The CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification was introduced in 1972 to provide “an objective measure of an individual’s knowledge and competence in the field of management accounting.” This continues to be the focus of the CMA program and is the standard set by the ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) Board of Regents, which has oversight responsibility for the examination, the applicants, and its certified members. The CMA exam is focused on the topics that a successful management accountant or finance professional in business needs to know as an effective member of any organization.

The Board of Regents consists of 18 to 20 CMAs from practice, academia, and consulting, representing large corporations, small businesses, government, and not-for-profit organizations. The Regents have diverse backgrounds and provide numerous levels of organizational insight and varied professional expertise. I’ve had the privilege of chairing the Board for the past three years and serving on it since the summer of 2001. All of us share a singular goal of making the CMA the best certification for management accounting and financial professionals in business.


Accounting and financial managers need a wide variety of financial competencies and skills so that they can effectively add value and provide support for nonfinancial professionals and business leaders. The CMA program recognizes the unique proficiencies required for success in this challenging and varied profession as well as the skills that are critical to CMAs’ careers, the success of their financial teams, and ultimately their organizations.

The core of the CMA is captured in the two-part exam, which spans 11 competencies. Part 1 covers external financial reporting decisions; planning, budgeting, and forecasting; performance management; cost management; and internal controls. Part 2 includes financial statement analysis, corporate finance, decision analysis, risk management, investment decisions, and professional ethics.


ICMA and the Board of Regents review the content of the CMA exam to ensure that current topics are up to date and relevant to business practice. Connecting a practical body of knowledge to the workplace is important. The CMA exam aligns the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that an accountant or finance professional in business uses on the job today and identifies requirements for the future. These KSAs are captured in the Content Specification Outline (CSO) and Learning Outcome Statements (LOS). The CSO is an outline of the content covered on the exam, and the LOS is a detailed list of what a candidate needs to know.

The process of developing the CSO and LOS begins with a jobs analysis survey, which is conducted approximately every five years. (A new jobs analysis survey will be completed within the next year.) This analysis includes feedback from IMA members about the type of work they perform along with other external information. The CSO is reviewed and updated based on this information. Once that is finalized, a new LOS is developed. The job analysis survey ensures the connectivity of a practical body of knowledge to the workplace. Through this approach, ICMA and the Regents assure that the CMA exam tests the topics needed by today’s accounting and finance teams.

The next step is to assure that questions are tied to the job analysis through the CSO and LOS. Existing questions are reviewed to assure alignment to the revised content and that the reference to the CSO is correct. Question writers are alerted to new topic areas and begin writing questions to ensure coverage in the new topic areas. New questions are submitted to the staff by external question writers or are initiated by staff.

Multiple-choice questions are developed according to Bloom’s cognitive level taxonomy: Level A questions test knowledge and comprehension; Level B questions test application and analysis; and Level C questions require synthesis and evaluation.


The new questions then undergo an initial staff review, and a set of questions is forwarded to one of four Exam Review subcommittees. These subcommittees include members from the Board of Regents and from the IMA Exam Review Committee (ERC), a volunteer committee of CMAs. The ERC and Regents meet to review the proposed CMA exam questions. Members of the ERC also participate in conference calls alongside the Regents four times a year.

During the phone calls, the questions and their answers are assessed thoroughly, including: Is the answer correct? Are the wrong answers (distractors) plausible rather than obviously wrong? Is the question tied back to the CSO and the LOS? And is the wording clear and straightforward? A question is discarded if it isn’t deemed acceptable.

Even though questions have been thoroughly vetted, they still aren’t completely ready for the CMA exam. New questions may appear on the exam but aren’t included in the candidate’s final exam score. This way, ICMA can “test” questions and gain direct insight on the quality of the question without impacting a candidate’s score.

Finally, every three to five years at one of the Board’s meetings, the Regents “take” the CMA exam as part of standard setting. They answer 100 multiple-choice exam questions. Responses are scored electronically so each exam and every question can be cross tabulated.

While Regents are completing the exam, they’re also asked to note their response to the question: “Out of 100 minimally acceptable CMA candidates, how many would you expect to have this question correct?” When there’s a significant difference in the opinions of how many candidates should get a question correct, the Regents discuss the question from the perspectives of those who think more candidates will get the question right and those who think fewer will, and then Regents can re-rate their responses. This process is called the Angoff Method. It’s a painstaking process but, at the end of the day, it results in each question being rated according to a “degree of difficulty” factor that’s used in the scoring process to assure that all candidates are graded fairly.

If you’re a CMA and want to get involved with the development of the exam, there are some steps that you can take. First, get involved at your local chapter as a CMA Advocate who talks to local businesses and universities about the CMA program, and then volunteer for the ERC. You’ll find it’s a rewarding way to serve our organization and to give back to the profession.

For more information about the CMA program, please visit

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