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What You Need To Know About The CMA Exam Difficulty Levels

The certified management accountant course conducted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is definitely a very challenging course, but once you complete it you can reap rich dividends throughout your life. So how hard is the exam really?  Let us look at the CMA exam difficulty from the perspective of enrolling in the course and in preparing and passing the exams.

Analysis of CMA exam difficulty


Registering for the CMA  course is not very hard, as its eligibility requirements are not too stringent. In short, the eligibility requirements are:

  • The candidate needs to hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Students who are pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree can also enrol in the course.
  • Those who have completed a professional certification from a recognised college or university and institute can also enrol in this course.

You can refer to the CMA handbook published by IMA  to get the necessary details  regarding the eligibility and passing requirements. You should go through these details even before you register for the course.

Exam pattern

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The CMA exams are tough and required the candidates to have a thorough knowledge of the topics covered in the course. The candidates have to tackle papers containing multiple choice type and essay type questions in the examinations.  Almost none of the questions are straightforward and the candidate has to understand which area it pertains to, what is being asked of them and then apply their understanding and knowledge and do a lot of analysis to arrive at the right answer.  Unless they have deep knowledge about the curriculum I decide to do a selective study they will never be able to pass the CMA exams.

Course structure

The CMA Course is divided into two parts covering 11 topics in total.  The  topics and the weights assigned to these topics are as follows:

Part 1 –  financial reporting, planning, performance, and control

External financial reporting decisions 15%
Planning budgeting and forecasting 30%
Performance management 20%
Cost management 20%
Internal controls 15%

Part 2 – financial decision-making:

Financial statement analysis 25 %
Corporate finance 20%
Decision analysis 20%
Risk management 10%
Investment decisions 15%
Professional ethics 10%

Candidates have a time frame of 3 years to complete these two parts and have to score 72% in each of the papers to be declared to be declared successful. As you can understand, 72% is quite a steep ask, and unless the candidate is totally prepared and confident about his knowledge, securing such a high score in a competitive examination like CMA can prove to be a very uphill task.

Pass pass rates

As per the statistics released by IMA, the following have been the pass percentages past exam sessions:

Part 1 – Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance And Control 34% 35%
Part 2 – Financial Decision-Making 50% 50%

These percentages are relatively low as compared to many other examinations on finance that are available today. In the last 4 years the pass percentages for Part 1 has been in the range of 30 – 35% and for Part 2 it has hovered between 40 to 45%. This means that two in every three candidates who appear for the Part 1 exams and more than 1 out of 2 candidates appear for Part 2 exams fail to clear the examinations.

Exam time allotted

The time you will get to answer each of Part 1 and Part 2 of the exams is 4 hours, which is divided into two parts:

  • 3 hours for answering the multiple-choice questions
  • 30 minutes for each of the two essay type questions.

The multiple-choice questions have to be answered first. They can start to answer the essay type questions only after 3 hours or once they complete the multiple choice questions, whichever is earlier. Unless the candidate answers at least 50% of the multiple-choice questions within the allotted three hours, they will not be allowed to answer the essay type questions at all.

This time pressure often becomes a biggest CMA exam difficulty for many candidates, who struggle to finish the sections withing the allotted time.

Preparation time

IMA recommends that a student spends at least 150 to 170 hours to prepare for each part. So in total, you will have to devote around 300 to 350 hours. This should not be a big problem if you are a student or are yet to join your job. However, this might prove to be big CMA exam difficulty for working professionals,  and they will need to manage their time well to complete the studies well before the exam dates.


In view of the above, it can be safely said that entering the CMA course is easy but becoming a  CMA is not. Unless you are ready to put in the hard work and be smart in your approach toward studies, you might find it extremely difficult to complete the course within the 3 years that allowed by IMA to complete the course.

But becoming a CMA is definitely worth a try since clearing the CMA will give you a lifetime asset which you can capitalize to get a better career, good salary packages, and carve a name for yourself in the management accounting world. So plan strategically to overcome the CMA exam difficulty hurdles, and prepare thoroughly to pass the exams.