CMA or CPA?
I have been asked this question a lot recently, and I would like to offer some thoughts about these two qualifications and provide some insight to think about when choosing between these two credentials.
First, both CMA and CPA are internationally recognized qualifications supported by international professional organizations. While CPA is still more recognized internationally than CMA, the gap between the two is rapidly closing within organizations that hire management accounting and finance professionals.
Your Career in the Future
Second, you need to match your certifications with what it is that you would like to do with your career in the future. If you would like to have a career as an external auditor or a tax professional, you should probably choose CPA because that is the more recognized qualification in those areas. On the other hand, if you want to work in the accounting or finance department of an organization, then CMA will give you much more practical and relevant knowledge. If you want to start your own business, you definitely should study CMA.
The Difficulty of the Exams
Finally, neither qualification is easy to pass, and you will have to work hard to earn either certification. I have recently spoken to a handful of individuals who have done both CMA and CPA and they all said that overall CMA was more difficult. While on the surface you may see this as a reason not to do CMA, the perceived difficulty of the exam is critical to the value that the certificate. If an exam is viewed as being too easy, then passing that exam does not demonstrate any special level of knowledge on your part. However, when an exam is perceived as difficult, then there is more benefit to you that comes from passing that exam.
Regardless of which certification you choose, make your decision looking at your future and which one will help you the most in your desired career.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
When it comes to passing certification exams, every candidate has to learn the same content. Whether you prefer to prepare by reading, listening, or watching, you must learn the content and be able to answer the questions that are asked on exam. Unlike preparing, there is only one testing method for the exam regardless of how you prefer to learn or communicate.
There are three stages of preparation that you must go through in order to pass the exam: learning, practicing, and passing.
As long as you are learning what you need to know, how you learn is not as important. You may choose to use a textbook as your primary learning tool, or you may prefer videos or audios. But, no matter what method you use to learn, you need to use materials that are designed specifically for your exam. There are a number of different providers for most exams, and every provider has the same knowledge and information about exam content (regardless of what some companies may claim or advertise). While any materials from these exam prep providers should be geared specifically to the exam, it is always good to have a copy of the syllabus that you can refer to as you study.
On the other hand, if you use materials that are not exam-specific, you run the risk of studying a lot of things that are not on the exam, or not studying important topics that are on the exam.
How many hours you need to spend learning will depend on your background, education, and experience. You may find that different topics require different amounts of time to learn. Do not let yourself get locked into a specific number of hours. If you think you have learned a topic a bit faster than you expected, that is OK. Similarly, if it takes a bit longer than expected, that is OK too. The key is to learn the content, not stick rigidly to a time budget that may not lead you to success on the exam.
Of course, keep in mind that for any exam that the passing mark is usually 70-75%, so you do not need to learn 100% of the details about 100% of the topics on the syllabus. You just want to make certain that you are closer to 100% coverage than 75% coverage so that you have a margin of error.
After you have learned the material, you need to “activate” it with practice.
In order to pass the exam, you need to make certain that the knowledge that you learned is “activated” for the exam and the way that exam questions are asked. The best way to do this is to practice past exam questions, which will enable you to learn how the questions have been asked in the past and the language that is used in the questions. This practice will also help you see what the examiners have thought are the most important questions within a topic. For example, on the CMA exam, process costing is a big topic, but in looking at past questions you will see that the calculation of equivalent units produced has the most past exam questions about it.
When you are practicing questions, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- More questions is not automatically better. The questions that you are practicing need to be on-topic and similar to the questions that are asked on the exam. It is easy to do a lot of multiple-choice questions that are just definitional in nature, but if the exam does not ask definitional questions, then those questions will not help you pass the exam.
- Do not memorize questions or answers. Ideally, your software will change the order of the answers when it repeats a question, but even in that case, you do not want to memorize that the question about Johnson Co. is $600,000. What you want to be able to do is understand why the correct answer is correct. On the real exam, the questions will be different than what you practiced. If the real exam question is changed in what it asks from a similar practice question, unless you truly understand the topic, you will not be able to get that exam question correct.
- Use the incorrect choices as a learning tool. Just as you need to understand why the correct answer is correct, in many questions you can also practice by being able to understand why the incorrect answer is incorrect. In some cases, changing just one word in the question would make one of the incorrect choices correct.
While you are practicing the questions, using flash cards (whether you prepared them or they were provided with your materials) is also a good way to practice what you learned.
Sometimes when you are practicing, you may realize that you did not fully learn a topic or two. This normal, and not a problem. When you do not understand the questions for a topic, just go back and look at the textbook or watch the videos for that topic to make certain that you have learned it. Many times, when you re-learn a topic after doing some questions you can learn it much better because you have an understanding of what you need to know having answered some of the practice questions.
After you have completed your learning and practicing, it is time for the third stage. But, before you take your real exam, you need to pass your mock exam. The mock exam should resemble what will be on your real exam, and you will want to complete the mock exam in the same time limits as the real exam. If you have 3 hours to complete your exam, you need to take your mock exam in 3 continuous hours all in one sitting. You want to go through the process of sitting for three hours answering exam questions so that you know what to expect when you take the real exam.
A very common question we get is what score on the mock exam indicates being ready for the real exam. We suggest that you want to be at least 5-10% above the pass rate for the exam, which usually works out to 80-85%. Higher is better, but keep in mind that repeating the mock exam to get a better score is probably going to be counter-productive due to memorization. Instead, use the mock exam as a final assessment of any weak topics that you still need to go back and review.
Once you have learned the material, practiced what you learned, and passed your mock exam, the last step is to pass the real exam. Think of the real exam as being the final step in your success. Having prepared properly, you can go into your exam confident and relaxed, rather than stressed. You are ready to pass!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
You may also be interested in Blog: 5 Common Mistakes that Exam Candidates Make
Recently, I was talking with someone who was interested in HOCK CMA study materials and I was telling them that HOCK students receive unlimited support for as long as necessary to pass the exams without any time limit. That person responded excitedly, “Wow! That is really a value add!” This reaction started me thinking—value-added activities are part of the CMA syllabus and are also applicable to CMA materials.
Value-added activities are those activities that create more value for the customer. Because those activities create additional value, customers are willing to pay for them. However, there are also a lot of costs that are incurred that do not add value to the customer but instead only increase the cost of production and correspondingly the price. For example, the cost of storing inventory is not a value-added activity. For most businesses, advertising also is not value-added to the customer (it is value-added for the business, but not the customer).
HOCK value-added exam prep
As a student, you are interested in what adds value to the materials you purchase, i.e. materials and services that will help you pass the exam. At HOCK, we focus on adding the most value that we can and doing so at the best possible price by eliminating things that don’t add value to you. Some of the things that we do at HOCK that are value-added and/or help us reduce our costs are:
- Unlimited support from exam experts.
- No set expiration on the materials you purchase—use them for as long as you need to pass the exams.
- Always up-to-date materials.
- No expensive marketing contracts that increase our costs
- All of our products are available electronically, meaning there is no delivery cost except for the hard copy textbooks.
- Just-in-time inventory eliminates inventory storage and spoilage costs.
Because we focus on adding value in everything that we do, we are able to provide more study tools, more complete materials, and better guarantees than our competitors in the market. As a customer, this is what you want—effective and cost-efficient materials that will help you pass the exam on your first attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
How much should I study for the CMA, CPA, or CPA?
This is one of the most common questions that people ask us, and it is a very important question. If you do not study enough, you will probably fail the certification exam. If you study too much, you will probably pass the exam, but you will not have used your time efficiently.
How much should you study so that it is enough, but not too much?
Let’s look at this from short, medium, and long-term perspectives.
On a daily basis (the short-term)
You usually should not study more than 2 hours per day. Practicing a little bit every day is far more efficient and effective than studying a lot on only one or two days a week. There are some topics that require time for the pieces to “fall into place.” For most people, this process cannot be hurried in one long study session. The longer you review in any one session, the less you will learn in that additional time – this is the law of diminishing marginal returns.
On a weekly basis (the medium-term)
It is important that you spend 30-60 minutes reviewing the topics that you have already studied. One of the challenges of preparing is remembering the topics that you studied early on, usually months before the exam. In this review, you should do some questions from the topics that you have already learned (15-20 will be enough) and also scan through the textbook to remind yourself about the terms and topics.
Overall (the long-term)
We cannot give you a total amount of time that you need to study because it is so different for each person based on your specific education, experience, study speed, etc. The mock exam can give you a good sense of how prepared you are, but you will need to be honest with yourself in making an assessment of your level of readiness.
Assess Your Level of Readiness
- How confident are you when answering a question? Do you KNOW that choice C is correct, or do you only THINK (or hope) that it is correct?
- For theory questions, do you know why the incorrect choices are incorrect? If you know why they are incorrect, that is a very good indication that you understand the topic.
- Would you be able to explain the topic to someone else? If you know it well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, you know that topic very well.
While there is no magic number of hours that you must study, you can follow our strategies to help you make the most of your study time and honestly assess yourself to know when you are prepared to pass your exam.
Now that you know how much you should study, the question is how to study. And the answer is you have to make a schedule for success and peace of mind.
If you don’t have your exam prep materials yet, you can choose them right now:
The True Character
When we talk about the character of a person, we are talking about “who” they are. A person’s character tells us their values, what motivates them, and how they will respond in a given situation. While someone may be able to act in a way contradictory to their character for a short period of time, eventually their true character will reveal itself.
The UK company Brighton Rock makes candy with the name of the company embedded throughout the entire candy. Even after you have eaten the outer edge of the candy, the name of the company is still visible. Thus, this candy shows what character is – something embedded throughout a person.
What Is the Exam Character and Why is it Important?
Just as having good character is important for a person, having good exam character is very important to passing the professional certification exam. If you only have a shallow understanding of the material, you may be able to get some of the questions correct, but not enough to pass the exam. If your knowledge is deep, you will be able to think and apply the concepts that you have learned to new situations and be able to answer any question asked on the exam.
How to Develop Your Exam Character?
Like personal character, exam character does not come quickly or easily. We need to study and practice and be willing to spend time to make certain that we really understand the topics tested on the exam, and not just shortcuts to answer practice questions. Exam character does not come from shortcuts or study “secrets,” but rather it comes from your hard work and dedication to studying.
How Does HOCK Help?
In addition to helping you pass the exam, what you learn in building your exam character becomes part of you and part of your skills and knowledge that you will be able to use in your career. At HOCK, we help you build your exam character one topic at a time until you are ready to not only pass the CMA, CIA, or CPA exam, but also put your new skills to use every day long after you have achieved your certification.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
In this video, Brian discusses some tips for exam day: how to eat, how to dress, how to prepare mentally, what to bring with you to the exam center, and offers some final words of encouragement.
If the exam date is not coming up just yet, check out the following videos:
In this video, Brian discusses where you should be with one day before your CMA, CIA, or CPA Exam. Limit yourself to some quick reviews and get as much sleep as you can. You are prepared and you are ready to pass the exam!
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with two weeks before your exam. Continue studying with timed tests to practice time management, reviewing all of the materials, cramming if you have extra time, and planning for exam details like your calculator and how to get to the testing center.
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with six weeks before your CMA, CIA, or CPA exam. Continue sticking with your study plan, reviewing previously-studied materials, using the flash cards, and plan when you will take your first mock exam.
We have written previously about the importance of having a study schedule and sticking to it (Exam Tip: Scheduling for Success and Peace of Mind), but sometimes you need to take a step back from your plan in order to move forward. If you’re familiar with soccer (football for our non-US readers), it is common for a team to pass the ball backwards in order to regroup and prepare again to go forward. Sometimes in studying you might need to do this, too.
What do I mean, exactly? When you are studying a topic that is taking longer than expected to learn, or is not making sense to you, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave that topic and come back to it later. By learning and thinking about other topics, you can give your mind a break and a chance to process the topic that you were struggling with.
I use this strategy when writing materials, too. Sometimes I get “stuck” trying to explain a concept or develop an example. I can tell that what I am writing is not as clear or concise as it should be. When that happens, I usually will stop, work on something else, and then return to the unfinished topic later. Most of the time this break is just what I needed to finish my writing in a way that is clear and concise.
Just like in soccer, the path to success on the exam is not one that always moves forward. Sometimes a step back today will help you move many steps forward tomorrow.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA