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Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Review & Study Guide

Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the CMA Exam the First Time

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In a previous article, we outlined a few of the top Medical Assistant certifications for MAs who wish to advance their careers. We also covered some of the benefits to becoming a Certified Medical Assistant, which can include higher wages, increased job stability, and a positive career outlook.

To help current and aspiring Medical Assistants achieve their goals, we are launching a series of test-prep tips and study guides for the various certifications we covered in our previous installment.

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

This study guide will focus on the CMA, which stands for the Certified Medical Assistant certification. This exam is administered by one of the most reputable organizations in the field, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). They set the bar for excellence in Medical Assisting and provide certification for graduates of a CAAHEP—or ABHES—accredited Medical Assisting program.

If you are considering certification as a CMA, we created this guide to offer you a roadmap to success while preparing for the exam.

How to Pass the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam

Our comprehensive CMA study plan will cover the following questions and topics:

  1. What is the CMA exam?
  2. How do you pass the CMA?
  3. What is on the CMA exam?
  4. Is the CMA exam hard to pass?
  5. The CMA exam requirements
  6. CMA exam sample questions
  7. General tips and test strategies for passing the CMA exam
  8. Information on CMA test results, and
  9. What to do before and after exam day

But first, let’s begin with a brief refresher…

What Is the CMA Exam?

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The Certified Medical Assistant (AAMA) credential represents a “Medical Assistant who has been credentialed through the Certifying Board (CB) of the American Association of Medical Assistants.”

This credential is awarded to applicants who pass the CMA Certification Exam.

How to Apply for the CMA Exam

Applicants who meets one of the AAMA’s eligibility categories must complete the following steps to apply for the CMA Exam:

Step 1. Gather Your Documentation

Step 2: Review All Exam Policies and Information

Step 3: Determine Start Date for 90-Day Testing Period

Step 4: Monitor Your Email

Step 5: Apply for the Exam

You can learn more about each of these steps here.

CMA Exam Requirements

What Are the Requirements to Take the CMA Exam?

The AAMA’s CMA requirements can vary depending on your situation. Each applicant must meet the criteria for one of the following categories from the AAMA.

Category 1: Completing student or recent graduate of a CAAHEP-or ABHES-accredited Medical Assisting program.

  • You must have graduated from, or near completion of, 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).
  • Current students may only take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam no more than 30 days prior to completing their formal education and practicum.
  • Recent graduates are those who apply for the exam within 12 months of graduation.

Category 2: Nonrecent graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited Medical Assisting program.

  • If you apply for the exam more than 12 months after graduation, then you are a “nonrecent graduate” and fall into this second category.
  • Those who graduated from a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited program that was accredited at any time during their enrollment, or who graduated within the 36 months prior to the program becoming CAAHEP or ABHES accredited, are eligible to apply for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam under Category 1 or 2.

Category 3: SCMA (AAMA) recertificant

  • You must have previously passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam and are applying to recertify with the CMA (AAMA) credential.

What Is on the CMA Exam?

AAMA certification can be a fantastic step for your career, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you plan ahead and set aside time to study, you should have no problem passing on your first attempt.

Furthermore, there are lots of CMA contents and practice tutorials provided by the AAMA. They mission is to help applicants succeed, so it’s best to take advantage of all their resources.

With the AAMA practice tutorial, you can effectively prepare for the test. In fact, they encourage all candidates to use this online practice exams.

They also provide two content outlines for the CMA (AAMA). One is effective until July 15, 2021, while the other should be references on or after that date.

For the purposes of this article, we will reference the existing outline. It highlights three major categories of CMA (AAMA) questions:

  1. General

~Number of questions: 50

~Percent of questions: 28%

    • Psychology
    • Communication
    • Professionalism
    • Medical law/regulatory guidelines
    • Medical ethics
    • Risk management, quality assurance, and safety
    • Medical terminology
  1. Administrative

~Number of questions: 45

~Percent of questions: 25%

    • Medical reception
    • Patient navigator/advocate
    • Medical business practices
    • Establishing patient medical records
    • Scheduling appointments
    • Practice finances
  1. Clinical

~Number of questions: 85

~Percent of questions: 47%

    • Anatomy and physiology
    • Infection control
    • Patient intake and documentation of care
    • Patient preparation and assisting the provider
    • Nutrition
    • Collecting and processing specimens
    • Diagnostic testing
    • Pharmacology
    • Emergency management/basic first aid

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What Is the Best Way to Prepare for the CMA (AAMA)?

To help you prepare for the CMA (AAMA) exam, let’s begin by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the exam itself.

  • How hard is the CMA exam?

The level of ease or difficulty for passing the CMA exam depends on your MA program and the time you set aside to study. The exam is computerized and broken into four 40-minute segments. You have up to 160 minutes to complete all the exam questions, but you will also have additional time/optional breaks between each segment. You can also retake the exam if you don’t pass, which we’ll cover later in this article.

  • How many questions are on the CMA exam?

The computerized exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering topic areas that are listed in the  CMA (AAMA) Certification exam outline.

  • What is the passing score for the CMA exam?

Your score on the CMA exam is based on your total number of correct responses. As stated by the AAMA, this score has been standardized and fixed on a scale, which ranges from 200 to 800. The minimum CMA passing score is 430.

  • How many people pass the CMA exam on their first try?

According to the AAMA, 6,308 new CMAs passed their initial exam and were eligible to receive scores. This means that the exam has a 60 percent pass rate.

  • How much does it cost to take the CMA exam?

The exam costs $125 for members and $250 for non-members. If your credential has expired, you’ll need to pay an additional $50 reactivation fee. (Note: personal checks are not accepted).

  • How long should you study for the CMA exam?

It really depends on you. Some people require more time to study, while others prefer to take the exam right after they graduate from their Medical Assisting program. In general, you should likely set aside at least one month to study for the exam.

  • When can you take the exam?

Each CMA candidate is allowed a 90-day period in which to take the exam. Your 90-day testing period will be assigned based on the testing period start date you indicate on your application. Learn more here.

  • When will you receive your exam results?

An official pass/fail notification will be provided to you immediately upon your completion of the exam. Candidates who have fulfilled all application requirements will be mailed an official report of the score within three weeks after the exam date. You can also sign in to your account to check “My Certification Information” for updates.

Additional CMA Exam Prep Resources

Speaking of studying, here are a few great tips from the AAMA to help get you started:

CMA Test Prep

CMA Sample Quiz Questions

Student writing on graph paper

To help you gauge some of the topics on the exam, we compiled a few sample questions taken directly from the AAMA’s online tutorial.

(You can find the answers to these questions at the bottom of the article).

  1. Which of the following actions is defined as “auscultation?”

a) Applying the hands to the body surface

b) Listening for sounds within the body

c) Moving joints to determine range of motion

d) Observing the posture and movement of the body

e) Tapping the body with the fingertips

  1. Which of the following instructions should be given to a patient who needs to collect a stool specimen for occult blood screening?

a) Eat a high-carbohydrate diet for 72 hours

b) Fast for 12 hours

c) Refrain from eating fats for 12 hours

d) Refrain from eating red meat for 48 hours

e) Refrain from eating sugar for 8 hours

  1. A patient has had pain since he started an exercise program two days ago. Which of the following is the most likely result of applying heat to the affected areas?

a) Constriction of blood vessels

b) Decreased spread of infection

c) Increase of core body temperature

d) Increase of edema

e) Relaxation of muscles

  1. Which of the following is a combining form that means “black?”

a) Cyan/o

b) Erythr/o

c) Leuk/o

d) Melan/o

e) Xanth/o

  1. Which of the following is a barrier that encloses a cell?

a) Cytoplasm

b) Membrane

c) Mitochondria

d) Nucleus

e) Ribosome

  1. According to the Patients’ Bill of Rights Act, which of the following is a patient right?

a) To be provided with sample medications

b) To expect continuity of care

c) To obtain information about family members’ health status

d) To participate in research without informed consent

e) To waive payment if treatment is unsatisfactory

  1. When the Medical Assistant screens phone calls, which of the following initial complaints takes priority?

a) Difficulty breathing

b) Frontal headache

c) Lower back pain

d) Painful urination

e) Peripheral edema

  1. An elderly patient needs assistance but has no family support. The Medical Assistant contacts the appropriate community resources. The Medical Assistant’s role in this situation is best described as which of the following?

a) Patient advocate

b) Physician proxy

c) Power of attorney

d) Social worker

e) Welfare provider

  1. A 68-year-old woman comes to the office accompanied by her two adult daughters. After the patient is shown into the examination room, her daughters approach the Medical Assistant in the hallway and ask him questions about their mother’s recent test results. Which of the following is the most appropriate response by the Medical Assistant?

a) Ask them to sign a confidential communication preference form regarding their mother’s health information

b) Inform them that their mother must first consent to disclosure of her health information

c) Obtain copies of their mother’s test results for their records

d) Provide a quiet room to discuss their concerns about their mother’s health

e) Tell them to contact the laboratory that processed the specimen

  1. Which of the following types of injections produces a small wheal on the skin?

a) Intradermal

b) Intramuscular

c) Subcutaneous

d) Transdermal

e) Z-track

CMA Test Strategies

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When Should I Take the CMA Exam?

The first step to identifying an ideal test date is to first confirm the completion date of you Medical Assisting program.

Your CMA (AAMA) test date will depend on the completion of your accredited program, as well as the registration process for the CMA exam itself.

What to Do Before the CMA Exam

Here is a summary of the steps you’ll need to follow after you’ve applied for the exam.

  1. Make Name, Email, and Postal Address Corrections on a Timely Basis. Edit your AAMA profile online or email them to update your contact information.
  2. Schedule Your Exam. Schedule your exam appointment as soon as possible after printing your Scheduling Permit.
  3. Prepare for the Exam. Be sure to thoroughly review the “Test center scheduling and policies,” so that your test session goes smoothly. Complete the AAMA computer-based testing tutorial to learn what to expect from the software interface when taking the exam. All candidates are encouraged to use this online tutorial, prior to their examination appointment.

What to Do After the Exam

  1. Complete the Exam. After you have completed your exam, you will receive a pass/fail notification at the test center. You can view your exam status and scores at My Certification Information. Your official scores will display within eight weeks after your exam date.
  2. Watch for Your Official Score Reports. You’ll receive your official exam scores within three weeks after your exam date pending verification of program completion and/or fulfillment of all application requirements.
  3. Watch for Your Certificate. If you pass and receive an official score report, your CMA certificate and wallet card should arrive approximately three weeks after you receive your official scores. CMAs (AAMA) may view their certification status at My Certification Information. CMA (AAMA) certification is valid for a 60-month period.

Retaking the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam

If your official result indicates you did not pass, you may submit an application to retake the exam (along with the regular candidate fee) at your earliest convenience.

How Many Times Can You Fail the CMA Exam?

Candidates for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam are allowed three attempts. Each attempt will require a new exam application and fee.

How to Renew Your Certification

You’re required to recertify your credential every 60 months. The AAMA provides one of two ways to recertify:

  1. By Examination:Review and complete the Candidate Application and Handbook for the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination and provide the required documentation and enrollment fee.
  2. By Continuing Education:Review the AAMA Recertification By Continuing Education Application and provide the required documentation and enrollment fee via either online application or mail submission. See the Apply to Recertify by CE page for details.
    • A Note on Online Recertification. Applicants do not need to fill out the Recertification by Continuing Education Application.
    • A Note on Expired Status.Those not recertifying on or before the expiration date of their credential will be considered as having an expired credential. They may reactivate the credential by recertifying by examination or continuing education.
    • A Note on Expired 90 Days.A CMA (AAMA) whose credential has been expired for more than 90 days forfeits the right to reactivate the credential by continuing education and must sit for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam. Important Notice: This policy went into effect starting January 1, 2020.

Advance Your Medical Assisting Career

Female student typing on laptop in hallway

Our goal for this article was to provide you with practical tips on how to pass the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam. We hope it gives you the knowledge and confidence to take that next step forward in your career.

One rewarding aspect of becoming a Certified Medical Assistant is the ability to advance within the field. Some enjoy lifelong careers as MAs, while others build on their experience to apply to nursing school. For example, Unitek offers various nursing programs, such as Vocational Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

You just have to take that first step. Best of luck!



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