The year was 1972, the month was December. In 22 select locations across the U.S., accounting professionals sat down for the first time to take an exam to test their knowledge of key accounting and finance concepts, the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). This year, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the exam that transformed the profession and, in many ways, the lives of those who earned it.

Over the years, the CMA exam has changed considerably since it was first introduced. The following are some of the significant dates in CMA history:

  • 1972: The ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) Board of Regents launches the CMA program. The CMA consists of five 3.5-hour exams, given over a three-day period once per year. Most of the exam consists of essay questions and problems. More than 400 individuals sit for those first exams, and they take the exam with pencil and paper.
  • 1977: The exam starts being offered twice per year. 
  • 1991: After a comprehensive review of the exam, the structure is changed to four 4-hour exams.
  • 1997: The exam is computerized.
  • 2004: The exam is restructured to include a capstone essay part that candidates take after passing the first three (multiple-choice) parts.
  • 2007: The ICMA Board of Regents makes a major decision to translate the CMA exam into Simplified Chinese. The decision was prompted by the growing interest in the CMA exam in the region.
  • 2010: The CMA exam is reorganized following a Job Analysis Survey of what management accountants do on the job. It now consists of two 4-hour exams, each with 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay questions. The new exam assumes candidates have a strong foundation in financial accounting and knowledge of topics such as economics and statistics. Some topics are added and given increased emphasis.
  • 2016: The CMA crosses a major milestone with the certification of its 50,000th CMA.
  • 2020: The CMA exam content is again updated, following another Job Analysis Survey. There is a new emphasis on topics such as technology, data analytics, information systems, and technology-enabled finance transformation. More questions are added in the areas of business ethics and decision analysis while other topics receive less emphasis and others are removed.
  • 2021: Just five years after certifying its 50,000th CMA, the program reaches another milestone, certifying its 100,000th CMA.

Most recently, the CMA program continues to evolve with advances in technology and the business environment. As announced earlier this month (see related story in this issue), the CMA English language exam will soon be available, for the first time, via remote proctoring. Beginning January 18, those who register for the exam will have the option of taking it at a Prometric Test Center or from home.

Dennis Whitney, CMA, IMA senior vice president, certifications, exams, and content integration, noted of the 50th anniversary, “Although some of the content, format, and way the exam is administered have changed in the past five decades, the goal of the CMA program has always been to equip accounting and finance professionals with the skills they need to become valued business partners. During these last 50 years, we’ve reached tremendous milestones and have helped accounting and finance professionals around the world advance their careers and organizations. I’m exceedingly proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to what we will achieve in the future.” 

To celebrate the CMA’s 50th anniversary, IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) has numerous plans in place over the coming year. Each month in this newsletter, IMA will profile a CMA, who will share their story about their experience taking the exam and as a CMA-certified professional. Other plans include a special issue in Strategic Finance magazine in June and a celebration at IMA’s Accounting & Finance Conference that month as well.

Visit the IMA website to learn more about the CMA certification