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How to Prepare for the Essay Questions

The essay portion of the exams are worrisome to many CMA candidates, and this is for good reason. The essay questions consist of written and quantitative analysis and responses. Because of this, all CMA candidates should be well versed in word processing and electronic spreadsheet programs.

What to Expect on Exam Day

Each CMA exam has two essay questions, and each question presents a business scenario that will have multiple questions. You have 1 hour to answer both essay questions. You have 3 hours to finish the multiple-choice question section of the exam before starting the essay portion. If you finish the multiple-choice questions section before the 3 hour limit, the remaining time gets carried over to the essay section. The focus of the essay questions is on the CMA candidate’s ability to understand and apply concepts presented in the part being tested to a business scenario.

How Your Essay Responses Will be Scored

The subject matter experts who will score your essay responses will use a grading guide. There are more points in the grading guide than points that can be awarded. For example there may 120 possible points but only 100 can be awarded in total. The experts goal is not to deduct points from your essay answers, but to award you points.

Partial answers will also award you points. For example, if you had to calculate 10 ratios but were only able to calculate 6, the experts will award you partial points for your answer. So if you get a tough essay question, try to work on it as much as possible, even if you don’t complete it. You’ll be able to get some points. Be sure to show your calculations.

What You Can Do To Prepare

The essay section represents 25% of your overall score. It’s very important that you diligently prepare for it by including the following tips in your preparation:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Understand what essay questions ask of you and practice answering them. It’s very easy to go on a tangent on a response. Practice staying focused.
  2. Calculate what is asked of you, not what you think is asked of you. For example, if you are asked to calculate liquidity ratios, don’t calculate activity or solvency ratios because you think they’ll be needed. Stay focused
  3. Know your formulas very well. You may need to calculate many figures before you can begin to answer the question at hand. The best way to memorize formulas is to write them down repeatedly and being mindful of it. Don’t day-dream while you practice.
  4. Get your hands on essay question samples to get familiar with the format.

The Most Important Advice

The most important advice that I can give you is to understand the material that you are studying. If you are just memorizing without understanding the WHY of things, it’ll be difficult to pass the exams, much less do well in the essay questions. The essay section will test your comprehension of the material in a real business scenario.

Many have passed the exams. I’m confident that with good preparation, you will too!

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