Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Certification Courses | Accounting.com (2024)

The certified management accountant (CMA) certification signals advanced abilities in financial accounting, enterprise finance, and strategic planning. Professionals with CMA credentials typically occupy senior or management-level roles in corporate accounting or finance departments. Some reach the top positions in the accounting profession to work as financial controllers and chief financial officers (CFOs).

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) issues CMA certification to accounting professionals worldwide. According to the IMA, more than 100,000 accountants representing over 150 countries have earned the CMA designation since its 1972 introduction.

You do not need a CMA to work in financial or management accounting. However, many employers prefer or require them, especially for career-track roles with advancement potential. Earning your CMA can also dramatically increase your earning power.

This certification guide covers all the details about earning CMA credentials. Use this information in career research as you select an accounting path.

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Why Get Certified as a CMA?

  • Cost Efficiency and Earning Power: You only need a bachelor's degree to qualify for CMA certification exams. The CMA professional track allows you to bypass expensive graduate schools. CMAs also have considerable earning power: According to IMA data from 2023, CMAs make a 21% higher median salary than non-certified accounting professionals.
  • Professional Credibility: Employers, clients, and professional recruiters all recognize the valuable knowledge CMAs hold. This credential signals advanced expertise in accounting and strategic financial management. By earning the certification, professionals can also access an influential international network of accomplished accounting professionals.

  • Improved Employment Security: As with any profession, labor market demand for accountants ebbs and flows. However, businesses always need CMAs' specialized skills. You can insulate yourself from the unpredictability of the job market and maintain relevance no matter what economic conditions emerge.

How Do You Qualify for CMA Certification?

To secure your initial CMA certification, you must meet education and work experience requirements. Regarding education, you need at least a bachelor's degree. For work experience, you must have a minimum of two continuous years of full-time employment in a financial management or management accounting role.

You will need an active IMA membership to sit for the two-part CMA Examination. This test includes multiple-choice and essay components. You will become eligible for your CMA credential by passing both parts and meeting the education and experience requirements.

The following subsections explain each of the main requirements in greater detail.

Educational Requirements

You must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to meet the IMA's educational requirements for CMA certification. The degree does not have to be in accounting, but you will need advanced accounting skills to pass the CMA exam.

An independent, IMA-recognized agency must evaluate your degree if you did not earn it at an accredited school. This assessment may be necessary if, for example, you completed a program outside the United States.

Furthermore, the IMA can waive education requirements for candidates with certain accounting-related certifications. Qualifying U.S. credentials include:

  • Certified Fraud Examiner
  • Certified Internal Auditor
  • Certified Treasury Professional
  • Chartered Financial Analyst

Learn about bachelor's degree programs in accounting

Professional Requirements

Professional experience requirements include a minimum of two years of continuous full-time employment in financial management or management accounting. Clerical, intern, and trainee positions do not qualify. Your employment must include decision-making duties that draw on financial management and/or management accounting best practices.

A partial list of qualifying duties includes:

  • Preparing financial statements or reports for the Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Financial forecasting, analysis, and/or planning
  • Forensic accounting or auditing (internal, external)
  • Corporate investment and/or financial management

The IMA also recognizes work as an accounting instructor at the college or university level as valid employment experience.

You can also qualify through part-time employment if the position covers at least 20 hours of weekly work and otherwise meets the requirements. The IMA counts two years of part-time employment as equal to one year of full-time work.

CMA candidates cannot use work experience as a substitute for education.

What Does the CMA Exam Cover?

The CMA exam includes two parts, both with multiple-choice questions and essay prompts. For each part, you must score at least 50% on the multiple-choice section to continue to the essay section. The exam is not an open-book test.

Part 1 of the CMA exam covers financial planning, performance, and analytics. Part 2 tests your knowledge of strategic financial management.

The IMA issues the CMA exam in a computer-based format at its global network of Prometric Testing Centers. You can take the two exam parts in any order. Examinees can also take both parts on the same or separate days.

The following table offers further details on the exam's structure:

CMA Exam Structure
Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Two essay questions, which combine to cover 10-12 calculations or written answers
  • Three hours for multiple-choice questions
  • One hour for essay questions
Part 2: Strategic Financial Management
  • 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Two essay questions, which combine to cover 10-12 calculations or written answers
  • Three hours for multiple-choice questions
  • One hour for essay questions

Scoring the Exam

The Prometric Testing Center's computerized system scores the multiple-choice sections in real time. You will know whether you passed immediately upon completing the section. If you answer at least 50% of the questions correctly, you will automatically advance to the essay questions. If you did not earn a passing score, you cannot proceed.

Essay questions are graded offline by IMA-certified reviewers. If your essay section straddles the pass-fail line, multiple reviewers will score it.

While you can only move into the essay section by passing the multiple-choice section, you do not necessarily need to pass both sections individually to succeed on the exam. Instead, you require an aggregated passing score for the entire exam. Each part carries equal weight, with scores added together to produce a final result.

You will receive your exam results via email about six weeks after sitting for the final part. The IMA will also post your results to your online account.

How Do You Register for the CMA Exam?

To register for the CMA exam, you must become an IMA member and enroll in the IMA's CMA candidate program.

The IMA offers the CMA exam during Jan./Feb., May/June, and Sept./Oct. testing windows annually. You must register for the next available window by the 15th of Feb., June, or Oct. Candidates can register online or by phone. For telephone registrations, call (800) 638-4427 or (201) 573-9000.

You can take the CMA exam before meeting the education and/or work experience requirements for professional certification. However, you must complete your degree and all professional experience requirements within seven years of passing the CMA exam for the IMA to recognize your test scores.

Citizenship requirements do not apply. However, you will need to verify your identity with an official document (passport, passport card, or government-issued driver's license) when you sit for the exam.

You can take the exam as many times as you need.

Paying for the Exam

The IMA operates separate fee schedules for students and professional members. If you join the IMA as a student or academic member, you must cover the following fees:

  • IMA membership: $49 (student) or $160 (academic member)
  • CMA entrance fee: $225
  • Examination fee: $370 per part

The following fee schedule applies to professional IMA members:

  • IMA membership: $295
  • CMA entrance fee: $300
  • Examination fee: $495 per part

Penalty fees and forfeitures may apply if you do not reschedule your exam at least 72 hours in advance or cancel your exam at least 30 days before the scheduled testing date.

How Can You Prepare for the CMA Exam?

No matter what exam preparation strategy you prefer, start early. According to the IMA, test-takers need an average of 170 hours to prepare for Part 1 and 130 hours for Part 2. Combined, that represents about 18-24 weeks if you follow the IMA's advice by studying for at least 12 hours per week.

Top Tips

  1. 1

    Make a Study Plan

    Start by creating a strategic study plan. Schedule weekly (if not daily) study time. Commit as much time as you can to your daily or weekly studies.

  2. 2

    Enroll in a Prep Course

    Many candidates have earned CMA certification through self-directed preparation. However, formal exam prep courses offer a reliable, structured approach. You can enroll in traditional face-to-face classes or flexible virtual prep courses with live or pre-recorded online delivery formats.

  3. 3

    Consider the myIMA Network

    Since you need IMA membership to register for the exam, you may as well take advantage of the myIMA Network. This platform for IMA members allows you to source exam prep tips from the IMA community. You can also launch or join study groups with other myIMA Network members.

  4. 4

    Use Practice Tests

    Simulate the testing environment by taking practice exams. Move from untimed to timed practice exams as you build comfort and familiarity with the questions and formats. When you start consistently earning comfortable passing scores, you may be ready for the real exam.

  5. 5

    Ramp Up Before Exam Time

    Some candidates adopt a more intensive study schedule as the exam approaches. For example, you might double the IMA's recommended weekly study minimum of 12 hours during the weeks leading up to your exam. This approach immerses you in exam material, which may help you build confidence.

Practice Exams and Study Resources

Since the IMA creates and administers CMA exam content, it is an excellent source of practice resources. The IMA offers a free collection of sample exam questions, complete with explanations of the correct responses. You can use these resources to assess your building knowledge as you study.

The IMA officially endorses Gleim's CMA review course, which includes customizable study planning tools and access to a bank of practice exams. Gleim also offers a personalized counselor network for CMA certification candidates. These counselors can help guide you through the entire preparation process.

In April 2024, the Miami Herald updated its definitive guide to passing the CMA exam on the first attempt. This resource offers the exam's structure, practice resources, and study tips, covering everything you need to know to be ready on exam day.

What Is Needed to Maintain the CMA Certification?

You must renew your CMA certification annually. To maintain your CMA credential, you must:

  • Complete a minimum of 30 hours of continuing professional education each year, including at least two hours of ethics training
  • Adhere to all provisions in the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice
  • Comply with all professional conduct laws that apply in the jurisdiction where you practice

As part of the renewal process, you must also maintain active standing in the IMA by paying annual membership and certification maintenance fees.

Should You Get Multiple Certifications?

CMA certification is globally recognized. It is a standalone certification pursued by accomplished accounting professionals specializing in the intersection of financial accounting and enterprise finance management.

You can pair your CMA credential with other degrees, such as an MBA in accounting, finance, or another concentration. Doing so may unlock professional opportunities at the upper management or executive levels. However, practitioners rarely pair CMA credentials with other optional accounting designations.

Still, some accountants pursue CMA certification after earning certified public accountant (CPA) licensure. In the United States, CPA licenses are issued by state-level professional accounting boards.

For more information about CPA licensure, consult this resource:

Learn how to earn a CPA certification

Frequently Asked Questions About CMAs

What is the meaning of CMA certification?

CMA certification is a globally recognized credential issued by the Institute of Management Accountants. You do not need certification to work in management or financial accounting, but employers may prefer or require the credential, especially for professional roles with advancement potential.

How hard is the CMA exam?

Test-takers and exam prep experts typically characterize the CMA Examination as very difficult. It will push your intellectual abilities to the limit. You will need advanced accounting and financial management knowledge to pass it.

Is CMA easier than CPA?

Both exams are very challenging, but they test different knowledge, and neither is inherently easier or more difficult than the other. Pass rates for the two exams are also similar. According to Gleim, about 50% of examinees pass the CMA Examination. CPA exam pass rates vary by section and range from approximately 43-59%.

Can I get a CMA without a degree?

You can sit for the CMA Examination without a degree, but you cannot officially earn your initial certification until you meet the IMA's educational requirements. These stipulations include a bachelor's degree, which you must complete within seven years of passing your CMA certification exam.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Certification Courses | Accounting.com (2024)
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