The CMA Exam essay questions are one of the hardest and most intimidating parts about becoming a Certified Management Accountant. Even the best writers can get stumped because of the vast subject matter knowledge required to pass the CMA Exam, and the topics are all fair game on all exam questions. But with a little knowledge about how the CMA Exam essay questions work, and a little practice on your writing skills, you can walk into exam day completely prepared to write two stellar answers. Check out our top 5 things you need to know about the CMA Exam essay questions to help you gear up to pass on exam day.
You Need to Get At Least 50% on the Multiple Choice Section
Let’s cover the basics of the exam before you even get to the essay section. There are two exams each with two sections. The first section of the exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions that need to be answered over the course of 3 hours. The multiple choice questions make up 75% of your total score. The essay section consists of two questions and you’re given 30 minutes per question. This section makes up 25% of your score.
Having said that, before you even get to the essay portion, you’re going to have to put in a good effort on the multiple choice questions. Since they make up 75% of the total score, you can’t pass the exam if you get less than 50% on the multiple choice. In fact, the actual exam won’t even let you proceed into the essay section if you get less than 50%.
CMA candidates should keep in mind how important passing the multiple choice question section can be; if you don’t pass, everything you’ve learned and prepared for related to essay questions will be moot during this exam attempt. The good news is, if you prepare well enough for the multiple choice, you’ll be more prepared for whatever topic you receive on the essay section. The key takeaway: make sure you’re completely solid on multiple choice questions before exam day.
There Are Several Types of Essay Questions
The IMA wants to test a CMA Exam candidate’s knowledge, as well as their ability to apply exam concepts in real-life scenarios — which is why essay questions are part of the exam. Consequently, candidates will run across a variety of essay questions, which may include writing a memo, performing a calculation, or comparing and contrasting certain concepts. Some essay questions will be fairly straightforward while others will have several parts the exam candidate will need to clearly navigate – just like in the real world.
To sufficiently prepare for the essay exam part, candidates should practice using a wide variety of essay questions. They’ll also need to make sure they’re solid on the various CMA Exam topics, from financial statement analysis and corporate finance to internal controls and decision analysis. Surgent offers 65+ essay questions on all CMA Review Courses to help candidates become well-rounded in both the exam concepts and the type of essay questions offered.
You Get 30 Minutes to Complete Each Section (For the Most Part)
The exam breakdown is 3 hours for the multiple choice questions and one hour for the essay questions (or two 30-minute time periods for each essay question). However, if you finish the multiple choice section early, you’ll have more time to work on the essay section.
As you consider having more time to write your essay questions, think about what we mentioned above regarding exam section weighting. The multiple choice questions are 75% of your score. If you do poorly on the multiple choice questions, it may be difficult (and in some cases, impossible) to make up that score difference in the essay section. Weigh your options as you go through the exam when it comes to time. If you feel great on the multiple choice questions and finish early, then go ahead and take the extra time on the essay questions. If the multiple choice questions are really tough, take your time to ensure you’re answering each one to the best of your ability before moving on to the essay section.
Essay Questions Are Manually Graded
Unlike the CPA Exam’s BEC Written Communication question, which uses a combination of computer and manual grading, the CMA exam still relies on human graders. Answering each question in a logical way, using standard English, and including proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation will make it much easier for human graders to go through your answer and look for relevant points. Again, this is very similar to real-world scenarios, where written communication will be going to people within or outside of your organization.
The difficult part about human graders is that humans can be subjective. But the great part about human graders is you’ll have plenty of people to practice with. When you write practice questions leading up to exam day, write them as if you were sending them to a superior, and have friends, family, and/or coworkers read through them to make sure they are clear and logical for human graders.
Scorers Are Looking to Give You Points
You get points for the relevant information you give surrounding an answer, which means you can get partial credit on each part. Since each essay question can have multiple parts, it’s important to make sure you answer each part of the question and include as much of your thought process as possible.
The best way to start this process is by reading the question thoroughly before you start writing. Figure out what the question is asking by paying particular attention to the verbage used. Are you being asked to compare and contrast or are you being asked to define? Do you need to include any calculations? Once you figure out where the direction of your answer needs to go, use bullet points or outlines to organize your thoughts. Scorers may even give you more points for answers in a bullet point format because it gets the point across in a logical way. Once your thoughts are organized, go ahead and start writing your answer.
Ideally, you’ll get as much of your thought process on paper as possible because the more you have, the more likely you’ll receive points. But keep in mind that the IMA is looking for clarity and efficiency. You aren’t going to get points if you have all the information but don’t present it in a logical way. This is where it’s good to take some time to reread your answer and make sure it gets every point answered while still making sense.
Whether you’re an awesome writer or not, by taking some time to learn about the essay portion beforehand you’ll be a better position to pass the CMA Exam the first time, putting you on the fast track to your new career as a Certified Management Accountant.
Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting and passed the CPA Exam within 6 months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.