Accounting Certifications: Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

3. CMA exam and preparation

Applying for and taking the CMA exam requires a candidate to:

  • Be an active member of the IMA

  • Pay the CMA entrance fee

The CMA exam includes two parts that cover various topics:

  • Financial planning, performance, and analytics.  This part covers the following topics: external financial reporting decisions; planning, budgeting, and forecasting; performance management; cost management; internal controls; and technology and analytics.

  • Strategic financial management.  This part covers these topics: financial statement analysis; corporate finance; decision analysis; risk management; investment decisions; and professional ethics.

The IMA estimates that it takes 12-18 months to complete both parts of the exam.  Both parts must be completed within three years and a part can only be taken once in a testing window (see below for testing windows). It may take about 150-170 hours to prepare for each part exam.  Passing rates for the CMA exam are not very high (about 50%) so it is a relatively hard exam.

When you take a CMA exam part, you are given 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay questions.  The total time to complete these is four (4) hours.  An interesting note about the CMA exam is that you must answer at least 50% of the multiple-choice questions correctly to be eligible to take the essay section.  Scores on the CMA exams range from 0 to 500 and the required passing score is 360.

The CPA exam is computerized and can be taken at a testing location which is administered by Prometric (a third party that partnered with the IMA).  There are three testing windows in a calendar year during which exam parts can be taken:

  • January/February
  • May/June
  • September/October

You will generally be provided your scores approximately six weeks from the end of the month in which you've taken your test.

Preparation for the CMA exam is an important part of successfully becoming a CMA.  There are a lot of training materials, books, and online forums available for the CMA exam.  Check out the IMA’s website that lists approved vendors for the CMA exam preparation.

4. Maintaining your CMA license and continuing professional education (CPE)

Once you have received your CMA certification, you will need to maintain your professional knowledge by taking continuing education.  CMAs are required to have at least 30 continuing education credits per calendar year and two of them have to be in the subject of ethics.  If you obtain more than 30 continuing education credits you are allowed to carry up to 10 credits (above your current year’s 30 credits) into the next calendar year. 

You can obtain continuing education by taking self-study courses, college or university courses; participating in trade or professional association meetings; serving as a speaker, discussion leader or college teacher; or writing technical articles, books, and publications.

The IMA is a great resource to obtain CPE hours. There are also a lot of third-party vendors providing training that qualifies for CPE hours for the CMA license.

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