Hero Image How to Become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

How to Become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

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The certified management accountant (CMA) certification qualifies those who hold it to work in corporate financial accounting and strategic management settings. Professionals often choose this pathway because it covers topics not included in the certified public accountant (CPA) certification. While the CPA qualification focuses on job tasks, like writing audit reports and preparing tax returns, the CMA certification targets management and executive-level duties.

Accountants with CMA qualifications analyze budgets for internal review and help companies make informed, strategic business decisions. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) awards the CMA certification to those who pass the CMA exam. Accountants often pursue this qualification before applying to executive positions, such as chief financial officer. CMA salaries typically surpass their noncertified counterparts.

Why Become a Certified Management Accountant?

The CMA qualification guarantees professionals can work in strategic roles within corporate finance teams. CMA holders join a community of their peers through the IMA, generally earn a higher annual salaries, and enjoy other advantages, like:

  • Credibility: Like other certifications in accounting, the CMA qualification demonstrates competency. It is also recognized in several countries, including the U.S., making it a globally applicable credential.
  • Earning Potential: Employers often prefer CMA holders for higher-paying positions. In 2019, the IMA conducted a global salary survey that found that CMAs earn 117% higher salaries than uncertified professionals.
  • More Job Opportunities: CMA certification makes job candidates more versatile, and thus more appealing to employers. Professionals who earn CMAs also become members of the IMA, which means more opportunities to network and hear about job opportunities.
  • Career Advancement: Employers often prefer candidates with leadership and administrative skills for upper-level positions. The CMA certification examination requires strategic thinking in decision making, which is essential for people in management positions.
  • Job Security: With the rise of artificial intelligence and automated systems overtaking certain types of human labor, professionals need to distinguish themselves with other skills. This certification emphasizes critical thinking, which allows CMA holders to think strategically instead of just crunching numbers. A good CMA might even innovate ways to integrate technological advances.

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Understanding the Certified Management Accountant Exam

There are a lot of steps involved in preparing to take the CMA exam, and many candidates have questions during the process. To help, here’s a handy guide to the CMA exam, including the answers to some commonly asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Certified Management Accountant Exam

  • What does a management accountant do?

    A management accountant typically works for private companies where they analyze financial data and strategize ways to improve company performance. They evaluate investments, assess internal and external financial risks, and present their ideas to senior management.

  • When is the CMA administered?

    Candidates can take the exam during three annual testing windows:

    • January 1-February 28
    • May 1-June 30
    • September 1-October 31

  • Where can I take the CMA exam?

    Candidates can take the CMA exam at testing centers across the U.S. and all over the world. You can find your nearest testing location here.

  • How is the CMA exam administered?

    Candidates take the exam on a computer at a testing center. You must complete two parts with four hours each, divided into multiple choice and essay questions.

  • How often can I take the CMA exam?

    If you fail the CMA exam, you may retake it during the next testing window. You may take the CMA a maximum of three times in one year, and you must pass both parts of the exam within three years to earn certification.

Fulfilling CMA Exam Requirements

Although review courses can help with studying, CMA candidates need detailed accounting and business knowledge, so the IMA requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field before taking the exam. Read more about exam requirements below.

Educational Requirements

The IMA requires CMA candidates to fulfill one of two education requirements: a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution or a professional certification. The IMA requires transcripts from bachelor’s degree holders to verify their degrees. You can find a list of IMA-approved professional certifications in this PDF.

Candidates with unaccredited degrees still can apply to take the exam. However, the IMA evaluates unaccredited transcripts on a case-by-case basis, so there are no guarantees.

Experience Requirements

CMA candidates do not need work experience to take the exam. However, they do need at least two years of professional experience in financial management or management accounting in order to earn certification.

Exam Composition and Timing

The CMA certification exam has two parts. The first focuses on financial reporting and planning, while the second covers financial decision making. For each part, test takers get four hours to answer 100 multiple choice questions and write two essays. CMA candidates must thoroughly understand the material to complete the test within this time frame.

  • Part One: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control


    • Multiple-choice Questions: 100
    • Essay: 2

    Time Allotment: 4 hours

    Topics Tested and Allocation:

    • External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%)
    • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30%)
    • Performance Management (20%)
    • Cost Management (20%)
    • Internal Controls (15%)

  • Part Two: Financial Decision Making


    • Multiple-choice Questions: 100
    • Essay: 2

    Time Allotment: 4 hours

    Topics Tested and Allocation:

    • Financial Statement Analysis (25%)
    • Corporate Finance (20%)
    • Decision Analysis (20%)
    • Risk Management (10%)
    • Investment Decisions (15%)
    • Professional Ethics (10%)

Registration and Fees for the CMA Exam

Once a candidate’s degree or professional certifications are verified by the IMA, they can register and pay for the CMA exam.

Registering for the CMA Exam

  • How to Register: First, test takers must become IMA members. After paying for IMA membership, candidates can register for the test through the IMA’s exam registration page. They must register for the two parts of the exam separately. Then, they can schedule a testing date through the Prometric website.
  • What is Needed for Registration: Test takers need verified educational qualifications, IMA membership information, and a payment method to register.
  • When to Register: Candidates should register at least two months before the testing period when they plan to take the exam. For example, if they register in June, they cannot register for a June date. Instead, their earliest possible exam date is September — the next testing period.

Paying for the CMA Exam

There are three fees for the CMA exam: an IMA membership fee, a CMA entrance fee, and an examination fee. The costs differ based on membership type; two-year students pay the least at $577 for all three fees, while professional members pay $940 in total.

Scoring the Certified Management Accountant Exam

Before taking the CMA exam, it helps to understand the methodology used to score the exam. This allows you to strategically allocate your time for each question.

  • What score do you need to pass the CMA exam?

    CMA exam scores range from 1-500, with a passing score of 360 or higher. Students must also pass at least half of the multiple choice questions to move on to the essay questions.

  • How does CMA exam scoring work?

    The CMA exam uses weighted scoring. Multiple choice questions count for 75% of the score, and essay questions count for 25%. The CMA exam does not penalize for wrong answers.

  • Who scores the CMA exam?

    While a computer grades multiple choice questions, CMA experts grade the essay questions. They assign scores based on the clarity and knowledgeability of test takers’ answers.

  • When are CMA exam scores released?

    Test takers receive their scores approximately 42 days after the last day of the month when they took their exams. For example, people who took the test on January 1st, 15th, and 30th all receive their scores around the same time in March.

After the Exam: Maintaining Your CMA Certification

CMAs must take 30 hours of continuing education every year to maintain their certifications. CMAs who surpass this requirement may carry over a maximum of 10 hours to the next year. Certified professionals must also pay an annual fee.

Preparing for the CMA Exam

Test takers should set aside a considerable amount of time to study for this exam. The test can be difficult, so even candidates with MBAs should prepare in advance.

Top 10 Tips for Exam Preparation

  1. Strategize: A large part of a CPA job is strategizing, which you can practice for when studying. Decide what type of studying works most effectively for you and make a study plan.
  2. Start early: You’ve probably heard this advice before: Do not procrastinate. If you start the study process early, then the information will stick. Procrastination only leads to stress and forgetfulness.
  3. Schedule: Organize a schedule for yourself. Decide what time of day you want to study and for how long. Stick to that schedule and your consistency will pay off.
  4. Take a CMA review course: If you prefer someone else to impose structure for you, or if you want to add an extra layer of preparation, enroll in a review course. Make sure that the course matches your study style.
  5. Study with a friend: While some people prefer studying on their own, others learn best with the help of others. If you’re in the latter category, you and your friend can help keep each other accountable.
  6. Use productivity apps: Try to mute any distracting notifications. Applications like TodoistSerene, and Forest can help you limit diversions and stay focused.
  7. Outsource your responsibilities: If other responsibilities demand your time — like picking your kids up from soccer practice or taking your dog for a walk — ask someone to help you out, whether it’s a spouse, parent, sibling, colleague, or friend.
  8. Find a quiet place: If you live with family or friends, the kitchen table may not be conducive to learning. Designate somewhere quiet, like a home office, library, or coffeeshop, as your study space.
  9. Take practice tests: If you can find a practice test, take one. They help you understand the material and know what to expect when you sit down for the exam.
  10. Rest before the exam: You do not want to walk into the testing room exhausted, so make sure you are well-rested. Consider asking for a day or two off work.

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