How Long Does CIMA Take to Complete?

In this article, we will explain the requirements for the different CIMA levels, exemptions for previous studies, and summarise how long it will take you to complete each level.

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It’s human nature to want to understand the cost and time of investing in something before making a final decision. Prospective Management Accountants are no different. 

The CIMA qualification offers some flexibility for students in that they can enter learning at different levels, depending on their previous qualifications.

CIMA professional qualifications allow you to study at your own pace, which is the flexibility you need to complete your studies.

In this article, we will explain the requirements for the different levels, exemptions for previous studies and give you an idea of how long it will take you to complete each level. 

For a complete understanding of the structure of the qualification, read: CIMA Exam Structure in 2023


The following will qualify you for exemptions:

  • A previous qualification in Accounting at a Master’s level
  • A previous qualification with another professional body that is recognised by CIMA
  • Membership with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)
  • Graduation from a degree programme recognised by CIMA
  • A qualification on CIMA’s list of accredited programmes

CIMA will advise the appropriate entry route applicable to your situation. Here are some examples:

  • If you have an undergraduate professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting in the UK, you can enter the CIMA qualification at Management Level. 
  • If you have a professional qualification at University College London in the UK, such as BSc in Economics then you can enter at Management Level
  • If you have no professional qualification in accounting, then you have to enter at Certificate Level and do the Certificate in Business Accounting to understand the fundamentals of management accounting.

Time Frame Overview for Each Level

The CIMA course consists of 4 levels, with a total of 9 exams called Objective Tests and 3 case studies. Most students can complete CIMA within 4-5 years. The breakdown for each level can be found below.

Certificate level

The starting point for the CIMA Professional Qualification is at Certificate Level, better known as Certificate in Business Accounting.  

There are four CIMA exams on this level, and typically it takes students 12 months to complete this level. Some factors will affect this time frame. We will discuss these later in the article. 

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Operational level

This level has 3 exams and 1 case study to complete. You will achieve the Operational Level CIMA Diploma once completed. 

Typically students complete this level online in 12 months

Management level

This level has 3 exams and 1 case study to complete. Once completed, you will have achieved a CIMA Advanced Diploma. This level takes 12-18 months to complete

Undergraduate, postgraduate and professional accounting qualifications may enter at this level. 

Strategic level

This level has 3 exams and 1 case study to complete. You will have achieved a CIMA Degree on completion, provided that you meet the requirements for the practical component of the qualification as well.

CIMA-qualified students receive CIMA membership with the leading professional body for accounting in the United Kingdom. This level will take between 12 and 18 months to complete.

Factors that affect Time Frames for Completion

Full-time study

It stands to reason that a student with the opportunity to study full-time, having no work commitments, can finish the qualification sooner than others who work.  However, the T4 Test of Professional Competence will call for you to be examined on the practical application of the theory that you have learnt.  

Thus, the ability to study this qualification as a full-time student will be limited to the point where you must show practical application

Part-time study

Many students wanting the recognition of a CIMA qualification come to the program with previous qualifications, allowing them to reduce the number of years of study.  

Based on this, the average number of completed exams for working students is 3 exams and one case study per year. This is dictated by the availability of a place to write the case study exams, which occur four times a year. 

Being Ready for the Four Windows of Opportunity

As mentioned above, there is an opportunity to write a Case Study exam four times a year. Careful planning is necessary if you desire to complete one level a year to ensure you do not miss registration for these exam periods.

These exams are written in February, May, August and November. If you are not prepared to write in one of these windows that will delay the completion of the level that you are on, and you will have to enrol again next year. 

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Ability to grasp concepts and apply them practically

Perhaps not an often mentioned topic is your ability to grasp financial concepts and apply them practically.  Some students are good at studying theory and struggle to apply the concepts in the workplace.  

This is essential if you want to be a management accountant. Yet, some students have started this qualification without understanding the practical requirements and then find themselves in difficulties.  This does not mean you will not finish the qualification, but it may take longer to pass certain exams on the Strategic Level. 

Practical experience requirements

You are required to complete a minimum of 3 years relevant practical experience to qualify for CIMA membership. 

The practical experience describes the range of work you need to cover during the qualification. The areas are broken down into basic, core and supplementary and cover the range of topics a management accountant must handle. 

When you have completed the strategic level exams, you must complete a career profile and submit it to CIMA to be assessed by experienced assessors.  The work experience can be gained from a wide range of industries before you begin the qualification.  

Learning Provider Partner

The learning provider you choose will aid or delay your successful completion of the CIMA qualification.  Ensure that CIMA recognises the learning provider as a partner. This will give you the assurance that they can provide the learning material and that they have tutors with years of experience in the accounting field.

A provider with on-demand videos, live webinars, mock exams and can put you through your paces with objective test questions is the smartest choice.  Additionally, if the learning provider gives you a platform to interact with other students, that is a bonus. 

VIVA Financial Tuition provides all of these elements, and we have the experience of successfully graduating thousands of CIMA students. Click here to find out what our students are saying.

Work and Family Commitments

Employers usually understand that prospective management accountants need to increase their skills and qualifications. Since the benefits of highly qualified staff are enormous for the company, they allow time off for students to pursue a higher qualification.  

It is a good idea to check with your employer before committing to study, what their rules are about study and work as resistance to this in any way, will prolong the amount of you take to finish.

If you have many family responsibilities this will also extend the time you take to complete the qualification. Again, it is best to understand the degree of support that family is willing to provide while you study. Long-term students know that it is not just them that studies, but the whole family!

Discipline and Motivation Level

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Lack of discipline and drive will be a factor when pushing to complete exams within a certain time frame. It is advisable to write down the consequences of not finishing this qualification before you begin. This way, you can refer to these notes when you lack motivation.  

Having a clear and meaningful reason for accomplishing our goal will help you when it starts to feel like an uphill battle. No one relishes studying for hours after a long day at work - that’s a given - but pursuing something valuable can provide momentum.

Ability to Navigate through Obstacles

Any project or long-term goal will face obstacles, whether in the form of people, conflicting objectives, sudden changes to your personal or working life, or some unforeseen challenge.

Be realistic about this fact and plan for it. That may sound a little drastic, but your mindset towards obstacles will make all the difference. If you accept obstacles will occur, and you allow time and space for them, you will not be frustrated when they do happen.  

Obstacles are inevitable, and to meet a student who has had no opposition in completing their studies is a rare find. 

Supportive Network of Students

The support of like-minded people cannot be overestimated. Moral support and also the ability to engage with others who can bring a fresh perspective will enrich your learning experience. 

No man or woman is an island, they say. This is because it is more pleasant for people to reach their goals knowing they have participated in the process with others who understand. 

Having a group that encourages one another to finish exams in a certain time frame can also be very motivating. For some, competition is exciting and provides the motivation needed to succeed. 

How Long does CIMA take to Complete - Other Student Experiences


VIVA has over 10,000 satisfied CIMA students who rate us a 4.9 out of 5 on TrustPilot. Our students report the following regarding their journey:

  • Top scores for case studies, attributed to VIVA Tuition’s best-in-class case study preparation and course material
  • Personalised and helpful feedback on mock exams which helped them to pass their exams first time
  • Helpful case study insights which allowed them to navigate through the exam easily

Several VIVA students have completed their studies in 2 years or less. VIVA student and prizewinner Murat Sayin even managed to complete his CIMA Professional Qualification in 1.5 years! You can read about Murat's journey here.

Online feedback from other sources shows that most students finished their CIMA studies within a 3- 6 year average window



The benefits of studying with a leading professional organisation like CIMA are numerous. The time and money invested into achieving this qualification will be worth it in the long run as you become more skilled and able to apply for opportunities around the work in management accounting.

This article has outlined the time frame to complete the CIMA qualification as well as given some factors for consideration before you start your studies. These factors can help to keep your expectations realistic.

Students all around the world have completed this professional qualification. There is every reason to believe that you can do it, too, with the right learning provider and support from your network. 

"Success is something you achieve in small chunks during the everyday grind" - Anonymous

Now that you know what time investment is required, why not enrol with VIVA's All Access Annual pass, unlocking all of VIVA's online courses for every CIMA subject. Accelerate your CIMA journey now with premium online tuition, at a fraction of the cost of traditional tuition providers. 

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