A lot of people ask me about how to become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).
Simply put, to become a CMA, you must have a bachelor’s degree or qualifying professional certification. You’ll also need two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. On top of that, you need to complete a rigorous two-part exam and obtain an IMA membership.
The truth is, CMAs are in high demand and low supply right now. And the good news is, becoming one is absolutely attainable. By following my plan below, you can apply for your Certified Management Accountant Certification in as little as 8 months!
Originally published in 2020, this article was updated and republished on Sept. 10, 2023.
If you’re wondering how to become a CMA as quickly as possible, this one’s for you. Having a tight schedule of tasks is a necessity if you want to become a CMA in under a year. But it is absolutely doable if you prepare carefully and follow these 10 steps:
- 1. Meet the CMA Education Requirements
- 2. Fulfill the Experience Qualification
- 3. Pay for an IMA Membership
- 4. Join the CMA Program
- 5. Enroll in a CMA Review Course Program
- 6. Begin Studying by Following a Proven Study Plan
- 7. Register for a CMA Exam Part After Week 8 of Your Study Plan
- 8. Take the CMA Exam
- 9. Apply for your CMA Certificate
- 10. Comply with Ethical Standard and CPE
Step 1. Meet the CMA Education Requirements
In order to become a CMA, you must earn a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited university or college. You can also meet the CMA education requirements by getting one of the approved professional certifications. CMA candidates often come from varying backgrounds, but the most common degrees include accounting, finance, economics, and general business.
Did you know that you can take the CMA exam before you even earn your degree?
That’s right. Even though one of the requirements for how to become a CMA includes earning your degree, you can get the exam out of the way first. Most candidates, however, choose to earn their degree or professional certification first, but the choice is yours.
Step 2. Fulfill the Experience Qualification
Another prerequisite for becoming a CMA is to complete two years of professional experience. The good news is you have quite a large window in which you can complete this qualification. You must complete your experience qualification either prior to or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
Why is this good news?
Because it means college students and professionals looking to make a move into the CMA field can still sit for the exam even if they don’t have 2 years of accounting experience yet. Not only does completing the CMA exam look great on your resume, but it’s a great way to get ahead of the game.
In order to fulfill the experience requirement, you’ll need two years of experience in management accounting and/or financial management. You must hold a professional full-time position. Alternatively, you can work part-time at 20 hours per week for 4 consecutive years in the same field.
Qualifying experience may be anything from working as a staff accountant to a CFO in roles such as financial analyst, senior accountant, etc. While the ICMA prefers consecutive years of experience, each CMA membership is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, so don’t let this hold you back.
If you are an academic and at least 60% of your courses are accounting and corporate financial management courses above the fundamental level, you meet the experience qualification.
Step 3. Pay for an IMA Membership
In order to be eligible for the CMA certification, you must be an active member of the Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA.
Wondering how to join IMA?
Start by choosing the IMA membership best suited for you. Here are your options:
IMA Professional Members
The IMA benefits are available worldwide. With a professional membership, you can take advantage of the IMA’s cutting-edge resources. Use these resources to further expand and hone your knowledge and skills in all areas of management accounting.
Who it’s for: Individuals who already have a career in accounting or finance – think business accountants or financial managers.
Fees: Professional members $295 for the first year, then $280 annually.
IMA Student Members
This membership is perfect for students looking to kick-start their career in accounting or financial management.
Who it’s for: Current students at accredited institutions or universities.
Fees: Students have the option of choosing a one- or two-year membership. With a nice, low fee of only $49 per year.
IMA Academic Members
Members have access to benefits worldwide, including the IMA’s ethics curriculum, webinars, case studies, mentor program, research grants, and various other teaching resources.
Who it’s for: Full-time faculty members of accredited institutions.
Fees: $160 for the first year, then $145 annually.
*The IMA offers a discount on the annual fee when your organization signs up 5 or more staff members. This discount program offers a 15% discount on IMA membership rates.
For full details on eligibility and pricing, click here.
Step 4. Join the CMA Program
One of the steps to becoming a CMA is paying a non-refundable entrance fee for your CMA certification program. This means you must pay this fee in order to even take your exam.
Pricing varies depending on your IMA membership. For example, the cost for professional members is $300, but for Student and Academic members, the fee is only $225.
Once you’ve paid this fee, you probably want to know how long does it take to get CMA certified?
The answer to this question varies. How long depends on what sort of CMA prep course you take and how quickly you want to work through the material.
To be clear, you must complete the CMA program and pass both parts of the CMA exam within 3 years of entry. If you fail to do so, you will have to repay the entrance fee and retake any passed exams.
You must also register for one exam part — either CMA Part 1, or CMA Part 2 — within the first 12 months of entry, or you’ll have to repay the entrance fee. There are several testing windows each year, so plan accordingly.
My advice to you is to wait to join until you are 100% sure you are ready to take the exam!
Step 5. Enroll in a CMA Review Course Program
While the CMA Entrance Fee includes 6 months of access to the CMA Support Package, the majority of candidates will not find this helpful enough. Instead, I highly recommend that you find the best CMA review course that will fit your needs and use it to prepare for the exam.
CMA Exam Academy is a cutting-edge CMA exam review program. It provides candidates with a complete step-by-step instructor-led format; it provides you with virtually everything you need to be 100% prepared for the exam.
If you’re new to CMA Exam Academy, let me break down what this program has to offer and why it’s a step above the competition.
CMA Exam Academy Review Program Benefits
There are a host of benefits to my CMA Academy Review Program, including:
- Weekly support calls with a CMA Coach
- Accountability check-ins and assignment tracking
- Textbooks and Test Banks
- Video Lectures
- Audio Review
- Whiteboard explainer videos
- CMA Formula Guides
- Unlimited coaching support
- 16-week step-by-step study plan per exam part
Many of the potential CMA candidates I speak with have one question in common:
“How can I study for the CMA exam with a packed schedule already?”
The truth is, life is busy. Many candidates work full-time, and some are parents on top of that. Without a plan, it’s too easy to put off studying, delay setting an exam date, and go another year without getting your certification.
With CMA Exam Academy, you’ll be ready to pass each exam in just 16 weeks studying for only 1 hour per day and a little more on weekends. It’s a structured study plan with all the resources you need to learn, review, and practice the material – and stay on track with weekly reminders, check-ins, accountability, and unlimited support from certified CMAs.
My Top CMA Review Course Comparison
There are several reputable CMA courses available. Here is a quick side-by-side of the top CMA review courses:
16-Week CMA Accelerator Program
Avg Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass or 100% Refund
16-Week Guided Program
Weekly Coaching Calls
Weekly Accountability Check-ins
Prometric In-Person Exam Rehearsal
24-Hour Email Response Time
Exclusive 15% IMA Discount
Free Shipping Worldwide
Fundamentals of Accounting Textbook
Whiteboard Explainer Videos (MCQs)
1-Year CPE Subscription
Printed CMA Textbooks
Digital CMA Textbooks
Audio mp3 Lectures
To learn even more about these companies, read our dedicated CMA review course comparison.
Step 6. Begin Studying by Following a Proven Study Plan
Everyone learns differently, and each person’s schedule differs. Unsurprisingly, how long to study for the CMA exam varies from person to person.
In my professional experience, I have found that a 16-week study plan is optimal for most candidates taking the exam.
The reasoning is simple:
Sixteen weeks of study for each part of the exam (16 weeks for Part One and an additional 16 weeks for Part Two) gives candidates ample time to learn everything they need to know to pass the CMA on the first attempt. Furthermore, it’s long enough for you to consume all the material without forgetting key topics.
To put this in perspective, I spent approximately 6 months total studying for the exam, taking 3 months to study for each exam part, but the exam wasn’t as extensive as it is now. A 16-week study plan per part will set up candidates for exam success with the current version of the exam.
When I was preparing for the exam, I would head to Starbucks after work and put in 3 to 4 hours of studying each day. With small 10-minute breaks every hour, I was able to focus and optimize my study time.
On the weekends, I put in several more study hours. On Saturdays, I would study for 3 hours in the morning, followed by a well-deserved lunch break. After lunch, I would clock in 4 more hours. Following dinner, I would cap the night off with 3 hours of studying.
Same with my weekday studying, each hour of study was followed by a 10-minute break.
This may sound intense to some, but it worked for my lifestyle.
To reset and recharge, I planned Sundays as my rest day. I used this time to rest and spend quality time with family and friends.
You’re probably wondering how I stuck to this schedule without losing my mind. Some days I definitely wondered that myself.
Some weeks were harder than others, but thanks to a lot of moral support from friends and family, I was able to walk into the exam fully prepared.
It’s worth mentioning that the exam has changed, and the percentage and depth of knowledge in the Content Specification Outlines has been revised. This is why I now recommend 16 weeks per part, rather than 12 weeks.
If you struggle with motivation and are a constant procrastinator then you may find it extremely beneficial to plan out your study time.
For example, make study appointments. Mark your calendar with how long to study for the CMA exam that day and stick to it.
Remember to also plan study breaks. It’s incredibly important to make sure you spend some time relaxing so you don’t get burnt out.
Scheduling regular break times (like a quick 10 minutes every hour) will ensure that you have enough time to rest and refresh without getting thrown off track.
Want even more study hacks? Check out the links below to help streamline your studying:
- CMA Study Guide
- CMA Exam Multiple Choice Questions Demystified
- CMA Exam Essay Questions — Everything You Need to Know
- Best CMA Study Materials
Step 7. Register for a CMA Exam Part After Week 8 of Your Study Plan
There is no better way to light a fire under your studying than to register for one part of the exam on an upcoming CMA exam date.
There are three exam windows you can register for each year:
Registrations close after the 15th of February, June, and October.
You may register on the IMA online store or by calling 800-638-4427 or (201) 573-9000.
After your registration is complete you will receive your authorization from ICMA. From there, you can schedule your testing appointment at a Prometric Testing Center near you by logging onto www.prometric.com/ICMA.
Step 8. Take the CMA Exam
Now that you have studied for weeks and prepared to the best of your ability, it is time to take the CMA exam.
The CMA exam is a computer-based exam and, as I mentioned before, consists of two parts. While you certainly have the option to take Part One and Part Two in the same exam window, I strongly recommend taking each part in separate windows. This will allow you ample time to study and focus on each part individually. Consequently, you will be more confident on exam day.
Each part of the CMA exam is 4 hours. The first 3 hours are dedicated to a multiple-choice section, while the final hour consists of an essay section with 2 essay questions.
Here is an in-depth breakdown of each part of the exam:
Part 1 – Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
Duration: 4 hours
Format: 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay scenarios
How is the CMA exam scored?
Key topics are marked differently depending on their category. Here is their breakdown:
- Cost Management – 15%
- Internal Controls – 15%
- Technology and Analytics – 15%
- External Financial Reporting Decisions – 15%
- Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting – 20%
- Performance Management – 20%
Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management
Duration: 4 hours
Format: 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay scenarios
Breakdown of scoring:
- Risk Management – 10%
- Investment Decisions – 10%
- Professional Ethics – 15%
- Financial Statement Analysis – 20%
- Corporate Finance – 20%
- Decision Analysis – 25%
In order to move on to the essay portion of the exam, you must answer at least 50% of the multiple-choice questions correctly.
But keep in mind that in order to actually pass the exam, you’ll need a minimum score of 65% on the multiple-choice questions and a perfect score on the essay section, so definitely aim higher than that!
Once you have submitted your multiple-choice answers for scoring, you cannot go back.
If you do not answer 50% correctly, you automatically fail the exam part and will need to retake that part of the exam. There is no discount for exam re-writing meaning you’ll pay the full CMA exam cost to retake that exam part.
The good news is, that if you complete and pass the multiple-choice portion before the 3-hour limit, you can use the full remainder of your time to complete the essay portion. This means if you complete the multiple-choice section in 2 hours you now have 2 full hours to complete the essay section instead of just one hour.
A word to the wise – do not rush through the multiple-choice portion just so you have extra time for the essay. You don’t want to risk scoring less than 65%.
Think of any additional time as an added bonus IF you finished before the 3-hour limit.
Step 9. Apply for your CMA Certificate
Once you complete both parts of the CMA exam and meet the education and work experience requirements, you may apply for your CMA certificate. Woohoo!
To do this, you send your application directly to the IMA. Instructions are available inside your personal IMA account.
10. Comply with Ethical Standard and CPE
In order to maintain your CMA membership, you must fulfill your Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirement.
The CMA CPE requirements are 30 completed educational hours every year, with at least two in the area of ethics.
Be sure to keep all CPE certificates for at least two years since reported CPE hours are verified at random. To find out more, check out our CPE Flow platform.
Why Become a CMA in the First Place?
Becoming a CMA was a game-changer for me. It allowed me to travel the world and work remotely, allowing me freedom in my personal and professional life.
What is CMA (Certified Management Accountant)? It’s a sub-discipline of accounting that focuses on strategic considerations and management.
And it can be a lucrative option for accounting professionals who want to further their careers and increase their income.
Here are some amazing reasons to consider getting a CMA certification.
In High Demand
CMAs are in high demand and relatively low supply, so now is the perfect time to add this designation to your resume. Now is a better time than ever to enter CMA careers.
The CMA designation is well-known around the world, so if you’re looking for global recognition, this could be right for you.
While you might assume that the majority of CMAs are located in the United States, we actually represent a mere fraction of those certified globally. The CMA has grown immensely over the years, especially in China and the Middle East.
Having a CMA gives you access to jobs abroad and in the US.
Higher Earning Potential
According to the 2021 IMA Global Salary Survey, the average CMA salary reported across all regions was $72,430 base salary and $86,924 total compensation.
In the United States specifically, the overall median base salary is $105,000, and the overall median total compensation is $118,500.
Pretty impressive when you consider that a Certified Management Accountant salary is 56% more in median salary than their non-CMA counterparts.
Weighing the Financial and Time Investment
There are several factors that contribute to the cost of becoming a CMA – both financially and time-wise.
The most basic costs for becoming a CMA include paying for both parts of the CMA exam, the exam entrance fee, and your IMA membership.
Each part of the exam costs $495 however, they do offer discounts for students and academics. This does not apply to graduates, though.
The one-time entrance fee is anywhere from $225 to $300, depending on your student or professional status.
Your IMA membership is an annual fee and can be as cheap as $45 for students to $135 and $260 for academics and professionals.
In addition to these basic costs, candidates will want to consider the cost of various CMA review courses to help them prepare for the exam. The cost of study materials can range anywhere from $699 to $1800, depending on the course you go with. (See my review course comparison chart above.) Not to mention the cost of earning your undergraduate degree.
How Long Does it Take to Become a CMA?
In addition to the financial cost of getting your CMA certification, you may want to consider the actual time it will take to earn it.
As one of the CMA prerequisites is having an undergraduate degree, you are looking at a minimum of 3-4 years right off the bat.
Preparation for the exam itself often ranges from 8-12 months, depending on your schedule flexibility and study plan.
Another prerequisite is 2 consecutive years of applicable work experience. While they do offer part-time work experience options, this would mean adding even more years. It is worth mentioning that this requirement may be completed prior to or within seven years of passing the examination, so you have a little flexibility when it comes to this requirement.
All in all, becoming a CMA can take upwards of 5 years, depending on your game plan.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the more commonly asked questions about becoming a Certified Management Accountant.
Is the CMA harder than the CPA?
The CMA pass rate is around 50%, while the pass rate for the CPA is between 45-55%. Both are difficult certifications to get, it just depends on which certificate fits with your goals.
Which bachelor’s degree is best for CMA?
The best bachelor’s degree to have for a CMA is either in accounting or finance. However, many professionals transition into accounting via the CMA because the degree requirement for this certification can be from any field.
Who is eligible for CMA in the US?
Anyone who meets the necessary criteria for the CMA is eligible worldwide.
What do you need to pass the CMA exam?
To pass the CMA exam you must score at least 360 out of 500.
So What Now?
Look, I have just hammered a ton of information your way. Taking it all in can feel a bit overwhelming, but the decision to become a CMA should not be taken lightly.
There is no doubt in mind that if you choose to earn your CMA certification, you will crush the prerequisites and earn the highly coveted CMA certificate. I would love to be by your side to help you turn your dream into a reality.
For any and all questions regarding how to become a CMA and the CMA certification, feel free to drop me a line in the comment section below. I am here for you!
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!