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How Hard is it to Pass CIMA?

We review the CIMA qualification, what can make the exams difficult and what you can do to make it easier.

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Passing professional exams like CIMA can be challenging. This blog aims to provide an honest review of the CIMA qualification, what can make the exams difficult, and what you can do to make them more manageable.

If you’re considering accounting, you’ll have come across CIMA and the CGMA designation. CIMA is usually associated with a more business-focused career that will help prepare me for future leadership and strategic roles.

The qualification involves passing 16 exams, although you could be exempt from some depending on your degree. It covers management accounting, business strategy and financial strategy.

But what we’re really trying to explore here is how difficult it is to obtain a CIMA qualification?

What’s involved in CIMA?

The CIMA qualification has 16 exams split into 4 levels:

  • Certificate Level
  • Operational Level
  • Management Level
  • Strategic Level

At the professional stage, each of the three levels has 3 Objective Test exams and 1 Case Study exam. These 9 subjects are then organised into three pillars.

Cima chart for preparation

How long does CIMA take?

This question is complicated as it can take some people 2 years and others 6 to complete their CIMA exams.

This can be due to personal circumstances, exam retakes, work commitments, or other factors.

According to CIMA, the certificate level can be completed at your own pace and involves 5 exams. ‘On average, it takes students one year to complete this level.’

When it comes to the professional qualification, which involves OT and case study exams, students take approximately ‘4 years to complete’.

But is CIMA challenging to pass? Let’s look at the factors that matter.

Why is CIMA difficult?

Tensed girl on computer

Different students will find attaining the CIMA qualification more difficult than others, depending on these 5 factors:

1. Your previous experience

If you start CIMA with the minimum requirements, you’ll probably be totally new to accounting, so you’ll likely find the course more difficult.

That’s not to say you’ll find CIMA more difficult to pass – but you might find it takes more work to get your head around the course content.

However, students who study CIMA from the start often get a better grounding in the content and exam technique than more experienced students with exemptions, making the professional level easier.

If you have a Bachelors’s and/or Masters’s degree in finance and accounting or similar, the material will be more familiar. But that doesn’t necessarily mean CIMA will be easier, especially if you have exemptions and don’t revise earlier material in depth.

Finally, you might be a practising accountant coming to CIMA to validate your skills. Your practical knowledge might make passing easier – but it also may mean you have to ‘unlearn’ ways of doing things, making it more difficult.

2. The way you study

Studying for CIMA while working is a popular and common option because it allows you to continue your career, earn money and apply your learning in practice. Plus, many employers will often cover the costs of a CIMA qualification to benefit their business in the long run.

Studying while working has pros and cons.

On the one hand, it can make CIMA easier as you have the practical context to help your understanding, but it can also bring tremendous pressure as you try to juggle a full-time workload with studying and your personal life.

This is one of the main reasons students find CIMA challenging.

3. The speed you want to pass

There is no time limit to completing CIMA, but many students strive to finish in 3 or 4 years.

To do this, you need to work and study so you can meet your professional experience requirement. In addition, you would need to take at least 6 exams each year to allow for re-sits (sadly, a 100% pass rate is very rare).

Even if you’re familiar with accounting, studying under those conditions is difficult. Mainly, many students still rely on classroom training, which requires trying to fit in lectures around professional and personal commitments.

In recent years, that’s why many have turned to online tuition as it’s available on-demand with no time limits.

4. How committed you are

Anyone can pass CIMA, but not everyone will. What it comes down to is commitment.

As a tutor, I know that the CIMA course material is complex. Particularly if you have limited previous accounting experience, work full-time, and strive to complete all the exams in 3 years.

A combination of these things makes CIMA more difficult. But it’s not beyond your ability – if you’re absolutely committed. Some students find CIMA challenging because they’re not putting enough effort, time, and energy into studying.

Passing takes sacrifice. That evening when you’d love to go out with your mates, but you’re studying instead. Or when you’re exhausted, but you go to after-work lectures anyway. Or when you miss another family dinner.

To pass CIMA, you have to prioritise it. CIMA is very difficult to pass if you don’t show that commitment.

5. Your support network

As we’ve already explored, CIMA exams are time-consuming and often stressful. This makes your support network crucial.

Without a strong network around you – friends, family, employers, colleagues, peers – you’ll hit a wall eventually and need people to help you push through.

You’ll find CIMA easier if you proactively create that network. Help the people around you understand the pressures you’re under. Explain to friends and family what is involved, and ask for support. Build relationships with other students who understand what you’re going through, either in real life or online.

The right learning provider is also critical. Study with an approved learning provider who can help you pass, or you’ll make life more difficult.

Conclusion

happy man on laptop

Instead of dwelling on how difficult CIMA is, figure out what you can do to make it easier.

Look at alternative ways to study that will better fit your life, such as online or blended learning.

Having 24/7 access to materials, guided study plans and tutor support can go a long way to lessening the burden and help guide your study and focus your energy, particularly in the last weeks.

Review what you’re currently doing that isn’t working and see what the solution/s could be. Or focus on what works and try to apply that to the areas you are weak in. Or look at what your peers say works for them and see if it could also work for you.

Whatever road you decide to take, you need to be open and committed to passing your CIMA exams.

Clodagh OBrien
5 min read
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