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How to Pass the CMA Certification Exam

10 Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the Certified Medical Assistant Exam

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Medical Assistants are a vital part of the healthcare world. Doctors and nurses could not treat patients nearly as well or efficiently without the hard work of their Medical Assisting staff. Thousands of physicians around the world rely on Medical Assistants, whose job it is to organize their medical offices, organize patient records, and assist them in several of their day-to-day responsibilities.

For this reason, the Medical Assistant field is rapidly growing as healthcare needs expand, practices grow, and offices seek help to keep up with it all.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

Medical Assistants are one of the few healthcare positions that are not always required to hold special certification or licenses to practice. However, choosing to earn one of the optional Medical Assisting certifications can open you up to more jobs and higher pay opportunities.

There are multiple MA certifications available, as detailed in our breakdown of top Medical Assisting certifications, each of which has its own unique advantages and requirements.

For this article, we examine the CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) Certification Exam by detailing everything you need to know to know about this exam. Continue reading to learn how to best prepare for, take, and pass the CMA exam on your first try.

What is the CMA Certification Exam?

The CMA certification exam is provided through the American Association of Medical Assistants and is considered the most widely recognized and accepted certification for Medical Assistants. It was also the first certification for Medical Assistants.

Passing the CMA means you have the full recommendation of the AAMA certification board and meet the standards of a qualified Medical Assistant.

How Long is the CMA Certification Exam?

The CMA consists of 200 multiple choice questions administered across four 40-minute segments. During the 160-minute exam, you’ll be given an optional 20-minute break between each segment. There will also be a 15-minute exam tutorial before the test begins, but this will not count towards your 160-minute total.

What’s the Value of CMA Certification?

While Medical Assistant certification is optional in most states, some states do have some requirements—earning certification, graduating from a Medical Assistant program, or others. But even in states where CMA certification isn’t required, the value of holding a certification speaks for itself.

For starters, while certification may not be required by state law, many employers prefer that their Medical Assistants hold a CMA because, according to the AAMA, it “provides evidence that the employer is exercising a high degree of care and diligence in its medical assisting employment procedures.”

Think of certification as one of the strongest letters of reference you could include with your resume. You not only have your graduation from a Medical Assistant program vouching for you but passing the AAMA exam means that the AAMA certification board itself is vouching for you, telling your future employer “this person knows their stuff.”

The CMA is a valuable certification, as it’s the oldest and most recognized certification available.

What is on the CMA Certification Exam?

Students taking the CMA will be graded on the following subjects:

  • Psychology
  • Communication
  • Professionalism
  • Medical Law / Regulatory Guidelines
  • Ethics
  • Risk Management
  • Medical Reception
  • Medical Terminology
  • Office Administration
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Infection Control
  • First Aid
  • Diagnostic Testing

CMA Exam Requirements

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What are the Prerequisites for the CMA Exam?

In order to take the CMA exam, candidates must be a graduate of a one—or two—year medical assisting program offered by a school with institutional or programmatic accreditation from ABHES (the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) or that is programmatically accredited by CAAHEP (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs).

How Do I 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 the CMA Exam Cost?

Registering for the exam isn’t free, and the exam fee varies according to how quickly after graduation you apply. For example, if you apply for the exam up to 12 months after graduation from your medical assisting college (or up to 30 days prior to graduation), you qualify for “recent graduate” status and will be charged a fee of $125 regardless of your AAMA membership status.

However, if your graduation date is more than one year in the past, your exam fee will be $125 only if you’re a current member of the AAMA. If you are not a member, your exam fee will be $250.

How Do I Study for the CMA Exam?

As a graduate of a Medical Assistant program, you’re no stranger to taking tests and quizzes. But the CMA certification exam is the big one—the final test that sums up all you’ve learned in your year(s) of study. That encompasses a lot of material, and it’s normal to feel a little anxious, but with the right preparation and study habits, you can ace the certification exam and move on to pursue your career.

Use the following study tips to help you pass the CMA exam on your first attempt:

1. Know the Exam Topics:

The full content outline for the CMA certification exam is too long to copy and paste here, but you can read the full list on the AAMA website. This comprehensive content list covers everything that could appear on the exam.

2. Identify Your Weak Points:

As you look through the exam content list, make a mark next to the topics you feel less confident about. Review everything, of course, but plan to spend extra time on the areas where you might feel a little shaky.

3. Schedule Study Times:

Just like scheduling classes during a college semester, be sure to schedule time each week to work on your CMA exam preparation. Remove all distractions and make sure your family and friends respect your time and space when studying.

4. Spread It Out:

Decide ahead of time the topics you’d like to review during your study periods. This not only allows you to allocate more time to your weaker subjects, but it helps prevent procrastination and cramming at the last minute.

5. Take CMA Practice Tests:

The AAMA offers several practice tests and quizzes on their website, like this test on Medical Terminology. Taking these practice tests won’t give you the questions and answers from the actual exam, but they will get you more accustomed to how questions will be asked and how to best deduce the right answer.

6. Learn Multiple Choice Strategies:

Multiple choice exams are as much about eliminating the wrong answers as identifying the correct ones. There’s a strategy to taking these tests, and the better you know the format, the better you’ll do. Check out this multiple choice strategy guide as a jumping-off point.

7. Take a CMA Exam Review Course:

The AAMA offers review courses in many areas to go over exam material before the big test. This is a great opportunity to refresh your knowledge, ask any final questions, and make certain you understand each concept.

8. Take Care of Yourself:

Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and avoid stress as much as possible. Remember, no amount of worry will add a single point to your exam score. Take care of yourself to make sure you’re in the best mental shape possible before the big test.

9. Talk to People Who Have Taken the CMA Exam:

What tips do they have? What stood out to them most? What do they regret most? Sit down with someone who’s taken the exam to get a personal breakdown of what to expect.

10. Use the Bathroom:

Use the bathroom before beginning the exam. You’d be surprised how many people forget to do this.

How Hard is the CMA Certification Exam?

The CMA exam is 200 questions and you’ll be given 160 minutes total to answer them, so time management is vital. The test is then scored on a scale of 200 to 800 with a minimum score of 430 required to pass.

Of the over 7,482 applicants who took the CMA test from July 2020 to July 2021, 62% passed on their first attempt.

By studying hard, doing practice tests, and taking care of yourself, you too can earn yourself a position within that 62%.

How Many Times Can You Take the CMA Exam?

Candidates can take the CMA exam up to three times for their initial certification. For each attempt, however, you will be required to fill out a new application and re-pay the examination fee.

How Do I Renew my CMA Certification?

CMA recertification is required every 60 months. The AAMA allows you to recertify either by retaking the exam or through continuing education.

  1. Re-Examination: To retake the CMA certification exam, you must review and complete the Candidate Application and Handbook for the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination and provide the required documentation and enrollment fee.
  2. Continuing Education: Review the AAMA Recertification By Continuing Education Application and provide the required documentation and enrollment fee via either the online application or mail submission. See the Apply to Recertify by CE page for details.

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

Final Thoughts on the CMA Certification Exam

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Becoming a Medical Assistant can open doors to many new and rewarding job opportunities and getting certified can help you seize those opportunities.

By completing your CMA certification, you earn the backing of the AAMA certification board and can apply for work with confidence, having proven that you are more than competent to begin work in the medical field.

Of course, learning doesn’t stop after the exam ends, so remember to keep an open mind, look for opportunities to learn, opportunities to teach others and new ways to serve your patients better than ever.

Good luck!




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