At the double

According to CIMA, the average amount of time it takes to become fully CIMA qualified is four years. Given that you can become fully qualified in just three years, what is the missing gap? I’m very lucky to have qualified in just three years, but much of that was due to tactical exam planning rather than chance.

I’ve often found in my professional career that people spend too long in the qualification framework because they do not commit to taking their CIMA exams. Instead, they study first and book the exam when they are comfortable that they will pass. This might work for some, but life will always get in the way if you are waiting for the right time to sit your exams. The best advice I can give is to commit first by booking your exam in the future and then study as hard as you can to pass that exam.

With this advice on board, it is important to start tactically planning your exams for the next three years. If you have obtained a degree before pursuing the CIMA qualification, chances are that you have received some exemptions. Assuming that those exemptions have allowed you to move straight onto the professional qualification framework, then it is reasonable to expect that you can get through one level per year. It really is that simple – make it your goal to complete one level per year.

That means taking three objective exams and one case study exam per year. CIMA recommends that you take the Enterprise pillar exams first, then the Performance and finally the Financial pillar. I would largely agree with this exam order, but there is nothing stopping you from taking any objective exam order you like.

The question is this: how long you should spend studying for each objective and case study exam if you are to successfully move up one level per year? My personal recommendation is that objective exams are given six to eight weeks of study and case studies are given eight to nine weeks of study, depending on how familiar you are with the content. This means that you can spend roughly half of the year studying and the rest can be spent relaxing.

It is important to remember that even if you complete all your exams in a short space of time like one year or 18 months (I have seen this before!), you must still have three years of relevant experience to be a fully qualified CIMA accountant. My opinion is that you should pass your exams in co-ordination with this three-year target rather than being at odds with it.

The CIMA framework was designed to be worked through at a pace that brings academic and practical experience together, so it is recommended that you aim to achieve both requirements around the same time.