How to Become a CMA: The CMA Certification Process

How to Become a CMA: The CMA Certification Process

Earning the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is attractive to lots of accounting professionals due to the many benefits of the CMA. If you’re interested in the CMA for all the ways it can enhance your career, you need to learn exactly how to become a CMA so you can start the process. So, use this step by step guide to learn about CMA eligibility and begin your CMA journey.

How to Become a CMA

If you want to earn the CMA, you can’t skip any of these steps. Instead, you must fully commit to each of them and give them your all in order to reach CMA success as soon as possible.

The first 5 steps involve important decisions you must make before beginning the CMA application process. Then, steps 6-13 reveal exactly what you must do to meet all of the CMA certification requirements and prove your CMA qualification.

CMA Exam Procedures & Registration

  • Pay the CMA Certification Entrance Fee
  • Register for the CMA exam by paying the registration fee.
  • Receive a Registration acknowledgment form which provides your authorization number(s), testing window(s), the Instructions for Candidates, and access to the CMA Exam Support Package.
  • Select the best CMA review course for self-study
  • Appear for your scheduled exam appointment(s) with the required identification documents.

1. Identify the Benefits of the CMA Certification

The first few steps in the CMA journey are the ones you must take to confirm that you’re ready to go down this road. Securing the CMA certification is not impossible, but it is a bit demanding, so you must know what you’re getting into and why before you proceed.

Start with a basic introduction to the CMA. The Certified Management Accountant certification designates management accounting professionals who have met a series of requirements. As the organization that awards the certification, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) establishes these requirements in order to objectively measure an accountant’s knowledge and competence in management accounting.

Other than the CMA title, what advantages can you enjoy for satisfying the IMA’s CMA requirements and receiving the certification?

The benefits of the CMA certification include:

  1. Higher income
  2. More job opportunities
  3. Greater job security
  4. Increased skills and abilities
  5. Heightened respect and admiration

Furthermore, the CMA certification is the gold standard in management accounting and probably the most global management accounting certification in the world. What’s more, the skills you gain from earning the CMA are super practical, and the IMA has not made securing the certification an insurmountable challenge. So, if a higher income, better job, greater respect, and more all sound good to you, then you should move on to the next step in the CMA process.

2. Compare the CMA to Other Accounting Certifications

Now, I know you just learned that the CMA is a very rewarding certification, but it is actually not the only worthy accounting certification available. In fact, you have a lot of options as to which accounting certification you can pursue. These options include the:

  1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license
  2. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation
  3. Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification
  4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter

You also have a few other management accounting certifications to choose from depending on the country you live in.

You should know which accounting certifications you can earn so that you are absolutely certain the CMA is the one you want to go for at this time. Depending on your career goals, you may want to get the CMA certification and nothing else, or you may decide to combine a few different accounting certifications over time so that you can specialize in a particular field. Knowing your CMA career possibilities and CMA salary potential should help you conclude if this certification is the best choice for you given your background and aspirations.

3. Analyze Your CMA Accounting Ability

The CMA certification is absolutely worth it, but getting this certification does require a substantial investment of time and effort.

As you recall, you have to meet the CMA requirements in order to come away with the certification. The most imposing of these requirements are the exam, education, and experience requirements.

The basics of these requirements include:

  • Exam: pass both parts of the CMA exam within 3 years of entering the CMA program.
  • Education: earn a bachelor’s degree or a professional certification within 7 years of finishing the CMA exam.
  • Experience: acquire 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.

Assuming you already planned to earn or did earn a bachelor’s degree of some sort, then meeting the CMA education requirement shouldn’t be an issue. So, the real challenges of the CMA certification will be passing the exam and getting the experience. But honestly, the IMA makes meeting the CMA experience requirement fairly easy, so many candidates believing that passing the CMA exam is the main obstacle.

How hard is the CMA exam? The CMA exam consists of 2 parts. CMA exam Part 1 and Part 2 both present 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay questions for you to answer in 4 hours. To get a good indication of CMA exam difficulty, we just need to look at the CMA exam pass rates. Though the pass rates have risen recently, the average CMA pass rate is still just 45%. Therefore, the CMA exam isn’t something you can take lightly. But at the same time, if you’re willing to invest in a CMA review course and study consistently, the CMA exam is something you can pass.

4. Perform Your CMA Certification Cost-Benefit Analysis

If you’re interested in earning the CMA to make more money, then the amount of money you spend on the CMA matters.

When you add up all the CMA fees, you can see that securing the certification will cost you around $2,000.

So, the simple question is: Can you afford the CMA?

Well, when you consider once again that the CMA helps you increase your income by as much as 47%, then you can see that the certification pays for itself and then pays dividends on top of that.

5. Fulfill the CMA Education Requirements

So, if you’re officially ready to begin the CMA process, then you must address the CMA requirements in the best order, starting with the education requirement.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, then you’re most likely all set. You just need to verify that you got your degree from an accredited college or university, request that your institution send an official transcript to the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA), and check to make sure your transcript is on file in your IMA online account a week or so after you make the request.

What if your school isn’t on the accredited list? This situation isn’t usually a big deal. You just need to have a foreign credential evaluation agency assess your transcript and send their report to the ICMA.

Still in school? Don’t worry: if you’re currently enrolled in such an institution and have not yet graduated, you can still qualify to take the CMA exam and make that your first step toward the CMA. To prove to the IMA that you’re a student, you just need to be registered for at least 6 credits per semester during the academic year. Then, you need to send confirmation of your degree to the ICMA within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.

Your other option for fulfilling the education requirement is to already hold a professional certification. The IMA reveals which certifications fulfill the CMA education requirement, so just check the list and have your organization send a letter confirming your status to the ICMA.

6. Pay the IMA Membership Fee

Once you confirm your interest and eligibility for the exam, you can join the IMA. Your options for IMA membership and the costs of these membership types include:

  • Professional: $245
  • Academic: $135
  • Student: $39
  • Two-Year Student: $78

You must take the following steps to become an IMA member:

  1. Visit the IMA membership page.
  2. Select the appropriate membership category and click “Join”.
  3. Fill out the online application.
  4. Look for an e-mail confirming your successful enrollment as an IMA member.

In the online application form, you will be asked to fill out your personal and professional information, such as other professional credentials, education, job title, and responsibilities, and pay the annual fee by credit card. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

7. Join the CMA Certificate Program

You need to enter the CMA program in order to take the CMA exam, and becoming a member of the IMA does NOT automatically put you in the CMA program. You can become a member of the IMA and join the CMA program at the same time if you want, but this step is not mandatory.

Therefore, you should join the CMA program only when you are ready to take the exam. You should wait until this point because once you enroll in the program and pay the CMA entrance fee, you must:

  • Start taking the CMA exam within 12 months, and
  • Complete the CMA program within 3 years.

To join the CMA program, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your IMA account.
  2. Select the CMA candidate package you want by clicking “Join”.
  3. Find a professional chapter by selecting a country and chapter.
  4. If you would like to do so, you can also register for CMA exam Part 1 and Part 2 at this time. If you’re not ready to schedule your exam appointment yet, you can just skip these steps by clicking “Skip” on the left side of the page.
  5. Pay the CMA entrance fee ($250 for professional members).
  6. Look out for an e-mail confirming your successful enrollment in the CMA program.
  7. Read the instructions in the email on how to access the CMA Exam Support Package

8. Register for the CMA Exam Parts

After enrolling in the CMA program, you may register for the exam. The CMA exam consists of 2 parts:

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance and Control
  • Part 2: Financial Decision Making

You can take the exam parts in any order, though I suggest you start with the part you feel most comfortable with. You can also take the exam parts on the same day or at different times, depending on how much time you have to study.

The CMA exam parts are available to take during the following annual testing windows:

  • January/February
  • May/June
  • September/October

You may choose to register online, by phone with credit card information, or by mailing/faxing the registration form.

To register for the CMA exam, you must follow these steps:

  1. Determine which exam part(s) to take and in which testing window.
  2. Pay for the exam registration fees ($415 per part for professional membership).
  3. Look out for an e-mail confirming your successful registration for the exam part(s).

9. Schedule Your CMA Exam Appointment

Upon successful registration, you can schedule the date and time of the exam part(s) you want to take at Prometric centers in the U.S. and around the world. The centers are open every weekday during the testing windows.

To make a testing appointment, you must visit the Prometric website and click the “Schedule My Test” button. Then, you must select your country and state if applicable. You must consent to the privacy policy and then provide your authorization number from the IMA. After that, you will select the exam part you want to sit for, your preferred testing center location, and your preferred date and time. You’ll then verify your appointment and be all set!

You can typically cancel an appointment within 72 hours, and your refund (minus a $25 administrative fee) will be available within 30 days of registration. However, Prometric charges a $50 fee to candidates who reschedule/cancel appointments within 3 to 30 days of the original test date.

10. Prepare for and Pass the CMA Exam

The CMA exam parts test candidates on their knowledge of the following areas of management accounting and financial management:

Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control

  1. External Financial Reporting and Decisions
  2. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting
  3. Performance Management
  4. Cost Management
  5. Internal Controls

Part 2: Financial Decision Making

  1. Financial Statement Analysis
  2. Corporate Finance
  3. Decision Analysis
  4. Risk Management
  5. Investment Decisions
  6. Professional Ethics

Furthermore, each CMA exam part contains 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios for you to answer. So, the CMA exam is definitely an exam you’ll want to study for.

Thankfully, as soon as you enter the CMA program, you’ll receive 6 months of free access to the IMA’s Exam Support Package. You’ll find the package at the IMA Learning Center website as soon as you pay the entrance fee. This package includes a glossary of terms and downloadable and printable multiple-choice and essay practice questions.

But, while the Exam Support Package is helpful, it isn’t sufficient to prepare you for the CMA exam on its own. Instead, to give yourself the best chance of exam success, you need the additional learning tools you’ll find in a CMA review course.

How to Pass the CMA Exam

A CMA review course contains self-study resources that prepare you for the CMA exam by focusing on the exam content. Usually, you can access all the resources in your course online. These resources can include:

  • Digital or physical books
  • A test bank of practice questions
  • A study planner
  • Performance tracking software
  • Video lectures
  • Audio lectures
  • Limited time access
  • Customer service access

You can purchase a complete CMA review course that covers the content of both exam parts, or you can purchase just a CMA review course for just one exam part.

11. Meet the Annual CPE CMA Course Requirements

The IMA doesn’t want you to forget what you just learned to pass the CMA exam. Therefore, they start imposing their continuing professional education (CPE) requirement on CMA candidates as soon as candidates finish the CMA exam. So, once you’ve completed the additional requirements and applied for the CMA certificate, your CPE and IMA membership must be current at the time. Otherwise, the IMA won’t award you CMA status.

If you complete the CMA exam in the middle of the year, then you don’t need to meet the CPE requirement until the following year. But you may carry up to 10 CPE hours over to the next reporting year, so you can start working on next year’s CPE as soon as you want.

The IMA’s CPE requirement holds CMAs to taking 30 hours of CPE every year. And, 2 of these 30 hours must cover the area of ethics. Moreover, the subjects of your CPE must be relevant to a management accountant’s or financial manager’s career development and related to employer needs.

You can earn your CPE from the following sources:

  • programs sponsored by employers
  • business organizations
  • educational institutions
  • professional and trade associations.

You’ll also find that qualifying CPE programs come in the following forms:

  • seminars
  • workshops
  • technical meetings
  • self-study packages
  • college courses
  • online courses

12. Complete the CMA Working Experience Requirements

As a CMA candidate, you must have 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management.

As with the education requirement, you have the option of completing the experience requirement before or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.

Furthermore, you can use your full-time teaching experience to fulfill the experience requirement as long as at least 60% of your course load involves teaching accounting or finance above the principles level for a minimum of 2 years.

What’s more, while the IMA does expect full-time employment, they accept continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week that satisfy their standards for qualified experience. The IMA awards 1 year of experience for every 2 years of part-time employment. Therefore, you’d need to work part-time for 4 years to meet the 2-year experience requirement.

But, whether full-time or part-time, your experience must involve regularly using the principles of management accounting and financial management to make judgments. The IMA believes accountants employ these principles most often in tasks such as:

  • Auditing (external or internal)
  • Budget preparation and reporting
  • Company investment decision making
  • Completing monthly, quarterly, and year end close
  • Costing analysis
  • Financial planning and analysis
  • Forecasting
  • Managing general ledger and balance sheets
  • Preparation of financial statements
  • Risk evaluation

So long as your experience meets these specifications, you can expect the IMA to give you credit for this requirement.

13. Comply with the Ethical Statement

You can officially apply for the CMA certificate once you’ve passed both parts of the CMA exam and fulfilled the experience requirement.

Once you’ve received the certification, you must continuously comply with the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action. Furthermore, you must also pay the annual IMA membership fee in order to maintain your certification.