How to Choose a CMA Exam Review Course

If you’re thinking of tackling the CMA exam, you should definitely consider a CMA review course. After all, the right materials will help you study better, which means you could study less in the long run. So in this article, I’ll give you some tips about finding the best CMA exam course for your learning style and budget.

Why You Need a CMA Exam Review Course

The IMA (or Institute of Management Accountants) grants the CMA credential, which is recognized around the world. Each year, the IMA releases the CMA exam pass rates, which tend to hover around 50%. Plus, the IMA estimates that most candidates spend at least 150-170 hours studying for each half of the 2-part CMA exam. What’s more, candidates who don’t study—or just as importantly, study with the wrong materials—often fail on their first exam attempt.

If you fail an exam part, you can re-take it. However, the re-take fees are substantial, so you want to avoid them. Therefore, you might as well save yourself some money upfront by studying with a CMA exam prep course. But with so many on the market, which should you choose?

To help you select the best CMA exam prep for your learning style, I’ve reviewed the most comprehensive packages from some of the top courses: Wiley CMAexcelGleim CMAHock CMA, and Surgent CMA. And after this course comparison, I’ll share some tips on what to look for when selecting a CMA course.

Comparison of CMA Exam Prep Courses

  Wiley CMAexcel Platinum Review Course Gleim CMA Premium CMA Review 2021 Hock CMA Review Complete Surgent CMA Review Ultimate Pass
Access Length Until You Pass Until You Pass Unlimited Until You Pass
Interactive Learning Platform? Yes Yes No Yes
Test Bank / MCQs 5,500+ 3,000+ 3,532 3,945+
Essay Questions 16 137 66 65+
Video Lectures 66 hours 45+ hours 62 hours 60+ videos
Audio Lectures No Yes Yes No
Textbooks Print and digital Print and digital Print and digital PDF only
CMA Practice Tests Unlimited Unlimited 4 Unlimited
Price (before discounts) $1,800 $1,599 $1,249 $1,699

Overview of CMA Courses

Wiley CMAexcel: A proven leader

Wiley CMAexcel is a popular CMA study course because it is one of the IMA’s Strategic Partners. Basically, this means that the IMA trusts Wiley’s study material, so it might be right for you.

Wiley’s Platinum Review course includes plenty of study tools to keep you learning, like over 5,500 MCQs (multiple-choice questions), 16 sample essays, and 66 hours of instructional videos. Plus, you receive a personalized study planner, a mobile app, 800+ pages of study text available online, flashcards (digital or printed), and unlimited mock exams.

Moreover, Wiley breaks its courses into “Bite-Sized Lessons” that are designed to be short but effective. Wiley’s courses also use an e-learning Efficient Learning System. And what’s more, many candidates have crammed with Wiley’s “11th Hour Final Review” and found that it went over some of the exam’s hardest content right before their exam day.

And if you happen to fail the CPA Exam after studying with Wiley, the Partner Until You Pass Guarantee means that you won’t have to repay to keep studying with your Wiley course until you receive a better score.

It’s also worth mentioning that Wiley now uses an interactive learning platform, similar to many of today’s top CMA review courses. The FocusMe Technology monitors your performance as you work through the course and answer practice questions. Once it starts to learn what topics you need to study more, it will suggest study material and practice questions that will strengthen your weak content areas.

Gleim CMA: Quality materials for 40+ years

Gleim CMA has been helping accounting professionals pass their credential exams for over 40 years. And because of the value of their courses, it’s no wonder that so many candidates study with Gleim. For example, the Gleam CMA Premium Review includes 3,000+ practice MCQs and 167 sample essays, more than any other provider out there. Plus, you’ll also get 45+ hours of video lectures including the “Deep Dive” series, audio versions of many lectures, Gleim’s famous textbooks (print or digital), a personalized study planner, and access to your online materials until you pass the CMA exam. And when you take a Gleim mock exam, you’ll notice that the Gleim platform looks and feels just like the real CMA exam.

Gleim is another company that uses an e-learning system called SmartAdapt. Basically, it works by keeping track of your performance on practice questions and quizzes. As it monitors what content you’ve seemed to master, it will suggest content to study for the questions you’ve been missing, too.

Here’s one thing to note about Gleim: if you don’t already have a strong accounting background, you might be unfamiliar with some of the terms and concepts used in the Gleim course. So before you start to answer practice questions, just take some time to study first.

Hock: For international and US-based candidates alike

Hock CMA is popular with both international and US-based CMA candidates because of the high quality of its courses that are offered at a more affordable price point. Take the Hock CMA Review Complete package, for example. It’s a good value because it includes 3,500+ practice MCQs, 66 essay samples with answers, study texts (digital or hard copies), 4 practice exams, digital flashcards, 66 hours of video lectures, and even a personalized study planner. And just as importantly, the Hock CMA Review Complete package also gives you unlimited access to your online materials until you pass the exam. This way, you don’t need to repurchase your package if you happen to fail an exam part.

Plus, Hock’s guarantee should give you some peace of mind about purchasing a Hock course, too. According to Hock’s policy, if you work through most of the study material included in your course but still don’t pass one of your CMA exam sections, Hock will pay your exam re-take fees. I think that shows you that Hock has a lot of faith in their CMA courses.

Surgent: A popular course with e-learning software

And finally, you should also check out Surgent CMA Review. After all, Surgent comes highly rated from its previous users. If you go with the Surgent CMA Review Ultimate Pass package, you’ll receive 3,945+ MCQs that have detailed answer explanations, 65+ sample essays, full-length practice exams, flashcards, and 60+ hours of video lectures. What’s more, you’ll get free updates in case Surgent updates the study materials.

Surgent is a strong course for several reasons. First, Surgent’s lessons are bite-sized, meaning you can squeeze them into your busy life. Second, Surgent’s top courses come with access to virtual CMA coaching sessions, and that could be a big study boost.

And third, Surgent uses an award-winning e-learning platform called A.S.A.P. Technology. The software creates personalized study plans according to your anticipated exam date in combination with an analysis of your performance on practice questions. Basically, it works by directing your studies toward what content you don’t seem to know yet based on how you answer practice questions. And according to Surgent, this direction greatly reduces the number of hours their users spend studying for the CMA exam.

CMA Review Course Materials

Each CMA exam review company has developed slightly different learning tools, but they share a common goal. Simply put, they’re all designed to help you pass the CMA exam. But most courses include some sort of textbooks or study materials that are reinforced with video or audio lectures, practice questions, and other learning devices like flashcards.

However, the type of study materials and content delivery methods that work for you might not work for the next CMA candidate. Therefore, it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you begin to search for the CMA exam review course. After all, you don’t want to waste a lot of money on a course that ultimately just doesn’t work for how you learn.

Access length – make sure it’s long enough

Firstly, consider the access length of CMA exam courses. After all, most courses put the bulk of their material online, and you need a username and password to access them. Some courses only give you access for a limited amount of time – 12 or 18 months are common. So that means you can only study with your course during that timeframe.

When you first start to study for the CMA exam, 12 months might seem long enough. However, keep in mind that the CMA exam is actually given in two parts, so you’re essentially studying for two big exams and not just one. And most candidates spend hundreds of hours studying, which takes a while when you already have a job and other commitments. Plus, it’s inevitable that something in your personal or professional life will delay your studies for a bit. So really, it’s best to take a long-haul view of your study period.

So what happens if you purchase a course with only 12 months of access and you haven’t passed both parts of the CMA exam yet? Well, you’ll need to repurchase your course, and that’s a big expense.

Access until you pass

Therefore, I suggest purchasing a course with unlimited or “access until you pass,” meaning that your online login will be valid until you’ve passed the CMA exam. This type of unlimited access course can cost a little more upfront, but you could very well end up spending much less because you never have to repurchase your course materials.

Plus, an unlimited access course takes away the pressure of a ticking clock counting down the days until your CMA review package expires. And when you’re already under so much pressure, why not make this one thing a little easier on yourself?

Sample essay questions

Both Part 1 and Part 2 of the CMA exam includes essays and multiple-choice questions (or MCQs). Each essay is broken down into 2-7 smaller responses. Basically, you’re presented with a real-world scenario and then you’re asked to explain how you would respond and why.

Although some CMA candidates struggle with the essays, you can master them with practice. Therefore, look for a course with plenty of practice essay questions. And of course, make sure the essay samples have answer explanations, too.

MCQ test banks

Most CMA exam review providers refer to their collection of practice MCQs as “test banks.” The questions usually come from two places. First, the IMA writes new CMA exam questions each year and then releases the old ones as study material. CMA courses compile these previously released questions into their test banks. Or, some providers have CMA experts that write questions similar to what you’ll see on the exam.

The size and quality of a test bank is really important. To start, look for a course with thousands of MCQs. After all, one of the best ways to get ready for the exam is to practice with MCQs over and over until you start to ace them all. And if you only have a few hundred or even just one or two thousand questions, you’ll have to review the same questions. And that just doesn’t help you learn as quickly as you would if you had more MCQs at your disposal.

E-learning software and performance analytics

These days, e-learning software with performance tracking is taking over the education market. After all, you more often see e-learning in K-12 classrooms, so it’s not surprising that many CMA exam review courses are using similar platforms not. Besides, this kind of software can build a personalized learning experience that ultimately leads to few study hours.

But how do these courses work? Well, here’s a short outline of a typical scenario:

  • First, many courses that come with a personalized study planner will ask about your anticipated exam date and how many hours you can study each week. With this information, it starts to understand how much content you’ll need to cover each week as you study.
  • Second, you’ll take a diagnostic quiz or maybe even a series of quizzes of content that is likely to appear on the CMA exam. Then, the software analyzes your performance and builds a list of the content you’ve mastered (and therefore don’t need to study) and what you haven’t mastered (and need to focus on).
  • Next, the course will help you build your weekly studies based on your performance. For example, your course might suggest that you watch video lectures about a certain topic and reinforce your new knowledge with practice questions.
  • And finally, some courses even had predictive tools that show you what percentage of the CMA content you know, based on your practice question performance. Essentially, this type of feedback helps you understand when you’re ready to sit for the CMA exam.

Expert support and mentoring

Even if you’ve been in the accounting field for a while, you’ll probably have a question about the CMA exam content at some point. After all, the CMA exam is an “academic” one. That is, it tests you on material or nuanced details that you might not use in your daily practice.

Therefore, it’s useful to have access to accounting experts via your CMA exam review course when you need some help. However, review companies give you that help in different ways. Some have live (or live online) classes, so you can ask an instructor your question in real-time. Others have expert forums, and users post questions and receive a response in a certain time period.

Personalized study planners

The IMA’s Learning Outcome Statements is the official syllabus for the CMA exam. It’s fairly lengthy since the CMA exam is actually given in two parts. Therefore, it can be easy to look at the syllabus and feel overwhelmed with the amount of information that you’ll need to study.

However, that’s where a good personalized study planner comes in. A study planner will help you do just that…plan out your studies so that you’re guaranteed to cover all the material in time. The top courses include a customizable study planner, and I think they can be a big key to your overall success.

Video and audio lectures

If you’re like many candidates, you’ll do a lot of studying with video or audio lessons. Besides, after going through college, most of us learn through lecture formats. Plus, you can watch videos on your own time and take notes as you go alone to learn even more. So it’s important to focus on the quality of a course’s lectures before you purchase it.

But when it comes to CMA exam review courses, what exactly does “quality” look like? Well, the answer honestly depends on the user. However, here are some things to consider:

  • Video length. For example, do you like longer lectures that cover wide topics? Or do you prefer shorter lectures that take a deep dive look into topics?
  • Number of lecture hours. If you’re someone who enjoys learning from videos, make sure the course includes enough to cover all the content.
  • Level of engagement. Some instructors are super engaging and almost downright entertaining. But others are just not, and it can be a real struggle to stay awake and focus through a boring video.
  • Quality of the instruction. Of course, you have to be able to follow the course’s instructors. After all, what’s the point of watching a video if the information isn’t presented in a way that helps you understand a topic.

So since lectures are such a critical component of a review course, how will you know anything about the quality of the lectures? Well, most CMA exam review providers offer free trials. Therefore, I suggest signing up for a trial and taking a look at the videos before you make a final purchase.

Textbooks and other study materials

Of course, despite the availablity of video lectures, most of us still study the old-fashioned way: by reading a book. Therefore, the quality of a course’s textbooks or study notes is important, too. Besides, a lot of people—myself included—like to study with books because they can highlight and take notes in the margin.

But don’t think that all CMA exam textbooks are equal. For example, some companies will send you hard copies. Others, though, only provide you with online texts or even just a PDF that you’ll have to print and bind yourself. So if you don’t like e-books, take note.

Practice exams

Mock exams are another critical component of a good CMA exam review course. After all, you won’t really know if you’re ready for the exam until you sit down and take a practice exam. And like the point I just made about textbooks, don’t’ assume that all providers have the same mock exams. They don’t. In fact, some are better than others. So what should you look for?

  • First, your mock exams should mimic the look and feel of the real CMA exam. Basically, the CMA exam review course interface should have the same functionality as the version you’ll see on exam day. This way, when you take the real one, it will feel like you’re just taking another practice exam—no sweat.
  • Plus, your practice exams should be full-length and timed. Why? Well, one of the biggest challenges of the CMA exam is the pacing of the questions. You can’t linger too long on any one question or you’ll run out of time to finish the exam. But if you practice the pacing, you’ll get used to carefully reading the question, selecting the correct answer, and moving on to the next question without hesitation.

Picking a CMA Course

In the end, how do you pick the CMA exam review course that will work for you? Consider these suggestions:

  • First, take note of your learning style. Do you like to watch classroom-style lectures on video? Or do you prefer taking notes in the margin of a textbook? Or do you like to quiz yourself with flashcards?
  • Second, when and where do you plan to study? Can you use an online-only course, or do you need access to offline materials, too? Will you need a mobile app or other tools to help you study on-the-go?
  • And finally, what’s your budget? Do you need a payment plan? And have you looked for promo codes and CMA course discounts? (Hint: keep reading for some discount links!)

A Few CMA Study Tips

Education researchers how most people learn best, and it’s really fairly straightforward. To maximize your study time, use this 1-2-3 punch: read, hear, and then engage with the materials.

But how do you do that with a self-study course? To begin, read the material in your textbook or study notes. Then, listen to that same material in a video or audio lecture. And finally, reinforce the content by interacting with it, either by answering practice questions, quizzing yourself with flashcards, taking a mock exam, or even engaging in a class discussion.

When you interact with content via these three methods (reading, hearing, and engaging), you learn the best.

Study at the time that’s best for you

The IMA claims that most candidates spend 150-170 hours studying for each part of the CMA exam. In sum, that’s more than 300 hours. And that’s just an average, so you could spend even more time getting ready for the big day.

Therefore, to maximize your efforts with your CMA exam review course, study at a time that’s best for you. Are you a morning person? If so, find a way to carve out some time to study every morning. Or are you a night owl and like to stay up after everyone else in the house has gone to bed? Conversely, will you be studying on-the-go with your online course?

Whatever works best for you, create a schedule and stick to it.

Budget Considerations for CMA Exam Prep

Of course, as with any big purchase, you might not be able to ignore your budget when you’re picking a CMA exam review course. Plus, you don’t want to waste valuable resources on a course that isn’t right for you.

However, don’t automatically dismiss a course because you initially think you can’t afford it. Instead, consider your CMA exam review course as an investment in your future and your career. After all, CMAs have better access to top job positions and higher salaries than their uncredentialled co-workers. So even if there is an up-front cost, it’s likely that you’ll make up for the cost of your course when you start to see better salaries.

In addition, I suggest purchasing the best course for you because you’re going to save yourself a lot of study time. And time is money, right?

Plus, many courses offer payment plans so you can spread out the cost over time. And of course, keep in mind that substantial discounts are often available. So even if you think you can’t afford a top course, you might be pleasantly surprised after you factor in a deep discount.

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Comprehensive CMA Review Courses vs. Supplements

By now, you’ve probably noticed that some CMA review providers have comprehensive courses that include lots of different study tools like textbooks, flashcards or study notes, video or audio lectures, a test bank with thousands of practice questions, and maybe a mobile app. On the other hand, companies also sell so-called “supplements,” which are basically just components of their comprehensive courses that they are selling piecemeal. For instance, companies sometimes sell their test banks (collections of practice questions) or textbooks as stand-alone learning tools.

So which is better? Should you purchase a comprehensive course, which includes a lot more study materials but has a higher overall price? Or should you just buy one or two supplements and save yourself some cash?

It’s best to purchase a full course

Well, based on my personal experience, you’re better off purchasing the best full comprehensive CMA course that you can. And let me tell you why.

  • First, supplements don’t have all of the tools that you really need to study. For example, let’s say that you pick up a textbook from one of the companies I’ve reviewed here. Even if you read it cover to cover, you still don’t have practice questions to challenge yourself. And you can’t take any mock exams when you think you’re ready to take the real exam. And even more importantly, you won’t have any sort of professional expert support at your fingertips when you get stuck with a study problem.
  • Second, if you only purchase a supplement, you won’t be able to take advantage of a company’s access until you pass guarantee, if it has one. Moreover, you also won’t be able to get free updates to your material. That is, the content of the CMA exam syllabus can change from time to time. When that happens, CMA review companies will change their study materials. However, if you purchase a stand-alone supplement, chances are that you won’t get a free update if the exam content changes. And that means you could be studying with outdated material, wasting your time on material that won’t even appear on the exam.
  • Third, and perhaps most importantly, you won’t be studying at your prime if you only go with a supplement. Earlier in the article, do you remember when I mentioned that you learn best when you read, hear, and engage with content? Well, that’s why comprehensive CMA exam review courses come with textbooks and lectures and ways to apply your knowledge through taking practice questions, sitting for a mock exam, or even taking part in a live classroom discussion. But if you only purchase a supplement, you won’t be able to take full advantage of the quickest way to learn.

CMA Exam Review Courses: What’s the Best?

I hope this article has given you some thoughts to consider before you purchase a CMA exam review course. After all, it’s a big decision because the right course could help you pass the CMA exam on your first try.

But among four strong courses (Wiley CMAexcel, Gleim CMA, Hock International, and Surgent CMA), is there a best? Well personally, if I had to pick a course for myself, I would go with Wiley. Let me explain why. First, it’s the only course that is endorsed by the IMA, the organization that grants the CMA credential, you can trust the quality. Second, the bite-sized lessons are great for working professionals who don’t have a lot of time for long lectures. And third, Wiley’s e-learning software directs your studies in such a way that you’ll probably need to study fewer hours. Basically, Wiley helps you study better, which means you’ll be better prepared for the big exam day. Although I do wish Wiley would add a few more mock exams to its packages, a Wiley CMA course combined with Wiley’s 11th Hour Final Review could be what you need to pass the CMA exam.

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