The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Exam
The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam is designed to measure how much you know about the medical assisting field. The questions are relatively straightforward and are not designed to trick you. The purpose of the exam is to prove that you have what it takes to safely and competently perform your job duties.
The CMA exam begins with an optional 15 minute tutorial. Many people have never taken a computer-based test before. The tutorial is designed to help you become more comfortable with the computer. You will learn how to mark your answer choices, switch screens, and get a feel for the exam time clock. The questions do not count towards your CMA score. The time is not counted against your actual exam time either. The tutorial will also give you the opportunity to ask the test administrator questions before the actual exam begins.
Then, the scored portion of the exam begins. The exam is divided into 4, 40 minute sections. Once time has expired, you will not be able to go back and review your answers. You are able to take an optional 5 minute break between each section. The entire exam time, with breaks, is around 3 hours and 15 minutes.
The exam will ask 200 multiple choice questions. However, only 180 questions will count towards your score. The remaining questions are pretest questions. You will never know which questions are pretest questions and which questions count towards your score. So, you need to treat every question as if it counts.
The exam content will be based on your actual work experience and coursework you completed while training to become a medical assistant. Exam questions will focus on general medical knowledge, administrative tasks, and clinical knowledge. Here is a quick snapshot of the topics that will be tested.
- Medical Terminology – definitions of diagnostic procedures, medical specialties, and surgical procedures, selection and use of terminology for memos, forms, letters, and faxes
- Anatomy & Physiology – anatomical divisions, common diseases and pathology, specific systems including digestive, nervous, cardio, lymphatic, and reproductive
- Psychology – basic principles, development stages of the life cycle, defense mechanisms
- Professionalism – professional attitudes, working in groups to achieve goals, job readiness
- Communication – patient interviewing techniques, telephone techniques, basic writing skills, communicating with a diverse patient base, responding to nonverbal communication
- Medicolegal Guidelines and Requirements – licensing, legislation including Americans with Disability Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, reporting, releasing information, ethics, maintaining confidentiality
- Administrative – data entry, office equipment operation, basic computer applications, records management, screening and processing mail, scheduling appointments, office policies and procedures, time management, appointment protocols
- Practice Finances – bookkeeping, accounting and banking procedures, third-party billing, coding systems including CPT, ICD-CM, HCPCS Level III, employee payroll
- Principles of Infection Control – aseptic techniques, principles of asepsis, disposing of biohazardous waste
- Patient Preparation – taking vital signs, patient interviews, patient education, storing and stocking medical supplies
- Collecting and processing specimens - methods of collection, CDC guidelines for processing, quality control, performing diagnostic tests, medical imaging, quality control
- Preparing and Administering Drugs – pharmacology, immunizations, prescriptions
- Emergencies and First Aid Procedures – emergency preparedness, assessment and triage, CPR, Heimlich maneuver
The exam will conclude with an optional survey. Up to 20 questions will be asked to get your opinion of the exam and the testing center. The answers you provide will in no way impact your score. You will only receive this survey if time permits towards the end of the exam.
You should never take the CMA exam without spending some time preparing. Many of the questions will ask for very detailed information. Some of this information you will just know because you perform the tasks on a day to day basis. However, some of these concepts may not have been used since your classroom work. You only have three attempts to pass the CMA. If you fail to pass after three attempts, additional course work will be required. So, studying is essential.
Benefits of Taking the CMA Exam
Medical assistant jobs are very popular. Nearly every doctor’s office has a least one medical assistant. The need for skilled medical assistants will increase as the health care industry continues to grow at a record pace. However, it can be hard to stand out in this field. There are so many medical assistants available that doctors and even hospitals have a difficult time choosing their next employee.
Each medical assistant will have the same basic education. Experience can be a plus, but there is one more element many employers are looking for. They are looking for certified medical assistants. Certification shows that a person has gone beyond earning the basic requirements for the job. Candidates who have passed the Certified Medical Assistant Exam (CMA) are Certified Medical Assistants. They voluntarily took an exam to help grow their career.
You will not just be able to sit down and take this exam. Hours of preparation will be essential. However, the time you spend preparing will pay dividends in your professional development. Here is a look at just a few of the benefits you could receive.
- Better Employment Opportunities –Often, a medical assistant is the first point of contact a patient has in a doctor’s office. Doctors want to hire medical assistants who can show they have the skills and competencies necessary to do the job. Passing the CMA exam will do just that. You will find that more career doors open for you. Medical professionals are more likely to hire or promote a certified medical assistant. The person has proven that she has what it takes to do the job and is extremely motivated. After all, taking the CMA exam is voluntary.
- Higher Income Potential – Certified medical assistants often earn more money than non-certified medical assistants. Employers are often willing to pay more for someone who can demonstrate additional knowledge. That knowledge not only assists doctors, but improves a patient’s experience in the office. Your chances of being promoted improve too. When a managerial position becomes available, your certification can help make you more eligible.
- Increased Job Satisfaction – Don’t be surprised to see your confidence jump after you pass the CMA exam. You knew you were a great medical assistant, but now you have confirmation from a respected professional association. That increased confidence will translate into higher job satisfaction. You more confidently perform your work and your patients recognize it. Co-workers come to you for advice about specimen collection and lab tests. The doctor looks for you to lead the team in streamlining office procedures. You begin performing your job at an even higher level and start enjoying it more. The doctor begins to notice and considers you for a higher position.
- More Challenging Assignments – It can be boring performing the same duties day after day. You like your job, but are looking for more challenging assignments. Passing the CMA exam can give you the opportunity to land those assignments. Doctors and office managers are impressed with the initiative you have taken. They ask you to lead an initiative to streamline the patient data collection and check-in process. You are successful and are consistently given more challenging tasks. A promotion and higher pay may just be in your future.
- Improves Skills and Abilities – Passing the CMA exam allows you to become certified. However, that certification only lasts for a few years. To keep the certification, you can take continuing education classes. Although a master course list is provided, it is up to you to decide which classes on that list to take. Maybe the doctor thinks you are lacking in one particular area. Pick a class that will help you strengthen your skills in that area. He will be impressed and see your dedication to the job. Maybe there is one particular problem the office has trouble resolving month after month. See if there is a class to deal with that problem. Solve it and watch your career opportunities soar.
CMA Exam Scores
Test-takers will know before they leave the testing center whether they passed or failed the exam. The CMA exam is a computer-based test, so immediate results are available. However, recent students and completing students should not read too much into that pass / fail notification. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMS) will need to verify they completed their education requirements before they can earn a certification.
The passing score is determined by the AAMS’s Certifying Board. The board periodically reviews the exam to make sure that the minimum passing score accurately reflects the relevancy of the material being tested. So, the minimum passing score can and does change periodically. Psychometric methods and statistical models are used to ensure that scores are comparable regardless of which CMA exam you took.
Approximately 10 weeks after your exam date, you will receive an official score report. This score report will detail your performance in the three main content areas: Clinical, General, and Administrative. You will also receive a percentile ranking. This ranking will indicate how well you performed against the other test-takers. This information is valuable regardless of whether you passed or failed the exam. For those who failed, this ranking will show you which areas you need to focus your preparation studies on. For those who passed, the ranking can show you areas you may want to take additional classes in to boost those skills and competencies. If you do not receive your official score report within 12 weeks, you will need to contact AAMS directly.
A Certified Medical Assistant certificate and wallet card will be mailed approximately 9 weeks after your official score report. Your scores, certificate, and wallet card will be valid for 60 months. To keep your certification status, you will need to complete a series of continuing education classes or take the CMA exam once again.
Your exam scores will not be released to schools, employers or other organizations. However, employers will be able to verify your certification on the AAMA website. Your certification is considered to be a public record. So, your confidentially is not being breached.
When you receive the automatic pass / fail notification, you may be shocked. You were certain that you aced the majority of the questions. However, the notification states that you failed the exam. You are able to submit a request to have your exam re-scored. Written requests must be submitted to AAMS’s certification department within 30 days of receiving your official score report. There will be a fee to rescore your exam. Computer glitches, although rare, have been known to occur. So, it is worth the money if you think a scoring error actually occurred.
You will not receive much detail when your test is rescored. AAMS will not disclose which questions you answered correctly or incorrectly. They will simply re-examine the results to make sure that the original scores were accurate.
Non-recent graduates and re-certification candidates rarely have their score withheld. Non-recent graduates have to provide an official school transcript when they apply to take the exam. Re-certification candidates have already met the initial education requirements. So, their education is never really in question. However, recent graduates and completing students may find that their scores are being withheld. It can take time for their school’s program director to verify their education status, causing scores to be delayed. If documentation is submitted more than a month after taking the CMA exam, a processing fee will be charged. If documentation is not received within four months of taking the exam, your scores will not be released and you will not become certified.
Retaking the CMA Exam
It happens to plenty of test-takers. They fail the CMA exam on their first try. Many times it is just test day anxiety. They get flustered and begin second-guessing themselves. For others, they just did not spend enough time preparing. You are allowed to take the CMA exam three times in a 60 month time period. However, you will have to wait 90 days before you can take the exam again.
CMA Test Day Procedures
It does not matter which Prometric testing center you take the CMA exam at. Each center will follow the exact same rules and procedures. It is important to understand these procedures before you ever head out to the testing center. Failure to comply can result in not being seated for the exam and forfeiting your registration fee.
You should plan on arriving to the testing center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. This should allow you to check-in, get situated, and still have a few minutes to collect yourself before the exam begins.
If you are not able to make your scheduled appointment time, you need to contact Prometric directly. Any absences will cause you to forfeit your testing fee. You are able to reschedule your exam without being charged an additional registration fee. However, this needs to be done at least two business days before your scheduled exam.
Testing centers are not required to seat late arrivals. If you arrive more than 30 minutes after your appointment, the testing center will refuse to seat you. You can reschedule your exam for another day, but will have to pay Prometric a small rescheduling fee. You will need to reschedule within your original 90 day window.
There are two items you must bring to the testing center: your scheduling permit and identification. Your identification must have your photograph and signature on it. Unexpired, government issued identifications like a driver’s license, state identification card, or passport book are acceptable.
Presenting your employee identification badge or college identification card will not work. The first and last name on your identification must match the first and last name listed on your scheduling permit. If it does not, you will not be allowed to sit for the exam.
The testing center will take a digital photograph of you. This photograph is taken to deter cheating. If you leave the testing room for any reason, your photo will be used to verify that you are who you say you are. People have been known to switch places and have someone else take the CMA exam for them.
There are a number of items you cannot bring into the testing room. Cell phones, radios, PDA’s, calculators, watches, purses, and backpacks are not allowed. You cannot wear coats, gloves, jackets, or hats in the testing room. People have been known to stick notes in these clothing items. You will not be able to chew gum, eat, or drink either. If you are caught with any of these items, you could be asked to leave and your scores could be cancelled.
Personal lockers will be provided so you can store your belongings. However, these lockers are quite small. Plus, the testing center does not assume any liability for any stolen items. If you don’t need it, then don’t bring it to the testing center. The center does have the right to inspect any of your personal items if they suspect cheating.
Testing Room Procedures
Before you are seated, you will be asked to provide your candidate information number (CIN) and signature on a laminated writing surface. Then, the test administer will collect your scheduling permit. This is just another deterrent for would-be cheaters.
You will not be able to pick which computer terminal you sit at. A testing center staff member will pick your seat for you. A dry eraser board and marker will be provided to you at this time. You can use these items for scratch paper, but they must be returned before you leave the testing room. You are then given the opportunity to take a 15 minute tutorial before the CMA exam begins. This tutorial gives you the opportunity to become familiar with taking an exam on the computer. It also gives you the chance to ask the testing center staff any questions you might have. Staff members are prohibited from answering questions specific to the CMA exam.
You will not be allowed to walk in and out of the testing room. If there is an emergency, raise your hand and a staff member will assist you. You can only take a break during the scheduled optional break times between exam sections.
Certified Medical Assistant Exam Overview
Health care is one of the nation’s fastest growing industries. Doctors continue to seek highly skilled and proficient medical assistants to assist in their practices. Medical assistants will often perform clerical, administrative, and clinical functions. Some may even specialize in one particular area of medicine like podiatry or optometry. They will have a high level of interaction with patients. So, doctors want to make sure they are hiring the best in the field.
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) administers the Certified Medical Assistant Exam (CMA). Passing this exam will allow you to use the title of Certified Medical Assistant. Why is that important? Certification helps you stand out in this competitive field and makes you more employable. Taking the CMA exam is voluntary. It is not a requirement to graduate from a medical assistant program or find work in the field. However, doctors and hospitals are more likely to hire a Certified Medical Assistant. Certification shows that a person is motivated and committed to his career. It wasn’t enough for him to just earn a degree. He wanted to voluntarily earn a “professional seal of approval” to prove that he is a competent medical assistant.
The CMA is a content based exam. It is designed to test your knowledge of concepts that are essential in a medical assistant’s job. You will not have to answer complicated calculus or geometry questions or write an essay. You will only have to answer questions specific to medical assisting. Studying will be required to successfully pass the exam.
The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions. However, only 180 of these questions will count towards your overall score. The other 20 questions are considered “pretest questions.” These pretest questions are used for research purposes and may be used on future CMA exams. The downside is that you never know which questions do or do not count towards your overall score.
You will have up to 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. The exam will be broken into 4, 40 minute sections. Once you complete a section, your answers will be final. You cannot go back and make any changes. You do have the option to take a 5 minute break between each section. CMA exam content will cover three main areas of a medical assistant’s job:
- General Medical Knowledge - Questions will focus on medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and medicolegal guidelines and requirements.
- Administrative - Your knowledge of data entry, records management, office procedures, and practice finances will be measured.
- Clinical – Questions are designed to see how well you understand infection control, patient preparation, emergency procedures, specimen collection, and first aid.
The CMA exam is a computer-based test. Before the exam, you will be given an opportunity to take an optional 15 minute tutorial. This is highly recommended regardless of how skilled you are in using computers. The tutorial does not count towards your CMA exam score. It will allow you to become more comfortable with the computer, exam clock, and mouse functions.
At the end of the exam, you will receive a score of either pass or fail. The passing score you need to earn can vary from year to year. The AAMA’s Certifying Board periodically reviews the exam questions to make sure the content is reflective of today’s essential medical assistant job skills. You will need to correctly answer between 60% and 70% of the questions to pass. If you fail the exam, you will be able to take it again. However, you will only be given three attempts to take the exam during a 60 month period.
Once you pass the CMA exam, you will earn your certification in medical assisting. You will receive an official score report, certificate, and wallet card. However, this certification will only last for 60 months. If you are like most medical assistants, you will want to keep your certification current throughout your entire career. Every 60 months, you will need to complete AAMA approved continuing education classes or retake the CMA exam.
Registering for the CMA Exam
Every medical assistant will not be eligible to sit for the CMA exam. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) has developed a series of guidelines that each candidate must meet. This association is highly recognized in the industry. Passing their CMA exam and earning their medical assistant certification does carry a significant amount of weight in this industry. AAMA does not want to award certification to individuals who do not meet strict background and education requirements.
Who is Eligible?
There are three categories for eligibility. You do not need to be a member of the AAMA to sit for the exam. However, members will be given a discounted exam fee.
- Recent Graduates or Completing Students - Students who are close to completing or have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program are eligible to take the exam. The programs will need to be accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health (CAAHEP). After graduation, you will need to wait at least 30 days before you can sit for the exam. AAMA defines a recent graduate as someone who has graduated within the last 12 months.
- Non-Recent Graduates – A non-recent graduate is defined as someone who graduated from an ABHES or CAAHEP accredited school more than 12 months ago. There is no waiting period. You can apply to take the exam at anytime.
- Re-certification Candidates – Once you pass the CMA exam, your certification is only valid for 60 months. To renew your certification, you may choose to retake the CMA exam.
All candidates will be required to disclose any criminal behavior they engaged in. The AAMA Certifying Board reviews each person’s situation on a case by case basis to determine if the crime would prohibit her from competently and safely performing her job. If you were convicted of a felony, you will most likely not be able to take the CMA exam.
Applying for the CMA Exam
All eligible applicants will need to submit an application through AAMA. Registration fees will also need to be paid at this time. CMA exam fees can vary from year to year and are non-refundable. Personal checks are not accepted. Discounts are available for AAMA members. Non-recent graduates will have to submit an official transcript with their application. Recent graduates and completing students will not have to submit an official transcript, but their school’s program director will have to sign a statement verifying their eligibility. Re-certification candidates will need to attach a copy of their CMA certificate and a certificate showing their current CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) status level.
AAMA will carefully review your application and supporting documents. Within 30 days, you will be notified about the status of your application. If your application is missing certain documents, you will be sent an incomplete notice. It is your responsibility to provide these missing documents to AAMA. Failure to do so will result in your fee being forfeited and your application cancelled.
Scheduling Your Appointment
Once your application has been approved, you will receive a scheduling permit with your candidate identification number and a 90 day test window. It is your responsibility to schedule your CMA exam. If you fail to register within the 90 day period, you will not be able to schedule the exam. You will have to reapply and pay another registration fee. If you know that you will not be able to schedule your exam in the 90 day window, you will be able to request a new window period. This request must be submitted in writing at least 30 days before the end of your 90 day window. A small fee will be charged for this transfer request.
CMA exams are offered exclusively through Prometric Testing Centers across the country. These centers administer many standardized exams, not just the CMA exam. So, it is important to schedule your appointment as soon as you receive your scheduling permit. You will be able to choose the time of day and day of the week (Monday – Saturday) that you want to take the exam. These centers will not allow you to sit for the exam without preregistering. You should also confirm your exam appointment one week before your scheduled appointment.
Last Updated: 04/25/2012