CPA Exam

What is the CMA Exam?

Posted by Susie W. Duong, Ph.D., EA, CPA, CMA, CIA on May 12, 2018 10:00:00 AM CDT

taking cma examIn the previous article on the CMA certification, we discussed the steps to become CMA certified such as fulfilling the examination, education, and experience requirements. In this article, let us take a closer look at the CMA exam itself, including exam specific content, recommended preparation time, sequence of taking the two parts, exam preparation strategies and so on.

Exam Content

The CMA exam contains the following two parts. The percentages explain the relative weight given to each topic in each section. Detailed content info is available from IMA website.


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

A.    External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%)

Preparation of financial statements; valuation of assets and liabilities; operating and capital leases; impact of equity transactions; revenue recognition; income measurement; major differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS

B.    Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30%)

Strategic planning process; budgeting concepts; annual profit plans and supporting schedules; types of budgets and forecasting

C.    Performance Management (20%)

Factors to be analyzed for control and performance evaluation; variance analysis based on flexible budgets and standard costs; responsibility accounting; key performance indicators; and balanced scorecard

D.   Cost Management (20%)

Cost concepts, flows and terminology; alternative cost objectives; cost measurement concepts; cost accumulation systems; supply chain management and business process performance

E.    Internal Controls (15%)

Corporate governance; internal control risk; internal control environment, procedures, and standards; responsibility and authority for internal auditing; types of audits; assessing the adequacy of the accounting information system controls; and business continuity planning


Part Two: Financial Decision Making

A.    Financial Statement Analysis (25%)

Calculation and interpretation of financial ratios; evaluate performance utilizing multiple ratios; market value vs. book value; profitability analysis; analytical issues

B.    Corporate Finance (20%)

Types of risk; capital instruments for long-term financing; initial and secondary public offerings; dividend policy; cost of capital; working capital management; raising capital; managing and financing working capital; mergers and acquisitions; and international finance

C.    Decision Analysis (20%)

Relevant data concepts; cost-volume-profit analysis; marginal analysis; make vs. buy decisions; income tax implications for operational decision analysis; pricing methodologies

D.   Risk Management (10%)

Business, hazard, financial, operational, strategic, legal compliance and political risk; risk mitigation; risk management; risk analysis; and ERM

E.    Investment Decisions (15%)

Cash flow estimates; discounted cash flow concepts; net present value; internal rate of return, discounted payback; payback; income tax implications for investment decisions; risk analysis; and real options

F.    Professional Ethics (10%)

Ethical considerations for management accounting professionals and for the organization


If you have passed the CPA exam already, these topics should not look completely alien to you. If you recall from a previous article, CMA expounds upon the FAR and BEC portions of the CPA exam. FAR covers all the materials in Part One “Topic A. External Financial Reporting Decisions”. If you are very familiar with financial accounting topics, you may want to spend just a little time on Topic A, or even consider skipping it completely. BEC overlaps the most with CMA, but CMA goes deeper and broader than the BEC section on the CPA exam on topics highlighted in RED above. For example, for Part One “Topic B. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting”, while BEC briefly introduced types of budgets, the CMA exam requires comprehension of these topics (which take up 30% of the exam part) in greater depth. In other words, those are the topics on which you may want to spend more time, even if you have a CPA.  

Exam Preparation

How long does it take to prepare for the exam? When shall I take the exam? Does it matter which part I take first? How costly is it to prepare/take the exam? Shall I sign up for a preparation course? These are some of the questions you may have before embarking on your CMA journey. 

IMA recommends150-170 hours of studying per part; 300 hours of studying in total. If you have passed the CPA exam, you will probably need at most 70%-80% of the recommended study hours in total. Candidates can take Part One and Part Two in ANY order. You also have the option of taking both together on the same day, although many candidates choose to separate their testing dates. You can take any part of the exam during the following test windows:




The exam is given in a computer-based format, and is offered at Prometric Testing Centers located throughout the world. Registrations for Parts One and Part Two will close on or after the 15th of February, June, and October.

How difficult is the CMA exam?

The following is a chart illustrating the latest statistics of pass rates for each exam part:


Jan to Oct 2013

Jan to Oct 2014

Jan to Oct 2015

May 2015 to Feb 2016


Part One






Part Two







The average pass rate for Part One is about 35% and that for Part Two is around 50%. Does this mean that Part One is more difficult than Part Two? Not necessarily. It is possible that Part One tests a broader scope of material and thus is more challenging and requires more preparation than Part Two. An article on Gleim provides an alternative explanation. For students who sit Part One and Part Two in order, those who fail in Part One choose not to sit for Part Two, resulting in a stronger pool of candidates in Part Two. Overall, CMA exam pass rates indicate that the exam is challenging, but like the CPA exam, with sufficient preparation, you can definitely do it!


Taking the exam and getting the certification can be a big investment. Now, let’s break down the costs expected for this big project. The following table summarizes the costs for 2018 (in US$) according to IMA:



Student Members

Academic Members

Professional Members

Membership Fee




CMA Entrance Fee




Part One Exam Fee




Part Two Exam Fee








      * There is an extra one-off $15 application fee for first-time registration.

Of course, if you're planning on pursuing outside help in the form of a course, study materials, or private tutoring, you'll incur more costs in addition to what is outlined above. If you're looking for a CPA or CMA exam tutor who has aced the exam, tutored Accounting students for years, and charges less than the large, well-known prep companies, let us know!  

Study Tips

The best strategy to prepare for any exam is by thoroughly studying the material and content covered by the exam. Beyond that, however, there are some study tips that will help to maximize your performance. An article on summarizes 50 useful tips for the preparation of CMA exam. The CMA Candidate Handbook also provides some exam taking strategies. The following are examples of exam preparation and exam taking tips that are generally applicable:

  • When preparing for the exam, create a workable plan and stick to it. This includes picking the right study tools and planning your time wisely.
  • Identify/analyze your weaker areas and work extra hard on them. Don't avoid the topics that cause you the most anxiety.
  • When taking the exam, answer ALL of the questions, but start with the questions that you know first. Try to avoid dwelling on any particular question(s) for extended periods of time.
  • If you are uncertain about an answer, try to make an educated guess.
  • Learn to manage exam anxiety. Some examinees are able to channel their anxiety in a positive way; others have more difficulty managing their stress. If you draw a “blank” during the exam, do not panic. Return to the question at a later time or take a few moments to relax until it comes back to you.
  • Pay more attention to the essay portion of the exam. Begin by writing key words, thoughts, facts, figures, and anything else that can be used to answer the question. Proofread your answer for logic, thoroughness, and clarity so as to make it as easy as possible for graders to give you points.

This completes our discussion of the CMA examination and certification procedures. We hope this helps answer many of your questions about the CMA exam. The whole process can be costly and time-consuming, something you're probably familiar with if you've pursued other professional certifications, but the ultimate outcome can be very rewarding. I hope you will enjoy working towards multiple certifications and achieve great success in your career!

About the Author

Susie Duong is one of MyGuru's experienced CPA tutors, with a PhD in Accounting and many years of experience as a CPA and an educator.