Young healthcare worker writing on a clipboard

How to Pass the CMA Exam

Advance Your Medical Assisting Career by Earning the Certified Medical Assistant Certification

Young healthcare worker writing on a clipboard

In the Medical Assisting field, there are several certifications that, although optional, can help prepare Medical Assistants (MAs) to secure the best jobs in the field. In addition, certification demonstrates to healthcare employers that an MA has acquired the knowledge and skills they need to perform the job at the highest level. As a result, some employers require certification as part of employment.

The CMA (AAMA)® certification exam was recently featured in our article about the five best Medical Assistant certifications for your career. It provides an overview of certification options and some of the advantages of each.

One of the most popular credentials, the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). This article serves as a CMA exam study guide that includes detailed information on the format and content of the exam, as well as valuable CMA exam tips and study suggestions for how to pass the exam the first time.

The AAMA reports that employers increasingly demand that the Medical Assistants they hire obtain CMA (AAMA) certification. The organization claims to field more than 100 employer requests daily for certification verification.

What Is the CMA (AAMA) Exam?

The CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam is the exam that candidates must successfully pass to become credentialed through the Certifying Board (CB) of the AAMA. Passing the exam demonstrates that a Medical Assistant has been educated and tested in a broad scope of general, clinical, and administrative responsibilities.

If you’re not yet enrolled in a medical assisting program but would like to know more about the path to a new career as a Medical Assistant, you can read about How to Become a Medical Assistant.

Is the CMA Exam Hard?

One of the first questions Medical Assistants preparing for the CMA exam ask is whether the exam is hard. The exam is challenging and requires some preparation. The better you prepare, the more likely you will pass the exam on your first try.

The CMA exam pass rate from July 2020 to July 2021 was 62%. A total of 8,870 CMA exams were administered during this time. With some work and dedicated studying, you could soon join the 76,989 CMAs who have successfully passed the exam.

How Many Questions Are On the CMA Exam?

Another common question is “How Long Is the CMA Exam?” The computerized exam has 200 multiple-choice questions administered in four 40-minute segments. You’ll also get an optional 20-minute total for breaks between the four segments when you take the test.

What Score Do You Need to Pass the CMA Exam?

The number of questions you answer correctly is scored on a scale ranging from 200 to 800. Currently, the minimum passing score is 430. However, the AAMA Certifying Board conducts a standard-setting study every three years, at which time they may update the minimum score requirement.

What Is on the CMA Exam?

The CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam is a rigorous exam that requires a thorough, broad, and current understanding of healthcare delivery. The CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam Content Outline provides an overview of the necessary general, clinical, and administrative knowledge. So, what does the CMA exam consist of in terms of topics?

Here’s how the outline breaks down the type of content included in the exam:

Clinical Competency: 106 Questions (59%)

  • Clinical Workflow: Patients Intake and Discharge
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Procedures/Examinations
  • Pharmacology

General: 38 Questions (21%)

  • Legal and Ethical Issues
  • Communication

Administrative: 36 Questions (20%)

  • Billing, Coding, and Insurance
  • Schedule Appointments and Health Information Management

Medical students writing in notebooks

Sample Practice Exam Questions

Here are a few questions about medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology from two practice exams to help candidates prepare for the exam (see answers at the end of the article). Note that none of these CMA exam sample questions will appear on your exam, and answering them correctly does not guarantee that you will pass the exam.

  1. The general meaning of “corpus” is best described by which of the following?
    • (A) Abdomen
    • (B) Body
    • (C) Chest
    • (D) Head
    • (E) Trunk
  1. Which of the following is the term for an abnormally low white blood cell count?
    • (A) Anemia
    • (B) Leukemia
    • (C) Leukocytosis
    • (D) Leukopenia
    • (E) Leukoplakia
  1. An area of dead myocardial tissue is best described by which of the following?
    • (A) Angina pectoris
    • (B) Hypertrophy
    • (C) An induration
    • (D) An infarct
    • (E) Stenosis
  1. Which of the following terms describes the body’s ability to maintain its normal state?
    • (A) Anabolism
    • (B) Catabolism
    • (C) Tolerance
    • (D) Homeostasis
    • (E) Metabolism
  1. Which of the following best describes the human body’s defense mechanism against environmental bacteria?
    • (A) Hair in the nose
    • (B) Mucous membranes
    • (C) Osteoblasts
    • (D) Saliva
    • (E) Tears
  1. Which cells in the blood do not have a nucleus?
    • (A) Lymphocyte
    • (B) Monocyte
    • (C) Erythrocyte
    • (D) Basophil
    • (E) Neutrophil

Who Is Qualified to Take the CMA Exam?

To be eligible for this exam, you must meet the criteria for one of three eligibility categories.

Close up of medical students writing on clipboards

  1. Completing or recent graduate of an accredited program: You must have graduated from or be about to complete a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Completing students may take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam no more than 30 days before completing their formal education and practicum. Recent graduates apply for the exam within 12 months of graduation.
  1. Nonrecent graduate of an accredited program: A candidate who applies for the exam more than 12 months after graduation is a nonrecent graduate. If you graduate from a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited program that was accredited at any time during your enrollment or graduate within the 36 months prior to the program becoming CAAHEP or ABHES accredited, you are eligible to apply for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam under Category 1 or 2.
  1. CMA (AAMA) recertificant: For this option, you must have previously passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam and are applying to recertify the CMA (AAMA) credential.

How Do You Study for the CMA Exam?

Here are some tips on passing the CMA exam—including study aids provided by the AAMA. The best CMA exam test strategies combine familiarizing yourself with the exam’s format and type of questions with studying the categories and topics identified in the content outline. You can also supplement your studies with other resources, such as current medical assisting publications and textbooks.

1. Create Your CMA Exam Study Plan

A great way to study for this exam is to create and stick to a plan. You don’t always need to be studying, but you should block out the hours you plan to learn each day or week, identify which topics or resources you will review—and then follow your plan. You probably already know when and how you do your best studying.

2. Review the Exam Content Outline

As you make your plan, reviewing the Content Outline for the CMA Certification Exam is an excellent place to start. This document lists the subject matter covered in the exam, including topic categories, topic subcategories, and the number and percentage of questions you can expect from each category. This will help you gauge how much study time you should focus on each category.

3. Review Your Program Materials and Suggested Textbooks

If you’ve recently completed a medical assisting program, you already have a wealth of study materials you can review to refresh your knowledge. The AAMA suggests that candidates consider textbooks and publications that cover the areas listed in the Content Outline. Internet searches using keywords such as “medical assisting textbook publishers” can also help you find study materials. Additionally, you can enroll in a CMA review course if one is offered in your area.

4. Test Your Knowledge of Common Test Topics

The AAMA provides practice exams that can help you master topics in two essential categories: Anatomy and Physiology, and Medical Terminology. Take advantage of these study aids. The question examples shown above are part of these practice exams. Each exam includes 50 questions and a key that provides the answers.

5. Review Commonly Used Medications

Another suggested resource is a website that identifies the 50 most used medications and links to individual pages with more specific information and data about each medication (such as brand name synonyms and generic drug synonyms). This is a fantastic study aid for reviewing some of the most common medications prescribed to patients.

6. Complete the Tutorial and Practice Exam

Completing the AAMA Computer-Based Testing Tutorial prepares CMA (AAMA) exam candidates for what to expect when taking the exam at a testing site. All candidates are strongly encouraged to use this online tutorial to practice taking a similar exam prior to their examination appointment.

Candidates should also take the full CMA (AAMA) Practice Exam to give them the closest experience to taking the CMA exam. Remember that the official exam you take will not have the exact questions found on your practice exams.

7. Don’t Stress About Taking the Exam

If you follow your study plan, you’ll find there’s no need to worry about taking your exam. Don’t stay up late cramming the night before. Your dedication to your studies will pay off. Instead, get a good night’s rest and enter your test day refreshed and ready to do your best.

Colored alphabet blocks that spell CMA

How Do You Register for the CMA Exam?

Now that you know more about passing the CMA exam, you may wonder how to register for it. Once you have verified eligibility, you should gather the appropriate documentation for your eligibility category. To do that, look for the “required documentation” in the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam Application.

Next, you’ll select a date for your 90-day testing period to begin. If you apply online or by mail on or between the 1st and 14th of any month, the earliest available testing period start date will be the 1st of the following month. If you apply between the 15th and the end of any month, the earliest available testing period start date will be the 15th of the following month (if you apply online) or the 1st of the month after next (if you applied by mail).

You’ll receive an email to verify your exam period. Once you get it, you can apply for the exam online. Registration is required before taking the exam. Note that PSI has replaced the previous test administrators for the CMA exam. Exam candidates should contact PSI to see possible CMA exam dates and schedule an exam at a PSI test center.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the CMA Exam?

The CMA exam cost can vary depending on your eligibility category and whether you are an AAMA member. Here’s a quick overview of the costs based on your category.

For Category 1 (completing student or recent graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program), the exam fee is $125.

For Category 2 (nonrecent graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program), the exam fee is $125 for AAMA members and $250 for nonmembers.

For Category 3 (CMA recertificant), the exam fee is $125 for AAMA members and $250 for nonmembers.

How Many Times Can You Take the CMA Exam?

If you don’t pass the exam the first time, you can apply and pay the regular candidate fee at your earliest convenience to retake the exam. However, CMA exam requirements stipulate that initial candidates and those recertifying are limited to three attempts.

You are required to recertify your CMA credential every 60 months. You are current for 60 months from the end of the calendar month your initial or most recent certification occurred.

Why Enroll In a Medical Assisting Program?

Enrolling in a program like the medical assistant program at Brookline College provides you with a solid foundation to prepare for taking and passing the CMA exam.

As mentioned in the eligibility section of this article, completing students of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program, or nonrecent graduates of one of these programs, not only helps you qualify to take the CMA exam, it’s the best type of CMA exam prep and—combined with creating a study plan—can help you pass the exam your first try.

Brookline College’s Phoenix, Tucson, Tempe, and Albuquerque campuses are accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).



Answers to sample practice exam questions shown in this article:

  1. B
  2. D
  3. D
  4. D
  5. B
  6. C