CIMA – Structure of the Qualification

Entry requirements

Related qualifications:
  • CIMA Cert in BA
  • Relevant degree in accounting or business
  • AAT Level 4 Diploma in Accounting
  • MBA or Masters in Accounting
Number of exams, exam duration and sittings:
  • Objective tests: 9 papers of 90 minutes each – computer-based, on demand
  • Integrated Case Studies – 3 papers of 3 hours each – computer-based, available in 4 sittings per year (February, May, August, November)

In order to complete each level you need to sit the relevant Integrated Case Study (ICS). The ICS exams combine the knowledge and learning across the three pillars and are set within a simulated business context to reflect real-life work situations. They develop the skills that employers are looking for in the work place. The ICS include pre-seen material and unseen material. These are available during the assessments and the focus is on: application, analysis and evaluation.

With BPP programmes* you can learn how to deal effectively with the real pre-seen in exam conditions via our ICS exam environment that replicates the real exam. The computerised ICS exams are three hours long and are available four times per year. The pass mark is 60%, human marked with results available within 4-5 weeks.

*The live debrief is delivered via the Online Classroom Live

Completion times:

  • Between 3 and 5 years on average
Work Experience Required:
  • None involved in passing the exam
  • 3 years’ work experience for entry to membership
Letters after your name, awarded upon completion of each level:
  • Certificate level – CIMA Cert BA
  • Operational level – CIMA Dip MA
  • Management level – CIMA Adv Dip MA
  • Member (after Strategic level) – CGMA
  • Fellow – FCMA, CGMA


CIMA Certificate Overview

The Certificate level is the open entry route to the CIMA qualification. It is comprised of 4 papers and usually takes 6 to 12 months to complete. You may be entitled to exemptions from some or all of the papers. You can check exemptions database here.

CIMA Certificate provides you with a good grounding in management accountancy and an insight into how the different areas of accounting relate to the business world. It also gives you a foundation to a career in business and finance, a knowledge refresher course and a bridge to the CIMA Professional Qualification.

Programmes start every month and you can sit your exam any time you choose. Each paper is tested by a ninety-minutes’ computer-based assessment (CBA). You can sit the papers in any order. BPP recommends you start with BA3, followed by BA4, BA2 and BA1. Upon completion of the level you can put the title CIMA Cert BA after your name.

CIMA Certificate Levels:

BA1 – Fundamentals of Business Economics

The paper focuses on the economic and operating context of business, exploring how factors of competition, behaviour of financial markets and government economic policy can influence an organisation. Information available to assist management is key to evaluating and forecasting the behaviour of consumers, markets and the economy in general. Students will gain an understanding of the areas of economic activity which relate to an organisation’s decision making process. Numerical techniques to support such decisions are explored. Former C04 (Syllabus by 2016). Covers the following key aspects of the context of business:

  • Macroeconomic and Institutional (25%)
  • Microeconomics and Organisational (30%)
  • Informational (20%)
  • Financial (25%)


BA2 – Fundamentals of Management Accounting

The paper provides fundamental knowledge and techniques that underpin management accounting. It identifies the position of the management accountant within organisations and the role of CIMA. The topics covered portray the role of management accounting in the contexts of commercial and public sector bodies explaining its wider role in society. Former C01 (Syllabus by 2015). Topics included are:

  • The Context of Management Accounting (10%)
  • Costing (25%)
  • Planning and Control (30%)
  • Decision Making (35%)


BA3 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting

Students studying for this exam will obtain a practical understanding of financial accounting and the process behind the preparation of financial statements for single entities. The paper builds an understanding of the role of legislation and of accounting standards which determine the conceptual and regulatory framework. The need to understand and apply necessary controls for accounting systems, and the nature of errors is also covered. An introduction to measuring financial performance with the calculation of basic ratios is introduced. Former C02 (Syllabys by 2015). Main topics are:

  • Accounting Principles, Concepts and Regulations (10%)
  • Recording Accounting Transactions (50%)
  • Preparation of Accounts for Single Entities (30%)
  • Analysis of Financial Statements (10%)


BA4 – Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law

The paper requires students to build an understanding of the professional standards to be demonstrated for the benefit of all stakeholders. 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 plus their increasing impact in the management of organisations. Wherever business is conducted the legal and administrative framework underpins commercial activity. The areas of contract law, employment law, administration and management of companies are considered in detail. Former C05 (Syllabus 2015). Basic topics covered are:

  • Business Ethics and Ethical Conflict (30%)
  • Corporate Governance, Control and Corporate Social Responsibility (45%)
  • General Principles of the Legal System, Contract and Employment Law (15%)
  • Company Administration (10%)

For more information on Cert BA syllabus visit the official webpage.

CIMA Professional levels


Each level covers three learning pillars interlinked to provide a consistent body of knowledge and designed to cover a range of valuable business areas in addition to finance. These are:

  • Enterprise (E) – formulate and implement strategy;
  • Performance (P) – identify, classify, evaluate and manage risk (tools and techniques);
  • Financial (F) – preparation and interpretation of financial statements, regulatory framework and external reporting;


1. Operational

This is the first Professional level of the CIMA qualification, and consists of three Objective Test exams, and an Operational Level Integrated Case Study exam. To move on to Management level you must be exempt from or pass all these, and on successful completion you will be awarded the CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting. You must have already completed Certificate Level (or have exemptions) to be eligible to sit Operational Level exams.

E1 – Organisational Management

Focused on the structure and principles underpinning an organisation, this covers how its operational functions, efficient management and effective interaction enable it to achieve strategic goals. It lays the foundation for further insight into both the immediate operating environment and long-term strategy, covered in E2 and E3.

P1 – Management Accounting

Looking at how important costs are in production, analysis and use of information for decision-making, this paper focuses on the short-term. It covers budgeting as a means of short-term planning in strategy execution, shows you how to analyse information on costs, volumes and prices to take decisions on products and services and looks at the impact of risk to these decisions. P1 provides the foundation for cost management and long-term decisions covered in P2.

F1 – Financial Reporting and Taxation

This covers the regulation and preparation of financial statements and how to use the information in them. F1 shows how to produce financial statements for both individuals and groups to appropriate international financial reporting standards. The paper gives an insight into how to source and manage cash and working capital – essential for organisation’s survival and success. The final part looks at basic principles and application of business taxation. The competencies gained through F1 form the basis for producing and analysing complex group accounts (covered in F2), formulating and implementing financial strategy (F3).

Integrated Case Study: Operational

At Operational level, your role will be that of a Finance Officer. Equivalent job titles in a real organisation might be: Junior/Trainee accountant, Credit Controller, Assistant accountant, Cost accountant. The skills framework that you will need to cover is as follows: Technical skills – 64%; Business skills – 16%; People skills – 14%; Leadership skills – 6%. You will have to obtain minimum threshold marks (approximately 1/3) for each competency (except for Leadership skills) along with a scaled score of 80 to pass the exam.


2. Management

Sitting between the Operational and Strategic levels of the CIMA qualification, this focuses on the medium-term and how to implement strategy decided at higher levels by translating it for lower levels. It covers the monitoring and reporting of the implementation, and the corrective action that can be taken when required. You must have already completed Operational Level (or hold relevant exemptions), and will be awarded the CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting on completion.

E2 – Project and Relationship Management

Taking a holistic, integrated approach to managing organisations, E2 builds on the understanding of organisational structuring from E1 and looks at how strategy can be implemented through people, projects, processes and relationships. It provides a basis for formulating and implementing organisational strategy, covered in E3.

P2 – Advanced Management Accounting

With a long-term focus, this paper builds on P1’s insight into costs and their drivers to enable the analysis, planning and management of costs to support the organisation’s strategy implementation. It shows how to manage and control the performance of various business units in line with short-term budgets and long-term strategy, and covers investment decision-making and the associated risks. It gives a basis for P3, which covers understanding the various risks affecting an organisation’s strategy and operation.

F2 – Advanced Financial Reporting

The paper deals with opportunities for sourcing long-term finance to fund operations, particularly capital investment. It builds on the competencies gained from F1 but takes a deeper look at main topics. Syllabus covers inancial reporting – the more complex aspects of group accounting, analysing recognition and measurement of elements in FS, the way they can provide insights about financial performance and position of the organisation over time in comparison with others.

Integrated Case Study: Management

At Management/Gateway level, your role will be that of a Finance Manager. Equivalent job titles in a real organisation might be: Management Accountant, Financial Controller, Financial Analyst, Head of Finance. Competency Weighting is the basis of distribution of marks from various sections in the exam. You will have to obtain minimum threshold marks (approximately 1/3) for each competency along with a scaled score of 80 to pass the exam. These include: Technical skills – 39%, Business skills – 16%, People skills – 21%, Leadership skills – 24%.


3. Strategic

With a long-term focus, the Strategic level is all about making strategic decisions and providing the context for which they will be implemented. You must have completed Management Level (or hold relevant exemptions), and is the final level of the CIMA Professional Qualification.

E3 – Strategic Management

This paper develops strategic leaders’ skills to help them create a vision and direction for their organisation’s long-term sustainble success. Using E1 and E2’s insights into implementing strategies by aligning structures, people, process, projects and relationships, strategic management involves successfully managing and leading change within the process of strategy formulation towards implementation.

P3 – Risk Management

P3 is concerned with identifying, evaluating and managing risks that could affect successful strategy implementation, providing the skills to analyse, evaluate and apply the necessary techniques, processes and internal control systems. This insight allows for managing risks in the vital areas of cash flow and capital investment decisions.

F3 – Financial Strategy

Focus on the role of financial strategy in supporting the organisation’s overall strategy. F3 uses insights from F1 and F2 to enable the evaluation of financing requirements and relative merits of alternative sources of finance. Paper provides competencies needed to value investment opportunities, including the valuation of corporate entities for mergers, acquisitions and divestments.

Integrated Case Study: Management

At Strategic level, your role will be that of a Senior Finance Manager. Equivalent job titles in a real organisation might be: Senior Management Accountant, Group Accountant, Financial Director. Competency Weighting is the basis of distribution of marks from various sections in the SCS exam. You will have to obtain minimum threshold marks (approximately 1/3) for each competency along with score of 80 to pass the Strategic Case Study exam. The framework covers: Technical skills – 25%, Business skills – 25%, People skills – 25%, Leadership skills – 25%.

For more information on Professional syllabus visit the official webpage.

How to Plan Your Studies?

Use BPP’s recommended study route below to check planning logic and options:

cima personalised progression