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CIMA Qualification | A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Updated on April 9, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byPallabi Banerjee
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

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.

CIMA Qualification

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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 related to business management more than anything else. Apart from understanding financial and accounting fundamentals, it offers a comprehensive view of strategic and risk management that is integral to managing a business successfully.

CIMA Qualification Explained

The CIMA stands for Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, and is a professional qualification and organization for people working as finance professionals or management accountants.

There are various levels and stages in the process which are elaborated later in the article. However, it is a qualification whose certification has global certification and helps the candidates to develop expertise in financial, business and management field.

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, and strategies for CIMA qualification.

The certification in business accounting and levels like operations, management and business strategy are the different skills that candidates get to learn from it in absolute details in the CIMA qualification structure. It is necessary to clear the examinations at every level and along with it gain practical exposure in the finance industry.

The professionals who have cleared the CIMA qualification levels, need to follow some ethical and professional standards which has worldwide recognition. The holder of this certification and qualification can persue career option in various fields business strategy, accounting, finance or management but in order to be successful, candidates should have the interest and passion to give their best in such roles.

Roles

Given below are some important roles that the candidates can aim to get in after getting the certification.  

  1. Management Accountant
  2. Finance Manager
  3. Financial Analyst
  4. Internal Audit Manager

All the above are highly in demand in the financial market and due to innovation and expansion related to investment avenues and technological development, the demand of the above professions are continuously on the rise. However, it is always important to maintain the standards and keep the need to the client a priority in order to become successful.

Exam

The entire exam details of the CIMA qualification levels and their classifications are detailed below for getting a proper understanding of the process.

  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 three learning pillars: enterprise, performance, and financial. Each of these pillars is further sub-divided into operational, management, and strategic levels. It 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 operational, management, and strategic level. In addition, a 3-hour long case study has to be undertaken at each level to qualify for the next levels.

Exam Dates

The time of the year when the exams are conducted are given below.

  • CIMA Qualification exams can be taken at any time of the year and in any order, but all four have to be completed to earn the certification.
  • CIMA Professional level exams can be taken in the following time window:
    • Objective tests at each operational, management and strategic level can be taken at any time of the year.
    • For Case study exams at each level, four windows have been provided in February, May, August, and November. In 2022, the exams are scheduled to occur during February 09-25, May 11-27, August 10-26, and November 09-25.

The above gives an idea about the months and possible dates when the exams are usually conducted, which will help candidates structure their study preparations accordingly.

The Deal:

CIMA certificate level tests students’ knowledge in business and accounting fundamentals with four objective tests designed for the purpose. It 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 operational and management levels exams.

Requirements:

There are no specific eligibility criteria for CIMA Qualification in Business Accounting. It is an entry-level certification that those with little accounting knowledge can pursue. Still, a good grasp of mathematics and English is essential for 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 completed CIMA Operational Level studies and Operational Case studies.
  8. To pursue Strategic Level studies, one should have completed both operational and management level studies successfully and their respective case studies.

Thus, possessing the above are really helpful for the candidate in the process and gives a level of confidence to go about with the course. Possessing the above qualifications prepare them in advance to a certain extent so that they are able to grasp the later part of the course easily.

Structure

Now let us get into the detailed structure of the course. This will give an idea about the content of each level, the interests and skill required in advance, the field of study that is useful at each level, the average time that may be required to complete them and the passing marks.

Certificate Level:

Candidates need not possess 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 can take these exams in any order at any time of the year. 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 in the CIMA qualification structure is divided into three pillars: enterprise, management, and financial. Each of these pillars is further divided into three areas at each progressive level, including Operations, management, and Strategy. It 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 three 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. The passing marks for the objective tests are 100 out of 150 or 67% at each level. After completing the case study exam for any level, students can advance to the next level.

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

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Practical Experience:

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

Thus, if the candidate is able to clear the above, they can become experts in the fields already mentioned in the article. The professional work experience is extremely important to gain insight into the real world and put the study in practice for some time. This will not only give confidence but also prepare them to handle high level and complex financial situations skillfully.

Salary

This is definitely an essential knowledge that candidates need to have because it will not only motivate them to pursue the course but also provide an incentive to work harder when they actually put the learning in practice in order to handle clients.

  • 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 completing the CIMA Strategic Level, candidates need a minimum 3-year relevant practical work experience to verify the Institute. It would help them become CIMA members and earn the prestigious designation of Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).

Benefits

CIMA is meant for students and professionals 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 help businesses make better strategic decisions and improve performance. Some of the advantages of pursuing CIMA Qualification are:

  • This accreditation program may not assure rapid job growth or higher perks. Still, it would certainly help professionals step into roles that require management skills as well, along with good accounting capabilities. It widens the career scope for professionals, and potential career growth can be much higher in the long run.
  • The unique learning structure of the program helps break the mold of traditional accountancy. It prepares students to deal with advanced strategic and risk management-related issues from an accountancy perspective.
  • 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.

Modules

The CIMA qualification framework includes CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting is an Objective Test (OT) Exam and the papers, their focus, and the number of questions in each paper is 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 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.
Same 
F1: Financial ReportingRegulations and principles for preparing financial reports
Same 

The CIMA Management Level is an Objective Test (OT) Exam, which you need to answer in 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’s performance and projects.
Same 
Same 
Same 

The CIMA Strategic Level is an Objective Test (OT) Exam, which you need to answer in 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

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

Students should have a fair idea of subject-wise exam weightage to prepare well for high weightage knowledge areas. Knowledge of weightage distribution can prove valuable in developing and implementing an effective study plan for CIMA exams at any level.

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

Cost

Following is the fee structure structure or the CIMA qualification cost which is required to register for the CIMA Exam.

Current course prices 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 as CIMA qualification cost. Apart from that, students would be charged separately for each exam they sit and exemptions sought (if any).

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 / comprehensive exams taken.

The pass rates are for the certificate, professional level, and case study exams held between 01 June 2020 and 31 May 2021.

Certificate level exams    
 BA1BA2BA3BA4
Exam pass rate78%66%79%61%
Professional level objective tests         
 E1E2E3F1F2F3P1P2P3
Exam pass rate81%87%68%79%56%48%48%50%44%
Case study exam pass rateNov 2020Feb 2021May 2021Aug 2021
Operational53%60%46%53%
Management74%71%69%68%
CIMA gateway41%40%41%43%
Strategic69%67%68%69%

Study Material

  • Students can pursue the CIMA program full-time or part-time, in online or blended mode, depending on their suitability.
  • Students opting for self-study can buy Official CIMA textbooks purchased at cimapublishing.com 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 CIMAstudy.com for a cost.
  • Those who prefer full-time or blended learning can search for nearby tuition providers,which is considered one of the best ways to go about CIMA exams.

Strategies:

Given below are some important strategies to be followed both before and after the exam to prepare for the CIMA qualification framework and crack the test successfully. Let us study the same in details.

Before the Exam

Follow a Study Plan:

Set aside some specific 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, but try to identify which one works for you best and stick to that.

Practice Hard:

Opt for an online study module at CIMAstudy.com 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:

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

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 to tackle the exam.

Understand First, Answer Later:

As a matter of principle, always read carefully and 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, 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 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.

CIMA

This has been a guide to what is CIMA Qualification. We explain the cost, salary, requirement, structure, benefits, module, role, exam, dates and the deal. You may also have a look at the following articles –

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Sibbi James says

    Many thanks for Great enthusiasm to share such useful knowledge on CIMA Qualifications. This has really helped me to take the CIMA qualifications exam in right way. As you may know that it is very difficult to build the career as a professional management. So I was a bit confused which one to choose in between CIMA and CMA. I didn’t know the much differences between these two. So if you have any information on CIMA and CMA together then please let me know.

    • 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!!

  2. Alexei Jagger says

    Valuable post. Thanks a lot for sharing such useful and relevant post. I got to know each and everything about the CIMA Qualification Exam but I just wanted to know the complete registration process for this CIMA Qualification exam. I want to know more about CIMA Exam in detail.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Thank you so much for your kind words. As you have read this article it’s assumed that you’re already convinced why you should pursue CIMA. Thus if you want to take the step forward to make your dream come true, here I have an article – CIMA Exam dates in which I discussed the registration process in detail. Best of Luck!!

  3. ESSO NICHOLAS KOJO says

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