How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

A certified medical assistant (CMA) is a credential given by the AAMA, or American Association of Medical Assistants.

In order to receive the CMA credential, you must take and pass an examination testing your knowledge in medical assisting.

1. Do you meet the eligibility criteria?

AAMA divides applicants into 4 categories, and only those who fall into one of these categories are eligible to take the CMA exam. So, before attempting the exam make sure that you meet one of the following requirements.

  • You must be a recent graduate of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assistant program. Recent graduates are defined as those who apply for the exam within 12 months of their graduation.

    A list of programs accredited by CAAHEP/ABHES can be found in our school database.

  • If you've graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assistant program more than 12 months ago, you're still allowed to apply for examination. The only difference is that the fees and required documentation may be different.

  • If you graduated from a program that is not accredited by CAAHEP / ABHES then it must have an accreditation from either United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in order for you to be eligible, along with a few other criteria set by AAMA.

  • You must have already passed the exam and have been awarded the CMA credential.

2. Documentation and fees

  1. Recent Graduate of an MA Program
    • No documentation (instead AAMA will check back with your program director)
    • Fee of $125
  2. Non Recent Graduate of an MA Program
    • Provide official transcript
    • Fee of $125 (for AAMA members) or $250 (for non AAMA members)
  3. Graduate of an MA Program (non CAAHEP/ABHES)
    • Provide official transcript or an attestation letter if the program's curriculum is not sufficiently documented
    • Fee of $125 (for AAMA members) or $250 (for non AAMA members)
  4. CMA Recertificant
    • Provide most recent certification with CMA certificate number
    • Fee of $125 (for AAMA members) or $250 (for non AAMA members)

Please note that your fees are only partially refundable. If you do not meet the requirements, your fee will be refunded to you within four to six weeks, minus a $65 deduction.

Although AAMA membership is not required for certification, you may be able save money by becoming a member prior to submitting an exam application. 

AAMA membership fees vary by state and whether you're an 1 or 2 year student or not (ranging from $25 to $107 per year)

Also, AAMA membership comes with a number of benefits in addition to exam application discounts. If you're interested check out their info page.

Generally AAMA does not permit individuals who have been found guilty, however it may grant a waiver in certain cases.

3. Apply for the CMA Exam

After you have gathered all the documentation, you can complete the application either online or on paper.

  1. If you prefer to send it by mail, print the last page of this PDF file, fill it out, and send it to the address listed in the PDF. Allow two weeks for processing.
  2. To complete the process online, visit AAMAs website. You should receive an email back from AAMA within 24 hours.
  3. If you fall into category 3: Graduate of an MA Program (non CAAHEP/ABHES), you must follow a different application process.

During the application process, you will come across a section that asks for the "Testing period start date". However, don't be misled by the term "testing period." It doesn't mean you have to undergo extensive testing over several days or weeks.

The term "testing period" simply refers to a 90-day timeframe during which you can take the exam. The exam itself lasts for 180 minutes. You have the flexibility to choose the start date of this 90-day window based on what works best for you.

For instance, if you choose May 1 as your start date, you'll have until July 30 to schedule and take the exam.

If you want to reschedule (choosing a new 90-day window) you will need to pay an additional fee of $65!

4. Schedule an exam appointment

You won't be able to move forward with this step until the previous step is completed. Once you've been deemed eligible to sit for the exam you will receive an email regardless of whether the application was completed online or on paper.

The email will outline the steps you need to follow to book an actual exam appointment with PSI.

You can cancel or reschedule your exam appointment online or by calling PSI, but you must do so no later than 24 hours before the test. If you fail to do so you will either have to keep the appointment or lose your test fee.

5. Prepare for the exam

Properly preparing for the CMA (AAMA) certification exam is essential! Failure to pass the test leads to wasted time and the need to pay additional fees to retake it.

To provide a broad overview, the CMA certification exam includes questions that fall into 3 main categories, which are weighted as follows:

Content AreaEst. percentage of total test
Clinical Competency:
- Clinical Workflow: Patient Intake and Discharge
- Safety and Infection Control
- Procedures/Examinations
- Pharmacology
- Legal and Ethical Issues
- Communication
- Billing, Coding, and Insurance
- Schedule Appointments and Health Information Management

There are many ways for you to prepare:

  • Take our online practice test to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Start by reviewing the Exam Content Outline.
  • Review current medical publications that include clinical and administrative content related to health care law and ethics, laboratory principles, medical terminology, human anatomy, physiology etc.
  • If there is a CMA (AAMA) exam review course available in your area, it may be helpful to enroll in one. CMA exam review courses are offered by both accredited MA programs and local AAMA chapters.
  • Join the AAMA to receive mailings regarding local events, and to get connected with other medical assisting students who could serve as study partners.

6. Test day

A typical test room with privacy desks and computer equipment

AAMA does not administer its own exams. Instead, it contracts with a testing service provider called PSI.

It provides computerized testing and assessment solutions to a wide variety of industries, including the medical assistant examination. For more information, visit the PSI website.

Unfortunately, you can't take the exam from your home computer. You have to go to an authorized test center to take it.

Usually, you will be informed of the test site location when you schedule your appointment with PSI, see previous step.

Also keep in mind that all testing service providers have their policies and security protocols in place. While they might seem strict and overly regulated at first, they are necessary to ensure that the assessment of your medical assistant knowledge is fair and reliable.

Check out the video below to get a better understanding of all the check-in procedures.

Even though the video above is intended for contractors you should expect to follow a similar process.

On your test day, you will need to bring a government-issued ID that includes your signature and photograph, such as a passport or driver's license.

Be aware, if you arrive more than 15 minutes late for your appointment, you may be denied admission, and no fee will be refunded!

Please note, personal items such as backpacks, bags, wallets, smartphones and other electronic devices are not permitted in the test room. However, you will have the opportunity to store your belongings in a locker outside the testing area.

The CMA exam is structured as follows:

  • Computerized
  • 200 multiple choice questions with 5 options each, including only one correct answer
  • 180 questions are scored, while 20 are unscored and are used for internal purposes
  • There is no particular order to the questions
  • Test takes a total of 160 minutes, including four 40-minute segments
  • You will have two optional 10-minute breaks that you can use between the second and third segments
  • Test result are provided as soon as you finish the exam

If you pass AAMA will send you an official score report 24 hours after the exam. The report will include your overall score in three categories:

  • General
  • Administrative
  • Clinical

And of course, you will be awarded the CMA credential as well as a digital badge — an electronic representation of your CMA certificate that allows you to easily showcase your achievement in email messages, online resumes, or social media etc.

7. You didn't pass?

If you didn't pass the exam, don't despair.

  • You're allowed to retake the exam two additional times (3 attempts in total)
  • If you decide to give it another shot, you will have to go through the same process as before: submit your application, pay the same examination fee, schedule appointment etc.

If you fail to pass the exam after third time you will no longer be eligible for the CMA credential.

8. How to maintain your CMA credential?

To keep your CMA credential valid, you must renew it every 60 months.

The nonrefundable fee for recertification comes to:

  • $65 for members
  • $130 for nonmembers

AAMA offers two options for renewing your CMA certification:

  1. Recertification through continuing education
  2. Recertification through retaking the test: You will need to submit the same application materials as you did when you initially became certified and sit for the same exam as new candidates.

If your CMA certification has been expired for more than 3 months, you will only be able to recertify by retaking the examination. Also, a reactivation fee of $50 will need to be paid in addition to the recertification fee stated above.

If you choose to renew your credential through continuing education, you will need to earn 60 recertification points within a 5-year period. A minimum of 10 points must come from each of the following categories:

  • Administrative
  • Clinical
  • General

It is not necessary to distribute points evenly across the categories. Instead, you can allocate them as you choose, as long as you do not fall below the 10-point minimum in each category:

  • Clinical 10
  • General 10
  • Administrative 40
  • Clinical 10
  • General 20
  • Administrative 30
  • Clinical 9
  • General 5
  • Administrative 46

At least 30 points must be earned from activities or programs provided by AAMA itself. The remaining points may be obtained from other sources at your discretion, but they need to be reviewed and approved by AAMA to count towards your recertification points total.

Please note, if you acquire more than 60 recertification points, any additional points will not be carried over to the next recertification period.

Also, continuing education activities must be relevant to medical assisting. For instance, it could be an activity or an educational event (seminar, workshop, program etc.) pertaining to:

  • Risk management and safety procedures
  • Computer information systems such as creating spreadsheets, databases, presentations, and graphics
  • Patient care
  • Leadership skills in the workplace
  • Financial management
  • Writing medical assistant articles, textbooks etc.
  • and more

Where can you earn recertification points? Luckily, AAMA maintains a list of approved CE programs and activities in your area, be sure to check it out.

As part of the process, you will need to document your involvement. You should obtain proof of attendance, such as a syllabus, workshop flyer describing the topic, or certificate of completion, from each program you took part in.

These materials must be attached to a transcript as evidence of your participation.

Once you have accumulated the required number of points, you can submit your recertification application either by mail or electronically.

Watch the video below on how to recertify online:

Be aware, that while all points gained from AAMA approved sources will be accepted immediately, points obtained from other sources may take up to 30 days to be processed.