CPA Exam

What You Need to Know About Earning Your CMA Certification

Posted by Susie W. Duong, Ph.D., EA, CPA, CMA, CIA on April 21, 2018 10:00:00 AM CDT

cpa-2In a previous article, we briefly introduced the other three major accounting certifications that can be added on to the CPA. In this article, we will focus on one of them: Certified Management Accountant (CMA). 

According to the latest CMA Candidate Handbook, you must fulfill all of the following requirements to be eligible for the CMA certification:

  • Active membership in the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
  • Pay the CMA Entrance Fee
  • Satisfy the Education Qualification
  • Satisfy the Experience Qualification
  • Complete all required examination parts
  • Comply with the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice


Membership in IMA

In order to take the CMA exam and maintain an active status, you must first sign up as a member of IMA. IMA offers the following types of membership:

  • Professional members: $230 per year
  • Student members: $39 per year for students enrolled in at least 6 undergraduate or graduate credit hours, or the equivalent, per semester.
  • Academic members: $120 per year for full-time faculty members
  • Employer program: Allows an organization to enroll two or more people

Student members and academic members also enjoy discounted entrance and examination fees.

Some of the benefits of an IMA membership include:

  • CareerDriver®: a custom career management tool that allows members to assess their skills and create a personalized professional plan
  • Job Search tool
  • 500+ NASBA CPE credits
  • IMA Webinars
  • IMA conferences and expositions
  • LinkUp IMA: a proprietary online networking community exclusive to members
  • IMA's 300+ Global Chapters and Councils


Education Qualification

To become a certified CMA, candidates must satisfy education requirements and submit verification of education to IMA within seven years of completing the CMA examination. In other words, unlike the CPA that requires you to fulfill your education requirements before taking the exams, CMA exams can be taken before completing your education. Candidates must satisfy ONE of the following:

  1. Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited college or university
    • Degrees that are not accredited must be evaluated by an independent agency. A listing of these agencies can be found here
    • All transcripts should be mailed directly from the college or university
  1. Professional Certifications
    • A listing of approved certifications can be found here
    • An official letter from an approved certifying organization confirming that the candidate is a qualified member should be mailed directly from the certifying organization

In other words, if a candidate does not have a bachelor’s degree, he/she can still be qualified as long as the professional certification requirement is met.


Experience Qualification

Candidates for the CMA Certification must complete two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management. This requirement may be completed prior to or within seven years of passing the examination. That is, similar to the Education Qualification, CMA exams can be taken before or after fulfilling the experience requirements. The following qualifications are acceptable:

  • Full-Time Teaching: At least 60% of the course load must be accounting or finance above the principles level over a two-year period
  • Full-Time Employed Professionals
  • Part-Time Employed Professionals: Continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week meeting the definition of qualified experience will count toward this requirement at a rate of one year of experience for every two years of part-time employment.

Qualifying experience consists of positions requiring individuals to regularly make judgments employing the principles of management accounting and financial management. Here are some examples: 

  • Preparation of financial statements
  • Financial planning & analysis
  • Monthly, quarterly, and year end close
  • Auditing (external or internal)
  • Budget preparation & reporting
  • Manage general ledger and balance sheets
  • Forecasting
  • Company investment decision making
  • Costing analysis
  • Risk evaluation

We can see from the above list that most positions DIRECTLY relate to accounting and financial decisions. However, employment requiring the occasional application of management accounting principles will NOT satisfy this requirement. This includes application of management accounting in computer operations, sales and marketing, manufacturing, engineering, personnel, and general management. Finally, internships and trainee, clerical, or nontechnical positions do NOT provide appropriate experience to fulfill this requirement.


CMA Examination

The CMA examination has two parts:

Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

Each part is a 4-hour test, with 100 multiple choice questions and two essay questions. Candidates have 3 hours to complete the multiple choice section and one hour to complete the essays. The essays will be presented after the multiple choice section of the exam has been completed or after 3 hours, whichever comes first. Candidates must answer at least 50% of the multiple-choice questions correctly to be eligible to take the essay section. Once you complete and exit the multiple choice section of the exam, you can never go back, but remain in the essay section to complete the exam. The essay section usually consists of 8-10 written response or calculation questions based on two scenarios, describing a typical business situation. 

Similar to the CPA exam, candidates will not receive immediate pass/fail results because the essay questions will be graded offline. Exam results will usually be emailed and posted to your online profile approximately six weeks from the end of the month in which you take the test. The scores for the multiple choice section will be added to the scores of the essay section for a total weighted score of pass/fail reflected in a scaled score. That is to say, you are not required to “pass” both sections; the total score determines pass/fail status. All final scores on CMA exams are expressed as scaled scores, ranging from 0 to 500, with the passing score set at 360.

To hear about people's experiences with the multiple choice part of the exam, see

What if I Fail?

What if you fail an exam part? You will receive a performance report approximately 14 days after exam results are posted to your profile. Performance reports show the candidate’s performance as satisfactory, marginal or unsatisfactory for each of the key topic areas from the multiple choice section of the exam, as well as the overall performance on the essay section. Candidates who pass the exam will not receive any performance report.


Up Next

In the next article, we will take a closer look at the CMA exam itself: What are the contents? What’s the passing score? How about the passing rate? How costly is it to take the exam? How to prepare for it?


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.