The CMA Exam Essay Questions: Everything You Need to Know

The CMA Exam Essay Questions

The CMA Exam essay questions stress a lot of people out. After all, Certified Management Accountants typically have a background in accounting or finance — we’re not writers!

As long as you’ve mastered the exam content enough to do well on the multiple-choice questions, some simple strategies will help you succeed on the essays, too.

I’d like to share with you some specific tips and strategies to practice as you study for the CMA exam, that will help you sail through the essay sections. These are all the things that worked for me and thousands of CMA candidates in my coaching program.

If you are worried about the CMA essay questions, take what I’m about to share, and you’ll be in a much better position to pass on your first try.

What will you learn from this post?

  • Understanding the CMA Exam Format
  • CMA Essay Questions Part 1
  • CMA Essay Questions Part 2
  • The 12 Best CMA Essay Question Strategies
  • What the CMA Exam Essay Questions Look Like
  • Sample CMA Essay Questions

Originally published in 2018, this article was updated and republished on March 4, 2021.

Understanding the CMA Exam Format

 

Understand the CMA exam format

Understanding the CMA exam format is crucial to performing well on the test. There are two parts to the CMA exam, which will be taken separately after discrete seasons of CMA exam preparation.

You can take Part 1 and Part 2 in any order, and they cover unique topics. Both tests will be composed of multiple-choice questions and essays.

When you are deciding how long to study for the CMA exam, remember that each part has a different syllabus. It’s best to study for and pass one of the exam parts before moving on to the next.

The CMA essay questions are based on the same content you need to know for the multiple-choice questions. They are just in a different format, requiring not only application of knowledge and skills, but also explanation.

This means a deep understanding of all the topics is crucial — make sure you choose a CMA prep course with thorough study materials and answer explanations.

Here is a breakdown of the topics covered on each part of the CMA exam and the format:

CMA Exam Part 1 – Financial Planning, Performance and Analytics

4 hours total, 100 multiple-choice questions, and two 30-minute essay scenarios

  • External Financial Reporting Decisions (15% of the exam)
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (20% of the exam)
  • Performance Management (20% of the exam)
  • Cost Management (15% of the exam)
  • Internal Controls (15% of the exam)
  • Technology and Analytics (15% of the exam)

CMA Exam Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management

4 hours total, 100 multiple-choice questions, and two 30-minute essay scenarios

  • Financial Statement Analysis (20% of the exam)
  • Corporate Finance (20% of the exam)
  • Decision Analysis (20% of the exam)
  • Risk Management (10% of the exam)
  • Investment Decisions (15% of the exam)
  • Professional Ethics (10% of the exam)

CMA Exam Structure and Feedback

  • 3 hours of multiple-choice questions – 75% of score
  • 1 hour of essay scenarios – 25% of score
  • You must earn at least 50% on multiple-choice sections in order to advance to the essay section. If you are not advanced to the essay section, it means that you failed the exam.
  • You cannot return to the multiple-choice section once you’ve advanced to the essay section of the exam.

CMA Exam Scheduling & Testing Procedures

  • Exams are administered at Prometric testing centers.
  • The exam is entirely computer-based, including the essay questions.
  • Schedule your exam date and time online, only after receiving your exam authorization from the IMA.
  • There are three exam testing windows offered: January & February, May & June, September & October.

CMA Essay Questions Part 1

 

CMA Essay questions part 1

Part 1 of the CMA exam has two essay questions. You will read a scenario or passage of text and then use a word processor to type out your essay response.

The essay questions on the exam are meant to test your ability to articulately explain the application of relevant financial concepts and principles.

In part 1, the essay questions will revolve around related exam content and could include anything related to Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics.

It’s important that you write clearly and concisely. During CMA exam prep, you’ll refine this skill.

The essay portion will account for 25% of your CMA exam score for part 1.

CMA Essay Questions Part 2

CMA Exam Essay Questions Part 2

Similar in format and requirements, part 2 of the CMA exam will also include two essay questions. These, too, will account for 25% of your score.

It’s important that you learn how to take the CMA exam by practicing essay questions. You’ll get a rhythm down that caters to your strengths and enables you to thoroughly read, reflect, and then craft meaningful responses for your essays.

Part 2 CMA exam essays will cover the topics from that part of the CMA exam, including anything related to Strategic Financial Management.

The 12 Best CMA Essay Questions Strategies

12 Best CMA Essay Strategies

The IMA offers some tips on how to do well on the CMA essay portion. Over my years of coaching thousands of CMA students, I’ve created my own list. I’ve also put together a free CMA study guide, where you’ll find a lot more information to help you pass the exam and get certified.

These tips cover some common concerns and questions people have about how to approach the essay questions. They also include some super-effective strategies to help you get the most possible points in this section.

Here are my best CMA essay question tips and strategies:

Stay positive and don’t be afraid of this section

Not everyone is a writer. That doesn’t mean you can’t do well on the essay section of the CMA exam. You need basic, plain, and straightforward English, and a competent understanding of financial concepts. Anyone can learn enough to do well on this.

If you show your work and assumptions, you can earn partial credits

The IMA straight up says that graders want to give you as many points as possible. Because a human will be reading this, you have some room to explain yourself in an authentic way. Doing so (and showcasing that you really do know what you’re talking about) can earn you more points.

Expect 3 to 6 questions for each essay scenario

With each essay question on the CMA exam, you’ll read a brief scenario and then be asked as many as six questions. The questions will require you to use the information presented and apply financial concepts and principles to it. You’ll practice this as you study for the CMA exam.

You can scroll between questions and scenarios within the essay section

Scanning through the questions will help you assess how much time you’ll need for responses. You don’t have to answer the questions in order. You may see that the fourth question is a doozy and will take you a little more time. You can get a global view and then manage your time accordingly.

Pay close attention to verbs

Action words may be descriptive or directive. They are definitely clues. For instance, if the essay question says, “compare or contrast,” don’t spend time defining something. Only do what is asked in the question.

Read the entire question to understand all requirements

Details are your friends. Don’t miss one by skimming or jumping away once you think you “get the idea.” Take your time and read everything. All of the data, information, connections, and other content you need to form an articulate response are contained in the text.

Use good standard English, organization, and clarity

The IMA cites these metrics as what test graders are looking for in this section. People whose native language isn’t English often get anxious about the essay portion of the CMA exam. They needn’t be. It doesn’t require you to be verbose, rather to get to the point and state your meaning as plainly as possible.

Graders are looking for effective writing skills

Again, good English is simple. There are a finite amount of rules and you can master the kind of writing graders are looking for in CMA exam essays. Showcase your ability to use the right vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, and more.

Be brief and to the point

It’s tempting to think that writing a lot will get you the most points, but (as always), less is more. Don’t start waxing eloquent. Bullet points are acceptable. You are on the clock, after all.

Don’t leave questions blank

You should have looked ahead but even so, you can’t always anticipate exactly how long a response will take. Sometimes you just get hung up and run out of time. If you are short on time, at least write an outline of your main points.

Graders are looking to give you points, not take them away

Make it easy for the graders to give you points by showing your work. Sometimes, you can get carried away with the narrative. Having jotted down an outline or bullet points of your main ideas will help your case with graders.

Be sure to use all the time available to you

Maybe you aren’t in danger of running out the time at all. If you are a lightning fast writer, you don’t get extra points for speed. Take your time. Pace yourself. Practice this.

What the CMA Exam Essay Section Looks Like

CMA Essay Sample Screenshot

Type your responses into the text box. This is similar to MS Word but easier and simpler. If you are familiar with MS Word, this won’t be an issue at all.

As you can see, the module shows you the number of questions on the top left-hand corner, and your time remaining on the top right-hand corner.

Sample CMA Exam Essay Questions

Sample CMA exam essay questions

It may be helpful to see what a CMA exam essay question looks like. If you buy a CMA review course, you should get access to a test bank that will include plenty of sample essay questions. Practice questions are an essential piece of your CMA study material toolkit.

When you’re ready to start, check out what my course has to offer, including coaching, a huge test bank, and lots of CMA essay questions to practice. It’s all available in the CMA Coach Shop.

Don’t be afraid of this section of the exam. Many, including myself, have gone through it with success. If others could do it, you can too!

Still feel anxious or have questions about CMA essay questions? Drop a comment below and I’ll give you advice and guidance for how to sharpen your essay skills!

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74 Comments on “The CMA Exam Essay Questions: Everything You Need to Know”

  1. In one of the Q&A, i read we should aim 75% MCQs and 75% essays to be correct to have a chance to pass. How will we know about 75% in a subjective thing like essay. Also, when the clock is ticking and you have to manage 12-14 questions in 1 hour, it looks like a humongous task to write as much as possible for every question. I got 13 questions of which 9 were theoretical, and i really don’t know what is “enough” in essays. Of corse, there are some answers i wrote well, some are not well written and I cud have written much more in them given the time was not ticking. People told me to finish MCQs 10 minutes earlier to get more time in essays, but its easy said than done.

    1. Nupur, you won’t know how much you scored in each section of the exam unfortunately. You’ll just get a final score for the entire exam.

  2. My time ran out while I was reviewing my answers in the essay portion. Will my answers be saved and submitted?

    1. Hi Nupur,

      The IMA doesn’t provide a target number of words for the essay scenarios. Although they recommend candidates to be concise, make sure you are not too brief. You should use as many words as needed to explain your answers clearly and address all the components in the essay questions.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for giving us a platform to ask any query related to CMA exam.
    My question is how many essay questions will be given in the exam to solve, is it one essay question or more.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Riyaz,

      Great question! There will be two essay scenarios and each can have five to seven questions associated with it. You’ll be given 30 minutes to respond to each essay scenario.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  4. DOES CMA PART 1 ESSAY QUESTION WILL ASK TO SOLVE COMPLETE QUESTION RELATED TO PREPARATION OF INCOME STATEMENT, OTHER COMPREHENSIVE INCOME, BALANCE SHEET (COMPLETE FINANCIAL STATEMENT)

    1. Hi Riyaz,

      It very well could. We don’t know what the essay questions will ask but be prepared for any type of question presented.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  5. do you really need 1 hour for the essay or is there wiggle room there if I need to spend a little more time on the multiple choice questions?

    1. Jo, if you finish your MCQs before your 3 hour limit, any remaining time will be carried over to the 1-hour essay section effectively giving you extra time in Essays. But this doesn’t work the other way around since the MCQ section is the first section of the exam. Thanks, Nathan

  6. Pingback: Taking the CMA Exam In 2015? Here's Your Roadmap

  7. Hello sir . My exams for part 2 will be held February 2019 .I want to ask you whether my Wiley material edition 2017 is good enough to prepare . Or I should purchase new material

  8. Pingback: CMA Exam Tips for the Upcoming Testing Window

    1. Hi Mohammed – the essay answers will be saved automatically when you proceed to the next one.

  9. Hi Nathan. Is there grammar check in the writing section of the exam? Do they underline the words you spell wrong and provide the potential words you meant like in Word?
    Thanks.

  10. I am using Wiley… should I go for another online test bank. I would like to have more question bank only. I am fine with books but looking for more question for practice

  11. Dear Nathan Liao,

    How important to be proficient in English language to pass the CMA examination. i just thinking about how to pass essay questions. will it hard for the people who are bit weak in english writing?
    Appreciated your answer on this point.

    1. Hi Yahya,

      It surely helps, but most candidates improve significantly their English as they study for the exam and practice answering essay questions. You may also take some additional business English classes if you feel you need them.

      Cheers!

  12. Hi Nathan
    I am take the exam on 21/2/2017 and get score 340 after this time i stop reading CMA part 1 before two month i started again but i found some problem in section E and i need suitable material for it instead of hock and gliem.
    and when it possible for me to repeat the exam ?
    Thanks .
    Motwakel

    1. Hi Motwakel,

      You can repeat the exam anytime you’re ready.

      I recommend you to check my video coaching course here. I’ll be there for you to answer any questions you have along the course and help you pass the exam the next time around.

      Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.

      Cheers!

  13. Hi Nathan
    Need more clarity on the essay questions. From the various comments above, I gather it is critical that we save the essay question as and when we move to the next one – is that right? Also, when asked to prepare Income Statement or Balance Sheet – how do you go about doing it in word? Do we first work it out on a paper and type it in? Is formatting mandatory?

    Many thanks,
    Savita

    1. Hi Savita,

      Yes, save the essay questions. The system is designed to autosave but it’s best to do it yourself anyways for peace of mind.

      All questions should be worked out on paper first except for theoretical ones of course.

      Wish you best of luck on your exam!

  14. Sir,
    How many marks carries a single multiple question….????
    And howmany mark carries a single esaay question….????

    1. Hi Sanooj,

      Each mutiple choice question or essay question will have the same weight regardless of difficulty level.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  15. I have written essay questions and when i moved to next and previous they were there. But I didnt click save button. Will it be saved?
    Furthermore, If I score 360 in MCQ without essay Q. What is the chance to pass?

    Thanks and Regards,

    Anitha

    1. Hi Anitha,

      The passing mark is 360 out of 500 scaled score. If you have scored 360 in MCQ, then you will surely pass the exam but you must finish the essay part to get a better score.

      For a complete discussion on the grading system, you may check the link below:

      https://www.cmacoach.com/cma-exam-graded/

      As per IMA, for the period May 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016, the passing rates for Part 1 and Part 2 are 35% and 52% respectively.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  16. dear , i wanna know that if a person has completed 50% score and he moves to 2nd window but there are remaining questions which are not answered yet then what will be the criteria for getting back and resolve them

    1. Hi Muhammad,

      You cannot get back to the multiple choice (MC) questions once you moved to the 2nd section. Unanswered questions will be graded as incorrect. That is why, it is advised to make educated guess if you do not know the answer or how to solve a particular MC question or you’re running out of time.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  17. Regarding P1 essay questions, if I say that the two essay questions will be about internal control and budgeting planning & forecasting respectively, would it be a safe bet? from a scale of 1 to 10. I mean, what’s the chance of each section being essay questioned.

    1. Hi Wenhao, thanks for your question. It’s really hard to predict what will be covered in the essay questions. Your best bet is to be fully prepared and know every section really well. Let me know if you have any follow up questions. Nathan

  18. Hello,
    Please how many questions are there in the essay session?
    Are there just two compulsory questions or they are more?

    1. Hello Jawula,

      There are two essay scenarios and each one may contain more than one question.

      Nathan

  19. Hello,

    I’m a college student and I have my part 2 exam on the 25th of February. However, I’m really short on time because we are required to do a research paper as well during the coming month. I wanted to to know if it was honestly possible to study for part 2 in the remaining time with some hope of passing. It should be noted, most of the topics have been covered in my college syllabus.

    1. Hi Jessica,

      If you have covered these topics in college recently, then I think it’ll be possible to take and pass the exam if you dedicate enough hours from now until exam day. How many hours can you devote each week to study for your CMA exam? I would suggest at least 10 hours or more if you can, depending on how comfortable you are with the subject matter.

      Have you taken mock exams at all yet?

    1. Hi Ali, Both have excellent test banks. Are you looking strictly for a test bank only, or also textbooks?

  20. Hi Nathan,

    What is the probability of passing Part 1 of the CMA exam by knowing the theory 100% and just a little portion of the calculations?

    1. Hi Rilky, it’s hard to predict but if you are not ready to perform calculations during the exam, your chances of passing are very slim.

  21. Hi,

    What if we add more than what is required from us in the essay is that ok? eg. the essay question is asking to list 3 actions then I list 5 or 6 just to broaden my answer and to cover as much possible!

    1. HI Basem,

      If you have time to add more answers go ahead. It doesn’t hurt to give graders more information to grade you with. But do this only if you have extra time. Otherwise focus on finishing the exam on time and completing ALL answers.

  22. Hi Nathan,

    I have written essay question and when i mood to next and previous they were there. But I didnt click save button. How will it be.
    Furthermore, If I passed MCQ without essay Q. What is the chance to pass?

    Thanks and Regards,
    Alto

  23. Hi Nathan,

    Your tips have been helpful for me.

    Wondering if Cost allocation techniques, Equivalent Unit ( conversion costs) have come up on essays over the last 3 -4 Part 1 exams??

    Thank you

  24. Dear Nathan

    What should be the strategy to pass the CMA exam? Does practicing the online question bank provided by Wiley material sufficient to score 75% on the MCQs? Will the exam questions on the final exam day be based on the question bank provided by WIley? Kindly share your experience.

    1. Kartik,

      Is not enough to practice with the online test bank. You will also need to read the textbooks, use flashcards and get coaching if you need it.

      The MCQs in the test bank are retired questions so you will not see exactly the same ones on the exam. If you score above 80% consistently using your test bank, I think you’ll be in good shape.

  25. Hey!
    Your article is really helpful. However, I am worried about one thing. Will we have the facility to make a table to document our response for the essay question? In other words, what does that response box allow other than plain text?

  26. Hi Nathan,

    I am preparing for the Part II exam and my exam date is on 22.10.2014. I almost cover the topic and essay writing practice is pending. Now I am getting 80-85 score for gleim online.Expecting your advice for final review…

  27. I didn’t press save in the text box of the essay question .dose it saves automatically or my reply will be blank?

  28. I’m curious, in order to pass part 1 and/or part 2, one needs to score a 360+ out of 500. If the multiple choices account for 75% of the test, theoretically, I can pass both parts by answering all the multiple choices correctly. 75% of 500 is 375. I understand the degree of difficulty and improbability of answering all the multiple choices correctly, but I’m just speaking hypotheticals here.

    1. I think it’s not correct.
      75% of 500 is 375. Hense, the essay section would have 125 points (500-375=125).
      If you pass the MCQ section with 50% and essay section with 100% correct answers, you will get only 313 points (375/2+125=313), which less thn required 360.

  29. Hi Nathan,

    Must earn at least 50% on multiple-choice section in order to advance to essay section. If in the exam you are not advanced to the essay section, it means that you failed the exam. –

    If student gets 50 or more % in MCQs than does it mean that student has passed the exam or what ?

    1. Hi Adnan,

      Candidates must earn at least 50% in the MCQ section in order to advance to the essay section. That does not mean you have passed the exam. It means that you have earned sufficient points to move onto the essay section. If a candidate scores below 50% in the MCQ section and scores 25% in the essay section, the candidate will have failed the exam due to insufficient points. This is why the IMA doesn’t let candidates with a score below 50% move onto the essay section because they have already failed.

  30. Hi,

    have got part 1 & 2 ver3.0 books of IMA from one of my friends.

    Would request you to suggest if these books are okay for studying or do I need to buy new books for taking exam in may14…?

    Awaiting your response.

    1. Bijit,

      With borrowed books you won’t have access to the online test bank, which I think is very important for your preparation.

  31. Did the writing skill ,spelling and grammar effect the the answer if it is correct, specially for those the English in not the mother tongue ?
    thank you

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