How to Become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

If you want to advance your career in the accounting field, you might consider becoming a certified management accountant (CMA). This formal designation can help you make the jump to corporate financial accounting and/or strategic management. It can also help you earn more money, get a new job, or expand your career horizons overall.

The question is, how can you become a CMA if you’ve never even considered it before?

CMA vs CPA

First, you should know that while they have similar acronyms, becoming a CMA is different than becoming a CPA. A CPA certification allows you to become a certified public accountant. CPA qualification usually focuses on the tasks you’ll achieve on the job, such as preparing individual tax returns or writing up audit reports. By contrast, CMA certification is more focused on executive-level responsibilities.

Requirements to Become a CMA

Before you can become a CMA, you’ll need to meet these requirements, at a minimum:

  •         Education. First, you need some education to be familiar with management accounting topics. The most common way to meet this requirement is with a bachelor’s degree from a qualified institution in a related field (usually something accounting-related). However, you may also meet this requirement if you have a professional certification. There’s also a chance you can qualify for the exam with a degree from an unaccredited institution; however, these tend to be reviewed on an individual basis.
  •         Experience. You won’t need any specific formal work experience to take the CMA exam. However, you’ll need to have at least two years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management before you can become a fully certified CMA.
  •         The exam. Before you become a CMA, you’ll need to pass the CMA exam. This is arguably the most important and the most complex part of the process, so we’ll delve into more detail in the next section.

The CMA Exam

The CMA exam is a formal exam that takes place in two sections. In each section, you’ll have 4 hours to read and answer 100 multiple choice questions. You’ll also be responsible for writing 2 essays for each section.

The first section will test your knowledge and abilities related to financial reporting and planning. It will include questions and prompts about external financial reporting decisions, planning, budgeting, and forecasting, performance management, cost management, and internal controls.

The second section is all about business decision making. It will include questions and prompts about financial statement analysis, corporate finance, decision analysis, risk management, investment decisions, and professional ethics.

The CMA exam is scored on a scale that ranges from 1 to 500. If you get a 360 or higher, you’ll pass. You must also provide correct answers on at least half of the multiple-choice questions (which constitute 75 percent of your score) to move onto the essay section.

There are three testing windows throughout the year: one beginning in January, one in May, and one in September. During these periods, you’ll have nearly two months to take either section of the exam. You’ll need to pass both sections within three years if you want to become CMA certified.

Note that to register for the CMA exam, you’ll first need to register as an IMA member. You’ll be responsible for paying an IMA membership fee, a CMA entrance fee, as well as a fee for the exam itself.

How to Prepare for the CMA Exam

If you’re interested in signing up for the CMA exam, you should follow these tips to maximize your chances for success:

  •         Start early. This isn’t an exam you can cram for. Start studying at least two months before your exam date and study a little each day.
  •         Study the right materials. Make sure you’re familiar with the types of questions that usually get asked.
  •         Take a review course. It’s hard to study for the CMA exam with no experience or past familiarity. That’s why most people enlist the help of a professional review course.
  •         Get plenty of sleep. Sleep habits are tightly linked to memory. If you get plenty of sleep on a regular basis, you’ll be much more inclined to remember what you study. Make sure you’re getting at least 7 to 9 hours per night throughout your studying period.
  •         Study alone and with a group. Studying alone and as part of a group both have strengths and weaknesses, so utilize both tactics when preparing for the exam.

Becoming a CMA will take some time and cost some money, but it could be one of the best moves you can make for your accounting career. As a CMA, you’ll be equipped to pursue higher-paying, elevated positions in executive financial management, and you’ll have far more authority and credibility to wield as well