For many accountants, meeting the CMA requirements and earning the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is the natural next step in their career. After all, the CMA is one of the most prestigious accounting certifications available. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) holds CMAs to the highest standards. Therefore, those who earn the certification can truly say they have an impressive depth of accounting knowledge and proficiency. As the IMA states, CMAs are able to not just explain the “what” but the “why” behind the numbers.
To ensure candidates can meet its standards, the IMA has established the Certified Management Accountant requirements (or CMA requirements). These requirements also serve as the CMA exam requirements.
If you’ve spent any time exploring requirements for other professional accounting certifications (such as the CPA requirements), you’ll be pleased to find that the CMA requirements are fairly straightforward and simple. However, they do require time and effort to complete. Furthermore, you must finish some of the CMA qualifications before others. Therefore, before you get too far with pursuing your CMA, you should learn about the CMA certification requirements and the CMA exam requirements. The more you learn about the requirements, the better positioned you’ll be to join the global ranks of CMAs.
As a CMA, you’re likely to see your career take off. The CMA offers numerous professional benefits including a bigger paycheck and greater job opportunities. To earn these benefits, you need to fulfill 7 CMA requirements. In order, the requirements are:
Clearly, some of the requirements are more complex and time-consuming than others. For example, you can pay the CMA entrance fee, and read and acknowledge the ethics statement in a matter of minutes. However, you’ll have to devote more time and energy to the other requirements. Specifically, many CMA candidates spend the bulk of their time on the 3 “e” requirements: education, exam, and experience.
You may be tempted to address the easier CMA requirements first. Conversely, you may want to tackle the tougher requirements first and get those out of the way. In reality, you need to address each CMA requirement in the right order. Otherwise, you risk not being able to earn the CMA certification.
The first step to becoming a CMA is becoming an IMA member. The process of joining the IMA is quite easy. You’ll just need to complete a brief application and pay the membership fee. The fee and membership type are based on your current professional status. Your IMA membership type and fee options are as follows:
An IMA membership has significant value. The IMA is global and local. As a member, you can network with professionals from around the world. However, you can also join a local chapter to help you connect with your immediate community. Plus, you receive access to IMA publications, webinars, and conferences.
As a side note, once you earn your CMA certification you’ll be required to retain an active IMA membership. This means you’ll have to continually pay the membership fee. Later in this post, I go into more detail regarding the ongoing CMA requirements.
Once you complete your IMA membership application, you’ll need to pay the CMA entrance fee. This fee differs from the IMA membership fee. The CMA entrance fee grants you entry into the CMA program and allows you to take the CMA exam.
Again, the amount of the CMA entrance fee varies based on your professional status. Currently, the fee structure is:
The CMA Handbook provided by the IMA states that, along with access to the CMA exam, the CMA entrance fee also includes:
Essentially, the CMA entrance fee is good for 3 years. From the day the IMA grants you access to the CMA program, you have 3 years to pass the CMA exam. If you don’t pass both CMA exam parts within that time frame, you’ll have to start over with the program. This means you’ll lose credit for any exam part you passed and you’ll also have to pay the CMA entrance fee again.
Before I get too far into the CMA education requirement, I do want to note that you can take the CMA exam before you complete this step. The IMA accepts student members and offers them discounts on CMA exam fees. However, you must provide proof of your student status to the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
You can satisfy the education requirement in 1 of 2 ways:
All of your education verification must be submitted in English, and you must include your IMA member number. The address to which transcripts and/or letters must be mailed is:
10 Paragon Drive
Montvale, NJ 07645
As I mentioned, you’ll have 3 years to pass both parts of the CMA exam, following your official acceptance into the CMA program. Often, 3 years seems like plenty of time. However, the IMA points out that candidates typically take 12-18 months to complete the full exam. If you delay the process too much, you risk losing out on valuable study time and forfeiting your initial CMA entrance fee.
The CMA exam has 2 parts with the following content areas:
You should be aware that the IMA is introducing changes to the 2021 CMA exam content. Depending on when you plan to start your program and sit for your exams, you’ll want to carefully read through the new exam topics.
However, the overall format of the CMA exam is not changing. Each CMA exam part includes multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and essay questions. The overall structure of the exams is detailed in the table below:
|Exam Part||Total Testing Time||Multiple-Choice Questions||Essay Questions|
|Part 1||4 hours||100||
2 30-minute essays
|Part 2||4 hours||100||
2 30-minute essays
When you take the CMA exam, your 4 hours of total testing time will be divided into 2 segments: 3 hours for the MCQ section and 1 hour for the essay section.
The CMA exam format and thresholds can be a bit tricky for candidates. You have to answer at least 50% of the MCQs correctly in order to be eligible for the essay section. Then, the CMA exam will move you into the essay section once you have either answered all of the MCQs or 3 hours have passed, whichever comes first. If you answer all of the MCQs in less than 3 hours, your remaining time will carry over and be added to your 1 hour for the essays.
Furthermore, once you leave the MCQ section of the CMA exam, you cannot return to it. Consequently, you have to stay in the essay section until you finish the exam.
The essay section contains 2 scenarios describing a typical business situation. You must answer 8-10 written response or calculation questions based on these 2 scenarios.
Unfortunately, you may not pass the CMA exam on your first attempt. In the case that you fail the CMA exam, you’ll need to retake the exam (and pay the exam fee again). The important thing to remember is not to get discouraged or feel stuck at this step. The exam is not easy, but it’s not impossible. Revisit your study plan, focus on your weak areas, and prepare to take and pass the exam on your second try.
Once you pass the CMA exam, you’ll have a few steps to go before you can officially receive your certification. One of these steps includes reading and agreeing to abide by the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.
>Remember, the IMA holds CMAs to high standards. The institute expects its members to commit to and demonstrate high moral character.
After you pass the CMA exam, you have to start meeting the continuing education (CPE) requirements. Actually, you must complete your annual CPE before the IMA even awards you the CMA certificate.
However, if you finish the CMA exam in the middle of the year, you don’t have to start meeting the CPE requirement until the next year. But you can start working on the next year’s CPE if you want, as you can carry up to 10 CPE hours over to the next reporting year.
The CMA CPE requirement is 30 hours of continuing education each year. Two of these hours must be in the area of ethics. In order to receive credit for your CPE, the subjects 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 programs sponsored by employers, business organizations, educational institutions, and professional and trade associations. Moreover, qualifying CPE programs may be in the form of seminars, workshops, technical meetings, self-study packages, college courses, and online courses.
The CMA Handbook contains a link to more information about the IMA’s CPE rules and requirements.
The CMA experience requirement is somewhat similar to that of the education requirement. That is, you may actually go into the program with the requirement already met. As a result, if you enter the CMA program after you already have enough education and experience, then you just need to take the CMA exam.
However, just like the education requirement, you can complete the experience requirement before or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam. Therefore, if you haven’t already acquired the necessary experience, you can do so as you are preparing for the exam. And due to the amount of experience the IMA expects, candidates usually finish the exam first.
To fulfill the experience qualification, CMA candidates must possess 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting and/or financial management.
What’s more, teaching full-time counts as professional experience so long as at least 60% of your course load involves teaching accounting or finance above the principles level over a 2-year period.
The IMA expects full-time employment. But, they do accept continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week that meet the definition of qualified experience. Therefore, you can count part-time work toward the experience requirement at a rate of 1 year of experience for every 2 years of part-time employment.
Whether your position is part-time or full-time, it must consist of regularly making judgments by using the principles of management accounting and financial management. Tasks in which you would employ these principles include:
The IMA will award you the CMA certificate once you have satisfied the experience requirement, and your CPE and IMA membership must be current at that time.
After you’ve paid the fees, finished the education, examination, and experience requirements, and received the CMA certificate, you must do the following in order to maintain your CMA certification:
Now that you know all about the CMA requirements, you can work on fulfilling them.
If you believe you may already have the education you need, learn more about the CMA education requirements. If you’re ready to see if your current work experience qualifies, use my 3 tests to assess your CMA experience eligibility.
And, if you just need more information about the CMA, you can continue to learn everything you need to know by signing up for my CMA e-course. It’s totally free and tells you how to complete the entire CMA process! Get the details about my free CMA course to learn all about the CMA exam!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!