What You Can Learn from CIMA Pass Rates

What Can You Learn from CIMA Pass Rates? - credit: nesa by makers

Pass rates can lead you in the wrong direction, especially if you’re seeing subjects that get marks in the 70’s. With such high marks, there can be a tendency to think the exam for that subject must be easy.

Pass rates change and swing with each sitting so beware of focusing too much on one result. While they are useful, they don’t indicate that one exam is necessarily harder than the other. 

What it does indicate is the subjects that students struggle with. It also may be the CIMA pathway that’s causing issues for students such as the transition from OTs to case studies.

In this blog, we explore what you can learn from CIMA pass rates. 

CIMA Objective Test Exams

P1 generally has the lowest pass rate at 47% when looking at CIMA Objective Tests (OTs)

What’s interesting about it is that it’s a level 1 management accounting subject making it fundamental to everything you do. However, just because it’s the first level doesn’t mean it’s easy to pass. After all, half the people that sit it actually fail.

Often, when it comes to multiple-choice exams students have the impression that they’re easier to pass. One of the reasons P1 has the lowest pass rate is that most people do this exam first. 

Plus with multiple-choice, there will be options in a calculation for example that if you do incorrectly could add up to one of the choices on the paper that is in fact wrong. 

The key is to remember that they are professional exams and each OT exam requires a lot of work to pass. Multiple-choice tests require just as much practice and preparation as case studies from an exam technique perspective. 

Pass rates from the most recent sitting are:                

  First-timers & retakers First-timers Overall
84% 73% 69%
95% 88%
80% 60%

After P1 the pass rate results get somewhat better. When it gets to P3 and F3 it improves but even then the pass rates are still at 54% or 55%

The reason for the increase in our opinion is that people are getting used to objective tests. In addition, exemptions kick in at this level and people may be coming into the exams with more experience and knowledge driving up the average pass rates. 

The E pillar definitely gets some of the higher marks. The subject matter in this pillar is a lot nicer as it’s less factual and involves more reading and understanding concepts such as cybersecurity. 

It’s knowledge that people may come across on a daily basis and is, therefore, more relatable and easier to retain or work through.

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Key ways to succeed in your OT exams are:

  • Get into the mindset of answering questions quickly
  • Know how to approach each question
  • Don’t spend too much time on questions you’re unsure of
  • Complete the questions you know the answers to quickly and first 
  • Leave time at the end to revisit hard questions and review
  • Practice a full exam before the real thing not just parts of an exam!
  • Do mock exams for OTs - don’t just leave that for case studies!

Tip: When looking at your OTs, it’s important to have a look at the content of each one and pick the subject that you prefer first. After all, professional exams are about building confidence, so if you enjoy studying and pass the first one that will help set the scaffold for subsequent exams.  

CIMA Case Studies

Many students have the perception that case studies are harder to pass and people struggle with them more. However, the pass rates don’t reflect that. 

Some of the pass rates for case studies are actually higher than those for the objective tests. 

For example, the operational case study has a pass rate of 57% which is the lowest of the case studies. Again, like the OTs, this can be put down to the fact that it’s the first case study exam that people do. 

CIMA Pass rates

  May Aug        Nov    Feb
Operational 47%    53% 49%   51%
Management 73%    68%   35% 62%
Gateway 39% 35% 17%   36%
Strategic 66% 62% 66%  63%

However, just a year ago the operation case study was at the 50% mark which proves things can change rapidly. 

This rise could be an improvement in the way CIMA is examining or the syllabus is being taught or that students are having a better approach. But it shows that you can never get too comfortable with a pass rate as it can change. 

What’s important for the operational case study is to understand the format of the exam and the way of assessment so you’re prepared for subsequent case studies. 

CIMA Gateway Students

CIMA Gateway Students

CIMA Gateway students  are those who have completed a Masters program and joined the CIMA path. While the pass rate is 61% on average, when you look at it for Gateway students it’s actually 18%. That’s quite a gap!

When students come from a Masters, they are coming from an education that gives them some freedom to take knowledge, understand it and take your own path. So if two people do a Masters they can take the same title for an assignment and end up doing something completely different. 

This is a totally different environment for CIMA as it’s more opinion-based. Whereas with CIMA there’s a knack to it, a language that’s unique to the professional exam body and that needs to be learned over time. 

The key for Gateway students is to recognise that CIMA is a different environment. It’s about training the way you approach your study and the assessments to meet this new environment. 

Gateway students are probably at the biggest disadvantage due to the way you’ve been trained. The aim of a Masters is to make you more work-ready or strategic. To pass it’s key to:

  • Understand how CIMA case studies are assessed
  • How to approach a pre-seen
  • How to do the exam in a different way to a Masters

The strategic case study has an average of 58% for a pass rate. So, leaving out Gateway the case studies are all pretty similar in pass rates. 

What we can take from that is there’s a trend of people who get the first case study right and succeed in subsequent case studies. They’ve figured out the ‘CIMA way’ to succeed. 


What’s apparent is that pass rates should come with a warning sign! 

It’s good to know what past students have got and what you should aim for, but make sure it doesn’t distract from the task at hand - studying and passing.

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Topics: CIMA