How to become a CMA: 7 steps to a successful career path

Accounting is a great career, but no one starts at the top. In the pyramid of accounting careers, everyone starts at the bottom and proves their fitness, step by step, until they reach the pinnacle. That’s the point when you have a position of responsibility, and a great salary to go with it.

The designation of Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is your ticket to the top levels of accounting and finance. The CMA designation is an internationally recognized professional designation that opens doors to opportunity. Acquiring it takes years of education and professional experience, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile.

CMAs have the skills to perform a variety of tasks:

  • Prepare and analyze financial statements
  • Make financial forecasts
  • Create and maintain company budgets
  • Manage a company’s general ledger
  • Supervise staff in accounting or finance departments
  • Prepare and review company tax returns
  • Prepare and present financial reports
  • Complete internal audits

With their indispensable skills, CMAs are qualified for positions as corporate accountants, cost accountants, management accountants, financial planners, financial strategists and risk managers. They are often financial decision-makers for their companies, accepting important responsibilities commensurate with their prestigious credential.

Path to becoming a CMA

Earning a CMA isn’t easy or quick. You’ll have to pass a rigorous exam testing the depth of your knowledge, but the actual process is not complicated. Make a commitment and adhere to these steps, and the CMA credential will be yours.

Earn a degree

Chances are, you’ve already completed, or are studying for, your bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or a related field. That’s the first step. The guidelines for the CMA certification are established by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), so make sure your degree program meets IMA requirements and has an emphasis on business.

College also is the right time for completing an internship that helps you on the way to your CMA credential. Through an internship, you gain experience, network with industry professionals who can mentor you and offer jobs, and explore the range of career paths that your certification makes possible.

Apply for IMA membership

Joining IMA is a prerequisite to earning a CMA, but it offers much more. IMA membership provides access to CMA Exam preparation materials, employment boards and the continuing education courses you will need to maintain your certification.

Annual membership fees range from $39 to $245, depending on whether you are considered a qualified student, a regular student or a professional. At any level, the benefits make the investment worth it.

Enroll in the CMA program

After you are approved for IMA membership, you can enroll in the CMA program. Enrollment requires an additional entrance fee of $188 for students and $250 for professionals. This program will give you access to the CMA Exam support package. Time your enrollment with care, because once you enroll in the CMA program, you must take the CMA exam within 12 months.

Pass the CMA exam

Next, you need to take and pass the two parts of the CMA Exam. Part I tests your skills in financial planning, performance and analytics. Part II focuses on strategic financial management.

Each part is a rigorous four-hour exam with 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions. The essay questions must be completed within one hour. The exam fee is $311 per part for students and $415 per part for professionals.

To become a certified CMA, you need to pass with a score of at least 360 across both parts of the CMA Exam.

Gain relevant work experience

You get to breathe a sigh of relief after passing the test, but there’s more to do. Now, it’s time to gain two years of full-time work experience (or four years of half-time work) in a professional role related to the CMA designation, such as management accounting or financial management.

Passing the test looks great on your resume and opens doors to challenging positions. Fortunately, you have seven years to after passing both parts of the exam to complete the work experience requirement – but of course, the sooner you find that job, the sooner you can launch the next phase of your career.

Earn and maintain your certification

After meeting all the eligibility requirements, you apply to IMA and will be awarded the CMA designation. Congratulations! You made it! Of course, there are requirements for maintaining your certification. You’ll need to complete 30 hours of continuing education courses per year, including two hours that must be related to ethics and comply with the IMA’s Statement of Ethics for professional practitioners. You also will need to pay your IMA membership and CMA maintenance dues each year.

Surgent CMA Review sets you up for success

In this journey, choosing the right CMA review course is crucial. The Surgent CMA Review delivers a course of study that’s fast, efficient, and tailored to your experience and learning style.

Other review courses waste your time by making you study concepts that you already know. They leave you guessing about whether you’re ready for the test, putting you at risk of failing and going back to Square One.

Surgent CMA Review takes a surgical approach to your study plan. Consider these features:

Adaptive technology

Sophisticated quizzes and algorithms determine your level of knowledge. Our A.S.A.P.® Technology continuously optimizes to help you strengthen your weak areas to make sure you’re ready for the CMA Exam.

Personalized study plan:

What do you need to know, and when do you need to know it? Surgent CMA Review crafts a plan customized to the concepts you need to study.


From the first day, you know where you stand. ReadySCORE™ assesses your readiness, predicting with remarkable accuracy what your score would be if you were to take the test that day.

A 100% pass guarantee

If you don’t pass the test, you get your money back. That assurance provides the confidence you need to sit down for the exam without worrying about losing your investment.

Surgent provides tools you need for success 

Keep telling yourself: “I can do this.” Through your choice in college degree and workplace experience, you already know that you have what it takes to succeed as an accountant. Adding the CMA credential prepares you for a fulfilling career, in positions of responsibility that offer prestige and rewarding salaries.  

One of the most important decisions you will make along the way is your choice of exam review course. Surgent CMA Review deploys 21st-century adaptive learning technology to tailor a study plan that fills the gaps in your knowledge and propels you forward with every study session. When it’s time to sit for the CMA Exam, you will be taking the next big step in your career. With Surgent CMA Review as your partner, you can be confident that you’re prepared for it. 

Ready to take your career to new heights? Start your free trial today with Surgent’s CMA Review course.