Understanding the CMA Exam Passing Score

cma exam passing score

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to taking the CMA exam to become a certified management accountant.

For starters, what is the CMA exam passing score and the CMA exam pass rates?

How hard is the CMA exam?

What kinds of exam questions can I expect?

Do I have to take a CMA course in order to pass?

If you want to become a CMA in the USA, passing marks are a must.

Studying for your CMA certification is hard enough, so let’s take one stressor off your plate; the CMA exam passing score.

How to Crush the Exam and Get a CMA Exam Passing Score

Let’s talk numbers.

The average CMA exam passing rate is not exactly great. The passing rate for Part One is 35% globally and 50% for Part Two.

And while these exam results aren’t exactly great, it is possible with the right study plan and CMA review course, to teach you ahead of time how to pass the CMA exam on one of the upcoming CMA exam dates.

CMA Exam Structure

The CMA exam format contains two parts. Part One covers the following material:

  • External Financial Reporting (15%)
  • Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting (30%)
  • Performance Management (20%)
  • Cost Management (20%)
  • Internal Controls (15%)

Part Two consists of the following:

  • Financial Statement Analysis (25%)
  • Corporate Finance (20%)
  • Decision Analysis (20%)
  • Risk Management (10%)
  • Investment Decisions (15%)
  • Professional Ethics (10%)

How many questions are on the CMA exam?

Each part of the exam is comprised of 100 multiple choice questions (MCQs) and two essay scenarios.

Candidates are given 3 hours to complete the MCQ section and 1 hour for the essay portion. What’s great is that if you finish your MCQ section before the allotted 3 hours is up you can roll your remaining time over to the essay section. Once you have decided to move forward you cannot go back and change any MCQ though, so keep this in mind.

As far as scoring goes, 75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section.

In order to even make it to the essay section candidates must score 50% or over on the multiple choice questions. If you score 49% or less you will have to retake the exam in the next exam window.

The grades from both sections will be put together to give you your CMA exam passing score.

Common Multiple Choice Scoring Questions

Are multiple choice questions weighted differently?

No. Unlike other exams, like the the CPA exam for example, each multiple choice question on the exam is scored equally.

Your raw score is converted to a uniform scoring system between 0-500. Passing the exam requires getting a score of 360+.

Do you lose marks if you answer the question incorrectly?

No. You will not earn any points, but you will not be penalized with a negative mark for answering a question wrong.

If you are running out of time it is better to guess blindly than to not answer them at all.

Do you need to pass both the MCQ and Essay portion to get a CMA passing score?

In order to get a CMA exam passing score you do NOT need to pass both the MCQ and essay sections. As I said earlier, you do need to get at least 50% of the MCQ correct in order to move on to the essay portion, but if you score significantly higher on the MCQ section than the essay, you can still receive an overall CMA passing rate.

Scoring the CMA Exam Essay Section

When it comes to the essay portion of the exam, you will have to answer two scenarios. There are typically 4 to 6 scenarios to choose from. Your responses are recorded using a simple word processor.

Some essay questions may require computational answers which can be created using the table function on the word processor. You can use the table to show calculations.

If you are not comfortable with this sort of task I highly recommend getting familiar with the testing environment and doing as many mock exams beforehand. The majority of candidates who struggle with the exam tend to have one thing in common – they did not practice the exam enough. Don’t make that mistake.

All essay questions are scored by experts and not through a computer algorithm. You will be graded on your knowledge of the exam content, your ability to apply concepts clearly and logically in real business situations, and candidates who write English proficiently will get extra points.

Expressing Your Knowledge of the Exam Content

In order to crush both the MCQ and essay sections you will need to truly understand the exam content. Being able to apply your knowledge and choosing the right question is critical for passing the exam.

The best way to test your knowledge is by using adaptive learning technology like that found in CMA Exam Academy review course.

Adaptive technology allows you to focus on material that you are struggling with instead of wasting time on content you already understand.

Apply Concepts Clearly in Business Situations

There is a difference between knowing and understanding content. You can memorize information, but if you don’t know how to apply it in a real scenario then it cannot help you pass the exam.

Before you begin tackling your essay question you should start by reading the entire question word by word. Take the time to fully understand what is being asked of you.

Next, identify the concepts that are being tested in that particular essay question. Whether you like mind mapping or writing out lists, make sure you know which key terms you are going to elaborate on in your essay.

Don’t over complicate your answers. Remember, the goal is to be clear and coherent. This includes using correct English grammar and spelling.

Avoid slang or unnecessary exclamation marks. You should use business writing principles, not colloquialisms.

Structure your essay the same way you were taught during your bachelor degree years- with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Your first paragraph should introduce how you will be explaining the question. Throughout the middle paragraphs, expand on your points with as many applicable facts.

As always, with the conclusion make sure to summarize your key points and tie up any loose ends.

The Best Way to Ensure a CMA Exam Passing Score

Want to increase your odds of passing the exam on your very first try? The best way to make sure you get a CMA exam passing score is by choosing a review course.

Review courses cover all the material you will be tested on and provide you with additional study resources like formula guides and audio reviews.

CMA Exam Academy offers everything from adaptive learning technology, one-on-one coaching, weekly support calls and accountability check ins among many other things.

With my 12 week study plan you can become a CMA in as little as 6 months.

If you are interested to learn more about CMA Exam Academy and how I can help you ace the exam, click here.

Still have a few questions about how to get a CMA exam passing score? Pop on down to the comment section and fire away.

Preparing for the CMA exam with Your Coach Nathan




More From Nathan:

CMA Exam Essay Questions – Everything You Should Know
Certified Management Accountant Course

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8 Comments on “Understanding the CMA Exam Passing Score”

  1. Dear Sir

    I am 58 years old working as Senior Accountant in a private company in Bombay.

    I would like to upgrade my skills and want to switch to some big 4 companies.

    My main query is I am 58 years old and at this age if I become CMA and at the time of interview whether the employer would prefer me or youngster.

    Also whatever if I learn or acquire knowledge during my CMA course at the age of 58, how I can cope up or put to use the knowledge in real time or at my work place.

    Subramanian Venkatraman

    Please advice me how to move from here.

    1. Hi Subramanian,

      The CMA designation is a valuable credential at any stage in your career. The great thing is that it only takes 6 to 8 months to acquire it.

      As you learn the subject matter, you’ll find it relevant in your Sr. Accountant role. Perhaps not every single topic but there will be overlap. This is how you can start applying it in real time at work.

      Thank you,

  2. Pingback: How Hard is the CMA Exam? Understanding CMA Exam Difficulty - CMA Exam Academy

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  4. Hi Nathan,

    I’m really worried on my cma exam performance. Based on previous exam, do you know the passing chance for those who have reached the essay part in exam? Given we have the global passing rate and in region-wise rate, did IMA release this passing trending?



    1. Hi Ejay,

      If you made it to the essay, there’s a good chance you passed. Fingers crossed!

      IMA doesn’t disclose pass rates by region or any other criteria. All we know is that it ranges from 35% to 50% globally.

      Thank you,

  5. Hi Nathan,

    im just wondring regards 50% of MCQ its only 375*.50% = 187.5 and even if i got the full score at essay section it wont work out to pass CMA Exam the total would be +125+187.5= 312.5 which its not 360 to pass the exam.

    The concept regards cost to benefit will not be implemented to sign the essay question for someone who wont pass any way!
    is there is any more explnation regards that issue?,

    Thank you and my best regards,

    1. Hi Ahmed,

      Yes, you’re right. I believe the ICMA may have set the bar at only 50% so that candidates who are close to passing could have the opportunity to peak at the essay section and know what to expect on their exam retake so they could better prepare for it.


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