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What is the Certified Medical Assistant Exam?

The certified medical assistant (CMA) exam administered by AAMA will test your knowledge in a variety of subjects related to the medical assisting career, allowing you to demonstrate your mastery to potential employers. Here, you’ll discover all the information you will need to qualify for, apply for, take, and ultimately pass the CMA exam, as well as information related to recertification.


Why Take This Exam?

• It’s the most rigorous certification exam of all, and passing it shows that you are competent and knowledgeable within a very competitive and growing field of healthcare.

• Your employers will value you, and your professional peers will respect and recognize your hard work and knowledge.

• The exam is crafted in a way (scientific analysis of the occupation) that ensures it accurately tests you on the tasks you will perform on the job each day as a medical assistant.

• You will enjoy more job security throughout your career because the certification and recertification processes ensure that you have the skills required to succeed.

• Unlike other medical certifications, the CMA certification is recognized nationally. This means employers will recognize it no matter where you live, even if you move across the country.

• Clearly distinguishes you and helps earn a higher salary when compared to your non-certified colleagues.

• Provides a solid foundation, thus opening up opportunities for career advancement in the future.


Who Administers the CMA Exam?

The CMA exam is administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, or AAMA. Their mission is to provide medical assistants with education, certification, credential acknowledgement, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality healthcare centered on the patient. The AAMA was established in 1956, and it is the only association in the country dedicated solely to the medical assisting profession. The AAMA has two separate and distinct boards. The Certifying Board (CB) of the AAMA is responsible for preparing, administering, and evaluating certification examination. The Continuing Education board (CEB), is responsible for administering the CMA recertification exam and maintaining the continuing education process. At the end of 2015, the AAMA had provided the CMA credential to more than 82,000 medical assistants across the country.

• Accreditation – The CB of AAMA is accredited by IAS or International Accreditation Service for Bodies Operating Certifications of Persons. It is an independent firm that ensures the CB meets ISO/IEC standards for the criteria and processes required to assign the CMA credential. This is what sets the CMA (AAMA) credential apart from credentials offered by other agencies. The certification program used for the CB of the AAMA is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, or NCCA, and it complies with their Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs. The NCCA is accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, or ICE, which oversees many credentialing programs.

• Exam Consultant – The test consultant for the AAMA’s CMA exam is the National Board of Medical Examiners. This is the very same organization responsible for national examinations administered to physicians, including the USMLE examination. This is one of the reasons why so many employers prefer candidates with CMA credentials; the reliability and validity of the credential is taken very seriously.

• Exam Security – Candidates will take their CMA exams at one of hundreds of Prometric testing centers around the country. These exams are computer-based and they provide testing services for the most prestigious credentialing examinations. They differentiate candidates from those who may earn their credentials from far less secure testing facilities, too.


CMA Exam Details

In this section, you will learn more about the examination that medical assistants must take in order to earn their CMA credentials, including the content included in the exam, how it is administered, the formatting, and even passing scores.

Content

Because the MA can work in a variety of facilities and in many specialties, the exam content is quite broad and covers things that the candidate may encounter during his or her career. There are three sections associated with the exam, and these cover general medical knowledge, administrative knowledge, and clinical knowledge.

• General – Psychology, Communication, Professionalism, Medical Law and Regulatory Guidelines, Medical Ethics, Risk Management, Quality Assurance, Safety, and Medical Terminology.

• Administrative – Medical Reception, Patient Navigation and Advocacy, Medical Business Practices, Patient Medical Records, Scheduling Appointments, and Finances.

• Clinical – Anatomy and Physiology, Infection Control, Patient Intake, Documentation of Care, Patient Preparation, Provider Assistance, Nutrition, Specimen Collection and Processing, Diagnostic Testing, Pharmacology, Emergency Management and Basic First Aid.

Format

The CMA exam consists of a total of 200 multiple-choice questions across all of the aforementioned content, and these questions are administered to candidates in four 40-minute segments. You will have access to an optional 15-minute tutorial that will show you how to navigate through the examination, as well. You will have 20-minute breaks between each segment, but if you decline to take breaks or participate in the tutorial, you will not have more than 160 minutes to answer all 200 questions on the test. Each section is broken down as follows:

• General – 50 questions, which makes up 28% of the exam.

• Administrative – 45 questions, which makes up 25% of the exam.

• Clinical – 85 questions, which makes up 47% of the exam.

Of these 200 questions, 180 will be scored and 20 are pretested. Your score will be calculated based on your answers to only the questions that are scored. Pretested questions are placed at random and you will not be able to identify them as you take your exam.

Passing the Exam

You will need a score of 430 or more in order to pass the examination and receive your CMA credential. More than half of all candidates pass the CMA exam each year, as indicated below.

• 2017 – 12,046 candidates took the exam, and 59.65%, or 7,185 candidates, passed.

• 2016 – 14,248 candidates took the exam, and 61.07%, or 8,701 candidates, passed.

• 2015 – 17,324 candidates took the exam, and 61.03%, or 10,573 candidates, passed.

• 2014 – 17,460 candidates took the exam, and 64.82%, or 11,317 candidates, passed.

• 2013 – 15,924 candidates took the exam, and 66.72%, or 10,625 candidates, passed.

• 2012 – 14,949 candidates took the exam, and 67.53%, or 10,095 candidates, passed.


Setting Up a Membership and Account with the AAMA

The AAMA is considered one of the best and most helpful organizations for medical assistants across the country. Setting up an account and becoming a member will not only save you money on your exam fees, but will also give you access to other benefits. They include:

• Practice rights protection, which gives you access to in-house legal counsel and allows you to stay informed about federal and state laws regarding your career.

• Credential verification, allowing your employer (and potential employers) to request verification of your credential. This protects your future as a CMA.

• Professional credibility, which looks great on your resume and shows dedication to your chosen career.

• A subscription to CMA Today, a magazine devoted to certified medical assistants that provides heartwarming stories, valuable information, latest updates and more.

• A $125 discount on the price of your CMA exam.

• Incredible continuing education options, including courses through the AAMA’s eLearning Center, CEU articles in CMA Today, self-study courses, the AAMA Annual Conference, and local continuing education programs.

• Access to CEUs each and every day, so you always know how many you need to recertify.

• The ability to receive discounts on workshop fees, self-study courses, conference registration, and the AAMA’s e-Learning center.

• Access to programs, seminars, and events that can expand your professional network and provide you with valuable insight.

• Access to 60% more job leads.

• Options to volunteer and expand your professional horizons.

If you are interested in joining the AAMA, you can go online, choose your membership category, and fill out the required fields.


Exam Eligibility

Completing students and recent graduates of accredited medical assisting programs, non-recent graduates of medical assisting programs and recertification applicants are all eligible to take the CMA exam. There are three candidate eligibility categories.

• Category 1 – This category consists of students who are completing or who are recent graduates of medical assisting programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Completing students are required to sit for the exam no more than 30 days prior to completing the classroom education and practicum. Recent graduates must apply to sit for the exam within 12 months of program completion.

• Category 2 – These individuals are non-recent graduates of programs accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES. A non-recent graduate is someone who graduated the accredited medical assisting program more than 12 months ago. Any candidate who graduated from an accredited program, a program that was accredited at any time during the student’s enrollment, or a program that became accredited within 36 months of graduation, can sit for the exam under category one or two.

• Category 3 – Category 3 applies only to AAMA recertificants who have previously sat for and passed the CMA exam provided by the AAMA and who are reapplying only to recertify their credentials.

Things that May Affect Your Eligibility

There are three main things that may hinder your eligibility to sit for the CMA exam. These include:

1. A failure to meet any of the aforementioned eligibility requirements.

2. Being found guilty of a felony, or having pled guilty to a felony.

3. Having a professional license, certification, or registration suspended, revoked, denied, or subjected to probation by a certification board or regulatory authority.


Required Documentation

The documentation you must provide to sit for the CMA exam depends on the category for which you qualify.

• Category 1 – No documentation is required. In this case, your program director must verify your completion no later than 1 month after you take the exam (including your practicum or externship) before you can receive your scores and credentials.
• Category 2 – You will need to provide a transcript from the school where you completed your medical assisting program.
• Category 3 – You will not need to provide any documentation as long as you give your CMA certificate number, provided by the AAMA, and the most recent certification or recertification date.


Exam Fees

Fees are determined based on your category and whether or not you are a member of the AAMA, and these fees are non-refundable.

• Category 1 – $125 exam fee, whether or not you are a member.

• Category 2 – $125 if you are a member or $250 if you are a nonmember.

• Category 3 – $125 if you are a member or $250 if you are not a member.

The AAMA’s Policy on Refunds

If for some reason you do not meet the eligibility requirements to sit for the CMA exam, but you have already remitted your application fee, your application will be cancelled. The candidate fee will be refunded to you within four to six weeks minus a $65 administrative fee, which is always non-refundable.


Apply and Schedule Your CMA Exam

• Using the information above, determine your eligibility and the fee you must pay to apply for the exam.

• Gather the documentation required for the category for which you qualify.

• Determine the start date for your 90-day testing period before you fill out your application. (See “90-Day Testing Period" and Determining When to Apply)

• Apply Online for the exam or fill out the paper application found at the back of the handbook.

• Submit the application along with your fees and documentation.

• After the AAMA accepts your application, you’ll get an email with your Scheduling Permit. You will need this permit to make an appointment to take your exam at one of hundreds of Prometric testing centers across the country. (See "Schedule Your Exam")

90-Day Testing Period

When you fill out your application, you will be asked to indicate your preferred testing period start date. From that date, you will have 90 days to take your CMA exam. Keep in mind that you should choose a start date that coincides with the earliest date that you want to take your examination, and the 90-day testing period you choose will be recorded in your Scheduling Permit, which is a requirement.

Determining When to Apply (Application Timelines)

• Online Application
– If you applied for the examination online between the 1st and the 14th of any month, your earliest testing period start date is the 1st of the next month. If you applied from the 15th to the last day of the month, your earliest available testing period will begin on the 15th of the next month.

• Mailed Application – If you mailed a paper application to the AAMA, and it is received between the first and 14th of the month, your earliest available testing period will begin on the 15th of the following month. If your mailed application is received from the 15th to the last day of the month, your earliest available testing period starts on the first of the month after next.

Note: You can check detailed application timelines for online and paper applications Here

Understanding Your Application Status

Five to 10 days after the date that your application is received by the AAMA, you will receive an email from [email protected] that details the status of your application. You will see one of two statuses in this email.

• Registered Status – This means that your application was complete and your 90-day testing period has been assigned. You should also find the date on which your Scheduling Permit will be available within this email.

• Incomplete Status – This means that part of your documentation or your required payment is missing. You will need to provide the AAMA with this documentation or payment before your application will be registered for testing.

Schedule Your Exam

You’ll need a Scheduling Permit in order to schedule your CMA exam at one of hundreds of Prometric testing centers across the country. This permit will be available to you online once your application is accepted by the AAMA and no later than three days prior to the start of your 90-day testing period. To make your appointment through Prometric, simply call the phone number listed on your Scheduling Permit or visit the Prometric website linked above. Examination dates may be limited based on the hours for your local Prometric testing center.

Your Scheduling Permit will also list your CIN, or Candidate Identification Number, which is an identifier unique to you that you will use to log into the computer at the testing center when you begin your exam. On test day, bring your Scheduling Permit and a government-issued ID containing your photo and your signature, such as your driver’s license or passport.

How to Reschedule Your Exam

In the event that you need to reschedule your CMA exam to either another date or another Prometric location, simply contact Prometric by noon Eastern time at least two days prior to your exam date. You can only reschedule for another day that is within your 90-day testing window. If you do not show up for your scheduled exam appointment, or if you do not call at least two days in advance to reschedule, Prometric will charge you a $45 rescheduling fee to provide you with a new date.

How to Move to a Different Testing Period

If you need to reschedule your exam to a different testing period, you may pay a $65 fee to do so. Keep in mind that you can only transfer to the next 90-day testing period and not the period before or after it. You must make these requests in writing and send them to the AAMA Certification Department at least 30 days before your original testing period is scheduled to end.

What Happens If You Miss Your Exam Appointment?

If you do not appear to take your test, schedule your test within the 90-day window, or complete the exam in its entirety, you will forfeit your initial candidate fee and must reapply at a later date. When you do so, you must complete a new application along with any associated fees.

When to Arrive at the Testing Center

Prometric asks that you arrive to the testing center at least half an hour before the examination is scheduled to begin. In the event that you arrive more than 30 minutes after the exam has begun, you will need to pay a fee and reschedule your exam. If you arrive less than 30 minutes late and choose to take the exam, you will not be given any additional time to complete the exam.

Special Accommodations

Anyone who is disabled or who requires special accommodations to take the exam can submit a Request for Special Accommodations along with their application. This will allow the Prometric testing center to make the right accommodations prior to the exam date to best facilitate the candidate.


How to Prepare

The CMA exam is rigorous, and it consists of questions from a multitude of categories. Although it does require plenty of studying, the AAMA provides you with tools and guides to make test preparation simpler. There are several sources that can help you familiarize yourself with the content on the exam and improve your chances of obtaining a passing score.

• The AAMA provides an Examination Content Outline that can help you understand the curriculum you should study. They also provide you with the number and percent of questions in each category, so you’ll know where to focus the majority of your study time.

• You can also find current textbooks and medical publications that are directly related to the areas provided in the content outline. Keep in mind that the AAMA does not provide you with a practice test that covers the entire exam, nor does it endorse any exams that may be provided by other publishers or websites.

• You can also find current textbooks and medical publications that are directly related to the areas provided in the content outline. Keep in mind that the AAMA does not provide you with a practice test that covers the entire exam, nor does it endorse any exams that may be provided by other publishers or websites.

• You can search for a local AAMA chapter or an accredited medical assisting program that offers a CMA exam review course. You can find a list of local chapters by state here.

• Finally, the AAMA also provides practice questions in the anatomy and physiology and medical terminology sections of the exam. None of the actual practice questions will appear on your exam, but your ability to answer the practice questions is a good indicator of your readiness for the actual CMA examination.

When studying, make sure to provide yourself with a quiet space and ample time. Eat well, get enough sleep, and study with friends or fellow students who are also preparing for the CMA exam. Be sure that you also take the time to review Prometric testing center guidelines, rules, and regulations so you know what you should expect on test day, including the documentation and identification you will be required to provide in order to sit for the exam.


Getting Your Exam Results

After answering the last question on the examination, you will receive an instant pass or fail notification on the computer screen. The official score will be mailed to you within four weeks after you take your exam, and it includes where you rank among other test-takers in all three content areas – General, Administrative, and Clinical. This is designed to help you understand how you performed and identify your strong suits as well as your weak areas. If you pass the exam, you will receive your certificate and wallet card with your official CMA status along with your score. You can also view your scores and your exam status at any time by visiting My Certification Information on the AAMA website. Please contact the AAMA Certification Department if you do not receive your certificate and wallet card after the processing period to avoid paying standard fees for replacements, which are $20 for the certificate or $5 for the wallet card.

Getting Your Exam Rescored

In the event that you would like to have your exam reviewed and rescored, you may ask the AAMA Certification Department to do so in writing. You must submit your request within 30 days of the date that you get your official score notification, and a $75 fee applies. You must enclose this fee along with your request.

Releasing Your Information

Your CMA status through the AAMA is a matter of public record, which means it may be released to anyone at any time per their request. Your existing and potential employers can verify your CMA status by visiting the AAMA website.

Your CMA status through the AAMA is a matter of public record, which means it may be released to anyone at any time per their request. Your existing and potential employers can verify your CMA status by visiting the AAMA website.

I Failed the Exam… What Next?

If you do not pass the exam, you will know as soon as you complete it. In this case, you may resubmit your application and the fees at your earliest convenience. Simply follow the steps listed above for applying for and scheduling your exam. All initial candidates for the exam are given three attempts to pass it. If you are unable to pass the exam on your third attempt, you are no longer eligible for the CMA credential from the AAMA.

I Passed the Exam… What Next?

Now that you’ve passed your CMA exam, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of your new credential. You can earn a higher salary, apply for more prestigious jobs, and you’ll be a much more valuable asset to your employer. In order to keep your credential active, you’ll need to make sure you recertify, either through reexamination or continuing education points. You can learn more about these options below.


Recertification: How to Maintain my CMA Credential?

The Certified Medical Assistant credential through the AAMA is valid for 60 months from the last day of the month in which it was awarded. You will need to recertify before this time period is up in order to maintain your certification without lapse. It is important to recertify so that you can continue to use your CMA credential to apply for jobs and work as a CMA for your current employer. Currently, there are 85,295 CMAs, and 37,381 of them have recertified their CMA credentials through examination or continuing education at least once.

Recertification Options

CMAs who have been awarded their credentials through the AAMA have two different options when it comes to recertification.

• Reexamination – You may recertify by following the same steps and processes you followed to certify originally. Simply review the Candidate Application and Handbook for the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination, submit your enrollment fee, and provide the required documentation to retest. AAMA members pay $125 and non-members pay $250 to recertify through reexamination.

• Continuing Education – Most CMAs choose to recertify by via continuing education. In this case, you will need to review and complete the AAMA Recertification By Continuing Education Application, submit your enrollment fee, and provide the required documentation. AAMA members pay $65 and non-members pay $130 to recertify through continuing education.

What You Should Know about Continuing Education

In order to recertify through continuing education, you must obtain a total of 60 recertification points.

To accumulate these points, you will need to earn CEUs (Continuing Education Units), continuing medical education credits, contact hours or college credit hours through or approved by the AAMA. Keep in mind that any points you earn are valid only if you earn them after your initial certification or the your most recent recertification. Each CEU/credit/contact hour is associated with a precise number of points and the formula on how each of these converts to recertification points is as follows:

• 1 CEU = 1 recertification point

• 1.5 CEUs = 1.5 recertification points

• 1 CME credit = 1 recertification point

• 1 contact hour = 1 recertification point

• 1 college credit hour (earned in a quarter semester) = 15 recertification points

Remember that some of the programs available for earning these points may cover content in multiple categories. When this is the case, you can split the points between necessary categories, such as general and clinical, or you may apply both points to either category of your choosing.

Required Recertification Points

Of the 60 recertification points that you must obtain to recertify your CMA status, you must obtain 10 points in each of the general, administrative, and clinical areas. You may accumulate the other 30 points in any of the content areas of your choosing.

• AAMA CEUs – You must get at least 30 or, if desired, all 60 of your recertification points from CEUs that are provided directly through the AAMA, such as in the e-Learning center, AAMA self-study courses, CMA Today CE articles, or participation in the AAMA National Conference. You can also accumulate points by attending workshops conducted by state societies and local chapters of AAMA.

• Non-AAMA CEUs – Out of the 60 recertification points required, you may earn up to 30 points from CEUs that are not provided directly through the AAMA, such as college credit hours, physician CME credits, and even alternative education programs. You need to use the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination Content Outline, the Occupational Analysis of the CMA (AAMA), and the Advanced Practice of Medical Assisting documents to ensure whether the programs meet the AAMA standards and criteria. Bear in mind that the AAMA does accept most of these as long as the subject matter being studied is relevant to the profession of medical assisting as a whole.

Is It Possible to Recertify Early?

If you obtain all 60 recertification points within the 60-month timeframe, you can recertify before your expiration date. Keep in mind, though, that your new certification period starts on the day you recertify – not on the expiration date of your original certification.

What if My CMA Credentials Are Expired?

If you have not recertified on or before the expiration date you will need to reactivate the credential by retaking the examination or completing the required continuing education. You will need to pay a $50 reactivation fee in addition to the recertification fee in order to recertify.

Expired 60+ Months

If your credential has been expired for more than 60 months from the actual date of expiry, you cannot reactivate your credential by continuing education. In this case, you must sit for the CMA certification exam once again, and you will need to follow the steps listed above for first-time applicants. The same recertification fees apply along with a $50 reactivation fee.


Conclusion

As you can see, the steps you should follow to obtain your CMA credential from the AAMA are fairly straightforward. Remember that you’ll get the most benefits as an AAMA member, and you’ll need to recertify once every 60 months in order to keep your credential active.