CIMA Qualification | A Complete Beginner’s Guide

All about CIMA Qualification

This post is a comprehensive guide that will help you take the CIMA qualification exams in the best way possible. You will learn about the program, exam criteria, exam format, fees, strategies to deal with CIMA qualification. The information is articulated in the following structure:

  1. What is CIMA Qualification
  2. CIMA Qualification Completion Criteria
  3. What do you earn
  4. Why Pursue CIMA Qualification
  5. CIMA Exam Format
  6. CIMA Exam Weights/Breakdown
  7. CIMA Qualification: Fee Structure
  8. CIMA Exam Results & Pass Rates
  9. CIMA Study Material
  10. Strategies: Before the Exam
  11. Strategies: During the Exam
  12. Deferral Policy
  13. Useful CIMA Exam Prep Resources
CIMA Qualification

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What is CIMA Qualification?

CIMA Qualification is a globally recognized credential awarded by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the UK, for those interested in pursuing a career in the specialized field of management accountancy. As of December 2020, more than 200,000 finance experts around the globe have completed the CIMA professional qualification. What sets apart this finance certification from most others is its focus on accountancy as related to business management more than anything else. Apart from an understanding of financial and accounting fundamentals, it offers a comprehensive view of strategic and risk management that is integral to successfully manage a business.


  1. Management Accountant
  2. Finance Manager
  3. Financial Analyst
  4. Internal AuditInternal AuditInternal audit refers to the inspection conducted to assess and enhance the company's risk management efficacy, evaluate the different internal controls, and ensure that the company adheres to all the regulations. It helps the management and board of directors to identify and rectify the loopholes before the external more Manager


  1. CIMA has a 4-tier exam structure broadly divided into certificate and professional levels.
  2. CIMA Qualification in Business Accounting is the foundation level and it includes four computerized objective tests of 2-hour duration each that take place on-demand year-round.
  3. CIMA professional level studies are divided into 3 learning pillars, including enterprise, performance, and financial aspects. Each of these pillars is further sub-divided into operational, management, and strategic levels. This results in 3 exams at each of the levels.
  4. CIMA professional level exams include three 90-minute computer-based on-demand objective tests at each of the operational, management, and strategic levels. At each of these levels, a 3-hour long case study has to be undertaken in order to qualify for the next level.

Exam Dates

  1. CIMA Qualification exams can be taken at any time of the year and in any order, but all four of them have to be completed to earn the certification.
  2. CIMA Professional level exams can be taken in the following time window:
    • Objective tests at each of the operational, management, and strategic levels can be taken at any time of the year.
    • For Case study exams at each of these levels, four windows have been provided in the months of February, May, August, and November. In 2021, the exams are scheduled to take place during February 10-26, May 14-28, August 11-27, and November 10-26.

The Deal:

CIMA certificate level tests the knowledge of students in business and accounting fundamentals with four objective tests designed for the purpose. This is followed by CIMA professional level, designed to acquaint students with operational, management, and strategic aspects. Each of the levels has three 90-minute objective tests, each devoted to specialized areas of business management. Students must also clear a 3-hour case study exam to progress to the next level. To sit for strategic level exams, students must have completed all the exams of operational and management levels.


There are no specific eligibility criteria for CIMA Qualification in Business Accounting. It is an entry-level certification that can be pursued by those with little knowledge of accounting, but a good grasp of mathematics and English is essential along with an interest in studying accountancy.

The eligibility criteria for CIMA professional-levels are as under:

  1. A basic level of proficiency in accounting or business studies is required to pursue CIMA Operational Level studies. The candidate should hold any one of these qualifications to fulfill this requirement:
  2. CIMA Qualification in Business Accounting
  3. Master’s in Accounting or MBA
  4. Membership of ICWAI, ICMAP or ICMAB
  5. Membership of an IFAC body
  6. Any relevant qualification to get an exemption from the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting
  7. To pursue Management Level studies, one should have successfully completed CIMA Operational Level studies as well as Operational Case Study.
  8. To pursue Strategic Level studies, one should have completed both operational and management level studies successfully along with their respective case studies.

CIMA Qualification Completion Criteria

Certificate Level:

Candidates need not possess some specific qualifications to enroll for a Certificate in Business Accounting. An interest in accounting and proficiency in mathematics and English are enough for the purpose. There are four exams at this level to help students become acquainted with the fundamentals of accounting and related areas. These exams can be taken in any order at any time of the year, and the average completion time for the certificate level is one year. The passing marks for the objective tests are 100 out of 150 or 67%.

Professional Level:

The professional level is divided into 3 pillars, namely, enterprise, management, and financial. Each of these pillars is further divided into three areas at each of the progressive levels, including Operations, management, and Strategy. This results in a structure of three knowledge areas being covered at each of these three levels, requiring students to appear for a total of 9 Objective Test (OT) exams of 90-minute duration each. In addition, after completing all 3 exams at each of the levels, they have to clear a 3-hour long case study exam, which tests their ability to apply the concepts covered at that level to solve real-world situations. Only after completing the case study exam for any level, students can advance to the next level. The passing marks for the objective tests are 100 out of 150 or 67% at each of these levels.

Students can appear for individual OT exams in any order for Operational and Management levels but can only appear for Strategic level exams are completing both of these levels. On average, students complete all 12 professional qualification exams (including case study exams) in 4 years.

Practical Experience:

On completion of all 3 levels, students must provide 3-year relevant professional work experience to earn Membership of CIMA.

What do you earn?

  • On completion of the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, students can use the designation of CIMA Cert BA after their name to indicate the certification.
  • Completion of CIMA Operational Level earns the CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting
  • Completion of CIMA Management Level earns the CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting
  • After completion of the CIMA Strategic Level, candidates need a minimum 3-year relevant practical work experience to be verified by the institute. This would help them become a CIMA Member and also earn the prestigious designation of Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).

Why Pursue CIMA Qualification?

CIMA is meant for students and professionals who are willing to explore much-wider learning areas related to accountancy. Instead of focusing merely on the finance and accounting part, certificate and professional levels of CIMA help develop a deeper understanding of business management and expand their functional domain to be able to help businesses make better strategic decisions and improve performance. Some of the advantages of pursuing CIMA Qualification are:

  1. This accreditation program may not assure immediate job growth or higher perks but would certainly help professionals step into roles that require management skills as well, along with good accounting capabilities. This widens the career scope for professionals, and potential career growth can be much higher in the long run.
  2. The unique learning structure of the program helps break the mold of traditional accountancy and prepares students to deal with advanced strategic and risk management-related issues from an accountancy perspective.
  3. Students get an opportunity to study management accountancy as a specialized field, which gives them an edge over most other finance certifications and adds greater credibility in the eyes of prospective employers.

CIMA Exam Format

The CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting is an Objective Test (OT) Exam and the papers, their focus and the number of questions in each paper are as follows:

CIMA Certificate in Business AccountingFocuses onNo. of questions
BA1: Fundamentals of Business EconomicsProviding a basic understanding of economic activities relevant to decision making in an organization.60
BA2: Fundamentals of Management AccountingFundamental knowledge and techniques of management accounting.60
BA3: Fundamentals of Financial AccountingProviding a practical understanding of financial accounting.60
BA4: Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance, and Business LawProfessional standards to be demonstrated in an organization.85

The CIMA Operational Level is an Objective Test (OT) Exam, which you need to answer in a duration of 90 minutes. The case study exam is of 3 hours duration. Below are the papers and their focus areas.

CIMA Operational levelFocuses on
E1: Managing Finance in a Digital WorldRole of finance in an organization.
F1: Financial ReportingRegulations and principles for preparing financial reports

The CIMA Management Level is an Objective Test (OT) Exam, which you need to answer in a duration of 90 minutes. The case study exam is of 3 hours duration. Below are the papers and their focus areas.

CIMA Management levelFocuses on
E2: Managing PerformanceManaging people performance and projects.

The CIMA Strategic Level is an Objective Test (OT) Exam, which you need to answer in a duration of 90 minutes. The case study exam is of 3 hours duration. Below are the papers and their focus areas.

CIMA Strategic LevelFocuses On
E3: Strategic ManagementDeciding the vision and direction for sustainable long-term growth
P3: Risk ManagementManaging risk through a process of analysis, evaluation, and internal control systems
F3: Financial StrategyFormulation and implementation of financial strategy
Strategic Case Study ExamTests ability to apply E3, P3, F3 concepts in real-world situations

CIMA Exam Weights/Breakdown

Students should have a proper idea of subject wise exam weightage so they can prepare well for high weightage knowledge areas. Knowledge of weightage distribution can prove to be very valuable in developing and implementing an effective study plan for CIMA exams at any of the levels.

The entire guide on the syllabus has been explained by the Institute in this CIMA Global PDF Guide.

CIMA Qualification: Fee Structure

Following is the fee structure to register yourself for the CIMA Exam.

Tier 1Tier 2Tier 3
Student Subscription FeeGBP 120GBP 120GBP 120
Registration (one-off payment)GBP 77GBP 77GBP 77
Exam fees:
Certificate in Business Accounting objective tests (per subject)GBP 100GBP 90GBP 75
Operational level objective tests (per subject)GBP 115GBP 105GBP 85
Operational level case study exams (per exam)GBP 195GBP 185GBP 155
Management level objective tests (per subject)GBP 130GBP 120GBP 105
Management level case study exams (per exam)GBP 199GBP 190GBP 160
Strategic level objective tests (per subject)GBP 185GBP 180GBP 140
Strategic level objective tests (per subject)GBP 185GBP 270GBP 240

For current course prices, it will cost around GBP 2,500 if a student completes CIMA in a total duration of 3-4 years and clears every exam on the first attempt. However, the cost of any study materials purchased and any coaching would have to be accounted for separately.

Students have to pay a one-time registration fee and an annual subscription fee for the entire course duration. Apart from that, for each exam, they sit, and exemptions sought (if any), students would be charged separately.

CIMA Exam Results & Passing Rates

Below is the graphical representation of the pass percentage.

  • Overall exam pass rate: Percentage of students who have passed the exam after one or more attempts.
  • First-time pass rate: Percentage of students who have passed the exam on the first attempt.
  • Exam pass rate: Total exams passed / total exams taken.

The pass rates are for the certificate, professional level, and case study exams held between 01 January and 31 December 2020.

Certificate level exams
Exam pass rate70%63%73%61%
Professional level objective tests
Exam pass rate81%90%76%79%60%57%54%52%54%
Case study exam pass rateFeb 2020May 2020Aug 2020Nov 2020
CIMA gateway18%27%24%41%

CIMA Study Material

  • Students can pursue the CIMA program on a full-time or part-time basis, in online or blended mode, depending on their individual suitability.
  • Students opting for self-study can buy Official CIMA textbooks that can be purchased at and can sign up for CIMA Aptitude to take practice tests and timed mock tests to help you assess how exam-ready you are.
  • Students can also enroll in highly structured online learning courses at for a cost.
  • Those who prefer full-time or blended learning can search for nearby tuition provider,s which is considered one of the best ways to go about CIMA exams.

Strategies: Before the Exam

Follow a Study Plan:

Set aside some specific amount of time to cover certain sections of the course content and define a rough learning outcome. On completing a specified learning area, take a practice test to see what you have learned and identify weak areas that require additional effort.

Choose What Suits You Best:

Studying longer and harder isn’t always the best strategy; instead, focus on studying smarter. There are several recommended study strategies out there but try to identify which one works for you best and stick to that.

Practice Hard:

Opt for an online study module at that suits your study requirements and get access to online learning material. This also gets you access to CIMA Aptitude, where you can take mock tests to assess your exam readiness.

Time Management Is the Key:

Take as many practice exams as possible to benefit from a good amount of exposure to exam-style questions and learn how to deal with time pressure during the exam.

Make A Concerted Effort for Case Study Exams:

Case study exams test the knowledge of all three study areas covered at each of the professional levels. Focus on real-life situation based assessments to prepare well. Online mock tests can be a good choice for the same.

Strategies: During the Exam

Use Your Reading Time Intelligently:

There are 20 minutes of reading time before the exam starts. You cannot open the answer book or write on it during this time, but you can study the question paper and devise a plan of action on how to tackle the exam.

Understand First, Answer Later:

As a matter of principle, always read carefully and try to understand what exactly is being asked. Remember, you won’t receive any credits for including information not relevant to the question.

Offer A Structured Response:

Try to provide an answer which has good structure and relevant content. Make it a point to re-read questions and make sure you have answered all parts of the question.

Manage your Time:

Divide available time beforehand in such a way that you know how much time you should devote to any question based on its credits and do not spend too much time on a single question. Instead, go on to attempt other questions and come back to it later if possible.

Deferral Policy

In case you are unable to appear for a scheduled exam, you can choose to reschedule:

  • Up to 48 hours before a Certificate in Business Accounting exam.
  • Up to 48 hours before an objective test.
  • While the exam registration period is open for case studies.

You cannot reschedule an exam later than these times.

Useful CIMA Exam Prep Resources

CIMA connect Study guides • Pre-seen and post-exam material for the case study exams • Past questions and answers • Subject-specific articles written by experts.


This has been a guide to CIMA Qualification Exam. Here we discuss what the CIMA exam is, why you should pursue it, its fees, exam structure, passing strategies, etc. You may also have a look at the following articles –

Reader Interactions


  1. Sibbi James says

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    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Thanks for your kind words and I am glad that this was helpful for you. Actually, CMA and CIMA certification holds such brilliant opportunities for management professionals abroad that often it is confused what to choose. I have explained the differences between CMA and CIMA certification in this article – CMA vs CIMA you can read this and know the differences between these two. Happy Learning!!

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    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

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