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CIMA exams: a hundred years in the making

By Stephen Flatman, Vice President, Examinations — Management Accounting, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

The first week of December 2020 marks a significant milestone for us. On this week exactly a hundred years ago, CIMA (then known as the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, or ICWA) administered its first set of professional examinations.

The ICWA held these early exam sessions in the major UK cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield.  

The exams brought much needed credibility to the ICWA, which was newly set up the year before. They were also created to help accountants in practice benchmark their performance at their places of work. 

What subjects were tested in the 1920 exams? 

The 1920 exam syllabus was drafted up by a special committee, which agreed on the first Institute syllabus in January 1920 and wanted to start exams by June. However, the June exams were abandoned and were only administered in December. 

According to available records, students took mathematics, modern languages, essays, economics and mechanical knowledge papers on the first day of the exams. They then took book-keeping and costing papers on the second day. 

The exam committee divided the exams into three levels with increasing difficulty: preliminary, intermediate and final. Most of the papers took two hours to complete. 

Although no existing copies of these early exams are available today, the structure of the intermediate and final papers was recorded in The Accountant, the journal of the Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. They were: 

We don’t have accurate records of how many students sat for the 1920 examinations, but it is reported that 3 passed and 11 were given permission to re-sit for the papers that they failed. The ICWA’s first female member, Miss Miriam Sarah Neale, was also reported to be among this first group of candidates. 

CIMA exams, now available near you 

We’ve come a long way since then — today, more than 200,000 professionals around the world have completed the CIMA professional qualification. They now serve as Chartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA®) designation holders that help businesses make better decisions. 

The 1920 Institute exam syllabus was made to help accountants meet the needs of their workplaces during their era. Similarly, the latest CIMA syllabus is driven by our 2019 Future of Finance research, which details the skills that management accountants need to thrive today. 

There’s no better way to celebrate 100 years of Institute examinations than with the launch of CIMA’s online testing platform. Launched in May 2020, the platform allows CIMA students to continue progressing through the professional qualification by taking exams remotely. The platform also increases the pool of qualified management accountants, who can help support businesses and public services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From 1920 until now, accountants have been able to develop the skills that their employers are looking for through the CIMA exams. Even amid current uncertainties, you can progress in your CIMA studies from wherever you are in the world — and we’re ready to give you the support that you need. 

Book your next exam with us today! Learn more about the process here