Tips to prepare for the CMA exam after completing your Bachelor’s in Accounting

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After you’ve successfully completed a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, you’ll have the opportunity to take the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam.

It’s not an easy exam; according to the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), the organization that produces the CMA accounting exam, the global pass rates across both test sections were 45% in May 2020. This challenging test requires a great deal of study time and preparation. Consider these tips as you plan your path toward becoming a Certified Management Accountant.

A CMA candidate studies for the exam.

Why Accountants Pursue the CMA Credential

In the United States, the CMA is a professional certification obtained by financial professionals who work in management accounting. The path to earning a CMA certification and becoming a Certified Management Accountant is somewhat similar to the process of becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and passing the CPA exam.

Either qualification can help an accountant demonstrate mastery of accounting principles, commitment to a higher standard of ethics, and dedication to the field. Higher pay is also associated with professional certifications. The IMA reports that, in 2020, Certified Management Accountants earn 63% more than non-certified professionals.

The difference between these accounting designations and roles is that CMAs are better prepared to participate in financial management. They can help with strategy and financial decision-making, often drawing on a combination of accounting expertise, industry insight, and professional experience to advise companies on matters related to corporate finance.

About the CMA Accounting Exam

Before attempting to enroll in the CMA program, be advised that you will need to hold an active IMA membership and meet the academic qualifications and work experience requirements. You will have to pay membership and exam fees, but academic and student IMA members may be eligible for discounted rates.

This two-part exam tests CMA candidates on a dozen different management accounting subjects and skills. The two parts are taken separately but must be completed within a three-year period.

The first component of the CMA exam, “Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics,” covers the following six competencies:

  1. External financial reporting decisions
  2. Planning, budgeting, and forecasting
  3. Performance management
  4. Cost management
  5. Internal controls
  6. Technology and analytics

The second part, “Strategic Financial Management,” addresses six additional competencies:

  1. Financial statement analysis
  2. Corporate finance
  3. Decision analysis
  4. Risk management
  5. Investment decisions
  6. Professional ethics

4 Tips for Preparing for the CMA Accounting Exam

Here are some tips to consider before you start preparing for the CMA review process:

1. Choose an IMA-Endorsed Program for Your Accounting Degree

The IMA’s Higher Education Endorsement Program recognizes business school curricula that meet strict educational standards and enable students to prepare for CMA certification and a career in management accounting. By taking courses through an IMA-endorsed program, prospective CMA candidates engage with accounting principles and other concepts that directly relate to exam material.

2. Determine Whether You Prefer Studying Solo or in a Structured Course Environment

Some people find the routine and camaraderie of a test prep course to be motivating and encouraging. Others thrive on a solo study regimen where they can set their own pace. Reflect back on your online accounting degree experiences and consider what study format worked best for you.

3. Choose Exam Prep Materials Suited to Your Learning Style

Whether you are more of a visual or auditory learner (e.g., watching video lectures and creating your own flashcards), or someone who learns by doing (e.g., taking notes and trying practice questions), research what CMA accounting review courses and test preparation materials are available. Find ones that help you retain concepts successfully and make steady progress toward your study goals. Spend some time exploring free resources before purchasing any one test prep book or enrolling in a CMA course.

4. Aim for Mastery Rather Than Short-Term Memorization

Avoid the pitfall of cramming concepts to ace the exam. The CMA accounting designation sets experts apart, so a focus on expanding the depth and breadth of your understanding will help you succeed. As you study, apply the concepts into your professional life to help solidify your knowledge.

Consider UAB’s IMA-Endorsed Online Accounting Program

The online Bachelor of Science in Accounting at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is one of just several dozen academic programs endorsed by the IMA as a leader in CMA accounting exam test preparation. Students who graduate from UAB’s online accounting degree program are already well prepared to earn the esteemed CMA designation.

To learn more about UAB’s online Bachelor of Science in Accounting, reach out to an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

Online Master’s Degree in Accounting

Forensic Accounting Jobs With an Online BACC


IMA — CMA: Everything You Need to Know

IMA — Higher Education Endorsement Program

IMA — ICMA Releases Pass Rates for New CMA Exam Curriculum