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What Is the AAMA CMA Exam & How Do You Prepare Your Students?

The AAMA Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential designates an individual possesses the clinical and administrative skills needed to work as a medical assistant.

But with so many medical assistant certification options, how do you know the AAMA CMA exam is the right one for your program?

As a health science curriculum provider, we work with hundreds of medical assisting teachers every year.

In our experience, the three most common questions teachers ask about the AAMA CMA exam are:

  • What topics are on the AAMA CMA exam?
  • What is the AAMA certification process?
  • How do you prepare your students for the exam?

On this page, you’ll find the answer to each of these questions to help you decide if the AAMA CMA exam is right for you!

In part one, we’ll take an in-depth look at the CMA exam topics and dive into the skills and knowledge your students will need to learn.

In part two, you’ll learn the details of the AAMA certification process such as eligibility requirements, the application process, and what students can expect on test day.

In part three, you’ll discover three common ways medical assisting teachers prepare their students for success on the AAMA CMA exam.

Let’s get started!

Part 1: What Topics Are on the AAMA CMA Exam?


The AAMA CMA exam consists of 180 scored questions and 20 pretest questions the AAMA uses to gather data.

These questions are organized into three overarching categories, which each make up a certain percentage of the exam:

  1. General (28%)
  2. Administrative (25%)
  3. Clinical (47%)


Each category is organized into sections that are further segmented into concepts and skills a medical assistant needs to know.

I. General

The General category includes 50 questions across seven sections related to the basic healthcare concepts and skills every professional must know:

  1. Psychology
  2. Communication
  3. Professionalism
  4. Medical Law / Regulatory Guidelines
  5. Medical Ethics
  6. Risk Management, Quality Assurance, and Safety
  7. Medical Terminology


The Psychology section measures a CMA’s understanding of human behavior and how it can relate to healthcare.

This includes concepts such as:


The Communication section focuses on the ways a medical assistant will communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals.

This includes concepts and skills related to:

  • Therapeutic and adaptive response to diverse populations
  • Nonverbal communication
  • The communication cycle
  • Telephone techniques


The Professionalism section measures soft skills a healthcare worker will use on a daily basis in order to maintain a professional demeanor.

These include:

  • Diplomacy
  • Respect
  • Responding to criticism
  • Time management
  • The ability to work as part of a team

Medical Laws / Regulatory Guidelines

The Medical Laws / Regulatory Guidelines section focuses on the legal responsibilities a medical assistant must follow, including:

Medical Ethics

The Medical Ethics section evaluates an individual’s ability to maintain ethical standards in the healthcare field.

Specifically, the exam focuses on legal and moral factors that can affect ethical decisions in the healthcare workplace.

Risk Management, Quality Assurance, and Safety

The Risk Management, Quality Assurance, and Safety section focuses on the ways a medical assistant can ensure a safe environment for both clients and other healthcare workers.

These include concepts and skills related to:

  • Workplace accident prevention
  • Ergonomics
  • Electrical safety and fire prevention
  • Compliance reporting

Medical Terminology

The Medical Terminology section ensures a medical assistant is able to correctly use and understand medical terms.

Specifically, they need to have a working knowledge of definitions and terms related to:

Overall, every item within the General category ensures a CMA possesses the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to work in the healthcare industry.

Without learning this information, your students won’t be able to succeed in the more specific aspects of their careers as medical assistants!

II. Administrative

The Administrative category includes 45 questions across six sections pertaining to the administrative tasks a medical assistant is responsible for:

  1. Medical Reception
  2. Patient Navigator / Advocate
  3. Medical Business Practices
  4. Establishing Patient Medical Records
  5. Scheduling Appointments
  6. Practice Finances

Medical Reception

The Medical Reception section measures a CMA’s ability to perform front-office duties such as:

Patient Navigator / Advocate

The Patient Navigator / Advocate section focuses on the ways a medical assistant acts as a resource of information for clients.

This includes duties such as:

  • Providing information on community resources
  • Facilitating referrals to community resources
  • Following up on referrals

Medical Business Practices

The Medical Business Practices section relates to common business practices and how they relate to the medical field.

This includes skills such as:

  • Creating and responding to written communications
  • Maintaining business equipment
  • Recordkeeping and inventory control
  • Working with computer applications

Establishing Patient Medical Records

The Establishing Patient Medical Records section focuses on the role of a CMA in working with patient records.

This includes recognizing and interpreting data such as:

  • Patient history
  • Discharge summary
  • Diagnostic tests and lab reports
  • Clinic progress notes
  • Flow sheets

Scheduling Appointments

The Scheduling Appointments section evaluates a candidate’s ability to follow guidelines and protocols related to patient appointments.

These include skills related to:

  • The appointment matrix
  • Appointments for new and established patients
  • Patient flow
  • Cancellations and no-shows
  • Reminder systems

Practice Finances

The Practice Finances section pertains to a medical assistant’s role in processing payments for medical services.

This involves knowledge of:

Though the skills in the Administrative category don’t require a medical assistant to interact with patients in a traditional sense, they’re an important part of any CMA’s duties -- especially in a smaller practice!

III. Clinical

The Clinical category is the largest portion of the exam, with 85 questions focused on the most common duties a medical assistant fulfils on a daily basis:

  1. Anatomy and Physiology
  2. Infection Control
  3. Patient Intake and Documentation of Care
  4. Patient Preparation and Assisting the Provider
  5. Nutrition
  6. Collecting and Processing Specimens
  7. Diagnostic Testing
  8. Pharmacology
  9. Emergency Management / Basic First Aid

Anatomy and Physiology

The Anatomy and Physiology section measures a CMA’s knowledge of the human body and its systems, including:

  • Anatomical divisions and body cavities
  • Body planes and quadrants
  • Body system structure and functions
  • Pathophysiology and diseases of body systems

Infection Control

The Infection Control section focuses on understanding infections and how to prevent them in healthcare facilities.

This includes skills and concepts related to:

Patient Intake and Documentation of Care

The Patient Intake and Documentation of Care section relates to a medical assistant’s role in documenting information in a patient’s medical record.

Specifically, it focuses on:

  • Subjective data
  • Objective data
  • Making corrections
  • Treatment / compliance

Patient Preparation and Assisting the Provider

The Patient Preparation and Assisting the Provider section encompasses some of the most common clinical duties of a CMA.

These include skills related to:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Recognizing and reporting abnormal vital signs
  • Physical exams
  • Assisting during procedures
  • Patient education on health maintenance
  • Wellness and preventative care


The Nutrition section measures a CMA’s understanding of nutrition and how it relates to working in the healthcare field.

This includes knowledge of:

Collecting and Processing Specimens

The Collecting and Processing Specimens section includes processes and procedures a medical assistant may be involved in, such as:

Diagnostic Testing

The Diagnostic Testing section focuses on the diagnostic tests a medical assistant may perform as needed, including:


The Pharmacology section relates to medication-related knowledge and skills a medical assistant needs to know.

These include the ability to:

  • Identify medications
  • Prepare and administer oral and parenteral medication
  • Report and document errors
  • Administer immunizations

Emergency Management / Basic First Aid

The Emergency Management / Basic First Aid section measures a medical assistant’s ability to follow proper protocol in the event of an emergency situation.

Specifically, they must know:

  • Triage algorithms and flowcharts
  • How to identify and respond to emergencies
  • Emergency response and evacuation plans

Overall, every category on the AAMA CMA exam ensures students are prepared to enter the workforce as an effective and efficient medical assistant!

For the full details on what your students should expect, you can view the AAMA’s CMA Exam Content Outline.

Prepare Your Students with HealthCenter21

Part 2: What Is the AAMA Certification Process?


In addition to knowing what topics the exam covers, it’s also important to know the AAMA CMA certification process.

This includes understanding four areas:

  • Eligibility requirements
  • The application process
  • What to expect on exam day
  • How to obtain exam results

These details will help you decide whether the AAMA CMA certification is right for you and your students.

AAMA CMA Eligibility Requirements

The AAMA has detailed eligibility requirements a candidate must meet prior to applying to take the CMA exam.

Specifically, the AAMA has three categories for CMA exam eligibility:

Category 1: A current student or recent graduate (in the past 12 months) of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program

Category 2: An individual who graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited program more than 12 months ago

Category 3: A recertificant who had previously passed the AAMA CMA exam

If an individual meets any of these eligibility requirements, they are approved to apply for the exam!

The AAMA CMA Application Process

To begin the CMA application process, an individual must first determine what documentation they will need to provide, which depends on their eligibility category.

The documentation can range from verification of program completion to an official transcript.

After compiling these documents, it’s time for a candidate to decide when they plan to take the CMA exam.

This is an important decision, as the AAMA has “90-Day Testing Periods” that determine when someone is able to take the exam based on when they apply.


Once the candidate is ready to submit their application, they will need to create an account on the AAMA website. From there, they go through a step-by-step process and pay a fee to finalize the application!

After the application has been processed and approved, the exam is scheduled!

What Students Can Expect on Exam Day

The AAMA CMA exam is a 200 question multiple choice assessment (20 of which are pre-test items) administered via an online portal.

Upon arrival to the testing site, candidates can work through an optional tutorial to show them what to expect from the interface.

After the tutorial session is complete, the exam is administered across four 40-minute sessions. This allows candidates to take optional breaks between the sessions.

How to Obtain AAMA CMA Exam Results

Once a candidate has completed the exam, they will receive an immediate notification from the system on whether they have passed or failed.

If a candidate has passed, an official report will be mailed to them within three weeks. At that point, they are officially awarded the CMA credential!

If a candidate has failed, they may reapply to take the AAMA CMA exam again, however they must pay the application fee each time they apply. Overall, candidates are only allowed three exam attempts in order to become certified.

That’s why it’s crucial to set your students up for success on the first attempt!

So, what’s the best way to prepare your students for the AAMA CMA exam?

Part 3: How Do You Prepare Your Students for the AAMA CMA Exam?


There are a variety of options to prepare your students for the AAMA CMA exam, but it can be difficult to decide the best way to get them ready.

Many teachers fully rely on the AAMA’s study materials, which help students practice for the test.

However, test prep material and study guides won’t help you meet course standards and teach daily classes.

We find teachers (and students) ultimately have the most success by following a two-step approach to AAMA CMA exam prep:

  1. Teach your medical assisting curriculum
  2. Incorporate study materials as a supplement

This approach ensures your students are not only ready for exam day, but for their future careers as medical assistants!

So where can you find a strong medical assisting curriculum?

Teachers often choose between three options:

  • Homemade curriculum
  • Medical assisting textbooks
  • Digital curriculum systems

Homemade CMA Curriculum

Some teachers choose to create their own medical assisting curriculum so they can have total control over every little detail.

That means you can create every activity, lesson, and assessment to hit your course standards and align with the AAMA CMA test plan.

It can also often be cheaper to pull resources from multiple sources than to buy a full-fledged curriculum.

However, the work involved in developing your own instructional materials can quickly take over any teacher’s nights and weekends!

In addition, if your course standards or the CMA exam change, you’ll spend time revising everything you created.

That’s why the majority of instructors choose one of the other options for their medical assisting curriculum.

Medical Assisting Textbooks

Medical assisting textbooks are the most common type of instructional materials used to teach classes.

That’s because students are very accustomed to learning from textbooks. In addition, they provide a good starting point for new medical assisting teachers.

If your school purchases the right medical assisting textbook, you and your students will be set up for success.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to find a book that simultaneously covers your course standards and aligns with the CMA exam.

On top of that, textbooks quickly become outdated as the role of medical assistants change. That means you would need to purchase new textbooks on a regular basis (which can become extremely expensive).

Because of this, hundreds of medical assisting instructors have switched from textbooks to digital curriculum.

Digital Curriculum for Medical Assisting

A digital curriculum system is a great instructional tool for any medical assisting program focused on the AAMA CMA exam.

That’s because it’s designed to both help you teach classes and prepare students for their certification exams.

Specifically, the HealthCenter21 digital curriculum system comes with everything you need to introduce concepts, help students hone their skills, and get them certified.

That includes lesson plans, class activities, interactive scenarios, assessments, skills sheets, and more.

On top of that, the entire curriculum is kept up to date as standards, certifications, and the healthcare industry change.

However, there are a few problems with digital curriculum that could impact how effective it is in your program.

That’s why we recommend teachers spend some time learning how digital curriculum works and the best ways to use it before getting started.

Where to Go From Here with Your Medical Assisting Program

Based on everything you’ve learned about the AAMA CMA certification, is it the right fit for you and your students?

If not, there are a number of other certification options for you to research.

If you plan to incorporate the AAMA CMA certification, you’ll need to choose your instructional material!

Homemade curriculum, textbooks, and digital curriculum each have their benefits and drawbacks, so it’s best to connect with other medical assisting teachers to hear their thoughts.

Here’s one medical assisting instructor’s experience with using the HealthCenter21 digital curriculum:

“The things students aren’t able to touch, feel, and see in person, like anatomy and physiology, are hard topics to learn through just a lecture and textbook. HealthCenter21 provides that content in a much more comprehensive way. It really improves student achievement!”

Carol Otjens
Grossmont Health Occupations Center, CA

It’s also smart to try out each option if possible. That may require you to borrow a resource or textbook from another teacher.

Luckily, you can easily try out the HealthCenter21 digital curriculum by signing up for a free trial!

Click below to sign up and start preparing your students:

Sign Up for Your Free Trial