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? To pass the CMA exam, you’ll need to score at least 360 on the multiple choice section. You do not necessarily need to pass the essay section, provided you do well on the MCQ section.

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 the exam while working to meet the other Certified Management Accountant requirements 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 global average CMA exam passing rate is not exactly great. The passing rate for Part One and Part Two is 45%.

The exam is scored on a sliding scale from 0 to 500. The passing score is 360. So as long as your score is 360 or higher, you’ve passed the exam. There isn’t much difference between getting a 360 and getting, say, a 490. A pass is a pass.

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. Read my guide – best CMA review course comparison – for choosing a great course that aligns with your preferred study style.

CMA Exam Structure

The CMA exam format consists of two separate parts:

Part One covers the following material:

  • External Financial Reporting Decisions 15%
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting 20%
  • Performance Management 20%
  • Cost Management 15%
  • Internal Controls 15%
  • Technology and Analytics 15%

Part Two consists of the following:

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

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 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 minimum 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 questions within each essay scenario. 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 CMA practice questions as possible beforehand. The majority of candidates who struggle with the exam tend to have one thing in common – they did not practice enough. Don’t make that exam mistake. Take as many Certified Management Accountant practice tests as you can.

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 an online CMA test bank like that found in the CMA Exam Academy review course.

It helps you to focus on the 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 the 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 our unique PassRate technology, one-on-one coaching, weekly support calls, and accountability check-ins among many other things.

With my 16-week study plan, you can become a CMA in as little as 8 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.

More From Nathan:

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

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38 Comments on “Understanding the CMA Exam Passing Score”

  1. Hello Nathan, I gave my part -1 exam today and i felt the difficulty level was high as compared to the mocks. There were very less direct questions and i got many numericals. I was very scared that i’ll reach essay section or not but fortunately i did and according to me I properly answered all the questions. What do you think about my performance? Do you think doing well in the essay increases my chances of passing? How do we evaluate the difficulty of the paper?

    1. Hi Isha,

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

      The scores are based on the difficulty level of the particular exam form. 75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section. Trust that you’ve done your best 🙂

      You can read more about exam equating in the CMA Handbook.


  2. Hi. i’m worried about my CMA exam i pass the MQC and essay window are open to me about i feel that i answer good, but after reading the comment i be confuse some of the candidates get 260 and essay question was not open and other get 187 and the essay question are open

    1. Shaikha, trust that you’ve done your best. I know the waiting game is tough because it’s a long wait. If you haven’t taken the second CMA exam yet this is a good time to start studying for it while you wait for your exam score.

  3. Hi Nathan,
    How close were I to getting passed when I secured 330 marks in the previous window? Please answer.

  4. Hi

    How many MCQ and Essay questions one must practice from each chapter to determine if he or she is ready for the test.

    I know the answer is “practice as many questions as you can.” But what do you think is a descent number.

    Is completing 100 MCQ’s and lets say 10 Essays questions from each chapter sufficient?

    Best Regards
    Fahad H

    1. Hi Fahad,

      Practice exams are great for assessing your knowledge, but I don’t recommend them as a means of learning the material.

      Getting high scores on practice exams after studying the subject matter from the textbook is a good indicator that you’ve mastered the material. The sheer number of questions attempted does not accurately reflect a candidate’s exam readiness.


  5. How to retain knowledge say once you completed any topic and move on to another one? Any suggestion.

    1. Hi Abhinav,

      Here are a few methods that should help you retain the information you’ve learnt:
      1. Study using the SQ3R technique
      2. Take practice exams to assess your knowledge
      3. Build your own flashcards and use them to practice active recall by spaced repetition

      Hope this helps! For more study strategies for the CMA exam, check out my YouTube channel at this link.


  6. While taking the MCQ can you go to a previous question or once it is answered there is no going back…even if there is remaining time im the 3hours?

  7. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for the provided guidelines for exam preparation. kindly further guide if there is any available software designed or developed for CMA Members for the mock exam to get prepared as per the actual exam pattern.

  8. Hi Nathan,

    I was going through some of the replies regarding 50% MCQ pass criteria. some of the candidates got 280 and the essay window didn’t open . What does this mean ?

    Lets assume that the failed candidate got 40 question correct and got 280 numbers that means the candidate got on an average 7 marks for each correct question whereas the total marks available are only 375 ( 3.75 marks per question ). does that mean the rest 60 questions were for 85 marks only ?

    1. Hi Amit,

      Good question! It looks like their exam form had more difficult questions than others, that’s why they got more points for each correct answer.

      You can read more about exam equating in the CMA Handbook.

      The scores are based on the difficulty level of the particular exam form. So some may

  9. Hi sir,

    Can u pls tell me how many marks does each question carries in both MCQ’s and essay’s.

    1. Hi Sathvika,

      75% of your overall score will come from the MCQ section and 25% from the essay section.

      The amount of points attributed to each question depends on the difficulty level of your particular exam.


  10. Hi,
    I have prepared with wiley and test banks are all covered.
    Can I expect same type of questions for the exam.

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  13. In my last exam of part 1 in Feb 2020 I got 250 score for MCQS when result came . but I could not cross from MCQS to Essay section . why that essay section was not opened even though I got 250 score in MCQS

    1. Hey Jacob,

      I think you’ve also asked me this question during my live today, am I right? 🙂

      But I’ll respond to it here again in case other readers are wondering about the same thing.

      So, a score of 250 doesn’t necessarily equate 50% MCQs answered correctly. The reason for that is that the ICMA uses a scaled grading system and the weight attributed to your MCQs varies depending on the overall difficulty of the exam form you got.

      So if your exam was a more difficult one, which it seems like it was, then your MCQs will weigh more than the average and you’ll get a higher score than for example someone who answered the same number of questions correctly as you but had an overall less difficult exam form.

      The catch is that regardless of how difficult your exam is, you must answer correctly at least 50% of the MCQs in order to move on to the essay section. So even if your exam was really hard and you could have theoretically achieved a passing score with let’s say 40 MCQs answered correctly, the exam will still close after the MCQ section simply because you didn’t answer correctly a minimum of 50% of MCQs.

      I know this fact can be disappointing and it can put candidates with a more difficult exam form at a disadvantage, but that’s how the CMA exam grading works. The best strategy is to prepare for harder questions and to aim for a score as high as 90% when practicing on mock exams and then you will pass the real exam with flying colors too 🙂


  14. Hi Nathan,

    Hope you are doing well. I took part I in February and couldn’t proceed with the essay which means I didn’t get 50% . Now I got my result and my score is 260. I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to write the essay. Can you probably explain?


    1. Hi Michael,

      This has to do with the scaled grading system the ICMA uses. The weight of each MCQ is proportional to the overall difficulty of the exam form you got.

      It appears that yours was among the more difficult ones, that’s why even though you answered correctly less than 50% you scored 260 on the MCQ section.

      If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to hit reply.


  15. Hey Nathan,
    I attempted part 1 exam in Feb 2020. The exam was pretty tough and also I didn’t get into the essay section. But today my scorecard came. It says I have scored 280 marks in mcq which is higher than the 50% cutoff necessary to get into the essay section. I’ve mailed ima about it. What could be the possible action from them ? What do you think?

  16. Hey
    I am a 26 years old
    Completed my graduation in 2014
    I have working experience of retail store
    Still i am eligible for CMA?

    1. Hi Hitesh,

      Yes, you are eligible for the CMA exam.

      You may not meet the experience qualifications for the CMA certification yet, but you will be able to fulfill them within 7 years after passing the exam. You can read more on this here.


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  18. I agree with Ahmed regarding to 50% of MCQ is not working out and it will be 50% of total score 500

  19. 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.


  20. 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,

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  23. 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,

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