how-to-become-a-cmaBecoming a CMA (certified management accountant) is a great way to take your accounting career to the next level. The CMA designation is a globally recognized professional certification granted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Therefore, this credential will give you access to tons of opportunities in the financial and accounting management fields that you wouldn’t have without it.

CMA certified professionals have expertise in financial planning and analysis including budgeting and forecasting, control and professional ethics. CMAs work as cost accountants, corporate accountants, management accountants, risk managers, FP&A managers, budgeters, financial strategists and decision makers. Naturally, one may wonder how do CMAs leverage their unique skill sets.

Typically, CMAs usually work in corporate finance teams of public and private sector companies (manufacturing or services) and government agencies. They summarize accounting and financial data in a way that it helps understanding the implications of the analyzed data and in turn help improve the performance. Additionally, CMAs also function as decision support or advisory for the company’s board of directors and C-suite executives.

Needless to say, you have a lot of options with this credential. Therefore, let’s talk about what is needed to become a CMA professional and the first steps to start your CMA journey.


How Do You Become a CMA?


Steps to Become a Certified Management Accountant

Fulfill the CMA Educational Requirements

The first step is to ensure that you fulfill the qualification requirements for the CMA exam. Basically, they can be classified into 2 broad categories: procedural and educational.

Furthermore, procedural requirements have to be met before registering for the CMA Exam. This include:

  • Be a member of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
  • Pay CMA program entrance fee

After the procedural requirements are met, you will have to fulfill the educational requirements. Hence, here are the CMA educational requirements:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline from an accredited post-secondary educational institute. Please see if your university belongs to the list of accredited universities. Unfortunately, if your university is not on the accredited list, you need to get your degree evaluated from an independent evaluation agency OR
  • You may also take the exam before you complete your degree, provided you are registered for at least 6 credits per semester during the academic year OR
  • Exemptions for professional certificate holders: A list of approved certification can be found here.
  • Finally, you must request an original transcript or official letter from approved certifying organization to be sent directly to IMA.

Pay the IMA Membership Fee

Truthfully, IMA membership can provide leadership opportunities through networking and provide access to tools and information to enhance your career. As a first step towards a great career, activate your IMA membership by selecting the suitable type of membership. There are several types of memberships available depending on your profession.

  • Qualified students (enrolled in at least six credits per semester) pay $39 annually for IMA membership while regular students would pay $230
  • Professionals have to pay $245 as annual IMA membership fee

Join the CMA Program

Becoming an IMA member and joining the CMA Program are two distinct steps. However, please be informed that the CMA Program fee is non-refundable and so you should enroll in the CMA program only when you decide to take the exam.

The entrance fee for the CMA program is:

  • $188 for students
  • $250 for professionals

Once you have enrolled you will receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to access the CMA Exam Support Package. However, the CMA Exam Support Package doesn’t include study material.

You are required to appear for the exam within 12 months and complete the CMA Program within 3 years after enrollment.


Get a CMA Review Course

The CMA exam is tough. Consequently, there’s no point messing around with it and trying to pass it without using a professional set of study materials. A good CMA exam prep course will not only help you save time studying for the exam; it will also help you move on with your life faster.

Therefore, it’s so important to get a CMA study guide that matches your learning style and works for your budget. This could mean the difference between failing the exam and having to take it multiple times or passing the first time and getting a raise and promotion.

Ultimately, an investment in a proper CMA course is completely worth it. Below is a list of the top ones on the market, take a look at which one works for you.


How to Register for the CMA Exam

The next step after enrolling in a CMA program is to register for the exam. You can register online, over the phone, or by mail or fax. Honestly, anything works, but it’s easier to do it online.

You will be asked to provide information such as which parts of the exam you want to appear for and during which testing window. You can choose to take both parts during the same testing window.

The exam fee for each part is:

  • $311 for students
  • $415 for professionals

Hence, with all the formalities taken care of, let us now get to the real deal!


Pass the CMA Exam

Essentially, this is a computer-based exam. There are 2 parts to the CMA exam:

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

CMA exams are 4 hour long rigorous exams. Each section consists of 2 sections and tests you on your ability to explain concepts and its applications.

  • 100 multiple-choice questions are 3 hours in length
  • Two essay questions, which you must be complete in an hour

You have to answer at least 50% of multiple-choice questions correctly in order to be eligible to write the essay section. Fortunately, the good thing is that you aren’t required to pass both sections independently. Your scores for both parts are added and the total of both scores determines if you pass or fail.

CMA Exam Testing Windows

You can sign up to take the CMA exam during three different testing windows each year:

  • January – February
  • May – June
  • September – October

You are allowed to register for the exam only up to the 15th of February, June, and October. Registering about 6 weeks before exam dates allow for sufficient processing time.

CMA Exam Testing Location

Please visit the Prometric Testing Center page to book your exam center. After registration, you will receive an authorization form, which you should use to schedule exam time at Prometric Testing Center.

However, keep in mind that the exam fees are refundable within 30 days of when you scheduled your exam as long as no Prometric appointment has been set up. Even if you get a refund, a small processing fee is typically deducted from your refund.


Pay the CMA Exam Fees

There are several different fees and costs associated with becoming a CMA. Some are significant and others are smaller. Here’s a list of how much it costs to take the CMA exam and become a CMA.

CMA Exam Fees and License CostsFees and Costs - ProfessionalsFees and Costs - Students
IMA Membership Fee:$245$230
CMA Program Fee:$250$188
Exam Registration Fee:$415$311

Fulfill Your CMA Work Experience Requirement

After you have successfully passed the CMA exam, you will need to complete some work experience requirements before you will actually be certified. CMA Exam Candidates have to complete at least two years of management accounting and/or financial management professional experience.

This work experience must be completed within seven years of passing the exam and it must be continuous.

IMA recognizes your professional experience in several areas such as auditing, financial planning and analysis, risk evaluation, etc. which employs knowledge about management accounting and financial management. For more details on work experience requirement please refer to  CMA Handbook Pg.6


Comply with Ethical Standards and CPE

You are eligible to apply for CMA Certificate after you complete both parts of the exam and meet the experience requirement.

Additionally, you must complete the following continuing education each year in order to maintain your CMA Certification:

  • 30 hours of continuing education per year
  • 2 hours of these 30 hours of CPE should be in the area of Ethics and comply with IMA’s Statement of Ethics for professional practitioners.

Pay Your CMA Dues and Get Your License

Lastly, in order to maintain your certification, you must pay the following:

  • IMA Membership fee to ensure your IMA Membership is active
  • Annual CMA Maintenance Fee

Will You Become a CMA?

CMA is a highly valued global credential, which can give you a head start in your early career or boost your market value to take the next step on your ladder of success. Ultimately, when you put it all in perspective, the certification costs about $2,500 in total and may require about 150 hours of study time and effort per exam.

In return, you gain an edge over your competition and a potential six-figure salary in your dream company! Now that sounds like a good deal, don’t you agree?

Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.