Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Certification

Are you interested in becoming a certified management accountant? Learn how a certification can take your career to the next level.

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People with a certified management accountant (CMA) certification can work in corporate financial accounting and strategic management. Professionals may choose the CMA pathway because it covers different topics than the certified public accountant (CPA) certification.

CPAs focus on job tasks, like writing audit reports and preparing tax returns. In contrast, CMAs specialize in management and executive-level duties. CMAs also analyze budgets and help companies make informed strategic business decisions.

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) certifies people who pass the CMA exam. Accountants may get a CPA license before applying to executive positions, like chief financial officers. CMA salaries typically surpass non-certified accountants.

Why Get a CMA Certification?

Consider the following benefits of investing in a CMA certification.

  • Earn a Higher Salary: Accountants with CMA designation tend to make more money than those without it. According to an IMA survey in 2021, the median compensation for CMAs was 58% higher than non-CMAs.
  • Set Yourself Apart: CMA certification is one of the top designations a management accountant can earn. Many consider it the professional standard for management accounting. Earning a CMA verifies that you are an expert in accounting and financial management, giving you a leg up when searching for a job.
  • Build Global Recognition: The CMA designation holds global recognition. CMAs can use their knowledge and skills outside of the United States, making it valuable for accountants who want to work abroad.

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What Are the Certified Management Accountant Requirements?

Prospective CMAs must follow requirements set by the IMA. Accountants must complete the CMA program through IMA, pass the CMA exam, and complete all CMA requirements.

Professionals who meet IMA's educational and experience prerequisites may pursue CMA certification. Certification candidates must hold active IMA membership. All CMA program enrollees get IMA membership. Aspiring CMAs also need to pass a two-part exam and follow IMA's code of professional ethics.

People should note that IMA charges CMA program fees. Professional members must pay $250 to enroll in the program and $415 for each part of the CMA exam. Student members pay $188 and $311, respectively.

Educational CMA Requirements

Aspiring CMAs should hold either a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or an IMA-approved professional certification. An independent agency must evaluate any non-accredited degrees.

CMA candidates with bachelor's degrees should have their schools email official transcripts directly to IMA. Those who completed professional certifications may ask their certifying organizations to email official letters to IMA.

Prospective enrollees must verify their education within seven years of taking the CMA exam.

Professional CMA Requirements

CMA candidates should have worked in management accounting or financial management for at least two straight years.

If possible, the professional experience should be full time. However, candidates who work at least 20 hours per week in continuous, part-time roles can apply their experience toward certified management accountant requirements. Part-time experience counts at a rate of one year for every two years worked.

Full-time teaching positions count toward professional experience requirements if at least 60% of the course load covers accounting or finance above the introductory level.

What Does the CMA Exam Cover?

CMA exam-takers can take parts one and two in any order. Part one covers financial planning, performance, and analytics. Part two explores financial management. Each part breaks down as follows:

  • Part One: financial planning, performance, and analytics
  • External financial reporting decisions (15%)
  • Planning, budgeting, and forecasting (20%)
  • Performance management (20%)
  • Cost management (15%)
  • Internal controls (15%)
  • Technology and analytics (15%)
  • Part Two: strategic financial management
  • Financial statement analysis (20%)
  • Corporate finance (20%)
  • Decision analysis (25%)
  • Risk management (10%)
  • Investment decisions (10%)
  • Professional ethics (15%)

Each exam part takes four hours to complete, entailing 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essays. After completing and exiting the multiple-choice section, test-takers cannot go back. Candidates access the essay questions either after completing the multiple-choice section or after three hours, whichever comes first.

Test-takers must answer at least half of the multiple-choice questions correctly for each part of the CMA exam to move on to the essay section. The essay section poses 10-12 written response or calculation questions. Essay questions comprise two scenarios describing common business situations.

Candidates take the CMA exam at Prometric testing centers located across the world. The test follows a computer-based format. The CMA exam fee is nonrefundable. Test-takers more than 15 minutes late for their exam lose their appointment and must register again at full cost. Prometric provides paper and pencils.

On the day of the CMA exam, test-takers should do the following:

  • Arrive at the testing center 30 minutes before the exam.
  • Sign the Prometric log book.
  • Provide a fingerprint.
  • Bring a valid ID. Accepted forms of ID include a passport, U.S. passport card, driver's license, military ID card, and credit card.
  • Bring a calculator.

CMA Exam Structure

Section Format Time
Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics 100 multiple-choice questions, two essay questions Four hours
Strategic Financial Management 100 multiple-choice questions, two essay questions Four hours

Scoring the Exam

Scoring a 360 out of 500 is considered "passing" for the CMA exam. Candidates do not have to pass each part of the test. Passing or failing depends on each person's total score for both parts of the exam. For the sake of consistency and fairness, CMA exam scores are weighted.

Test-takers get their scores about six weeks after the end of the month in which they took the exam. Those who fail the exam also receive a performance report from Prometric. This report details how test-takers performed in each topic area. Prometric sends out performance reports around two weeks after candidates get their test scores.

The IMA reported a worldwide pass rate of 45% for parts one and two of the over 5,000 people who took the English language CMA exam.

IMA awards candidates with the most outstanding first-time scores on the CMA exam. Test-takers should pass the exam's two parts on their first attempt to qualify for an award. They should also pass both parts within one testing window.

As of May 2020, less than half of those who took the CMA exam in 2020 passed. The IMA reported a worldwide pass rate of 45% for parts one and two of the over 5,000 people who took the English language CMA exam. For part one, this marked an increase from the previous average pass rate of 35%. Part two remained in line with its previous 45% average pass rate.

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How Do You Register for the CMA Exam?

Prospective CMAs must take both parts of the exam within allotted testing windows. Parts one and two are available in three windows of time:

  • January-February
  • May-June
  • September-October

Registration for each testing window closes after the 15th of February, June, and October, respectively. After becoming IMA members, prospective test-takers may register for the CMA exam at IMA's online store. They may also register by calling 800-638-4427 or (201) 573-9000. Those who call should have their credit card information ready.

After registering and getting authorization to take the CMA exam, candidates must schedule a test appointment through Prometric. Those who fail to schedule an appointment lose their exam fees.

Candidates may cancel their Prometric exam appointment at least 72 hours before their scheduled test. Prometric charges a fee to those who cancel within 30 days of the scheduled appointment date. Cancelling allows test-takers to reschedule for a different date within the same testing window — this does not generate a refund or permit a test window change.

Paying for the Exam

Exam-takers pay fees for IMA membership, IMA's CMA program, and the CMA exam. The entrance fee is nonrefundable. The exam fee is refundable within 30 days from the date of exam purchase, as long as the candidate did not set an appointment with Prometric. Those who receive an exam fee refund must pay a processing fee.

Entrance and exam fees are as follows:

Members IMA Membership and Application Fee CMA Program Entrance Fee CMA Exam Fee (Per Part)
Professional $245 $250 $415
Student/Academic $135 $188 $311
Source: IMA, IMA online store

How Can You Prepare for the CMA Exam?

The Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) provides a list of courses and self-study programs for the CMA exam. IMA also has a list of approved CMA course providers. All providers on IMA's list have proven that they can assist candidates in earning their CMA certification.

Candidates might also complete practice questions for the CMA exam.

Top Tips

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 may pay off.
Take a CMA review course
You can enroll in a review course if you prefer more structure or preparation. Make sure that the course matches your study style.
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.
Outsource your responsibilities
If you have other duties — 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.
Rest before the exam
You do not want to walk into the testing room exhausted, so make sure you are well rested.

Practice Exams and Study Resources

Becker partners with IMA to prepare test-takers for exam day. Candidates who study with Becker can choose between two CMA exam review packages: CMA Review Advantage ($1,199) and CMA Review Pro ($1,499). Both packages offer a two-part review course with digital textbooks, practice questions, practice essays, lecture videos, and flashcards.

Gleim's adaptive packages offer personalized study plans based on ICMA's content specification outlines and learning outcome statements. Gleim's basic and premium adaptive study courses cost $1,349 and $1,599, respectively. Both offer a personal coach and a guided course. Test-takers can also choose the self-guided study plan for $999.

Surgent also provides a personalized, adaptive study course. This course aims to help CMA candidates pass their exams on the first try. Surgent offers a free trial of its CMA review, plus a "pass or money-back" guarantee. CMA test-takers who used Surgent and did not pass may qualify for their money back.

CMA Certification Requirements to Stay Certified

CMAs must maintain IMA membership and meet continuing education requirements to stay certified. Continuing education for CMAs entails 30 hours each year, including two hours in the area of ethics.

CMAs need to abide by the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice, plus all local laws that apply to their accounting practice. Finally, CMAs must pay the CMA annual fee, including IMA membership and a CMA maintenance fee.

Should You Get Multiple Certifications?

Many accountants who pursue CMA certification are already certified public accountants (CPAs). CPAs usually perform accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting services. Combining the CPA license and CMA certification can increase job opportunities, bump salary, and expand expertise.

That said, CMA certification requirements are different from CPA stipulations. Prospective CPAs must join the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and pass a CPA exam, entailing a separate set of fees, exam requirements, and continuing education mandates. Earning both the CPA and CMA designations may be time-consuming and expensive. However, for many accountants, the benefits outweigh the costs.

Common Questions About the CMA Designation

What is a CMA certification good for?

CMA certification shows that an accountant has expertise in financial accounting and strategic management. This designation holds global recognition. CMAs tend to focus on corporate finance and management accounting.

What are the certified management accountant requirements?

CMAs must have completed a bachelor's degree or qualifying professional certification, plus two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. CMA candidates need to complete a two-part exam as well.

Is CMA designation easier than CPA?

Yes, the CMA designation is generally considered easier and less prestigious than CPA certification. For example, the CMA exam totals eight hours, while the CPA exam takes 16 hours to complete. Both certifications require similar education and work experience.

Is the CMA designation worth it?

Yes. Management accountants who earn CMA certification enjoy higher salaries, global recognition, and a leg up on their competition. This designation sets CMAs apart from other professionals in corporate finance and management accounting.

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