In business, knowledge is nearly everything. I say nearly, because ability is important to – you need to demonstrate that you not only KNOW something, but you know HOW to apply that something in a way that brings success.
If you’re in the financial field, and looking to boost your career with knowledge and practical financial skills, then you need to seriously think about taking the exams to become an accredited CMA, otherwise your peers who DO take the exams will leave you standing. There are over 50,000 CMA’s certified in more than 100 countries, at last count.
But what IS the CMA?
The CMA is a professional credential in the advanced management accounting and financial management fields. Standing for Certified Management Accountant, it demonstrates capability in the areas of financial planning, analysis, control, decision support and professional ethics.
As such, attaining the CMA is seen as one of the most prestigious and attractive financial certifications you can earn – businesses worldwide recognize it, and actively search out prospective employees who have it.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? A certification recognized and embraced by some of the largest companies in the world that shows how capable you are. But it’s not just about being recognized. It’s about being rewarded.
For instance, within the finance industry, the CMA is seen as one of, and arguably THE, most desirable qualification within privately owned companies. If you want the top finance jobs in a private company, having a CMA is almost a must. At the same time, according to a March 2016 IMA global survey by the IMA, CMA holders on average net 61 percent higher earnings than their non-certified colleagues- that’s a huge jump.
Believe it or not, financial reward and professional recognition aren’t the only reasons why you should study for and pass your CMA.
The certification is offered by the IMA - the Institute of Management Accountants - an organization based in New Jersey, United States, but with offices in Zurich, Dubai and Beijing, and a chapter which has recently opened in the UK, dedicated to helping and supporting CMA holders based in the country.
The IMA has a network of over 70,000 professionals across 200 local chapters, offering career development via continued education, information and resources. It really is an outstanding career support network that looks after its members impeccably.
The IMA’s origins can be traced back to 1919 with the founding of the National Association of Cost Accountants in Buffalo, New York, which would morph into the IMA in 1991, with the CMA being introduced back in 1972 (fun fact, the year I was born…it would seem all the best things come from 1972!).
In addition, the IMA publishes a quarterly academic journal and a magazine that has won awards within the industry for its focus and content.
By this point, if you’re not already jumping at the chance to study for your CMA, I’d be surprised. There are virtually no other financial credentials in the market that offer such prestige, financial rewards and such a fantastic career development and support network.
So, how do you actually become a CMA charter holder?
You need a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and two years of continuous professional experience employing the principles of management accounting and financial management.
Once you’ve reached these criteria, you can apply to take the two part exam. Since 2010, the exam has been condensed into two four-hour parts, given during three testing window periods: January/February, May/June and September/October.
Each exam consists of descriptive questions and two 30-minute essay questions. Candidates are given 3 hours to complete the multiple choice section and one hour to complete the essays. Candidates must show their work for the essay questions in order to receive credit. Parts 1 and 2 of the CMA exam are scored on a scale of 0-500 with a candidate's raw score converted to a uniform scaled score against all exam candidates. On this scale, a score of 360 represents the minimum passing scaled score, and candidates are given three years from registering to pass both parts of the exam.
It’s a very difficult exam to pass, and quite frankly, that’s as it should be. The exam criteria should be rigorous in order to maintain the correct standards of ability and discipline.
In 2014, the average pass rate for part 1 was 35%, whilst the average pass rate for part 2 was 49%.
If that sounds like an impossible mission, don’t worry – it’s really not. You can pass the exams and gain your financial hearts-desire as long as you put the required hours in. The biggest single reason people fail is that they don’t give themselves enough time to study. Make studying a priority and make a place for it in your schedule. If you need to commit to driving to a coffee shop every night after work from 6–9 pm, then do it.
The amount of time you will need to study and prepare for each part of the exam depends on your study habits and where you are in your career. If you just graduated with a Masters in Accounting, you probably won’t need to study as long as someone who has been out of school for five years.
In general, you should commit to 90 or more hours of studying per exam. Depending on how long you can study per day, this can take anywhere from seven weeks to three months. But these are just general estimates. Some people might need to study for longer over a several-month period.
Also keep in mind that you have a better chance of passing the CMA exam if you finish it. A lot of CMA’s identify time as a major obstacle. You will get three hours to answer 100 multiple-choice questions and one hour for two essay questions. You can get partial credit if you write out your work, so stay organized and write clearly.
In order to save time, some professionals suggest making educated guesses on difficult questions as to not waste time if you will not get the answer by working through the problem. If you are running out of time on an essay question, make a quick outline of your answer. This could earn you some partial credit, instead of none for leaving it blank.
Taking practice exams can help you figure out how to manage your time and figure out where you may need to speed up.
Bearing in mind you need sufficient time to study, and the ability to test your knowledge and take practice exams, where can you go to ensure you can put systems in place to help achieve these goals?
Wiley are the official publisher of the IMA’s CMA study materials, and we also offer an online, fully mobilized study and test prep tool called Wiley Efficient Learning. The tools are designed to help give you a study plan to keep on track, and come with a wealth of test questions and mock exams to make sure you fully understand the concepts you’re learning.
If you’d like to know more, please email me at email@example.com
For now, however, I’ll leave you with this – being a CMA isn’t just about boosting your earning power by such a large ratio. It’s not just about giving yourself a chance to earn the best jobs in the accounting industry. It’s not just about the prestige of demonstrating your professional knowledge and competency. It’s about joining a professional family in the IMA, a body that can work with you to help you continue to develop and grow and enhance your skills even after you’ve gained the charter.
If you’re serious about your career, and serious about your development, becoming a CMA and joining the IMA is one of the best ways to achieve your ambitions.
- Andy Logan, Wiley