The Certified Management Accountant Certification qualifies you to work in high-level accounting and business leadership roles. Issued by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), this unique credential has been globally recognized for more than 50 years.
If you have the ambition to be a CFO or function in the upper realms of financial leadership, the CMA is a great way to get there.
To become a CMA, you’ll have to pass the CMA exam and finish work requirements. All of this is achievable and this article will take you through all the steps you need to succeed.
Read on to learn:
- What is a CMA?
- The CMA Career Path
- How to Become a Certified Management Accountant
- CMA Curriculum
- CMA Exam Prep
- CMA FAQ
Originally published in January, 2019, this article was updated and republished on Dec. 16, 2020.
What is a CMA?
The certified management accounting certification positions you to work in corporate finance and management accounting. This is a professional, globally recognized designation in financial accounting and strategic management.
For more ways to define Certified Management Accounting, check out my in-depth article on what a CMA is.
Certified Management Accountant Job Description
A Certified Management Accountant, or CMA for short, is a unique professional credential awarded by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
To earn the designation, CMA candidates have to demonstrate competency in financial planning, financial analysis, organizational decision support, and professional ethics. They are then qualified accounting professionals for a variety of lucrative roles and positions that require these advanced financial management skills.
I found out about the CMA while looking for a credential that could help me move up the corporate ladder without having to go through the CPA route. It was really the CMA subject matter that appealed to me because I knew I’d be a strategic thinker rather than just a number cruncher.
One major difference between CPA and CMA certified accountants is that CMAs don’t just know the ‘what’ behind the numbers. CMAs understand the ‘why’ when it comes to accounting and finance.
Certified Management Accountants exhibit mastery in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics. In the process of earning the CMA certification, they learn the skills to become successful strategic business partners and effective financial managers.
What Does a CMA Do?
If you are new to the CMA certification, you probably don’t know what makes us unique. CMAs have several key skills and roles that make them stand apart from other designations.
For starters, CMA’s are focused and understand the critical skills needed to have a successful business. We are respected for our ability to perform in key management and executive roles.
More and more employers are seeking out Certified Management Accountants to join their executive team. Our practical skills give businesses greater credibility and higher potential for profits.
CMAs are highly valued and reap the benefits of this financially. On average, people with this designation earn 47% more than their non-credentialed counterparts, but more on that later.
The CMA Career Path
Pursuing a CMA career path is a lofty goal. There are plenty of great opportunities in the market for people who can function as business and financial leaders. Certified Management Accountants can work in government agencies, publicly or privately held businesses, and hold prestigious corporate positions.
Certified Management Accountant Jobs
Some of the many CMA career opportunities include:
- Become a CFO (Chief Financial Officer)
- Finance Manager
- Budget Analyst
- And more!
It’s no secret that many people pursue accounting jobs because of the higher than average pay.
CMA salaries in the US are significantly higher than accountants without the designation. Here’s a breakdown of average base salaries by region, for Certified Management Accountants and those without the designation:
How to Become a Certified Management Accountant
Becoming a CMA requires that you follow a few basic steps.
First, you’ll need to study for, take and pass the CMA exam. Then, you’ll have to fulfill work requirements before you can achieve your CMA certificate.
Each year, to maintain your certificate, you’ll have to take ongoing education credits. Read on to learn more about the requirements to get your Certified Management Accountant designation, including education, experience, and the CMA exam.
To be a CMA, you’ll need to become a member of the Institute of Management Accountants and pass parts one and two of the CMA exam.
CMA Exam Requirements
To take the CMA Exam, you’ll simply need to have an IMA membership and pay the CMA entrance fee. Once you are a member of the IMA, you can register for the CMA exam. Most people buy a CMA exam prep course and study materials to support this process.
There are two parts of the CMA exam. You must score 360 or more on each section to pass.
CMA Certification Requirements
It’s important to know the full requirements to get your CMA, as outlined below. Follow the links to get more info on each step:
- Become a member of the IMA.
- Buy a CMA exam review course.
- Pay the CMA entrance fee.
- Register for and take the CMA Exam.
- Complete a bachelor’s degree or accepted professional designation.
- Complete work experience requirement.
One of the CMA requirements is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, although it doesn’t have to be in finance or accounting. The IMA also accepts some professional designations in lieu of this requirement.
Finally, to obtain your CMA certificate, you’ll need to have two continuous years of work experience in financial management or management accounting. Candidates have up to 7 years after passing the CMA exam to meet this requirement.
After you’ve passed the CMA exam and completed two years of work, you’ll use your IMA account to submit proof and apply for your CMA certificate.
The CMA exam is taken in two parts. The test is composed of multiple-choice questions and two essay questions. You’ll have three hours to finish the multiple-choice questions and one hour to finish the essays. It’s important to show all of your work and pay close attention to details as you progress through this challenging exam.
CMA Testing Windows
The CMA exam is offered in three testing windows. Each year, you can take the CMA exam in any of the testing windows, which are:
- Testing Window 1: January-February
- Testing Window 2: May-June
- Testing Window 3: September-October
For each testing window, you have until the 15th of the last month in that period to register for the CMA Exam.
Your CMA exam release date will be about six weeks after your test date.
CMA Exam Registration
To start the CMA exam process, you will join the IMA and pay a $250 CMA entrance fee. Once that is complete, you will study for the CMA exam and be free to schedule it at any time.
Scheduling the CMA exam can happen online through IMA’s testing partner, Prometric. Through their online portal, you can find the nearest Prometric testing center and schedule your CMA exam.
CMA Exam Cost
All in, the CMA exam will cost about $1,000. This doesn’t include investing in a high-quality CMA course, which most students will (and should) do. Here’s the breakdown:
- IMA Membership: $245 for professionals, $39 for students, $135 for academics
- CMA entrance fee: $250 ($188 if you are a student)
- CMA Exam Part 1: $415 ($311 if you are a student)
- CMA Exam Part 2: $415 ($311 if you are a student)
- CMA Exam study materials: $500-$1,500
Learn more about the CMA exam cost in our in-depth article.
Finding the right CMA review course makes all of the difference. Because the CMA exam does cost some money, you need to make the right up-front investment in a study program that will help you pass.
If you pass the CMA the first time, any money you spend on a study program will be well worth it. If you don’t pass the first time, you aren’t alone. The CMA exam is difficult, and the pass rates are less than 50%.
Here’s some more info on what each part of the CMA exam covers, with links to more info.
CMA Part 1
Part one of the CMA exam covers the following:
- External financial reporting decisions, worth 15%
- Planning, budgeting and forecasting, worth 20%
- Performance management, worth 20%
- Cost management, worth 15%
- Internal controls, worth 15%
- Technology and analytics, worth 15%
CMA Part 2
Part two of the CMA exam covers the following:
- Financial statement analysis, worth 20%
- Corporate finance, worth 20%
- Decision analysis, worth 25%
- Risk management, worth 10%
- Investment decision, worth 10%
- Professional ethics, worth 15%
CMA Exam Prep
Preparing for the CMA exam is, for most people, a full-time job. Depending on how long you have to study, you’ll need to carefully manage your time. Most experts recommend at least 16 weeks of concentrated study per part.
If you can’t take time off work or have a lot of other obligations, you’ll need even longer. It’s vital that you approach the CMA exam with the right mindset and are ready to work hard.
How to Study for the CMA Exam
People who pass the CMA exam the first time do a few key things.
First, you need to choose a CMA study course that works for you. Preview the materials. Check out the instructor. Get any free downloads or previews you can. Make sure that you enjoy the structure and feel confident that it will work for you.
Second, follow a CMA study plan. Don’t wing it. Thoughtfully structure your time and lifestyle to work around your studies (not the other way around).
These are just two of my top CMA exam study secrets to get you started with the right mindset.
CMA Study Materials
Not all CMA study materials are created equal. There are a lot of options. When it comes to choosing the best CMA review course, you want to do your homework.
Some test prep companies offer a huge variety of study programs for professional courses, while others specialize in accounting tests, like the CPA or CMA. The latter may be preferable because you’ll be sure they hone in on very specific aspects related to this field.
You also want to be sure that you get all of the available features. CMA study books, flashcards, practice tests, CMA question banks and more will go a long way in giving you comprehensive exposure to the subjects and test structure.
Many people find that buying a CMA program that has tutoring or coaching makes the biggest difference in their exam prep. This feature can provide you with one-on-one attention and guidance. If you have real-time access to an expert CMA instructor, you can ask all of your questions and get insightful feedback about what you need to work on.
CMA Exam Academy is proud to offer a complete resource for your exam prep. When it comes to CMA review courses, ours are the best. As many features as you want, optimal integration and expert CMA coaching come standard with each of our packages.
Certified Management Accountant FAQs
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the CMA certification.
Is Certified Management Accountant Worth It?
Becoming a certified management accountant is one of the clearest paths to the c-suite. In other words, if you have the ambition to be in an executive accounting position, a CMA can get you there. Many CMAs become CFOs and executive financial figures. CMAs are known for having both business and financial acumen, which opens a lot of doors. With a higher-than-average earning potential and plenty of prestige, a CMA is a great career choice.
Is CMA Harder Than CPA?
The CMA exam is different from the CPA exam. Both cover a broad quantity of accounting topics. You will want to do your due diligence as you decide which path is right for you. There are a few key differences between CMA vs. CPA, including exam requirements, salary and potential careers. CMAs may earn, on average, 31% more than CPAs. CPAs are qualified for all types of public accounting. Much of this depends on your interest and having a clear picture of your career goals.
How Many Years is a CMA Course?
Studying for the CMA exam should take about 16 weeks per part. This is a significant amount of time to dedicate to studies but it is well worth it. The CMA exam costs, on average, several hundred dollars to take. It’s important to spend the right amount of time preparing so that you have the best chance of passing the CMA the first time.
What Does a CMA Accountant Do?
CMAs hold numerous positions in accounting. Known for being capable in both business and financial leadership, CMAs may be Chief Financial Officers, Treasurers, Controllers, Finance Managers, Budget Analysts and more.
How Much Does a Certified Management Accountant Make?
Certified management accountants make a higher-than-average salary. According to IMA statistics, the average CMA in the Americas makes $125,000 a year in total compensation.
Why is Becoming a Certified Management Accountant so Important?
Certified Management Accountants occupy an important role in many businesses. While the scope and capacity can change, they essentially provide visionary leadership—well informed by financial best practices. CMAs lead the way in strategic planning, insightful analysis, and financial leadership.
The numbers speak for themselves and there is no better time than now to become a CMA. CMA’s are in high demand and low supply and with my help, you absolutely have what it takes to succeed.
Don’t settle for an unfulfilling career.
Dream big and become a licensed Certified Management Account.
You won’t regret it!