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CMA Exam Pass Rates

It goes without saying that passing the CMA Exam is a critical part of gaining the CMA designation and becoming a Certified Management Accountant. Yet, the CMA Exam has worldwide pass rates averaging around 40%, which is 10 percentage points lower than the notoriously difficult CPA Exam. With such low pass rates, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you start studying for the CMA Exam – and that you know the best study tips for passing on the first try.

Most Recent CMA Exam Pass Rates

According to Institute of Management Accountants (IMA®), the most recent worldwide CMA Exam pass rates reflect a 34% on Part 1 and 46% on Part 2, with even fewer candidates passing on their first attempt. However, pass rates vary significantly by region.

Part 1 Part 2
Worldwide 34% 46%
Asia Pacific 41% 57%
Europe 51% 68%
Middle East & Africa 23% 32%
The Americas 48% 64%

Why are Worldwide CMA Exam Pass Rates So Low?

While the CMA Exam is considered one of the more difficult professional accounting exams, there are a few reasons why the exam pass rates may be so low worldwide. First, to sit for the CMA Exam, candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree, but unlike the CPA Exam requirements, the educational credits for CMA candidates are not specific to accounting or even business. Anyone who holds a bachelor’s degree and completes two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. Candidates may not be formally educated in accounting, and therefore, struggle on the CMA Exam.

Another contributor to low pass rates is English literacy. Currently, the CMA Exam is offered only in English and Chinese, and the Chinese-language exam is not offered at all testing locations. Between the two 30-minute essay questions that require handwritten answers and the technical language on the exam, CMA candidates who are non-native English speakers may struggle to pass the exam.

How Hard is the CMA Exam?

A few different factors contribute to the difficulty level of the CMA Exam, mainly the breadth and depth of the topics covered. While the CPA Exam has a notorious broad range of topics, the CMA Exam has a slightly smaller range of topics. However, as the CMA certification is more specialized than the CPA license, each topic goes into more depth. Many CMA candidates report spending a similar amount of study time for each part of the CMA Exam as they did on each CPA Exam section.

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CMA Exam Overview

The CMA Exam is comprised of two sections: Part 1 – Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance and Control, and Part 2 – Financial Decision Making. Each section contains 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two 30-minute essay questions.

Candidates have four hours to complete each exam section, or eight hours for the entire CMA Exam. The parts of the CMA Exam can be taken in any order, but only one section can be taken at a time. Additionally, candidates must successfully pass both exam parts in three years and register to take an exam part within 12 months of entering the program.

What Topics Does the CMA Exam Cover?

Each part of the CMA Exam contains several topics areas, under which there are subtopics. ICMA, the examining body for the CMA Exam, releases a list of exam content topics and subtopics, including the percentage of questions candidates can expect to see from each topic.

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

1. External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%)

2. Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting (20%)

3. Performance Management (20%)

4. Cost Management (15%)

5. Internal Controls (15%)

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

1. Financial Statement Analysis (20%)

2. Corporate Finance (20%)

3. Decision Analysis (25%)

4. Risk Management (10%)

5. Investment Decisions (10%)

6. Professional Ethics (15%)

As you can see, topics range significantly across the CMA Exam. The decision to split to CMA Exam into two sections has partly to do with limiting overlapping content. Since the content specifically does not overlap, CMA candidates can take the exam parts in any order.

How is Each CMA Exam Question Evaluated?

ICMA details the level of comprehension that candidates must have to pass in the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs). Cognitive skills that will be tested include:

  • Knowledge: Ability to remember previously learned material such as specific facts, criteria, techniques, principles, and procedures (i.e., identify, define, list).
  • Comprehension: Ability to grasp and interpret the meaning of material (i.e., classify, explain, distinguish between).
  • Application: Ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations (i.e., demonstrate, predict, solve, modify, relate).
  • Analysis: Ability to break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure can be understood; ability to recognize causal relationships, discriminate between behaviors, and identify elements that are relevant to the validation of a judgment (i.e., differentiate, estimate, order).
  • Synthesis: Ability to put parts together to form a new whole or proposed set of operations; ability to relate ideas and formulate hypotheses (i.e., combine, formulate, revise).
  • Evaluation: Ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose on the basis of consistency, logical accuracy, and comparison to standards; ability to appraise judgments involved in the selection of a course of action (i.e., criticize, justify, conclude).

The three levels of coverage are also defined.

  • Level A: Requiring the skill levels of knowledge and comprehension.
  • Level B: Requiring the skill levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis.
  • Level C: Requiring all six skill levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation

Each topic area on both parts of the CMA Exam requires up to a Level C, meaning that CMA candidates must be prepared to use all of the cognitive skills that ICMA outlines in every topic area of the exam. Candidates will see questions from all three levels, but having all six skill levels will prepare them to pass the CMA Exam.

How is the CMA Exam Graded?

Both parts of the CMA Exam are scored on a scale of 0 to 500, where multiple-choice questions are worth 75% of the total score and essays are worth 25%. All MCQs are weighted equally, and there is no penalty for answering an MCQ incorrectly. It is important to note that candidates must score at least a 50% on the multiple-choice section to continue to the essay section. On the essay questions, points are awarded for each step the candidate makes towards the correct answer. That means there is a big opportunity for partial credit. Showing your work is an important part of answering essay questions.

The minimum passing scaled score on the CMA Exam is a 360 out of 500, or 70%. Scaled scoring lets candidates know their performance in relation to the passing standard of 360. Candidates will receive their performance reports from Prometric via email about two weeks after exam results are posted to their profiles. This report gives a breakdown of where candidates performed well and what areas the candidate needs to improve. Fortunately, Surgent CMA Review offers this feature in all CMA Exam review courses. Along with a comprehensive diagnostic report, candidates can see their ReadySCORE, an estimation of how they would perform on the actual CMA Exam. Know your score before you go – try Surgent CMA Review for free today!

Study Tips for CMA Exam Success

Passing the CMA Exam on the first try isn’t easy, but it is possible. First, figure out which of the two exam parts you want to take first and when you want to take it. There are three testing windows throughout the year: January/February, May/June, and September/October. Once you figure out those two details, you can start studying.

  • Create a Study Plan – Before you delve into each topic and subtopic, create a plan that will help you to organize the amount of time you spend studying each section. That way you can allocate time appropriately to ensure that you cover all study materials and feel ready come exam day.
  • Capitalize on What You Already Know – Before you can sit for the CMA Exam, you must complete a bachelor’s degree and the two-year work experience requirements. Identify the knowledge you’ve gained from these experiences, and focus your study time on topic areas outside of what you already know, or study with an exam prep course that has adaptive learning software that can figure out your strong and weak topic areas for you to serve you the content you need to see to become exam ready.
  • Study with a Review Course – Everyone has a unique learning style, and you want to be sure that your CMA course works for your unique study needs.
  • Know When You’re Ready to Pass – Even if you’re already working in management accounting or financial management, it is hard to figure out when you’ve reached Level C in all exam topics and are ready to sit for the CMA Exam. Surgent CMA Review is the only review course on the market that offers an estimate of what you would score if you were to sit for the CMA Exam at your current knowledge level. Find your ReadySCORE today!