Why we're excited about the CGMA exam

By Kathryn Nehlsen

Excited?  About an exam?  Seriously?

Yes, seriously.  As studious and determined people with big dreams and ambitious life goals, we’re used to being tasked with reciting formulas, choosing the best answer and memorizing large quantities of information in order to prove our aptitude in traditional school subjects.  But how do you prove aptitude in the things that are important to business, like strategy?  Business savvy?  Leadership?   Rote learning will not suffice for demonstrating abilities that, in reality, do not have right or wrong answers.  Learning on the job is about the ability to consume lots of information from disparate sources, distilling that information, analyzing the situation, and making recommendations based on your analysis for how to address the business problem at hand.  In a word, it’s about adaptability.  And so is the CGMA exam.

The CGMA exam is formatted as a case study wherein you’re given a role to play as an executive management accountant in a specific company.  Of course the company is fictional, but always based upon real-life scenarios.  You’ll be given information, seven weeks prior to the exam, about your role and the company you work for, as well as other relevant (and some not-so relevant) information like industry analysis, org charts, corporate social responsibility reports, share prices, financial reports, company policies… the sky’s the limit.  These “pre-seen” materials should spur a flurry of studying and research activity, so that you get to know the company and working environment like the back of your hand.  Preparing for the CGMA exam is different in that it’s less about memorizing facts and formulas, and more about arming yourself with pertinent information and analyses in order to quickly adapt your decision-making process to any given situation.

On the day of the exam, you will role play a day in the life of an executive management accountant.  In addition to your working knowledge of the company and environment, you will be given new information throughout the course of the exam.  This new info may be innocuous – business as usual – or it could be a major curveball (e.g. the plant burned down, the stock market crashed, the CEO resigned), or somewhere in between (e.g. an ex-employee threatened a law suit, a magazine article trashed your CSR efforts, the Controller found a discrepancy in the annual report).  What are your next steps?  Using all the information at your disposal, plus the management accounting knowledge you’ve acquired throughout your education and career, you must complete tasks, make recommendations and provide insights to drive the business.

The most successful candidates are multi-dimensional with a collection of competencies from all four buckets of the CGMA competency framework.  Success on the CGMA exam mimics success as a management accountant in the real world: proven ability to adapt quickly to new situations, providing logical and data-driven recommendations to propel the business forward. The exam gives you the opportunity to shine and prove that you not only have the technical knowledge, but also the leadership skills and confidence to make important business decisions at an executive level.

Test yourself before the exam goes live in January 2015 by taking the practice exam.  This 3-hour exam is an exact simulation of the CGMA exam experience.  Pre-seen materials can be accessed here, and there is a tutorial to help you become familiar with the functionality of the exam platform.