CIMA Certificate: Beginner’s guide to the Certificate level exams

CIMA certificate
So, you want to become a CIMA qualified accountant? Well, if you don’t have an accounting background the first step on this journey is gaining the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting!

Passing your CIMA Certificate exams will be your key into the Professional CIMA Levels – from Operational moving all the way up to Strategic! 

This page will tell you everything you need to know before taking this first crucial step in your CIMA journey by answering all the commonly asked questions. Whether it’s when you should take the exams or what’s included in the syllabus, we’ve got it covered! 

1. What is the CIMA certificate?

2. Do I need to take certificate?

3. CIMA certificate exams

4. How, where and when?

5. Exam format

6. CIMA certificate pass mark

7. Order of the certificate exams

8. How difficult are the exams?

9. How long does it take?

10. Do I need a course provider?

11. How to pass first time

1. What is the CIMA certificate?

The CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting (but more commonly known as simply ‘The CIMA Certificate’) is a qualification that gives you a basic grounding in types accounting and business. To gain this qualification, you have to pass 4 exams, each focusing on a different aspect of business and accounting.  The exams are:

CIMA BA1 – Fundamentals of Business Economics

CIMA BA2 – Fundamentals of Management Accounting

CIMA BA3 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting

CIMA BA4 – Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law

2. Do I have to take the CIMA Certificate exams?

Before you start thinking too much about taking the CIMA Certificate exams, you should check to see if you’re eligible for CIMA exemptions! If you already hold accounting or business qualifications, there’s a chance that you may be able to skip some or all of the CIMA Certificate exams. This is because CIMA offers exemptions to those who have already demonstrated that they have the requisite knowledge for each exam. This means that you may be able to start your CIMA journey at the Professional Level. 

If you think you are eligible for a CIMA exemption, it is ESSENTIAL that you apply for it before taking any CIMA Certificate exams. If you take an exam and fail it, you’ll have to resit, even if you were originally eligible for an exemption!

If you’re still unsure about how this all works, you can read more about CIMA exemptions in our complete guide.

3. Everything you need to know about CIMA exams

What will I be examined on? 

All the topics that you’ll need to know for your CIMA Certificate level exams can be found in CIMA’s syllabus (For a more detailed look at the CIMA syllabus, you should check out our own guide to the CIMA syllabus.)

As noted above, the CIMA Certificate level is broken down into four exams:

CIMA BA1 – Fundamentals of Business Economics
CIMA BA1 focuses on the economic and operating context of business and how the factors of competition, the behaviour of financial markets and government economic policy can influence an organisation. It also deals with the information available to assist management in evaluating and forecasting the behaviour of consumers, markets and the economy in general

You will gain an understanding of the areas of economic activity relevant to an organisation’s decisions and, within this context, the numerical techniques to support such decisions.

Subjects in CIMA BA1:

25% = Macroeconomic and institutional context of business

30% = Macroeconomic and organisational context of business

20% = Informational context of business

25% = Financial context of business

CIMA BA2 – Fundamentals of Management Accounting
CIMA BA2 teaches you the fundamental knowledge and techniques that underpin management accounting. It identifies the position of the management accountant within organisations and the role of CIMA. IN CIMA BA2, you’ll see the role of management accounting in the contexts of commercial and public sector bodies and its wider role in society.

Subjects in CIMA BA2:

10% = The context of management accounting

25% = Costing

30% = Planning and control

35% = Decision making

CIMA BA3 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting
In CIMA BA3 you’ll obtain a practical understanding of financial accounting and the process behind the preparation of financial statements for single entities.

These statements are prepared within a conceptual and regulatory framework requiring an understanding of the role of legislation and of accounting standards. The need to understand and apply necessary controls for accounting systems, and the nature of errors is also covered. There is an introduction to measuring financial performance with the calculation of basic ratios.

Subjects in CIMA BA3:

10% = Accounting principles, concepts and regulations

50% = Recording accounting transactions

30% = Preparation of accounts for single entities

10% = Analysis of financial statements

CIMA BA4 – Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law
In CIMA BA4 you’ll gain an understanding of the professional standards to be demonstrated for the benefit of all stakeholders. With this in mind, the place of ethics and ethical conflict is an essential underpinning for commercial activity. It includes the role of corporate governance, corporate social responsibility and audit; and their increasing impact in the management of organisations. When studying for CIMA BA4, the areas of contract law, employment law, administration and management of companies are also considered.

Subjects in CIMA BA4:

30% = Business ethics and ethical conflict

45% = Corporate governance, controls and corporate social responsibility

15% = General principles of the legal system, contracts and employment law

10% = Company administration

Within each exam for the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, CIMA outlines the weighting for the key topics (the proportion of the exam devoted to each part of the syllabus). ALL topics in the syllabus MUST be studied, as ALL areas WILL be examined, so don’t neglect an area just because it has a low percentage weighting! However, when studying CIMA BA3, for example, it would be sensible to spend more time on ‘Recording Accounting Transactions’ (50% of the exam) than ‘Analysis of Financial Statements’ (10% of the exam)!

4. How, where and when?

The first thing you’ll need to do is sign up to get a CIMA account. Once you’ve enrolled with CIMA (and paid its registration fee of £85), you’ll be able to book a date for your first CIMA Certificate level exam on your ‘My CIMA’ account.

CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting exams are facilitated by Pearson Vue (if you’re in the UK, you may have already encountered Pearson Vue when taking your driving theory test!). You can choose to take CIMA Certificate exams either on a computer at a Pearson Vue centre or from your home on your own computer. Whilst taking the exam at home may seem like the most convenient option, there are some important things you must bear in mind:

If you take your exam from home, you won’t be able to handwrite calculations or notes during the exam. If you do want to make notes, you’ll have to use the on-screen scratch-pad (more on this later on!)
If your internet connection is unreliable, this may cause problems when you come to sit the exam – you’re sure to have many thoughts going through your mind before your exam, but your internet connection really shouldn’t be one!
Before the exam, you must download the software Pearson Vue uses to facilitate and invigilate your exam. This software requires access to your webcam and microphone (so they can ensure you’re not cheating!), so they both must be in working order.
You must ensure that you can be in a room alone, without any noise distractions. If someone else is caught in the room with you, you will be DISQUALIFIED and at risk of being barred from CIMA membership. 
Therefore, if you’re worried about any of these things, you should consider taking your exams in a Pearson Vue centre where the responsibility is left to them.

So, when can you take the exams? You can book an exam for a time and date of your choosing (subject to availability at Pearson Vue). There is no set ‘sitting period’ for CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting exams, so the choice is up to you. You do not need to book all 4 exams in one go (we strongly advise you to book one exam at a time), and you can take the exams in any order you like – but more on this later!

As of March 2022, it costs £105 to sit a CIMA Certificate level exam if you are taking it from Western Europe, Australia, Singapore, the USA and Canada, but CIMA offers reduced fees for the rest of the world to improve access to their qualifications.

5. Exam format

All CIMA Certificate exams are two hours long. In your CIMA BA1, BA2 and BA3 exams you’ll have to answer 60 questions, whilst in BA4, you’ll have to answer 85 (more because the questions are typically shorter). The exam questions will vary in style. You may encounter any of:

 

  • Multiple-choice – You must pick 1 answer from a list of responses.
  • Multiple-response – Similar to multiple-choice, but this time you have to pick 2 or more correct answers from a list. Usually (but not always!) the question will specify how many answers you need to select.
  • Number entry – These typically involve you making calculations to give a numerical answer. Remember to answer to the correct number of decimal places!
  • Hotspot – These questions ask you to mark the correct spot, which will typically be a point on a graph.
  • Drag and drop – You’re required to drag answers into the correct order or place an answer with the correct definition.

In the exam, you’ll have access to several tools and functions to help you on your way! These are:

On-screen calculator
Thankfully, you won’t have to do calculations in your head as you’ll have access to an on-screen calculator (this isn’t a maths exam after all!). We recommend you bring in your own calculator as well because it makes any long calculations so much easier! You can find a list of CIMA approved calculators on their website.
Scratch-pad and notepad
If you’re taking the exam in a Pearson Vue centre, you’ll have access to a pen and whiteboard to perform your calculations, along with the on-screen ‘scratch-pad’ where you can also make notes. However, if you choose to take the exams at home, you will not be able to handwrite calculations due to security issues, but you will have the on-screen ‘scratch-pad’ at your disposal.
Tables & formula booklets
You’ll also be pleased to learn that you’re not required to remember all the tables and formulae for your CIMA Certificate Level exams – you’ll have access to on-screen table & formula booklets. You can access these by clicking on the ‘Tables & Formulae’ button in the bottom left-hand corner of the exam programme. You can find out which formulae and tables are provided on the CIMA website.
Flag for review
The flag for review feature allows you to mark any question in the exam that you wish to revisit. Once all questions in the exam have been viewed, you can then choose to only view those that you have flagged for review, making the process of revisiting these tough questions a little easier!

6. CIMA Certificate Pass Mark

Although you answer 60 (or 85) questions in your CIMA Certificate level exams, CIMA will give you a scaled score out of 150 – to pass you’ll need to achieve 100. Every student sitting the exam sees a different set of questions (taken from a large bank) so CIMA uses scaled scores to level the playing field for students and make the results fairer!

Immediately after you’ve finished your exam, you’ll receive a provisional pass or fail, which is printed out by the staff at the Pearson Vue centre, or available on your CIMA log in if taken remotely. Then, 48 hours later, you’ll receive your scaled score as well as what areas of the syllabus you were ‘proficient’ in. If you fail the exam, but you’re very close to passing (scoring in the 90s), we strongly recommend you retake the exam as soon as possible. If the knowledge is still fresh in your mind, and you’ve had a chance to revise the areas you were not deemed proficient in, you’ll have a much better chance of passing the second time around. 

CIMA certificate pass mark

7. In which order should I take my CIMA Certificate exams?

CIMA has no rules on what order you need to sit your exams…so you are totally free to start with CIMA BA1 and take them sequentially to CIMA BA4 or any of the other 23 combinations of CIMA Certificate Level exams!

However, at Astranti we recommend taking the exams in the order:

CIMA BA2 – CIMA BA3 – CIMA BA1 – CIMA BA4

We advise starting your CIMA Certificate level studies with BA2 as the topics it covers lay a good foundation for the rest of the course. For example, once you’ve passed BA2, when you get round to studying CIMA BA3 you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that you’ve already learned some of the content for that exam. However, CIMA BA1 and BA4  have less crossover in the content they cover, so you may want to take them towards the end of your CIMA Certificate studies.

8. How difficult are the CIMA Certificate exams?

As with all exams, they’re only easy if you know the answers! However, depending on your skills, experience and amount of preparation time, you may find certain exams harder than others. 

To gauge the difficulty of each exam, you may find it useful to consider the respective pass rates for each one: (You can find the most up to date pass rates on the CIMA website.) 

Pass rate (as of November 2021)

CIMA BA168%

CIMA BA2 – 62%

CIMA BA3 – 70%

CIMA BA4 – 56%

Whilst these statistics show that most people taking these exams pass, there is a range of pass rates between the exams. At Astranti we’ve helped thousands of students pass their CIMA Certificate exams, and here is what we’ve found from our experience:
If you’re totally new to accounting, you’ll probably find CIMA BA2 the toughest. This is because CIMA BA2 introduces topics such as costing and profit reconciliation, which can be difficult to get your head around if you’ve never studied accounting before.
CIMA BA1 is a bit of a mix of calculations and theory! Whilst it does require you to perform calculations, you’ll also be tested on your knowledge of government regulation of markets, so if you already have a good understanding of current affairs, you’ll have a head start!
CIMA BA3 is a lot easier if you’ve mastered BA2! BA3 is the natural sequel to BA2 due to the significant content overlap. Therefore, once you’ve passed BA2, we recommend taking BA3 soon afterwards whilst the knowledge is still fresh in your brain!
Don’t underestimate CIMA BA4. In BA4, you won’t be asked to perform any calculations – but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it will be an easy exam! This exam requires different skills, particularly focusing on understanding definitions and applying principles to various scenarios.
Remember, the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting syllabus covers a broad range of knowledge and skills, and you’re certain to find some exams harder than others. And as ever, your best chance of success is making sure you prepare well!

9. How long does it take to complete the CIMA Certificate level?

We find most students can complete their CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting exams within 6-12 months.

If you have the time to study and revise two or three chapters a week from the Astranti study text, you should be able to get to the required ability in the following times:

Recommended study time (weeks)

CIMA BA110

CIMA BA28

CIMA BA3 – 8

CIMA BA4 – 7

We strongly advise that you book a date to sit your exam early in your studies. This is for two  reasons:

 

  1. Exam centres are sometimes fully booked for weeks (or sometimes months) in advance – you don’t want to learn all of the content and then find you have to wait weeks before you can sit the exam!
  2. Having a set date for your exam can give you a target to work towards, focussing your mind, and will help you fight against the temptation to procrastinate!

10. Do I need a course provider?

CIMA Certificate Courses
In short – yes!

Although the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting is only the first step in your accounting journey, the topics are complex enough that you’d struggle to research all of the topics yourself. And really, why would you want to when there are excellent free courses (like Astranti’s) out there which will give you all you need to know to pass your exams?

When you sign up for a course provider, you should expect:

  • Study texts – You’ll need a study text that covers the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting syllabus and simplifies complex topics in a way that makes them easy to follow.
  • Videos – After a long day working, you may prefer to study by watching a video. It’s always nice to listen to someone else explain a topic for you rather than having to read it all yourself!
  • Revision notes – In the last couple of days, hours and minutes before your exam, you don’t want to be reading through the whole syllabus study text to refresh your memory! Revision notes are a great tool because they give you all of the key topics to focus on in an easy to follow format.
  • Questions and mocks – The best way to prepare for the exams is by testing your knowledge. You should definitely go with a provider who provides questions and mocks to allow you to see which areas need improvement before your exam!
  • Tutor support – Sometimes, you may encounter a topic that you really do not understand. Therefore, you’ll want a provider you can contact to clear up any queries you have.

If you want a good example of these resources, look no further than Astranti – we offer all of these for free!

11. How to ACE your certificate exam first time

Passing your exams for the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting first time not only requires your hard work, but an intelligent and efficient approach, both in preparation and in your exam. Here are our 5 top tips to help you pass the first time:
Start studying early
You’ll need to cover the entire syllabus in your studying, so it is essential that you start your studies early. Don’t put off starting your revision until a few days before the exam. Be realistic about how long it will take you to learn the content and become comfortable answering questions.
Mocks
Mocks are the closest you’ll come to replicating ‘the real thing’, so it’s vital that you utilise the mocks at your disposal. Astranti offers 3 free mocks for every CIMA Certificate exam- we recommend you do them in the final two weeks of your studying once you’ve covered everything in the syllabus. You can analyse your mock results to highlight where you need to concentrate your revision in the build-up to your exam. 
Know your formula sheet!
Walking into an exam and seeing the formula you spent hours trying to memorise, written on the formula sheet, is frustrating. But finding out the formula you assumed was given is in fact nowhere to be seen can be catastrophic! Not only is it likely to hinder you in answering specific questions, but the sheer panic could be enough to seriously impact your performance. It’s important to know exactly what is provided in your exam and, just as importantly, what isn’t. This will make the revision process more efficient and may also prevent any exam room panic.
Read the question!
This may sound obvious but carefully check for double negatives and other words such as ‘not’, ‘always’, ‘most’ and ‘best’ which will be important in making sure you select the right answer.
Take care with your time
One of the main areas where students fall down is running out of time and not answering all of the questions. You cannot afford to spend valuable time dwelling on a difficult question for too long as you may end up not having time to answer the questions you do know. You MUST utilise the flagging tool and move on to another question if you’re spending too long on one.
So that concludes our beginner’s guide to the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting. If you’re about to embark on this qualification, you should definitely try out our FREE CIMA Certificate level resources, where you can find materials to help you study and prepare for your CIMA Certificate exams. If you have any questions, please do ask us in the comments section below. We wish you all the very best in your CIMA Certificate studies!

Free CIMA Certificate Courses

Start your free Astranti certificate level membership and get access to a full course for each of the BA1, BA2, BA3 and BA4 exams.

Our free courses contain all of the following:

Study texts
Tuition videos with audio downloads
Revision notes
Exam practice kits
Exam technique guide
3x Mock exams

Holly Dymmock

Customer Service and Mentoring Supervisor

I hope you’ve found this guide on taking CIMA exams useful – but if you’ve got any further questions, leave a message and I’d be happy to help!

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