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How to Pass the CMA Certification Exam

Advance Your Career as a Medical Assistant by Earning CMA Certification

Medical professionals smiling in a hallway

Throughout the field of healthcare, the role of the Medical Assistant (MA) continues to expand and include more complex administrative and clinical duties. For this reason, most employers now require or prefer MAs who have earned certification. But which MA certification is most relevant and helpful to your career objectives? What’s involved in earning the various certifications? How often must you recertify and how much does it cost to become certified?

This article is part of a series describing the specific advantages of six widely recognized and highly regarded MA certifications. For an overview of all six certifications, click here to read our guide on the best Medical Assistant certifications to advance your healthcare career.

(Click here to view our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant)

Each article in this series discusses the specific competencies covered by one of the MA certifications, details about the certification exam, and the value of that certification to your MA career. This article provides all the information you need on the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification.

Why Earn a Medical Assistant Certification?

Medical assistants (MAs) are technically allowed to practice without a state license or certification, however, 89% of today’s employers either require or strongly prefer MAs with at least one certification. MAs who perform specific duties, or who work in specialized fields, may be required to have specific training and certification in their area of specialty. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ruled that only credentialed MAs are allowed to enter laboratory, radiology, and medical orders into their computerized system.

Even if not required, certification shows that you have met specific, industry-recognized standards for competence as a medical assistant. It also assures your employer that you are prepared to begin work in a medical assisting position, or to take that role to the next level of performance. As a result, certification can offer opportunities for greater responsibility, more career options, and higher income.

What is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Exam?

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) recognizes a Medical Assistant who has been credentialed through the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). According to the AAMA, CMAs are proficient in several different administrative and clinical tasks, and are widely viewed by physicians as crucial partners in increasing medical office productivity. MAs with a CMA certification enjoy increased respect and recognition from professional peers, benefit from broader career advancement opportunities, and enhanced job security

About the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

The mission of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is to provide the medical assistant professional with education, certification, credential acknowledgment, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered healthcare.

Why Choose CMA Certification?

The CMA certification validates your competence in the full range of medical assistant duties and skills, including clinical, general, and administrative. This makes the CMA a good certification for MAs who are interested in performing the full range of MA services. At the same time, almost 60% of the CMA exam is focused

on clinical competencies, making the CMA a good certification for those with a stronger interest in clinical services, such as assisting physicians and nurses and providing patient care.

As of 2021, there were 87,623 CMAs, making the CMA certification the third-most-popular MA certification, surpassed only by CCMAs at 132,321 and NCMAs at 90,335 (3).

The CMA Certification is the only medical assisting certifying certification that holds accreditation under both ISO 17024 and the NCCA Standards. The CMA is also the only exam that is constructed and administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners, which is responsible for many national examinations for physicians, including the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). According to the AAMA, this distinction ensures the highest reliability and validity of the CMA credential.

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Key Advantages of CMA Certification

  • Highly recognized MA credential.
  • Validates knowledge of key areas
  • Confirms important MA skills
  • Ensures current knowledge and skills
  • 60-month recertification requirement
  • CMA is nationally and globally accredited.
  • Instant credential verification
  • Digital badges provided
  • Study resources available online
  • Unlimited retesting

How Many Questions are on the CMA Exam?

The CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam requires a thorough, broad, and current understanding of healthcare delivery. A wide scope of knowledge is required in general, clinical, and administrative categories.

The computerized exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions (only 180 of the questions are scored) covering topic areas listed above (CMA Exam Content). Before the exam begins, you can take an optional tutorial that shows you how to navigate through the exam. The maximum time allowed for the tutorial is 15 minutes. The time used for the tutorial is not counted as part of the exam time and will not affect your score. The computer-based testing tutorial is also available online at any time before your exam appointment.

Following the tutorial, the exam will be administered in four 40-minute segments. You will have an optional 20-minute total for breaks between segments. You will have 160 minutes to answer all the exam questions. The maximum time allowed for your exam appointment will be 195 minutes (i.e., three hours and 15 minutes).

What is on the CMA Exam?

Here is an in-depth breakdown of the questions you’ll have to answer when taking the CMA exam:

Section Category Number of Questions Percentage of Exam
Clinical Competency 106 59%
I. A. Clinical Workflow: Patient Intake and Discharge
I. B. Safety and Infection Control
I. C. Procedures/Examinations
I. D. Pharmacology
General 38 21%
II. E. Legal and Ethical Issues
II. F. Communication
Administrative 36 20%
II. G. Billing, Coding, and Insurance
II. H. Schedule Appointments and Health Information Management

How is the CMA Exam Scored?

Your score is based on the number of correct responses. This score has been standardized and fixed on a scale that is based on previous graduates of CAAHEP-accredited programs taking the exam for the first time. The scale ranges from 200 to 800. The minimum passing score is 430. The AAMA Certifying Board may change this minimum required proficiency level as deemed appropriate.

CMA Exam Statistics

Below are the statistics on CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam from July 2019–July 2020:

  • Exams Administered: 7,482 CMA (AAMA) Certification Exams were administered from July 2019–July 2020
  • Exam Pass Rate: 67%
  • Total CMAs (AAMA) as of February 19, 2021: 87,623

Beautiful nurse typing on a laptop

What are the Prerequisites for the CMA Exam?

Only candidates who meet one of the following three categories of exam eligibility are allowed to sit for the exam:

How to Register for the CMA Exam

Since the CMA exam is administered by the AAMA, applicants should visit the AAMA website in order to register.

While registering for the CMA exam on the AAMA site, you’ll be asked to:

  1. Verify eligibility for the exam
  2. Submit documentation of eligibility
  3. Review and approve exam policies
  4. Determine your 90-day exam period

Once your 90-period is decided, you must take your exam within those 90 days. The full CMA exam information booklet can be downloaded here.

How Much Does it Cost to Take the CMA?

If you are a member of the AAMA or a CAAHEP or ABHES completing student or recent graduate, your fee is $125. All others pay $250. If your credential has expired, you will pay an additional $50 reactivation fee.

How Many Times Can You Take the CMA Exam?

If you don’t pass the exam, you can resubmit an application and the regular candidate fee as soon as you want. Initial candidates for the CMA (AAMA) Exam are allowed three exam attempts. Candidates recertifying by exam are allowed three attempts. Each attempt will require a new exam application and fee.

How Do I Study for the CMA Exam?

The CMA certification exam includes 200 multiple-choice questions that can require some test-takers three hours and 15 minutes to complete. It’s a big test encompassing a lot of material. However, with the right preparation, you can ace the exam on your first attempt. Here are some important study tips:

1. Know the Exam Topics

A complete outline of the CMA certification exam is available on the AAMA website. This comprehensive list covers all the topics that could appear on the exam. Review this list and look up or review any the topics you are not sure of.

2. Schedule Study Times

Schedule set times each week to study for the CMA exam. Remove all distractions during these periods. Start studying as soon as possible to avoid last minute cramming and give yourself more time to review areas you are not confident about.

3. Take CMA Practice Tests

The AAMA provides several practice tests on their website, like this test on Anatomy and Physiology and this one on Medical Terminology. There is also a more complete practice exam available for a $30 fee for members and nonmembers. These are not the same questions that will appear on the actual test, but they are the same subjects and you’ll gain valuable experience taking this type of test.

4. Take a CMA Exam Review Course

The AAMA offers review courses at many locations across the country. These courses are a great way to refresh your knowledge, ask questions about the subject matter, and make certain you understand all the concepts.

Group of medical students with an online instructor

CMA Sample Quiz

To judge for yourself the difficulty of the exam, here are a few sample questions from the AAMA practice exam.

Please find the answers at the bottom of this article.

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

2) 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

3) Which cells in the blood do not have a nucleus?

(A) Lymphocyte
(B) Monocyte
(C) Erythrocyte
(D) Basophil
(E) Neutrophil

4) The term “lithiasis” is best described by which of the following?

(A) Constriction of tissue
(B) Dissolving
(C) Abnormal condition of stones
(D) Penetrating a cavity
(E) Stretching of tissue

5) Menarche refers to which of the following?

(A) Beginning of menstruation
(B) Development of female characteristics
(C) End of childhood
(D) End of pregnancy
(E) Primary infertility

6) Adipose tissue is made of which of the following?

(A) Fat cells
(B) Lymph nodes
(C) Muscles
(D) Skin
(E) Tendons

7) Which of the following terms refers to the ability to breathe comfortably only when in an upright position?

(A) Apnea
(B) Dyspnea
(C) Eupnea
(D) Hypercapnia
(E) Orthopnea

8) Which of the following is the term for abnormally large breasts in men?

(A) Gynander
(B) Gynecomania
(C) Gynecomastia
(D) Gynephobia
(E) Gynoplastics

9) Which of the following terms means drainage from the nose?

(A) Rhinolalia
(B) Rhinomycosis
(C) Rhinophyma
(D) Rhinorrhaphy
(E) Rhinorrhea

10) The combining form “cephal/o” refers to which of the following?

(A) Abdomen
(B) Head
(C) Neck
(D) Ribs
(E) Spine

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Begin Your Journey by Earning an MA Diploma

Founded in 1979, Eagle Gate College has provided thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in nursing and healthcare. With a curriculum continually updated to meet the needs of healthcare, well equipped labs, and hands-on training from experienced healthcare professionals, we prepare graduates to make a positive impact starting with their first day on the job. Our robust Medical Assisting program combines virtual instruction, hands-on lab exercises, and supervised externship and can be completed in as little as 9 months. Eagle Gate College, in conjunction with Provo College, offers a premier healthcare education at five campus locations in Utah and Idaho.



1) B 2) D 3) D 4) C 5) A 6) A 7) E 8) C 9) E 10) B