How Long Will It Take To Finish CIMA?

This is from the “Accounting Makes Cents” podcast episode #14 released on Monday, 30 May 2022.

In this episode, we’re going to discuss how long it takes to do CIMA, the whole process. This is a normal question that students ask when they first start out. Because realistically you’d wanna know how much of a commitment you are making in this endeavour.

Jump to show notes.

And I think there is a correlation to time and cost here. The longer it takes you, the more costly it might be. You’ll note that I won’t be tying down a cost, because this will constantly change. For better results on that front, it’s better to consult the CIMA website with regards to the costs of each exam.

The discussions today are, of course, just thoughts about this process. I am not advocating that you should finish CIMA in the quickest of time, with total disregard for health, mental, and physical well-being. What I offer today are thoughts on how you could possibly use your time effectively and efficiently by planning and timing your Objective Test exams, the OT exams and case study exams. Be warned, this accelerated plan is not for the faint-hearted. If at any time, you feel that you need a break, then by all means, you should take a break. I say this because I’ve always believed that this process is not a sprint to the finish line. It’s very similar to “life is a marathon”. Granted, it doesn’t take your whole life to get designated, but real life happens, and so being fast may not always be the best route to go.

Let’s get right into it with the all-important question: how long will it take to finish CIMA?

The starting point really depends on where you are in the CIMA journey. As mentioned in previous episodes, some students are starting from scratch and others would’ve gotten some exemptions. Wherever you are in this journey, all it needs is to understand how much time is needed for each OT subject and the case study and working it forward.

CIMA actually talks about this on their website. This is what they say: The certificate level, which consists of BA1, BA2, BA3, and BA4 exams, can be completed within 1 year. Since you are able to study and register for the certificate exams at your own pace, it is up to you how long this will take you. Now that’s fine. My discussion today doesn’t really delve too much on the certificate level. It’s the entry level as you enter the world of CIMA. But I did want to include the information here just for the benefit of those students who are starting out from scratch like when you’ve just come out from high school or secondary studies. Because this is your first step.

The real meat is on the CIMA professional qualifications. CIMA says: that on average, students complete 12 professional exams in 4 years. 4 years is long, but let’s recap the structure of the professional qualification to see and better understand if there is a way to reduce this “4 years”.

Currently there are 3 OT exams and 1 case study exam per level. There are 3 levels so that’s why there are 12 professional exams. The 3 OT exams can be taken anytime, there are no restrictions with regards to only being able to take the exams at certain times. The case study on the other hand, can only be taken in February, May, August or November. These are what they call the sittings or sessions. So those are set. And because of this, the logic would be that you would need to be ready for the case study exam in the previous month when the sittings are set. So I’ll explain this a little further.

If you decide that you want to sit for the OCS, the Operational Case Study Exam in November, you would need to ensure that by October, you have already passed E1, F1, and P1. This allows you to dedicate all of your study time to just passing the OCS at that point.

Now the next question is…how long will it take to grasp an OT subject?

In terms of weeks and months, how long are we looking at here? Ideally, what you’d want to spend on an OT subject would be between 6 to 8 weeks of studying, and then take the exams. So in a span of 3-5 months, you should be able to finish all 3 OT subjects for a level. If you fail an OT exam, you need to take it again and pass, preferably before the case study session begins. Finishing the 3 OTs of a level in 3-5 months will give you enough time to then take the upcoming case study exam.

So, what is the magic number?

The reasonable timeframe would be 3 years. You take an exam every 3 months, be it OT or case study. If you want an accelerated time frame, I’d say you can probably even squeeze this down to 30 months or even 27 if you’re really lucky. Anything less than 2 years, 24 months, I think is going to take a lot out of you, especially if you’ve got other commitments such as work, responsibilities, family, etc.

What are factors to consider that could likely detract you from this plan?

There are a couple. A lot is dependent on how well you grasp the subjects. You may find some subjects easier than others, and that’s always a plus. It may take you faster than 7 weeks to become exam ready. But if you find some subjects harder, then studying for that particular course could add more to your time frame. If you fail on any of the OT exams or the case study itself, that will surely add a bit of delay to the plan. Case study fails are a lot longer because then you’d have to wait for the next sitting, which is in another 3 months. How much time and commitment you put into this endeavour, of course, will also need to be factored in here.

As a last point, when is the best time to do this?

Well, normally any time where a case study sitting just ended would be a good starting point. But I do have a suggestion, and if you are that kind of person who likes to start things off in a new year, like a New Year’s Resolution, then you’d really love this. At the start of the year is the best starting point. In particular, week 4 of the year is the absolute week to start your journey, which is around late January.

I’d suggest taking out a pen and noting these timelines down. Write down Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 in columns. If you start on week 4, and you space out 7-8 weeks for each OT exams, I imagine that you would be taking your first Operational Case Study exam (OCS) in August of Year 1, your Management Case Study (MCS) by May/August of Year 2, and your last exam, the Strategic Case Study (SCS), will be around May of Year 3. This is hardcore hard work. If you commit to this accelerated plan, you’d literally have no life for 2 years or more. I advise you to space out each OT study with 7-8 weeks for completion. As mentioned you may find it faster for some courses and that would be a plus for you.

Visuals on the Plan and Timing

Again, this is simply a suggested accelerated time frame to finish CIMA. You’ve got all the info in your hands now. My advice would always be you do you. Don’t feel pressured to finish fast. Becoming an accountant is not a race. I could talk more about this, but I think I’ll leave that one for another episode.

Show notes simplified

In this episode, MJ the tutor discusses the hot topic of how long it will take a student to finish CIMA from start to designation. She discusses a reasonable time frame, and an accelerated one, which is not for the faint-hearted!

Resources and links from this episode:
CIMA page on how long it will take –

“Ding Ding Small Bell” ( by JohnsonBrandEditing ( licensed under CC0 Licence.

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