are subject to legislation. This section will require you to know a lot of statutes and regulatory guidelines for things like governance, structures, policies, risk and audits.
Your CMA studies may provide text content or flashcards that help you memorize overarching rules, laws or acts. You will also need to have a firm grasp on how internal controls apply to different kinds of companies (private, public, etc.).
Governance, Risk, and Compliance
- Internal control structure and management philosophy
- Internal control policies for safeguarding and assurance
- Internal control risk
- Corporate governance
- External audit requirements
Systems Controls and Security Measures
- General accounting system controls
- Application and transaction controls
- Network controls
- Backup controls
- Business continuity planning
F. Technology and Analytics – 15%
This section of the CMA exam is the most recent addition. Other areas were reduced to fit it in. It was added to make the exam more relevant to accounting professionals, who use a lot of technology and integrated systems to do their work.
Obviously the exam material can’t get platform-specific, so it deals with high level topics like how to use information systems, how to manage data, and how to automate financial tasks. It’s also important that CMAs understand data analysis, all of which is likely to be collected and reported on in a digital format.
- Accounting information systems
- Enterprise resource planning systems
- Enterprise performance management systems
- Data policies and procedures
- Life cycle of data
- Controls against security breaches
Technology-Enabled Finance Transformation
- System Development Life Cycle
- Process automation
- Innovative applications
- Business intelligence
- Data mining
- Analytic tools
- Data visualization
- Data Analytics
CMA Exam Part 1 Format
In addition to knowing what will be on the test, it’s important to know how the test is set up and structured, and what type of CMA exam questions to prepare for.
Currently, the CMA exam pass rate for both parts is just 45%. That should tell you just how hard the CMA is.
Don’t let that stop you, though, just use it to motivate your study efforts. Putting in the time to prepare, using a quality CMA course, and practicing the format as much as you can will give you a huge advantage on exam day.
The CMA exam format contains two standard elements, which are a multiple-choice section and an essay section.
The raw score (how many points you get based on how many right answers) is used to create your final score, which is calculated based on a uniform scoring system. For the CMA, the uniform scoring system runs from 0-500. A passing score is 360.
The exam is entirely computer-based and completed at a Prometric testing center, which has locations all over the world.
Here are some more details about the format of each section on CMA Part 1:
1. 100 Multiple Choice Questions
These account for 75% of your exam score. You will be allowed three hours for this section.
Each question on the multiple choice part of the exam is equally weighted. There are no points deducted for wrong answers, only points given for correct answers. With this format, it makes sense to attempt as many MCQs as you can, even when you’re not sure of the answer.
Not every test-taker is getting the same questions or having the same experience. Some versions of the exam may be slightly more difficult than others.
Make sure your review course for CMA Part 1 includes a large and realistic test bank. This will make sure you’ve encountered the full range of difficulty, wording, and question format.
To advance to the essay questions, you need to get at least 50% of the multiple choice questions correct.
2. Two Essay Questions
The essay questions are only accessible if you have passed the multiple choice section by correctly answering at least half of the questions.
Coming in second, you will be presented with two essay questions, both of which you must answer. You will write your answers to essay questions into a very simple word processor on the computer.
Some essays will require you to solve equations or do calculations, which can also be done within the word processor. Many people find it useful to do simulations of this, so they can get familiar with how to use the interface before the day of the test.
This section accounts for 25% of your exam score. You will be allowed one hour to write both of your essays.
CMA Part 1 Study Plan
In order to pass the first part of the CMA exam, you need a plan. Like I said, you want to allocate at least 16 weeks per section of the CMA exam, but this is only the start of the planning you need to do.
Let’s talk about solidifying a study schedule, understanding and practicing for test content and finding the right online course.
Over the course of four months, you will want to schedule your CMA study time, just like you would a job or school. Set in advance which days and for how many hours a day you plan to study.
It’s essential that you have a plan like this going in. You’ll be amazed at how many opportunities you have to slack off or procrastinate. Create a study plan and stick to it.
Part of your CMA exam studies has to be preparing for the different question types. Many people benefit from using CMA test question banks, flashcards, and CMA textbooks to study. All of these should have extensive detail and give you plenty of opportunity to practice CMA question types.
I recommend using certified management accountant practice tests throughout your studies. Take one at the beginning to find out where you stand. As you progress and learn the content, keep taking practice exams periodically. This will help you track progress and improve your speed for the timed exam.
The best way to put a framework in place is to sign up for a CMA online course. There are several to choose from.
The best CMA study programs include video instruction from experts, CMA practice questions, exam simulators, textbooks, and a variety of study materials. Many people also upgrade to include a CMA coach as this can provide one-on-one assistance that accelerates your progress.
Check out our comparison of CMA review courses to find your best option.
For a video walkthrough on how to set up your own CMA study plan, click play below.
CMA Part 1 FAQ
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the first part of the CMA exam.
How Many Units Are in CMA Part 1?
There are 100 multiple choice questions and two essay questions in part one of the CMA exam.
What is the CMA Part 1 Exam Test Time?
Part 1 of the CMA exam takes four hours to complete.
How Do I Study For CMA Part 1?
Studying for part 1 of the CMA exam should take about 16 weeks. Most people invest in a CMA study course, which will provide instructor-led sessions, textbooks, practice materials and more.
Do I Have to Pass the Question and Essay Part Simultaneously?
In the CMA exam, you will first tackle 100 multiple-choice questions. Only when you have passed those (50% or more) can you progress to the two essay questions.
Have more questions? Drop them below and I’ll provide answers!
How are you,,
I need to know is it important to have an accountant background to pass CMA exam?
I am really interested in it.
Accounting knowledge is fundamental. Without it, it’s practically impossible to pass the CMA exams. Learn the fundamentals of accounting before attempting at the CMA exam. My program includes a textbook to help professionals like you transition into the accounting field and pass the CMA exam. For all the details you’re welcome to click on the following link: https://cmaexamacademy.com/product/premium-cma-coaching-combo-part-1-part-2/ref/nathan/ Reply back if you have any questions. Happy to help. Thanks
Hi Nathan, could you please describe the difference between CMA and CIMA? and which country I can use CMA Certification? is it possible to have only 4 months preparation for Part 1?
The CIMA is mostly recognized in the UK and the commonwealth countries. The US CMA, however, is a global designation recognized worldwide. I compare the two certifications in my blog post here.
As for your second question – yes, it is absolutely possible to for one part of the exam in 4 months or less. I actually offer a 16-week study plan per part in my coaching course at the Academy. Check it out here 🙂
If you have any other questions, just hit reply.
Iam intersting to get CMA part 1 in Sept 2020 need your advice and from where can I start and need material CMA part1 2020 and exam
The first step is to enroll in CMA review course. If you’d like to study with me, you can enroll in my flagship course here.
If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to hit Reply 🙂
Can I get Your CMA study guide
Sure thing. Click here to get your study guide for free.
This Sunny here
I am going to attempt this exam in next year of Jan 2020 and I am not getting time due to job.
I want to know that should I am able to clear the exam in first attempt. If I study for a month and than give exam .
I want to clear the exam the exam in first attempt.
So please sir guide me regarding this.
And i am using the willey reference book is it okay for me or not
I recommend studying for at least 4 months (15 hrs/week) before taking the CMA exam for one part.
It’s not an easy exam and to increase your chances of passing on your first attempt you’ll need to devote more time to learning the material and practicing on exam simulations in a test bank.
As for your CMA textbooks, make sure that you have the latest edition that covers the 2020 exam changes. The exam is changing next year so it’s important to study form the most up-to-date materials.
Do you have a test bank, too? It’s a critical study tool as well.
Iam working in KSA Ihave master degree in financial accounting
Iwant to obtain CMA certification. but I have no time
How can u pelp me to prepare for the exam
Is it possible to send the overall course via my email
with my best regard
My coaching course and the step-by-step study plan will slash your study time in half. If you’d like to enroll, please click here.
In today’s competitive world just doing a course won’t get you a job unless you have experience. After doing CMA what about experience?
In order to obtain the CMA certification, candidates are also required to submit the experience requirement to the IMA. Click here to read more about it.
You can fulfill the experience requirement either prior to, or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
For candidates who passed both parts but don’t have much or any work experience yet, informing the employer about the passed exam gives them a competitive edge over their peers, as it confirms that they’ve mastered the CMA material and are knowledgeable enough to take on a management accounting role.
Here’s another blog post on how to promote your CMA designation.
Let me know if this answers your question, Deepti, and also if you have any others 🙂
The link is not working. Could you please help?
I’m sorry about that! Could you please try accessing the links again?
Sir I want to know that it is very hard to crack CMA exam. I wanted to apply for this exam. Please tell me in which institute I must prefer for CMA entrance exam.
The exam is definitely not easy. To compare the best courses available and to assess which one is the best for you, please check out my Best CMA Review Course comparison chart. Thanks, Nathan
I am interested in the knowledge and its application rather than the exam itself. How can you help?
Since you’re only interested in the knowledge and its application, my suggestion is to purchase textbooks and a test bank to learn the material. The textbooks will provide you with the knowledge, and the test bank will help you apply that knowledge in various scenarios and test your level of comprehension.
Hi, I am Prakhar
how much time on a average it takes to clear CMA.
It takes around 200 hours of studying to prepare for one part of the exam.
Click here to learn more about the CMA certification and how to obtain it.
Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂
i want to study cma
I can help you prepare for the CMA exam via my coaching course, check it here.
Let me know if you have any other questions.
I have been studying CMA for a couple months, but the materials from the Wiley CMA doesn’t really helpful, because it does not contain specific details. Can anyone suggest me the other materials to study?
I suggest you to supplement your current study materials with this coaching course. It includes in-depth video lectures on all topics tested on the CMA exam and unlimited 1-on-1 coaching so you can ask as many questions as you need to fully understand the material.
sir i have done mba in finance and has experience in differnt field . i want to do cma. please advise
You are eligible for the exam, however to become certified you’ll need to fulfill the experience requirement within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
For more information, check the CMA roadmap here.
I am a b.com graduate..am planning to take up CMA course as my career.I am an average student..not that much sharp in accounting and finance field..do you feel it as a right move..?in which all fields should I be more careful regarding taking up CMA?reply me asap.
The process of preparing for the exam will help you sharpen your skills in management accounting, so you don’t need to worry about that, especially if you choose to study with a coach who will be by your side throughout your journey to answer all the questions you have and help you grasp the material faster and easier.
For more information, check the roadmap to becoming a CMA here.
Im Vignesh Ravi, an IT graduate. Due to some issues I couldnt take up Commerce as my High-School Major but now I want to move to the Finance & Accounting field and I was adviced to take up CMA. Do you its a right move to make by taking up CMA exam now. If not, can you suggest any possible carrier that could take me to the Finance stream.
Looking forward to you speedy reply.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in any area, then the CMA will be the fastest track to get you into accounting and even position you to obtain a management accounting job in the future. You can learn more here.
I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have.
i am Abdiwahab
I am really interested to do the CMA .I am already having B.com . Since last 4 years i’m working as an accountant in a contracting company. really confused on this. but i would like to starta professional qualification. please advice me which one to start?
Hi Abdiwahab. If management positions are appealing to you, then go for the CMA, you won’t regret it. Wish you best of luck in your journey and if you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Will there be any questions in CMA Part 1 regarding significant differences between IFRS & U.S. GAAP.
Based on IMA’s LOS, there’s always chance that the question you mentioned will be tested but to a very limited extent.
Hi sir ,
I am really interested to do the CMA .I am already having M.com . Since 8 years i’m working as an accountant in a contracting company … is CMA is only related to cost accounting?? really confused on this. but i would like to get a professional qualification also.
To know about the CMA certification, please check the CMA Roadmap link here.
I’m a finance guy with 4 years of experience in a Treasury Dept. I’m actually debating between CMA or CTP.
So my question is, what should I go for and why?
If you are planning to specifically target Treasury as a long-term career, then, I would suggest pursuing CTP. But if you would like to expand your competitive reach in the corporate world, it would be best to take the CMA. Treasury is only one aspect of management accounting. Management accounting covers a lot of disciplines from accounting to economics to corporate finance. The CMA exam is a broader than CTP. It covers financial planning, analysis and decision-making (recently, the CMA expanded on external financial reporting). Regardless of what you choose, an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Keep learning and improving, Haitham!
Hi Rajesh Here,
When can I complete the exam if I purchase the course in this month?
Thanks in advance
If you purchase the course this month, we can advise you to take the exam either on the last week of February or more preferably, in May.
Thanks and Regards,
Hi sir ,
First of all thank you for give good clarification about to CMA what exactly I needed.I am really interested to do the CMA .I am already having M.com . currently I am not working and house wife too …so I didn’t have working experience too ….is working experience required for doing CMA?
The two-year working experience requirement can be fulfilled prior to or within seven years after passing the exam. You can take the CMA exam and attain the “CMA Passer” status until you complied with the CMA experience requirement.
Thanks and Regards,
Let me first congratulate you for the work you are doing,It is highly appreciable.Your help made me boost my confidence to do CMA.
As you know CMA is uncommon as compared to CPA,so I always get confused to which course to do.
Also just like you I have a full time job with household work,and I find very difficult to take out some time to study,So can you please help me as to how to approach to CMA.
Also what % we need to pass each part(MCQ and Essay Individually)
I am planning to part 1 first because it is comparatively difficult and I like to chase for that first.
Please check our CMA Courses using this link.
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 or more and a decent score from your essay of 78-94 (62% to 75% of 125) to pass the exam.
I have appeared twice for part 1 and failed to succeed both the times. Can you recommend any possible solution so that I can complete my certification since my membership is expiring by the end of December-2016. Kindly suggest any study material in particular so that I can focus better.
We can help you through our CMA courses. Please check this link.
hi, can you please let me know whether we can use same 2015 study materials for coming years CMA preparation.
Yes, Ancy. The 2015 study materials can still be used for the coming years as there is no announced curriculum change from IMA yet.
Hello Mr. Nathan,
I am really interested to do the CMA. I am already having MBA finance. Currently I am working in Saudi Arabia. Could you please brief what should I do for getting the CMA.
You may check my blog post about how to become a CMA using this link.
thank you for your efforts
You’re welcome Badawy!
I want know is this totally correspondence course and how many parts are there to complete a CMA.
The complete Part 1 syllabus is listed here. There’s also part 2 though.
I have taken CPA exams several times and have failed by couple of points, I’m at the point of giving up it’s been on and off trying to pass, I was wondering if maybe I should be getting my CMA instead and if it is an easier exam than the CPA?
It depends on what you are interested in doing long-term. I wrote an article comparing both designations. If you have any questions after reading it, let me know.
please note that cma exam isn’t available in my country sudan cause of sanction program so if I ready to take it will cost me a lot, your advice is much more important 😮
I hold an MBA degree in finance and banking specialization and I want to attain CMA please advice me and provide an appropriate strategy to start.
I need to start, I am Egyptian guy and living in KSA, let me know how to start if you find time to help.
Thanks for your help in this
Hi this ayeda
I want to know if aim going to purchase the CMA study guide and coach when it’s the possibility to be deliver as my exam after 1 month part one and aim from UAE
thanks really and appreciated your achievements
My study guide is delivered via email so you’ll get it within a few minutes after purchasing it 🙂
really I want to pass the exam and know more of accounting
Study diligently, memorize formulas, and take mock exams until you are scoring at least 80%. Best of luck!
I went 2 time for the CMA part 1 exam and did not pass , It the only part for me to get my cma I have chance till June 2014 , otherwise I had to take the 2 part . It seem my problem is the easy question . as I finish the MSQs and the essay opened for me .
I am planing to go in Janurary 2014 .
I really appreciate your support to help me pass this time
You are very close to achieving your CMA credential!! If your weakness area is the essay section, take a moment to read my latest blog post. I wrote all about the essay section of the exam. Let me know if you have any questions after reading it. I’m here to help 🙂