Whether you are a recent university graduate or a career-professional looking to expand your opportunities, a CIMA certification is a great addition to your resume. To an employer, a CIMA-certified candidate represents an accomplished professional with credibility.
However, becoming CIMA-qualified is no easy task. It requires significant time and dedication on your part. If you currently work or are raising a family, staying the course to study for your CIMA exams may seem like an impossible task. But with our helpful hints below, you can pass your CIMA exams quickly and (relatively) painlessly!
What is CIMA?
The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, also known as CIMA, represents the largest management accounting association across the globe. Based in the UK, CIMA equips accountants with the tools that they need to effectively navigate the changing business landscape. CIMA provides accountants with education and the support that they need to drive sustainable success for the companies that they work for.
CIMA offers professional certification for those in accounting, finance, and business roles. With an all-encompassing focus on core financial and management accounting areas aswell as corporate operations, management, and strategy, people who complete the CIMA-certification become strategic partners who can meet the demands of the toughest business challenges.
How many exams are in CIMA?
To become CIMA-certified, you must pass a series of tests at three different levels: operational, management, and strategic. The number of exams that you are required to take depends on your educational background. Read on to find out which scenario best fits your situation.
If you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, or you do have one in a non-business related major, your first step is to get a Certificate in Business Accounting, commonly known as a Cert BA, from CIMA. To earn your certificate, you will need to take a course and pass a series of four computer-based tests.
For those who have a business-related Bachelor’s degree or a Cert BA, you are required to pass 12 exams in total. These exams include:
- A series of 9 objective tests consisting of 3 different areas (financial, performance and enterprise) at 3 different levels.
- 3 case study exams, representing one test for each of the 3 levels
If you are a candidate with a Masters in Accounting or Business Administration, you are eligible to skip the first two levels of exams by taking the CIMA Gateway exam. Once you pass the Gateway exam, you will only be required to take:
- All 3 objective tests at the strategic level
- 1 case study at the strategic level
How to Pass the Exam
CIMA exams cover a very wide range of topics focused not just on finance, but on operations, management, and strategy aswell. As is often the case in life, those who prepare well and work smart (rather than just hard), come out on top. In other words, it helps to have a method rather than just charging around with no clear direction, expending tremendous energy in the process and achieving sub-optimal outcomes. So, to improve your chances of passing the CIMA exam, be sure to do the following:
1. Pace yourself
With so many exams ahead of you, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. But with good planning, you can knock out your studying one day at a time. Working backward from the test date, take a calendar and start planning out the weeks leading up to your exam. Whether you decide to complete a chapter a day or one every week, designing a study plan can help you conquer the material in a stress-free and organized fashion. Guidance from CIMA indicates that each exam takes an estimated 135 hours to 150 hours for studying time.
When you develop your study plan, keep in mind a few other key factors:
Choose a place to study that works best for you, and don't be afraid to mix up your study environments. This will vary greatly from person to person. Some need the tranquility of a library, whereas others work well in a cafeteria with a little buzz going on in the background keeping them on their toes. Just make sure that wherever you pick, you are able to focus without interruption (put your phone on silent!). Studies have shown that varying your place of study can actually work wonders for retention. It seems that we often associate certain experiences (such as studying) with certain locations and they are fixed more securely in our memories as a result. So, you might decide you will be studying chapter 1 of a book in your library and chapter 2 on a park bench. This change of scenario should mean the topics from chapters 1 and 2 are more clearly distinguishable in your long-term memory as they are each associated with a very different context.
Pick the best time to study. If you are a morning person, consider studying early to maximize your time. Those who have greater focus at night should consider evening study times.
Taking frequent breaks is a good idea. Whether it’s a 15-minute break to check your email or to take a quick walk around the block, a short break can do wonders for your concentration.
2. Review, review, review
With so much information to get through, it’s easy to forget what you covered just a few days ago. Too many students just move relentlessly forward from new topic to new topic without actually revising what they have already learned. A good rule of thumb is to allocate the start of each session to testing yourself on previous topics, before going on to learn a new topic. A little forgetting of the previous topic is likely to have set in, so by testing yourself on the old topic you will be ensuring that you strengthen the memory and it will be more resilient to being forgotten next time. Again, the science shows this works - researchers refer to this as "retrieval practice". When done effectively, you’ll find that this habit alone will super-charge your study.
3. Don’t cram!
CIMA is an in-depth qualification that covers multiple topics and theories. When you study frequently and review constantly, you are doing more than just memorizing content, you are mastering it. Cramming, on the other hand, is a great way to forget what you’ve learned. Trying to stuff days or weeks of information in the night before the exam will set you up for failure. Think about it: does Roger Federer leave all his practice to the day before Wimbledon where he spends 20 hours on the court bashing balls back to a training partner!? Of course not! That would be an insane approach, yet so many students leave all of their weekly study to just one day. It's far better to spread a 5 hour study allotment over 5 or 6 days rather than cramming it all in to a Saturday. Learning scientists have studied this area too and also have a fancy name for it - "spacing".
4. Teach others
A great way to test what you know is by teaching others. If you have a friend or family member that is patient enough to listen, take some time to explain a key theory, concept, or chapter in your book in the plainest language possible. When you can explain it in a way that is easily understood to a non-CIMA student or expert, it shows you really understand the topic in-depth and helps you to solidify what you know. The great physicist, Richard Feynam, was an advocate of this very approach, and believed too many so-called experts hid behind jargon, when really they weren't truly knowledgeable enough so as to be able to explain complex things in a simple way. Joining an online study group is another way to prepare. Not only do these groups allow you to learn alongside others who are familiar with the CIMA content, but it can also allow you to teach others who may be struggling.
5. Test, test, test
To pass the exam, you need a good working knowledge of the topics that will be examined. In addition to that, you can greatly improve your chances of passing the exam by becoming a good test taker. And what’s the best way to do this? - by taking as many exams under exam-timing conditions as you can.
While you can purchase books with practice questions, it's more effective to replicate the exam environment you will be faced with on the day of your CIMA exam. You should look for an online test-taking facility that mimics the CIMA exam environment (hint: VIVA has one for both the objective tests and case studies!). With a wide variety of questions, you are not only testing your knowledge, but you are also learning how to take the test. Answering mock questions helps you take stock of what you’ve mastered and points you to the areas that you need to spend more time studying. Just as important, online testing tools help to train you in taking the test online. When taking mock tests, do so under the time constraints that you’ll experience when taking the real exam. The more you practice, the better you will become. After all, you are investing months of your time to prepare for the exam, so you need to do everything you can to set yourself up for success.
Pursuing a CIMA qualification can be a great boost to your career. While it requires a substantial time commitment from you, the potential for higher earnings, better career opportunities, and increased credibility will make your investment worth the while.