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The CMA Exam Goes Digital

By Priscilla S. Payne, CMA
June 1, 2022

When the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) program celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1992, it was still following the same exam process that had been used since its inception.

 

The exams were still printed in a central location, shipped to the many examination sites, handwritten by the candidates, and mailed back to ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) headquarters. Then a large group of accounting professionals would gather over the next three weeks to manually grade the exams. As the number of exam sites and certification candidates expanded, this process became more and more inefficient, unwieldy, and expensive.

 

After 20 years, it was definitely time for a change. The ICMA Board of Regents began investigating the feasibility of computerizing the exam, which was still a new technology at the time. As VP of ICMA during this period, I was closely involved in the effort. There was much for us to learn and accomplish over the next few years, all while maintaining the original certification standards and exam process.

 

From the beginning of the CMA program, multiple-choice questions comprised about 20% of the exam format, with the other 80% being problems and essays. This ratio had been maintained even when the number of examination parts was reduced from five to four. Computer-based testing required a much larger portion of the exam to be in the multiple-choice format. Convincing all interested parties to make this change was the biggest challenge, as many equated the rigor of the CMA exam with the rigor of the problems and essays.

 

Enter psychometrics, the scientific discipline concerned with constructing assessment tools and measurement instruments. Using psychometric concepts, ICMA was able to test a large number of multiple-choice questions for reliability and validity and eliminate those that didn’t perform well. Introducing these procedures into the test development practices allayed many of the concerns about moving the CMA exam to a computerized format.

 

The next step was engaging a partner to help deliver the exam. By the mid-1990s, Prometric was already an established provider of technology-enabled testing and assessment, so ICMA partnered with the company. Provisions were made to introduce a multiple-choice exam with immediate pass/fail candidate feedback and a smaller essay portion still scored by professional graders. The first computer-based CMA exam was offered in December 1997, and the relationship with Prometric continues today.

 

That decision to take advantage of relatively new testing technology has had a profound long-term impact on IMA® and ICMA. Prometric operates 8,000 testing sites in 180 countries, and IMA has been able to offer certification and membership benefits worldwide. The exams are offered more frequently, security is of the highest quality, and the CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) certification has been added. ICMA also recently introduced remotely proctored testing, allowing candidates to take their exams in locations other than Prometric test centers. Taking advantage of technology has been a gift that keeps on giving.

 

Priscilla S. Payne, CMA, now a consultant, served as vice president of ICMA from 1985 to 2010. She’s also a member of IMA’s Bergen-Rockland-Meadowlands Chapter. You can reach her at ppayne@imanet.org.
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