All of your hard work to prepare for the CMA exam will, at some point, lead to CMA exam day.
Through it all, you have to be on your game: focused, determined, and persevering.
You’ve sought out the best CMA exam prep and stuck with it to the end of the road.
You’ve taken a practice test and come to realize that you’re ready.
Because once you book your CMA exam, the clock begins.
As it gets ever close to test day, it’s important that you don’t blow it in the final mile. This home stretch has a strategy of its own, and I want to walk you through it.
I’m going to break down a number of strategies to help you remain calm and collected the night before the exam, the day of the exam and the time in between.
And so, with that in mind, let’s dive into what to do to prepare for CMA exam day.
- Leading Up to the CMA Exam
- Prometric Test Drive
- The Night Before the CMA Exam
- The Day of the CMA Exam
- Strategic Prep for CMA Exam Day
Originally published on June 8th, 2022, this article was updated and republished on July 18th, 2023.
Leading Up to the CMA Exam
In the very last days before your test, there are a few areas of priority that should command your attention.
I recommend you focus on two test-related areas:
- Taking plenty of CMA practice tests
- Memorizing CMA exam formulas
Practice makes perfect, and this is something you really can do up until the 11th hour. Continue to practice areas you’ve found challenging. CMA sample questions and practice exams are invaluable for putting in the work during those final couple of weeks and days.
Secondarily, don’t skimp on formula coverage. It’s going to be a make-it-or-break-it component for your test performance. Go over formulas — preferably with a good formula guide — again and again to memorize as much as possible.
Prometric Test Drive
Prometric is the organization that facilitates the CMA exam. They’ve recently started letting CMA exam candidates take an official practice test as an in-person experience in a Prometric exam center.
This is easily the best way to get a “test day” vibe before you actually take the CMA exam.
If you tend to have test anxiety, haven’t taken many long exams like this, or haven’t tested in an official center before, you should definitely consider the Prometric Test Drive.
The best news? You may be able to do it for free.
The Night Before the CMA Exam
Tomorrow’s the big day – you’ve got one more sleep until the CMA exam.
What should you do with it?
First, let’s talk about what not to do.
That’s really the entire piece of advice – don’t cram.
You’ve already practiced. You’ve already reviewed as much as you can. You’ve already completed the test drive.
Now it’s time to put the books away.
DON’T: Eat or Drink Too Much
It’s not time for party mode… yet.
There are all kinds of expert-recommended nutrition tips to boost mental clarity and energy during a test. But a good rule of thumb is just to not overdo it – don’t eat too much or drink alcohol the night before your CMA exam.
Excess food or liquid consumption could impact your sleep that night, not to mention your digestion the next day, so try to keep it light.
And avoid any alcohol as it can definitely affect sleep and your ability to perform well on the exam.
DON’T: Overthink or Worry
Yes, exams are stressful – especially ones with stakes as high as the CMA exam. It’s easy to start worrying about what might happen if you fail or suddenly forget everything you’ve learned.
Let me remind you: at this point in the game, you’ve studied hard. You’ve focused. You’ve sacrificed. As long as you trust your resources and put in the time, you’ll be ready.
Worry won’t change the outcome.
I’m a big fan of mindfulness in all aspects of life, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to be in the right headspace on the day of the CMA exam.
This will not happen by accident. You have to set your intentions and begin to tune into your thought patterns.
It’s important to understand your optimal mental acuity windows, but also to be able to channel your focus. Remember, you’re about to head into four hours of testing – it’s essential that you don’t go in with an overtaxed brain.
This means that the simple tip for preparing for the CMA exam day mentally is: rest and take it easy.
Go for walks. See some friends. Watch your favorite show.
You’ve spent months going through your CMA exam study plan, so let your conscious mind rest and your subconscious take over.
If you’re doing an in-person test, use the night before your test to get all of your test paraphernalia together.
Lay out what you’ll wear. Pack your bag with everything you’re planning to take for your locker and into the test.
Curious what kinds of things people bring to the CMA exam? Check out this Q & A where I answered all of the questions people have on that topic.
DO: Clear Your Mind
Almost everyone is going to have exam day nerves.
It’s easy to tell yourself to not worry or overthink, but that’s easier said than done.
There are many ways to clear your mind so you can go into the exam calm and ready to succeed.
How you manage anxiety and nervous thoughts will vary based on your personality. Think back to a time when you felt worried. How did you manage those emotions?
The answer is different for everyone. Some candidates meditate. Some do manifestation exercises. Some spend quality time with their friends and family. Some eat a great meal or take a walk outdoors.
The good news is that learning to calm nerves is a lateral skill you’ll carry into your career. Board meetings? No problem. Salary negotiations? You’ll handle it. Take time to find what works for you, then practice being calm.
DO: Spend Time With People Who Make You Feel Good
Before your exam, you may notice some feelings of self-doubt creeping up on you. As a remedy, I recommend spending time with people who bring out the best in you.
Studies have shown a correlation between social relationships and positive mental health.
So, if your mom is your biggest fan, give her a call. If your spouse gives great pep talks, now’s the perfect time to ask for one.
Surrounding yourself with supporters will go a long way to putting yourself at ease.
The Day of the CMA Exam
If you’ve kept to your study regimen and put in the work, you shouldn’t wake up on exam day in a major panic. You’ve put in the effort and you’re well rested; now you just need to focus on the day ahead.
How to Start Your CMA Exam Day
Here are my general tips for getting a good start to your day:
Wake Up Early
Give yourself a longer-than-average time to go through your typical morning routine; you want plenty of time in case something unexpected happens.
This doesn’t mean you should alter your sleep schedule too drastically. A main priority should be to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep. If your test is scheduled early in the morning, it’s a good idea to gradually adjust your sleep schedule if you don’t already wake up early.
The idea is to be as comfortable and awake as possible on the day of your exam. This means getting up early enough that you don’t feel rushed but ensuring that you’re not exhausted from an unexpected shift in routine.
You don’t need to dress to impress. No one at the Prometric test center has anything to do with your CMA exam score, so don’t dress like you’re going to a job interview. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and focused.
A comfortable pair of pants, a nice cotton t-shirt, your lucky socks, and sneakers will be more comfortable than a crisp button-up and dress shoes. Pick clothes that will limit your distractions instead of focusing on leaving an impression.
While on the topic of clothes, be sure to wear layers.
Testing centers can be too cold for comfort, which can impact test-taking. You will not be able to leave your seat to get a sweater from your locker during the test, so wear a sweater or jacket to the testing room. This way you can remove a layer if you’re too warm.
Caffeinate as Usual
Follow your normal caffeine routine. This means if you don’t normally drink caffeine, now is not the time to start.
If you already drink a cup of joe in the morning, carry on. Caffeine can have a major impact on your cognitive abilities. The studies show mixed findings in some cases, but many have found that it can improve working memory and reaction time.
On the other hand, if you’re not used to caffeine, high doses can increase your anxiety. You know your body best, so proceed as usual.
Fuel Your Brain
Eat a solid breakfast. Your brain needs nutrients and energy to perform optimally.
Some great foods for cognitive performance include leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, berries, and walnuts. So a spinach omelet would be a great option for breakfast. You could also have oatmeal with berries and walnuts, or a spinach and kale salad with grilled salmon on top.
Leave Ahead of Schedule
If you’re going to an in-person CMA test, leave with plenty of time to arrive. You’ll have tested the route, but may not have accounted for time of day traffic. Plus, unexpected things happen on the road every day.
Stress can have a major impact on cognitive performance, so it’s important to take every necessary precaution to prevent feeling stressed out on exam day.
Focus and Calm Yourself on Arrival
Finally, once you’ve arrived at your testing center, take a few minutes to center yourself. Do some deep breaths, drink water, review your notes, or run through a quick guided meditation.
Remember that nerves can impact performance, so be sure to prioritize your mental wellness before you head into the exam room.
What to Bring to the Exam
You’ve done all you can to mentally and physically prepare for your exam, but here are a few things you should not forget to pack for your CMA exam day:
- At least one form of approved identification document
- Your registration confirmation number
- A CDC-approved medical mask
- An approved calculator
- Flashcards or notes for use in the waiting room
- Ear plugs
- Any necessary prescriptions
- Water and a healthy snack
Most of your belongings will be stored in an assigned locker for the duration of the exam. If you’re unsure of whether or not a certain item is permitted, ask one of the test administrators. They are there to ensure your experience is as smooth as possible.
One of the bonuses offered with the CMA Exam Academy complete review course is the opportunity to experience a real-life exam day during a Prometric Test Drive. If you have any uncertainties about what to bring or what to expect, this is a great way to have your questions answered in advance of the big day.
The CMA Exam Check-In Process
Here’s an overview of what to expect when you arrive at the testing center.
- Arrive 30 minutes early — There will be other candidates taking the test on the same day. To avoid long lines and to give yourself time to clear your mind and review your notes beforehand it’s a good idea to check in early.
- Review check-in instructions — In your registration confirmation email, you’ll find an authorization number and appointment time, along with any necessary instructions.
- Check-in with an administrator — During check-in, you will be asked to present your government-issued ID and authorization number. The administrator will then sign you in and assign you to a locker.
- Place all belongings in the locker — Only approved prescriptions, bottled water, ear plugs, eyeglasses, and calculators will be allowed in the exam room. Leave your jewelry, accessories, coat, bag, keys, phone, and wallet in the locker.
- Sit in the waiting area — An administrator will call you when it is time to take the exam.
- Prepare for an inspection — Once you are called, you will undergo an inspection of your prescription eyewear, sleeves, pant legs, and pockets for any forgotten items that must be stored in your locker. Recording devices are strictly prohibited and staff are diligent about enforcing this rule.
Maximize Your 30-Minute Tutorial Time
A lot of people gain confidence by simply getting familiar with the Prometric testing system. Great news – you can try it out before your CMA exam begins!
The Prometric system allows a 30-minute tutorial time. You can click around, engage with the user interface, and investigate how it all works.
Pro Tip: you may not need a full 30 minutes since the software is very intuitive. However, I would NOT recommend jumping right into the exam. After all, you have the time, and you can use it however you want.
Here’s what I recommend: take however long you need/want to learn the software. Then, when you’re ready, use the rest of the 30 minutes to do a brain dump of every formula you can think of.
Organize them so you can easily locate what you need during the exam – creating your own formula reference sheet.
Doing this will have three benefits:
- You’ll be more comfortable and confident, which helps alleviate stress and improves cognition.
- You’ll significantly reduce the chance of your mind blanking when trying to recall a formula since you just wrote them all down.
- You’ll speed up your ability to work out problems, ensuring you’ll complete the entire exam on time
30 minutes well spent can make a huge difference.
Strategic Prep for CMA Exam Day
The best strategy is one that will leave you feeling confident and in control.
Beyond that, exercise all of the great focusing capabilities you developed while you were studying for the CMA exam. Take deep breaths. Don’t give in to stress. And do your best!
Do you have additional questions about how to pass the CMA exam, or what to expect on test day?
In addition to this blog, I have tons of resources to help people like you succeed, including highly effective CMA study materials.
After all, I’ve been there. I remember my own test day. And I’ve helped tens of thousands of people just like you crush it with no worries.
If you have a specific question about what to do to prepare for the CMA exam, drop a comment below! I’m always happy to answer.
Hi, I’m Nathan Liao (aka the CMA Coach)! For the last 10 years, over 82,000 accounting and finance pros came knocking at my door seeking guidance and help. If you’re also aiming to conquer the CMA exam on your very first try—without wasting away time or money—you’ve found your ultimate guide. Dive in deeper to discover more about me and the dedicated team that powers CMA Exam Academy. Click here and let’s embark on this journey together!