In our 15 years of helping candidates around the world pass the CMA Exam, we have written a large collection of study tips. We’ve assembled all of these study tips into one master CMA Exam Study Tips document so that CMA candidates can easily read all of them in chronological order through the study process. We hope that these tips will be useful in your CMA exam preparation.
Download the CMA Exam Study Tips file here.
Because the CMA and CIA Exams do not need to be taken in any particular order, many candidates ask, “Which part should I take first?” I will answer that question for both the CMA and CIA exams.
On the CMA Exam, the topics are not connected between the exam parts, so you will not get questions on Part 2 that are related to Part 1 topics, or vice versa. Therefore, I recommend that that you look at the exam syllabus and the topics tested on each part. If you are more familiar with the Part 2 topics than the Part 1 topics, then you should start with Part 2. Otherwise, start with Part 1.
Many people believe that CMA Part 2 is easier than CMA Part 1 because Part 2 has a higher pass rate. However, this does not mean that Part 2 is easier. Because most candidates start with Part 1, a lot of candidates never take Part 2 if they can’t pass Part 1. So the main reason that the Part 2 pass rate is higher is that the majority people taking Part 2 have already passed Part 1.
On the CIA Exam, Parts 1 and 2 have separate syllabi, but we have received feedback from a number of candidates who feel that they were tested on Part 1 topics in Part 2 and vice versa. This is partially because there are topics that are tested on both parts but from different perspectives. Because of this, I suggest that candidates look at the CIA Exams not as three exams, but as two exams, with Parts 1 and 2 combined into a larger exam. Because of this, you may want to consider preparing for Parts 1 and 2 at the same and taking them together.
Whether you should start with Parts 1 and 2 or with Part 3 depends on you background. If you are an internal auditor without other professional certifications, I recommend starting with Parts 1 and 2. If you have passed a professional certification with content similar to CIA Part 3, then I recommend that you start with Part 3 because many of the topics will already be familiar to you.
When you decide which Part of an exam to take first, you only need to make certain that you decide what will be best for you; it does not matter what your friends or colleagues did. Start with the exam Part that will be the easiest one for you to prepare for and don’t second-guess yourself once you choose. Remember that you have to take all of the exams Parts eventually – the order is only important for your planning purposes.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
One of the challenges in preparing for the exam is that you must remember the first topic that you studied for the entire time that you are studying, so it’s important to have a quick way to review main points. Our flash cards are designed to help with this ongoing review process by helping you drill on main points and formulas. We suggest that after you complete a topic or subtopic, you immediately review the flash cards for that topic. This will put those cards into rotation and show them to you at a regular interval in the future.
For example, after you study the first topic in Section A, review those flash cards. Continue with each topic. Then, as you are studying Section B, you will be getting the Section A cards for review. Continue using the cards for Section B as you move through Section B, so that when you get to Section C, you will have cards from Sections A and B. And so on.
Because the cards that you do not know as well appear more often, the flash cards will automatically help you review the topics that you need the most help to remember. At the same time, the cards will also help you remember all of the topics you’ve already studied, but will show you the topics you already mastered with less frequency.
By utilizing the intelligent scheduling in the flash cards software, you can better retain the topics you know and learn the topics you don’t. Using the flash cards throughout your studies will not only make your final study and review easier but will also increase your chance of passing the exam.
We have written several exam tips about creating a study schedule and the importance of following your schedule, both in terms of studying when you’re supposed to and also knowing that there are times when it is OK not to be studying. No matter how good your plan is and how dedicated you are to your studies, every once in a while there will be a day or event that requires an exception to your study schedule. Here are some examples:
- After months of cold weather, it is finally a beautiful Spring day and your friends are all going to the concert in the park.
- Your new smartphone that you ordered has arrived and you want to get it set up and try all the new features.
- One of your family members just had a baby and everyone in your family is going to visit.
- Your favorite movie series just came out with a new movie.
On days like these, don’t waste your time trying to study when you know studying won’t be effective. Instead, spend a short amount of time doing practice questions or flash cards, find a time in the next couple of days to make up the time, and then go enjoy yourself. You will be much happier and your studies will be a lot more productive.
Of course, every day should not be an exception, but when you’re studying for several months there will be a few times when you adjustments are necessary. Enjoy your special event and then come back to your studies the next day when you can be focused on learning instead of wishing you were somewhere else.
After taking the exam, students frequently ask if they should start studying for the next part right away, or if they need to wait for their results first. If you feel that you did well on the exam, I suggest that you should start studying the next part, and here’s why:
- Even if you do not pass, you will not have a lot to re-study, so you would be able to re-study while you continue studying for the next Part.
- Once you have studied for an exam, you are the habit of studying. If you take more than a week or two off, it will be harder to start studying again later than if you just continue studying without a long gap.
- You will need to take all of the Parts eventually, so there is nothing to gain by waiting.
If you leave the exam knowing that you failed or did poorly, then I recommend you take a short break (no longer than a week) and start preparing to re-take that same Part, and then you should retake that same Part as soon as possible.
During your break, you should also think about your study materials and try to determine if your study materials contributed to your poor results. If there were questions on the exam that you did not think that the material covered, or covered poorly, then you might want to consider looking into other study materials for your second attempt.
If you determine that you need some additional materials, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Most of the question banks are going to be very similar among all of the providers because all providers should be using the same previously released exam questions as the basis for their question bank. Therefore, you normally should not purchase a second question bank.
- If you have a textbook from one company, it might be a better investment to purchase videos from another company instead of a second textbook. If the videos cover the entire syllabus (like the HOCK Videos do), the Videos will not only provide a different approach to some of the topics, but also provide a different style of learning, which may be useful.
- If you decide to purchase HOCK materials as additional materials, be certain to take advantage of our “Switch to Hock” Discount. We know materials are expensive and want to help you when you are purchasing a second set of materials.
The time period after you take the exam and before you get your results is a period of anxiety. But, you can use this time wisely by preparing to either take the next exam, or prepare to retake the exam that you just took. Whether it is the same exam or the next exam, we are confident that HOCK can help you pass the exam. Learn more about our CMA, CIA, and CPA exam prep and start studying today!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Making the decision to purchase exam prep materials is the first step in preparing to pass the exam. Once you have purchased your materials, what should you do first? For the purposes of this exam tip I am going to assume that you purchased HOCK Complete materials, but the same general ideas apply to any materials.
In the first week, you should familiarize yourself with the materials, in a sense an installation and fact-finding week. I suggest that you do the following, though it doesn’t have to be in this order:
- Read the different study tips that we have written at: www.hockinternational.com/category/exam-tips/. These tips and ideas will help you understand what you will be doing and how you will do it.
- Download the textbook, and page through the textbook to familiarize yourself with the topics and layout. Read a couple of pages in a few topics that interest you and look at some of the examples.
- Access the videos page, look at the videos available, and watch the introduction video. Then, watch a few videos from different topics to get a sense of the style and content of the videos.
- Install the ExamSuccess software on your computer, and/or become familiar with how ExamSuccess online works, and do a few practice questions. It does not matter now if you understand what the question is asking. The questions are the same in both ExamSuccess and ExamSuccess Online, so you can use whichever one is more convenient.
- Download the flash cards, and familiarize yourself with how the flash cards work in PowerPoint. The flash cards are an excellent review tool.
- Create a study schedule and set up your Personalized Study Plan (on the Textbook page of My Studies). You should decide when you are going to study each week so that you have time set aside for studying. See www.hockinternational.com/exam-tip-scheduling-for-success-peace-of-mind/ for more thoughts on why a schedule is important.
Once you have your schedule and have studied for a couple of weeks, you should stop and evaluate your studying. Are you staying on track with your study plan? Has it been working like you thought it would? Are your blocks of study time too long or too short? Are you trying to study too much each week? If necessary, revise your Personalized Study Plan. Re-evaluate every month or so to see how you are doing with your schedule and make further adjustments as needed.
Remember that the study process for any professional exam is a marathon, not a sprint. It does not matter how fast you start studying, but rather that you study fully and completely so that you pass the exam. Having and following a study plan will ensure that you are successful in passing on your first attempt, which is why you purchased materials in the first place!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
One of the most common questions I get from students is how to study for an exam. I have written about how to study before (read that post at: https://www.hockinternational.com/how-should-i-study/), but there is one part of the study process that I want to specifically address again.
When you make the decision to study for a professional exam, you have made a time commitment that will span months, if not years (depending on the exam). On the first day of a class, I would often tell my students that for the next few months they would no longer have to ask themselves, “What should I do with my free time?” Once you start studying for an exam, you always have something that you could be doing, whether that’s reading the book, watching videos, or answering practice questions.
The problem is that the feeling that you should or could be studying is always in your mind. When you are reading a book for pleasure, you begin to think, “I could be studying the textbook.” When you are watching your favorite TV show, you think, “I could be watching a video lecture.” When you are exercising, you think, “I should be reviewing that last chapter that I read.”
To help manage your time when studying for an exam, I strongly encourage you to make a schedule of when you will study each week by specifically designating time for studying (our standard study plans suggest about 10 hours per week). It might be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings from 6 – 8 p.m. It might be 6 – 7:30 a.m. Sunday through Friday. It might be an hour at 8 a.m. in the morning and an hour at 7 p.m. night on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Whatever will work for you.
Having a schedule of exactly when you will study will make your non-study time more enjoyable. You will have your set study times, but you also will know that during all of the other times of the week, you can do whatever you want. For example, if you know that you study on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, you also know that the other nights are not times to study. So, when you are relaxing on Wednesday evening, you do not need to worry that you should be studying because you know it is not a time that you need to be studying.
A schedule is critical not only for your success on the exam, but also for your peace of mind while studying. If you have a schedule already, congratulations. If you do not have a schedule for studying, then the first thing you should do today is to make a schedule. Both your studies and your personal life will be more enjoyable and less stressful as a result.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Both the CMA and CIA Exams test their organizations’ Code of Ethics. While the Code of Ethics may be a small topic on each exam, do not ignore preparing for questions about the Code of Ethics. These are easy points to earn on the exam.
The way to prepare is to memorize the Code of Ethics. It is not long, and by memorizing it you are prepared for a question that covers the specific terms or definitions used in the Code of Ethics. Also, on the CMA Exam, if you get an Essay that covers Ethics, by using the same terms in your answer that are in the Code of Ethics you will be certain to get all of the points.
In addition to being useful for the exam, you should memorize the Code of Ethics anyway because you are supposed to follow it in your professional life, and it is easier to follow it if you actually know what it says.
In CMA Part 2, Ratios is one topic that many candidates are not comfortable with. One reason is that the same ratio may be calculated in slightly different ways by different companies or in different textbooks. Fortunately, the ICMA (the organization that administers the CMA exams) has prepared a ratio formula sheet with the official ratios for the CMA exam. If you have not already downloaded it, it is available at http://www.imanet.org/docs/default-source/generalpdfs/ratio-definitions.pdf?sfvrsn=2. We use these formulas in the HOCK materials.
The official formula sheet says that the Price/Earnings Ratio is calculated as the market price per share divided by earnings per share (EPS), but does not say whether earnings per share means Basic EPS or Diluted EPS. Because of this ambiguity, HOCK students frequently ask, “Should the P/E ratio be calculated using Basic Earnings Per Share of Diluted Earnings Per Share in the denominator?”
To answer this question, HOCK asked the ICMA for clarification, and their answer was to use Basic EPS when calculating the P/E ratios. So, remember that the P/E ratio is the market price per share divided by Basic EPS. If you see other materials use Diluted EPS, those materials are incorrect.
One final tip for studying the ratios: to help with memorizing them, we suggest that you use flash cards – if you have HOCK’s you can use those, but you can also easily make your own flash cards. The process of making flash cards will also help you learn them.
If you have any questions about the P/E Ratio or ratios in general, we are here to help.
Once you have made the decision to study for the CMA or CIA exam and received your materials, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information that you need to learn. This makes the question “How should I study?” an important question.
Understand the goal
Remember that your main goal is to pass the exam. To achieve that goal, there is a syllabus of material that you need to learn. The syllabus tells you what you need to study, and by process of elimination, what you do not need to study. You should not get distracted by reading outside of the textbook or searching for other sources that are not written specifically for the exam you are studying.
The two main study tips that I offer for preparing for an exam are:
- Remember that preparing to pass the exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This means that you need to have a long-term plan when you start studying. You should plan on studying 1-2 hours at a time, three to five times a week, for several months. It is OK if you miss one session occasionally.
- Making a specific study schedule will help reduce the stress of the study process. Without a schedule, you always have studying hanging over your head. If you know that you will study Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, Friday morning and Sunday afternoon, it makes it a lot easier for you the rest of the time because you know that it is OK to not be studying.
How many hours do I need to study?
The not very helpful answer to how many hours you need to study is that you need to study “enough.” How much is enough is determined by several factors:
- Your experience in the areas that are being tested.
- Your education in the areas being tested.
- Your level of fluency in English.
- How well you study when you study.
- What preparation materials you use.
As a general starting point, most people need to study around 120-150 hours per part for the CMA Exams, and about 60-80 hours for CIA Part 1, 50-70 hours for CIA Part 2, and 120-140 hours for CIA Part 3.
The most important thing you can do to prepare for the exam is to study! Having a schedule will, by itself, not help you pass the exam. Reading motivational quotes and books will not help you pass the exam. You must actually have productive and quality study time, and reading the book and watching TV at the same time does not count.
If you have our Textbook, Questions, and Videos, this is how I would study:
- Skim through the textbook for a topic and look at the main points and examples.
- Watch the video(s) about this topic.
- Do the practice questions in ExamSuccess for this topic.
- If you are uncertain about any particular concept within this topic, read the detail that is in the textbook to help you understand the topic and/or re-watch the video(s).
- Ask us questions! If there is something that you do not understand, ask us. We are here to help you and we can almost always help you more quickly than you can figure out an answer yourself.
- After you understand the topic and can answer the questions, you should start using the flash cards. This will put that topic’s cards into rotation so that you can review the topic on an ongoing basis as you continue into the next topics.
If you do not have the videos, replace step #2 with carefully reading the textbook and working through all of the examples and questions in the book.
Do I need the Videos?
The short answer is that no, you do not need the videos to pass the exam. Many people prepare successfully without the videos. While we think that the videos make your studying more efficient (and perhaps more enjoyable), all of the information in the videos is also in the textbook. What the videos do is to bring my many years of teaching experience directly to you, making the topics much more alive than you just reading out of the book. If you have not yet watched a sample of the videos on our web site, I would encourage you to do so. You will see that our videos are dynamic learning tools that bring the topics to life, helping you learn and understand the materials more than other exam prep videos on the market.
Reviewing – a critical step
Any one individual topic on the exam is not difficult by itself. If you could study one topic and have a test over just that topic, you could do very well on each test. Some of the difficulty on any professional exam is the amount of materials that you need to retain at the same time. You have to remember everything you study, starting from the first day through the last day, which is likely several months later.
In order to help you retain information as you move through the materials, you should:
- Use the flash cards on an ongoing basis as you move through the material.
- Spend 30-60 minutes every week reviewing 15-25 ExamSuccess questions from topics you have already completed.
How do I know when I have studied enough?
While it can be difficult to know when you have studied enough, some things you can consider when you assess your readiness for the exam are:
- When you are answering questions, do you confidently know what the answer is, or are you sort of guessing or hoping that you’ll get it correct?
- Can you explain why the incorrect answers are incorrect?
- When you go through the flash cards, are you able to answer each question quickly and correctly?
- Were you able to score at least 80% on the mock exam?
What should I do the last few weeks before the exam?
After you have spent several months studying, you may get to the point where you have studied everything and there are still 2-3 weeks before your exam. For the last few weeks before the exam, I recommend that you:
- Continue using the flash cards
- Practice multiple-choice questions from all of the topics on the exam. By this time you may have done some of the questions a few times, so you may have partially memorized some of the answers. To make reviewing these questions worthwhile, you can a) make certain that you understand why the incorrect answers are incorrect, and b) think about what could be added or changed that would make the question more difficult, and how you would solve that more difficult question.
- Skim through the textbook and look at the main topics and the examples. For the examples, read through them and make certain that you understand not only what is being done, but also why it is being done.
- Relax! I know it is difficult when the exam is getting closer and closer, but you will perform better on the exam if you are well rested. This means that you need to be certain to sleep enough for the three nights before the exam and eat well so that you are not hungry during the exam. If you exercise regularly or have a hobby that you enjoy doing, continue to do them even during your last weeks of preparation.
On exam day
Finally, here are some tips for the day of your exam.
- Be sure to get a good night’s rest the night before your exam. Eat and drink enough so that you will not be hungry or thirsty during your exam.
- Allow plenty of extra time to travel to your testing site – there are no excuses for a flat tire, the bus being late, or bad traffic. It is much better to arrive early and be calm than end up having to rush in with stress from traveling.
- Because the test center could be warmer or cooler than you might expect, dress in layers so that you can adjust what you are wearing to be comfortable.
- Watch the tutorial at the beginning of your test session to be certain that you know how the exam computer works and that your keyboard and mouse work properly.
- After all of your months of preparation, remember that you are prepared to pass the exam. It is time for you to relax and answer the questions calmly and efficiently using the knowledge that you learned during your studies.
If you have any questions while you are studying with HOCK, please do not hesitate to contact us – we are here to help.