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Certified Medical Assistant Exam Guide

Daniel Bal, MS.Ed
Updated February 10, 2023
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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 assistants (CMAs) are in high demand. The position is growing much faster than average compared to other jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of CMAs is anticipated to grow 16% from 2021-31.

To become a certified medical assistant, you must first pass the certification exam. Learn more about the CMA exam, including how to register, exam questions, study tips, and other ways to prepare.

What Is the Certified Medical Assistant Exam?

While there are different options for certification, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers the most recognized pathway.The medical assistant certification exam is accredited by AAMA’s certifying board and includes questions about CMA’s medical, clinical, and administrative responsibilities. After passing the test, candidates are awarded the CMA credential.

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, you must meet one of three categories:

  • chevron-right

    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.
  • chevron-right

    Category 2

    Non-recent CAAHEP or ABHES program graduates (more than 12 months) are eligible to take the exam.
  • chevron-right

    Category 3

    Candidates who have previously passed the CMA exam can apply to recertify their credentials.
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What to Expect When You Take the Certified Medical Assistant Exam

After qualifying to take the CMA exam, you can begin to prepare. By understanding how the exam is administered, how long it is, and what topics it covers, you 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 pre-test questions are placed randomly throughout the exam. The pre-test questions do not impact the test-taker’s final score.

The exam categories cover questions that determine the test-taker’s proficiency and aptitude. Items covered include medical procedures, legal issues, and billing practices.

Question Categories
CategoryNumber of QuestionsContent
Clinical Competency106 questionsClinical workflow: Patient intake and discharge; Safety and infection control; Procedures/examinations; Pharmacology
General38 questionsLegal and ethical issues; Communication
Administrative36 questionsBilling, 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, so a basic knowledge of the healthcare field can benefit test-takers.

  1. 1

    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.

  2. 2

    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.

    The AAMA provides a CMA practice exam that costs $30 to access. Test-takers can take the 200-question practice exam twice. They also offer a free sample practice exam that contains five questions.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    Identify Which Subjects and Sections Will Require Additional Focus

    Using practice tests, guides, and the AAMA’s 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 Flashcards

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 test-takers prepare for the CMA exam:

Chegg Flashcards

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.

AAMA Practice Questions

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 can take the exam three times. Those pursuing recertification also have 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 test-takers are AAMA members, 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 range from 200-800, with a minimum passing score of 430. AAMA analyzes exam results 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, test-takers immediately receive a pass/fail notification. 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.

Related Resources for Certified Medical Assistant

Page last reviewed on December 10, 2022

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