Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Guide: Exam, Salary, & More

A Certified Medical Assistant is a medical assistant who has completed an accredited training program and passed the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certification exam. 

While not all states or healthcare facilities require medical assistants to be certified, getting a certification makes you a more competitive job applicant, can help you get a raise, and will improve your career options. 

This guide will go over everything you need to know about Certified Medical Assistants including their job description, responsibilities, salary, how to become one, and more. 

Overview of the AAMA & CMA Certification

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is an organization that educates, certifies, protects scope of practice rules, and provides credentialing services to medical assistants in the United States. 

Getting a medical assistant certification—such as the CMA from the AAMA—is a great way to jump-start your career. Not only does getting your certification mean you will be more educated and well-prepared to enter the workforce, but most employers also prefer to hire medical assistants who are certified. Getting your certification can also lead to pay raises and opportunities for promotions. 

CMAs generally work in doctor’s offices or clinics and handle both administrative and clinical responsibilities. They can help answer phones, give injections, schedule appointments, and collect blood samples

The CMA exam is a closed-book exam that can be taken after the completion of an accredited medical assisting program. 

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

To become a Certified Medical Assistant, you first have to meet the requirements to apply for your exam. Then, you’ll have to study hard and pass your exam in order to earn your certification. 

Here are the steps to becoming a certified medical assistant:

1) Earn your high school diploma or GED

All medical assistants, whether certified or not, must earn their high school diploma or GED before they will be allowed to work. 

2) Meet the prerequisites to take the CMA exam

There are several routes you can take to become eligible for the CMA exam. Options include:

  • Complete a medical assisting course that has been accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES. You should apply as a recent graduate if you have completed your course within the last 12 months, and as a non-recent graduate if it has been longer than 12 months. 
  • Complete a college-level apprenticeship program or educational program for medical assistants that meet certain requirements set by the AAMA. 
  • Apply for recertification after previously passing your exam but letting your certification lapse. You do not have to retake an entire course, just pay the fee and retake your examination. 

3) Apply for the CMA exam

Once you have met eligibility requirements, you can apply online to take your CMA exam. Once your application has been submitted and you have paid the $125 fee, you will receive an email within 24 hours with instructions about scheduling your exam. 

4) Schedule your exam

After you apply, you must schedule your exam to be within 90 days of your application submission. You can search for a testing center through the AAMA website and select a time that works for you. 

If you have to re-schedule, you must reschedule to a time within 24 hours of your originally scheduled exam. 

5) Study up!

There are a lot of online resources available for you to prepare for your CMA exam. These include study guides, practice exams, and review courses. You can also use free tools like YouTube and Quizlet to help you study. 

6) Take your exam

Make sure you arrive early at the testing center so you are relaxed and focused. Your exam will consist of 180 questions covering things like anatomy and healthcare ethics (more about what’s on the CMA exam later). 

7) Wait for your results

Immediately after completing your exam, you will be given a pass/fail result. It will take 24 hours to receive your official result. If you do not pass, you can apply to take the exam again right away. 

8) Maintain your certification

After you earn your CMA, you will have to maintain your certification. Certified Medical Assistants must recertify every 60 months. 

This can be done through the completion of 60 continuing education courses offered by AAMA, or by taking and passing the certification exam again. 

If you do not recertify within 63 months of your original certification date, you will not be eligible for recertification through continuing education and must sit for the exam. 

More About the Certified Medical Assistant Exam

The CMA exam is a moderately difficult exam that you will have to spend some time preparing for. The exam covers all the basic information you should know to work as a medical assistant. 

What’s on the CMA Exam & Requirements to Pass

The CMA exam covers topics relevant to both administrative and clinical medical assisting. Reviewing this detailed exam outline can help you know exactly what topics are covered. 

The CMA exam includes the following subjects:

  • Clinical Competency: Clinical workflow, safety, & infection control; procedures/examinations; pharmacology. 106 questions (59% of exam).
  • General: Legal & ethical issues, communication. 38 questions (21% of exam).
  • Administrative: Billing, coding, insurance, & health information management. 36 questions (20% of exam). 

The exam includes 200 questions total, with 180 scored questions and 20 unscored questions that are being trialed for future examinations. All questions are presented in a multiple-choice format. 

You are not allowed to bring any items into the testing center. This includes cheat sheets, calculators, notes, or scratch paper.

Requirements to Pass the CMA Exam

Each question on the CMA exam is assigned a different point value, and each candidate will be given a slightly different exam consisting of questions that have been tested on CAAHEP Medical Assisting Program graduates. 

While the test includes 180 questions, your total score will be calculated on a standardized scale with a perfect score of 800. Candidates must score 405 points to pass the exam. 

How Much the CMA Exam Costs

For members of the AAMA recent graduates of CAAHEP or ABHES programs, the exam fee is $125. 

If you completed your program over 12 months ago or completed a non-ABHES or non-CAAHEP program, you will pay $250.

If your credential has expired and you need to retake your exam, you will have to pay an additional $50 reactivation fee.

How to Prepare for the CMA Exam

One of the best ways to prepare for the CMA exam is to take the practice test available through AAMA. This exam is similar to the real test and will help you identify your weaknesses and strengths. 

Other resources available include review books with practice exams, YouTube videos, and flashcards to study with. 

Make sure to spend time studying each day leading up to your test. Do not try to cram the night before your exam. 

Get a good night's sleep before your exam and make sure to get to the testing center early.

CMA Exam Statistics

Between July 2021 and July 2022, there were 9,041 CMA exams taken. The pass rate for this time period was 58%. This includes both first-time examinations as well as second and third attempts. 

As of March 2023, there are 75,659 Certified Medical Assistants in the United States who have passed their exam and maintained their certification. 

How Many Times You Can Take the CMA Exam

Candidates are allowed three attempts to pass the CMA exam. If you do not pass on your third try, you will have to either re-take an entire certification course or try to get a different type of medical assisting certification. 

What is a Certified Medical Assistant & What Do They Do?

A Certified Medical Assistant is someone who has completed a special medical assisting training course and passed the AAMA medical assisting certification exam. 

Sometimes, “certified medical assistant” is used for anyone who has gotten a medical assistant certification, also including Registered Medical Assistants, Certified Clinical Medical Assistants, and National Certified Medical Assistants.

Certified Medical Assistants work alongside physicians to provide care for patients. They can perform both administrative and clinical duties and work in a variety of healthcare specialties. 

Certified medical assistants may choose to focus on clinical medical assisting or administrative medical assisting, or find a job that allows them to do both. 

Clinical Duties of a Certified Medical Assistant

Clinical duties of medical assistants include tasks that are mostly related to direct patient care. These include: 

  • Measuring vital signs 
  • Collecting blood samples
  • Collecting urine and stool samples 
  • Assisting with bedside procedures 
  • Giving injections 
  • Administering medications 
  • Applying bandages
  • Removing stitches
  • Sterilizing equipment
  • Sanitizing rooms between patients 
  • Organizing supplies 

Administrative Duties of a Certified Medical Assistant

Administrative duties of certified medical assistants include tasks that are generally considered front-office responsibilities. Medical assistants that only do these tasks are often called medical administrative assistants. Common responsibilities include: 

  • Handling phone calls
  • Scheduling appointments 
  • Handling billing 
  • Coding for appointments and procedures 
  • Dealing with insurance 
  • Greeting patients 
  • Keeping medical records up to date 
  • Sending reminders 
  • Ordering supplies 
  • Coordinating referrals 

Certified Medical Assistant Salaries & Job Outlook

Medical assisting is a rapidly growing career in healthcare with a job outlook expected to grow 16% through 2032. 

Medical assistants earn an average of $37,190 per year or about $18 per hour in the United States. Earning a certification can help you earn about 10% more than your uncertified medical assistant coworkers. 

Certified Medical Assistant FAQs

What is the difference between CMA, RMA, CCMA, and NCMA?

CMA, RMA, CCMA, and NCMA are each medical assistant certifications offered by different certifying agencies. Most employers will accept all types of certification and do not prefer one over another.  

Is CMA a good certification?

CMA is a good certification that is recognized by healthcare facilities across the nation. Earning your CMA shows that you are well educated and understand how to safely, ethically, and efficiently carry out both clinical and administrative medical assisting responsibilities. 

Is the CMA exam hard?

The CMA exam is moderately difficult. The exam passing rate for 2022 was less than 60%. Choosing a medical assisting certification program with a high exam pass rate and spending time studying will improve your chances of passing your exam on the first try. 

How long do CMA results take?

You will receive a pass/fail result immediately after you complete your exam. Official results will be sent to you within 24 hours. 

What’s the best way to study for the CMA exam?

The best way to prepare for the CMA exam is to attend a good medical assisting program. Once you have completed your program, take as many practice tests as you can to help you identify your weak areas and review each question you missed. 

How long does a CMA training program take?

Online CMA training programs can be completed in as little as four months. In-person medical assistant associate degree programs can last up to two years. Both online and in-person associate degree programs result in the same certification. 

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