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CMA Exam Requirements: The Steps to Becoming a CMA

CMA Exam Requirements: The Steps to Becoming a CMA

Becoming a Certified Management Accountant can be a tricky process. There is more to it than just studying for and taking a test. In fact, there’s more than one part of the exam that you will have to take. These are the CMA exam requirements you are going to have to meet before you can get certified as a CMA:

  1. Satisfy the education requirement
  2. Become a member of the IMA
  3. Pay the CMA entrance fee
  4. Take Parts 1 and 2 of the CMA exam
  5. Satisfy the experience requirement
  6. Keep up appearances

CMA is an advanced, globally-recognized designation that shows you have an aptitude for making financial decisions on behalf of a business. CMAs are the accountants who can go on to prestigious management positions, like Finance Manager, Controller, or Chief Financial Officer. They also have 28% higher compensation than their noncertified peers. Basically, if you want to gain traction in the business world as an accountant, get your CMA credentials.

This is a step-by-step guide to meeting the CMA exam requirements and becoming a CMA. If you’re fuzzy on what to do next, or in what order to do things, this will lead you steadily through the process.

Step 1: Satisfy the Education Requirement

CMA candidates are required to have a four-year degree from an accredited college or university. Although the CMA is based in the United States, degrees from any country will be accepted as long as the institution is accredited. However, there are a few ways around this requirement. Students at unaccredited institutions can have their degree evaluated by an independent agency. Alternatively, there are several professional certificates from around the world that can substitute for a degree.

You should start Step 1 before the rest of the steps, but it might be one of the last things you finish.

Step 2: Become a Member of the IMA

The IMA is the parent organization of the ICMA, which administers the CMA exam. Part of the process of becoming a CMA involves joining the IMA and being an “active member.” All this means is you have to pay their annual fee. Membership in the IMA is steep at $245 per year, but there’s a big discount for students that makes it only $39 per year. CMAs are required to continue paying membership dues to the IMA in order to remain certified.
The IMA allows you a generous amount of time to complete the CMA certification process. You can take up to 10 years from start to finish. You’re required to take both parts of the CMA exam within 3 years of paying the CMA entrance fee (more info on that in Step 3), and verify that you completed the education and experience requirements within 7 years after taking the exam. The catch is, the longer you take to finish the process, the more times you have to pay the IMA membership fee before becoming a CMA. This might not make a big difference to some, because those fees are still required after you have become a CMA, but CMAs make around 30% more than their noncertified peers. The sooner you can get that salary boost, the sooner those membership dues become more affordable.

Step 3: Pay the CMA Entrance Fee

Before you can sign up for the CMA exam, you have to pay the CMA entrance fee. Once you pay the fee, you have 3 years to finish both parts of the exam, or you’ll have to pay it again. Although the IMA is the organization you must be a part of to become a CMA, the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) is technically who your money goes to. The ICMA is the division of the IMA that actually makes the CMA exam. It writes the syllabus and questions, grades the exams, and ensures the integrity of the exam process.

Step 4: Take the CMA Exam

This is the hardest and most expensive step thus far besides getting your education. The CMA exam is split into two parts that you sign up for and take separately in any order. Part 1 covers financial reporting, planning, performance, and control. Part 2 covers financial decision making. You have to register for and complete both parts within 3 years of paying your CMA entrance fee. If you don’t, any part you’ve passed will expire and you’ll have to retake both as well as pay the entrance fee again.

Step 5: Satisfy the Experience Requirement

The IMA requires that CMA candidates have at least 2 years of full-time work experience in management accounting or financial management. This requirement can also be met by working part-time at least 20 hours per week. Two years of qualifying part-time work will count as 1 year of full-time work. Like the education requirement, work experience doesn’t necessarily have to be done before taking the CMA exam. The IMA only specifies that verification of work experience be sent in within 7 years after passing. It’s placed here as Step 5 because, if you take the exam while still in school or just out of college, the full two years of work in management accounting or financial management will have been difficult to accomplish prior to taking the exam.

Step 6: Keep Up Appearances

After you’ve become a CMA, there are a few things you need to do in order to maintain that certification. First, you have to continue paying dues to the IMA. There’s really no way around that. Second, you have to comply with the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. It’s only two pages, so read it over every now and then and make sure you don’t commit any accounting crimes. Lastly, take part in continuing professional education (CPE). Each year, CMAs have to complete 30 hours of CPE, of which at least 2 hours must be ethics.

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