How to Become a Certified Management Accountant: Everything You Need to Know About the CMA

  • Last Updated: Apr 27, 2019 @ 7:56 pm
  • CMA
how to become a certified management accountant

If you’d like to know how to become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), you’ve come to the right place! The CMA is a valuable pursuit for accountants, but before you can earn it, you must learn about the career options, benefits, requirements, and more. So, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about becoming a CMA.

What Is a CMA?

A CMA is a Certified Management Accountant.

A Certified Management Accountant is an accounting professional whom the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) has certified. The IMA established the CMA designation in 1972 in order to measure a management accountant’s knowledge and competence. Therefore, in order to receive the CMA, candidates must meet the IMA’s certification requirements.

The CMA requirements include passing the CMA exam. The Institute of Certified Management Accounts (ICMA) creates and regularly updates the CMA exam to ensure that it is relevant to modern accounting and business. The content of the CMA exam assesses the candidate’s knowledge, abilities, and skills such as analysis, control, financial planning, and decision support.

What Does a Certified Management Accountant Do?

Certified Management Accountants are capable of playing key roles in both the financial and management sides of a company. CMAs have a good knowledge of finances, which equips them to make wise money decisions. Furthermore, they also possess the ability to make business judgment calls that help the company operate more efficiently.

Therefore, Certified Management Accountants can hold a wide range of positions and have interesting CMA careers.

In fact, a Certified Management Accountant can fulfill the following job positions:

  • Budget analyst
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Cost accountant
  • Controller
  • Financial analyst
  • Financial manager
  • Internal auditor
  • Senior accountant
  • Staff accountant
  • Treasurer

Usually, a CMA’s job description involves analyzing and parsing data from multiple sources to help improve performance. CMAs also contribute insight into the company’s financial condition to help it make strategic business decisions.

CMAs perform a number of other tasks, too. They seek out opportunities for investment management, supervise and mentor lower level accountants, arrange funding and financing options, prepare financial statements, develop strategies to address internal and external risks, and so much more. So, essentially, CMAs have a lot of important duties and responsibilities that make them an important asset to the workforce.

Why Become a Certified Management Accountant?

Earning the CMA comes with a number of benefits, which include the following:

Higher Income

The CMA certification increases your earning potential. Therefore, CMAs earn more than non-CMAs.

Specifically, CMAs earn an average of 47% more in the U.S. than professionals who don’t have the CMA or CPA. What’s more, a 22-year old CMA can earn more than $500,000 in additional lifetime earnings, according to the IMA.

Additionally, CMAs earn 67% more worldwide than non-CMAs. So, clearly, you can earn a higher income as a CMA regardless of where you live.

More Job Opportunities

A CMA can hold many desirable positions, as our list of CMA jobs proves. And, CMAs are able to work in a number of different industries, including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Finance
  • Business services
  • Trading
  • Education
  • Transportation and utilities
  • Construction, mining, and agriculture
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Non-profit
  • High tech
  • Insurance
  • Pharmaceuticals and biotech
  • Real estate
  • Media and entertainment

Within these various industries, CMAs can work in many different departments. These departments include the following:

  • General accounting
  • Finance
  • Corporate management
  • Budgeting and planning
  • Cost accounting
  • General management
  • Education
  • Internal auditing
  • Information systems
  • Governmental accounting
  • Taxation

The CMA certification offers a lot of variety in terms of career opportunities. So, with the CMA, you never have to be bored with your job since you’ll qualify for a wide array of positions within many different fields.

Increased Skills and Abilities

Candidates need to fulfill a number of requirements in order to get the CMA certification. These requirements showcase your knowledge and skills in management accounting, financial accounting, budgeting, internal controls, auditing, and more.

Furthermore, you’ll need to pass a challenging exam in order to become a CMA. So, once you have earned the CMA, you will have proven your expertise in the fields of management accounting and cost accounting. And having so much skill under your belt will definitely help improve your reputation in the industry.

Job Security

Again, in the process of becoming a Certified Management Accountant, You’ll develop a lot of knowledge and skills in management accounting. And, to maintain your certification, you’ll need to complete continuing education, which will keep your skills and knowledge in good condition.

With so much knowledge about finances and accounting, no boss will want to lose you. Therefore, both future employers and current employers will consider you an asset to their companies. So, you can count on your position being yours for years to come!

Respect and Admiration from Your Peers

The CMA certification designates you as an authoritative accountant. Your peers will know you as the one to go to for financial insight and advice. And, on the other hand, your superiors will trust that you can improve performance and deliver results.

So, with a CMA, you’ll see success in both the business and financial sides of the company you work for. And that success will be the result of all the attention and respect such expertise commands.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Certified Management Accountant?

The IMA has high standards for candidates who wish to become a certified CMA. The requirements include the following:

The process of meeting each of these requirements involves a particular time commitment. So, some of these commitments are career-long, such as completing the annual CPE requirements and maintaining your IMA membership. On the other hand, some of these commitments, such as complying with the statement and paying the CMA entrance fee, are one-time actions.

So, before you become a CMA, you’ll spend most of your effort on the remaining requirements, which all start with an E:

Education

Candidates will need to fulfill one of the following CMA education requirements and provide proof of their education to the ICMA within 7 years of finishing the CMA exam.

  1. Candidates must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
    • A list of accredited U.S. and international institutions can be found here: http://univ.cc/world.php.
    • Candidates who have received their degrees from a non-accredited institution must have an independent agency evaluate their education. A list of these agencies can be found here:  www.aice-eval.org or http://www.naces.org/members.htm.
  2. Candidates must get a professional certification.
    • The IMA provides a list of accepted professional certifications.

Experience

CMA candidates must accumulate at least 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management. This experience can be completed before or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.

Full-time teaching can count towards your professional experience. To use teaching as your experience, at least 60% of your course load must involve teaching upper-level accounting or finance courses for 2 years.

Candidates are expected to be employed full-time, but the IMA does accept continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week that meet the qualified experience requirement. You will earn 1 year of experience for every 2 years of part-time employment.

In both part-time and full-time positions, the candidate must regularly make judgments by using the principles of management accounting and financial management. Some of the tasks in which you would utilize these principles include:

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

Examination

Candidates must pass both parts of the CMA exam to earn their certification. The 2 parts of the exam are:

  • Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control
  • Part 2: Financial Decision Making

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Management Accountant?

Some of the requirements to become a CMA take several years to finish. Therefore, obtaining this certification can take a while. And once you have passed the exam, you only have 7 years to finish the education and work experience requirements.

Getting a bachelor’s degree generally takes 4 years. And to meet the 2-year experience requirement, you can work full-time for 2 years or part-time for 4 years. So, satisfying these 2 requirements can take 6-8 years of your life.

How Long Does It Take Pass the CMA Exam?

The amount of time it takes to pass the CMA exam depends on how long it takes you to study. According to the IMA, candidates generally take 12-18 months to pass the exam.

Furthermore, the IMA recommends that candidates take 150-170 hours to study for each of the exam parts. So, that’s a total of 300-340 hours of study time. A candidate who studies for 20 hours a week can pass both parts of the exam within 4 months, but a candidate who studies for 10 hours a week will generally take 8 months to complete both parts.

Clearly, you can complete the exam within a year. And you can also take the exam while you’re working on the professional experience requirement. Consequently, you can get the CMA within 6-9 years.

Considering the lifetime benefits of a CMA certification, the wait is worth it. But if you’re looking for even more incentive to put that amount of time in, think of it like this: you will earn $1,696 or more for every hour you spend studying for the CMA exam, according to the IMA.

How Do I Become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)?

Individuals who are interested in earning their CMA certification must take the following steps:

  • Learn all there is to know about becoming a CMA.
  • Become a member of the IMA.
  • Prepare for the CMA exam.
  • Pay the CMA entrance fee.
  • Pass both parts of the CMA exam.
  • Earn your bachelor’s degree.
  • Work for 2 years in a management accounting or financial management position.
  • Submit verification of your education and experience to the IMA.
  • Receive a CMA certificate number and then a CMA certificate.
  • Uphold the Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.
  • Maintain your CMA certification by satisfying the annual CPE requirements.

What Is the CMA Exam?

The ICMA creates the CMA exam, and Prometric testing centers administer it. All candidates must pass the exam in order to earn their CMA certification.

The CMA exam has 2 parts, and each of these parts covers a wide range of accounting topics. The exam assesses the candidates’ knowledge of the information using multiple-choice questions and essay questions. Each of the 2 exam parts consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios.

Candidates must first answer 50% of the multiple-choice questions correctly in order to move on to the essay section of the exam. The exam will then allow you to answer the essay questions either after all of the MCQs have been answered or once 3 hours have passed, depending on which happens first.

Candidates cannot go back to the MCQs once they have entered the essay section of the exam. Within the essay section, you must generate 8-10 written responses or calculations. Candidates must respond to each of the questions using the 2 scenarios, both of which describe a common business occurrence.

What Does the CMA Exam Cover?

The ICMA’s content specifications outlines (CSOs) and learning outcome statements (LSOs) reveal all of the topics the CMA exam addresses. The exam’s 2 parts consist of the following content areas and coverage percentages:

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

  • A. External Financial Reporting Decisions: 15%
  • B. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting: 30%
  • C. Performance Management: 20%
  • D. Cost Management: 20%
  • E. Internal Controls: 15%

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

  • A. Financial Statement Analysis: 25%
  • B. Corporate Finance: 20%
  • C. Decision Analysis: 20%
  • D. Risk Management: 10%
  • E. Investment Decisions: 15%
  • F. Professional Ethics: 10%

How Long Is the CMA Exam?

Test takers have 4 hours of total testing time for each of the 2 CMA exam parts. You can use 3 of those hours for the multiple-choice questions and 1 hour for the essays. However, if you finish the MCQs in less than 3 hours, you can take the remaining time with you to the essay section.

Additionally, you have 3 years to pass both exam parts, starting from the date you enter the CMA program. If you don’t pass both exam parts during that time, you’ll lose credit for any parts you already passed. Then, you’ll have to retake both parts of the CMA exam, which also means repaying the exam entrance fee.

Passing both parts in 3 years is very possible because neither exam part should take more than a year to pass. But passing within this amount of time still takes planning because you can only sit for the CMA exam parts during the 3 annual testing windows. These windows are:

  • January/February
  • May/June
  • September/October

How Hard Is the CMA Exam?

While the CMA exam is passable, it isn’t easy. Several factors demonstrate how hard the CMA exam is.

CMA Exam Pass Rates

The CMA exam pass rates are the first clue of how challenging the exam is. The CMA exam pass rate has been approximately 43% over the past few years, with Part 1 having a pass rate of 40% and Part 2 having a pass rate of 50%.

Required Cognitive Skills

Another factor that indicates how hard the CMA exam is would be the amount of knowledge the exam expects the test taker to have. The CSOs identify and define 6 cognitive skills that a candidate must possess in order to pass the exam.

  • Knowledge: the ability to remember previously learned material, including facts, criteria, techniques, principles, and procedures (such as identifying, defining, and listing).
  • Comprehension: the ability to grasp and interpret the material’s meaning (i.e., classification, explanation, distinction).
  • Application: the ability to apply learned material in new and concrete situations (i.e., demonstration, prediction, solving, modification, relation).
  • Analysis: the ability to break the material down into its component parts to better understand its organizational structure. Also, the ability to recognize causal relationships, discriminate between behaviors and identify elements that are relevant to the validation of judgment (such as differentiation, estimation, and ordering).
  • Synthesis: the ability to put parts together to form a new set of operations, as well as the ability to use relevant ideas in order to formulate hypotheses (i.e. combining, formulating, revising).
  • Evaluation: the ability to use consistency, logical accuracy, and comparison to standards in order to judge the value of the material. Also, the ability to appraise judgments involved in the selection of a course of action (such as criticism, justification, and conclusion).

Levels of Coverage

The CSOs then uses 3 levels of coverage to define these cognitive skills:

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

The coverage levels build upon each other, so Level B includes Level A and Level C includes Levels A and B.

Finally, the CSOs assign a coverage level to each of the major topics addressed by the CMA exam parts.

Content and Skill Coverage Levels for CMA Exam Part 1

Main Topics Content Percentage of Topics

Cognitive Skill Coverage Level

External Financial Reporting Decisions

15% Level C

Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

30% Level C

Performance Management

20%

Level C

Cost Management

20%

Level C

Internal Controls

15%

Level C

Content and Skill Coverage Levels for CMA Exam Part 2

Main Topics

Content Percentage of Topics

Cognitive Skill Coverage Level

Financial Statement Analysis

25% Level C

Corporate Finance

20% Level C

Decision Analysis

20% Level C

Risk Management

10% Level C

Investment Decisions

15%

Level C

Professional Ethics 10%

Level C

As you can see, candidates must be well-versed in the content of the CMA exam to pass, since both Part 1 and Part 2 require deep levels of understanding. Memorizing some formulas and hoping to pass isn’t enough. Passing requires time, effort, and focus.

What Is a Passing Score on the CMA Exam?

CMA exam scores range from 0-500. But what score do you need to pass?

Candidates must score 360 or higher in order to pass the CMA exam.

The CMA exam scores are scaled. So, a score of 360 doesn’t represent the number of questions you answered correctly. Instead, the ICMA transforms candidates’ raw test scores (or the number of questions answered correctly) to the scaled score to ensure that CMA exam scores are consistent and uniform, regardless of which test form the candidate takes.

The CMA exam is computerized, but you won’t receive your score immediately upon finishing the exam. The computer isn’t capable of grading essay questions, so people must grade all of the essay responses for all of the candidates who tested during the same testing window.

The ICMA completes sample grading first in order to ensure that all alternative solutions have been accounted for. It then conducts an additional review of the essay papers that are on the border of passing and failing. Throughout this process, the grades are checked by reviewers.

After humans grade the essays, the ICMA then adds the essay scores to the multiple-choice question scores. The MCQ scores account for 75% of your total score, while the essays make up 25%. The total weighted score, which is the scaled score, determines if you passed or failed.

When Are CMA Exam Scores Released?

The IMA releases the CMA exam scores approximately 6 weeks from the end of each testing month. So, candidates who take a part of the CMA exam in February receive their scores in mid-April. Exam results are sent via email and are also posted in the candidate’s IMA profile.

What Happens After You Pass the CMA Exam?

Candidates might need to finish their CMA requirements, depending on how they’ve chosen to complete them. For instance, some people may have to complete their professional experience or earn a bachelor’s degree after they’ve passed the CMA exam.

The continuing education (CPE) requirements also begin after you’ve taken the exam. Therefore, candidates must start meeting this requirement even before they receive the CMA certification. Yes, the IMA requires CMAs and CMA candidates to complete 30 hours of CPE on an annual basis, including 2 hours of ethics.

Once you’ve satisfied the professional experience requirement, the IMA will award you the CMA certificate. And at this time, your CPE and IMA membership must be current.

So, don’t hold off on earning your CPE. Remember, keeping your CMA certification up to date ensures that you reap the benefits of the CMA!

Where Can You Get Help for Passing the CMA Exam?

When you’re ready to pass the CMA exam so you can become a CMA, you should purchase a CMA review course. To do so, you’ll want to learn about the best CMA review courses on the market. Then, you can save big on your course using CMA review discounts.

But before you get to that point, you can get more help with the CMA process in this free CMA course. This course tells you how to earn the CMA certification and how to pass each exam part on your first attempt. So, sign up today so you can start the process of becoming a CMA!

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