Certified Medical Assistant Exam Guide

by Daniel Bal
• 6 min read
Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, RN, CCRN

Passing the CMA exam is the final step to becoming a certified medical assistant. Find out what to expect in this comprehensive guide.

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Certified Medical Assistant Exam Guide
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Certified medical assistants (CMAs) are one of the country's most in-demand healthcare workers. In fact, the position is growing faster than average when compared to other occupations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of CMAs is anticipated to grow 18% by 2030.

To become a certified medical assistant, candidates must first pass the medical assistant certification exam. A clear understanding of how to register and study for this exam will ensure test-takers are prepared to earn their CMA credential.

Detailed throughout this guide is a summary and breakdown of the CMA exam and the best ways to prepare.

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What Is the Certified Medical Assistant Exam?

While there are a few different options for certification, the one offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is the most recognized.

Accredited by the certifying board of the AAMA, the medical assistant certification exam ensures that the test-taker understands a range of medical, clinical, and administrative responsibilities. Upon completion, candidates are awarded the credential of CMA.

Earning the certification provides medical assistants with many benefits:

Holding a certification provides medical assistants with increased employment opportunities. It highlights their dedication to the field and displays their advanced knowledge of CMA duties. Some employers only hire employees who are certified, making the individual more marketable. CMAs enjoy higher medical assistant salary pay rates and bonuses. Whether certification becomes a requirement or not, those who are already certified are more likely to maintain employment. Since the certification needs to be renewed every five years, CMAs remain up to date on new practices and procedures, making them more appealing to employers.

CMA Exam Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the exam, candidates must meet one of three eligibility categories:

  • Category 1

    Candidates must have completed or are in the process of completing a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Candidates can take the medical assistant certification test no more than 30 days before the completion of their program.

  • Category 2

    Nonrecent graduates (more than 12 months) of a CAAHEP or ABHES program are eligible to take the exam.

  • Category 3

    Candidates who have previously passed the CMA exam can apply to recertify their credentials.

What to Expect When You Take the Certified Medical Assistant Exam

After qualifying to take the CMA exam, test-takers can begin their preparations. By understanding how the exam is administered, how long it takes to complete, and the type of content found on the medical assistant certification test, candidates can reduce encountering any surprises on test day.

How Is the Exam Administered?

The exam is administered through Prometric, a provider of technology-based testing and assessment services. Upon receiving approval from the AAMA to take the exam, test-takers will be given a 90-day window to schedule and complete the exam at a Prometric testing location.

Testing centers include video and audio monitoring throughout the exam and digital cameras to verify the identity of test-takers.

How Long Is the Exam?

The medical assistant certification exam is administered in four 40-minute segments with optional breaks. The breaks combined cannot exceed 20 minutes. Skipping the tutorial and breaks will not affect the overall exam time.

The maximum amount of time for the exam is 195 minutes, which includes time for the tutorial (15 minutes) and breaks (20 minutes). Once the test-taker begins, the exam cannot be paused, canceled, or rescheduled.

What Types of Questions Are on the Exam?

The exam is broken up into three areas — clinical competency, general, and administrative — that contain a total of 180 questions. An additional 20 pretest questions are placed randomly throughout the exam. The pretest questions do not impact the test-taker's final score.

The exam categories provide a range of questions that determine the proficiency and aptitude of the test-taker. Items covered include medical procedures, legal issues, and billing practices. The medical assistant certification exam determines the test-taker's versatility in the medical arena.

Question Categories
Clinical Competency 106 questions
  • Clinical workflow: Patient intake and discharge
  • Safety and infection control
  • Procedures/examinations
  • Pharmacology
General 38 questions
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Communication
Administrative 36 questions
  • Billing, coding, and insurance
  • Appointment and health information management

How Difficult Is the Exam?

Between July 2019 and July 2020, the AAMA administered 7,482 exams, with 67% of test-takers passing. The difficulty of the medical assistant certification test depends on how much time an individual sets aside to study.

The AAMA recommends completing medical assistant certification practice tests and paying close attention to the amount of time it takes to answer each question. It is best to answer the questions the test-taker finds easy and then return to those they find difficult. This will provide more time to focus on questions that trouble them.

How Do You Register for the Exam?

Registering for the exam includes the following steps:

  1. Verify eligibility.
  2. Gather necessary documentation.
  3. Review exam policies and procedures.
  4. Determine a start date for the testing period (90-day testing window).
  5. Apply for the exam after the AAMA approves a 90-day testing period.
  6. Schedule exam appointment.

How Is the Exam Scored?

The score is based on the number of correct responses on the exam. The scale ranges from 200-800, with a minimum passing score of 430. The AAMA conducts a study approximately every three years to establish the standard level of competency. Therefore, they may adjust the passing score if appropriate.

How to Pass the Certified Medical Assistant Exam

To pass the exam, candidates should take advantage of the resources available to them. Taking practice exams and signing up for review courses can help with test preparation. It is also beneficial to understand standard medical terminology that may not be solely dedicated to CMAs; therefore, a basic knowledge of the healthcare field can benefit test-takers.

true Understand Exam Materials Beyond Memorization

The exam may include questions and topics not covered in any official study guides. A thorough understanding of terminology and procedures may help with determining correct answers for questions not found in study materials. Test-takers must be able to apply knowledge and not just simply regurgitate information.

Take the Practice Tests

Completing medical assistant certification practice tests is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam. Not only will the practice provide an overview of the exam's content, but it also helps with pacing and finishing within the time limit.

Completing medical assistant certification practice tests is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam. Not only will the practice provide an overview of the exam's content, but it also helps with pacing and finishing within the time limit.

Sign Up for a Review Course

The AAMA offers review courses by an accredited medical assisting program through their local chapters. These courses provide candidates with study guides, practice tests, and a review of exam material. Taking one of these courses provides test-takers with an opportunity to refresh their knowledge and make sure they understand the exam's concepts.

Those interested in a review course can visit the AAMA website to search for state and local chapters that may provide opportunities in their area.

Identify Which Subjects and Sections Will Require Additional Focus

Using practice tests, guides, and the exam content outline, test-takers can identify exam sections in which they may need improvement. This will help focus a test-taker's study plan on material that needs more attention.

Study Resources

Outside of review courses, there are a variety of free study resources available online that can help in exam preparation.

Quizlet is a free website that provides flashcards to help individuals review and study a variety of material. The following links provide flashcards that can help in preparation of the CMA exam:

Chegg allows for the creation and sharing of flashcards that help individuals study a topic of their choosing. The website specifically provides a CMA exam review that contains over 500 flashcards.

YouTube can be used as a study resource as it contains videos that explain the proper techniques for calculating heart rate from an electrocardiogram, injection, disinfection, or other condition.

The AAMA provides practice questions in the following subject areas:

Frequently Asked Questions About the Certified Medical Assistant Exam


How many times can you retake the certified medical assistant exam?

Candidates are allowed to take the exam three times. Those who are pursuing recertification are also allowed three attempts. Each individual attempt will require a new application and exam fee. If the candidate cannot pass after three attempts, they are no longer eligible for the certification.

How much does it cost to take the certified medical assistant exam?

If the test-taker is a member of the AAMA, or they are completing or have recently completed a CAAHEP or ABHES program, the cost is $125. All other test-takers must pay $250. Fees are nonrefundable.

What is a passing score on the certified medical assistant exam?

Test scores can range from 200-800, with a minimum passing score of 430. The exam is analyzed about every three years to determine if the passing score should change.

How long does it take to receive your scores after taking the certified medical assistant exam?

After completing the exam at the testing center, a pass/fail notification is immediately provided. An official score report is then mailed about three weeks after the exam date. Exam status is also available by logging into the AAMA's My Certification Information portal.

Reviewed by:

Shri Deshaies MSN, RN, CCRN, is a nurse educator with over 20 years of teaching experience. She is a certified critical care nurse and has worked in various surgical intensive care units, including cardiovascular, trauma, and neurosurgery. Her passion for health equity led her to becoming a community home health nurse. She is a founding member of Nurses Serving our Neighbors which advocates for the homeless population.

Shri Deshaies is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. Learn more about our review partners.

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NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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