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.
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!