Your Guide to the AAMA CMA Exam

You’ve completed a program of education, and you’re ready to become a certified medical assistant. Congratulations! Working as an allied health professional makes for an incredibly rewarding, interesting, and challenging career.

However, before you can obtain your medical assistant certification, you’ll need to pass a certification exam. Unlike other health care fields where a single industry standard is used, becoming a medical assistant is different. There are a number of certification options, each with advantages and disadvantages.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the American Association of Medical Assistants’ (AAMA) Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam. We’ll discuss alternative exam options; the nature of the AAMA; exam eligibility; renewal of your certification; and more. The bulk of this guide, though, consists of our CMA Exam Study Guide: an outline of all the topics that are covered on the CMA exam.

Ready to get started? Read on to learn more!

What options are available for medical assistant certification?

There are a large number of testing options for becoming a Certified Medical Assistant, including the AAMA CMA exam, the American Medical Technologists’ RMA exam; the National Center for Competency Testing’s NCMA exam; and the National Healthcareer Association’s CCMA exam.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or unsure if the AAMA CMA exam is right for you, don’t worry: check out our guide comparing these four exam options. Read on to learn more about the CMA exam.

What is the AAMA?

The Certified Medical Assistant exam is administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, or AAMA. The organization exists specifically to serve the medical assistant community by means of education, certification, opportunities for networking, and more. The AAMA exists at the national, state, and local levels, and operates as a nonprofit organization.

Who is eligible to take the Certified Medical Assistant exam?

If you’ve completed a medical assistant program that’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), then you’re eligible to sit for the AAMA CMA exam. Your education must have included a minimum practicum of 160 hours. Graduates of such a program are allowed to sit for the exam up to three times when attempting to pass it for the first time. Additionally, if you graduated after January 1, 2010, you have up to 60 months (5 years) to pass the CMA exam. However, if you fail to do so, you effectively forfeit your chance to obtain CMA certification.

How long does certification last? Do I have to renew my certification?

There are two means of obtaining recertification: continuing education and retesting. For continuing education, applicants must document 60 recertification points, with 10 of these coming from General, 10 from Administrative, and 10 from Clinical categories. Alternatively, you may sit for and pass the CMA exam again. Certification lasts for 60 months (5 years). To learn more about recertification, visit the AAMA’s website.

Exam Overview: CMA Study Guide

The CMA exam contains 200 multiple choice questions, of which 180 are scored. The test is administered in four 40 minute segments, and is divided into three sections: General, Administrative, and Clinical.

Below, you’ll find our study guide for each of these test sections, including the subsections that fall under each, and the topics covered by those subsections. This guide will give you a sense of what material can appear on the CMA exam. However, it’s important to understand that this is just an outline. In order to fully prepare for the exam, you’ll also need to spend a good portion of your time taking CMA practice tests. [INSERT LINK]

1. General

This first section of the CMA exam covers a variety of general topics, including psychology, communication, legal issues, ethics and professionalism, medical terms, and more. The section contains 50 questions, which represents 28% of the total test. Below, you’ll find an overview of each of the subsections covered under the General section, including a discussion of subtopics contained in each section. This will provide you with a solid overview of the General section of the test.


This section of the test deals with central concepts in human psychology, including human development, human behavior, and death. Topics include behavioral theories such as Maslow’s and Erikson’s, defense mechanisms, and normal human developmental patterns.


In this test section, your understanding of patient communication strategies will be assessed. This includes your ability to work with a variety of patient populations; how nonverbal communication impacts assessment and treatment; the so-called “communication cycle”; patient data and how to collect it; strategies for communicating over the phone; and general skills related to interpersonal interaction. Specific topics may include working with hearing or visually impaired patients, or patients with other disabilities; the effect of body language on patient interaction; listening skills and communication barriers; how to collect patient information appropriately; managing phone calls and messages; and overcoming various biases and stereotypes.


In the professionalism section, you’ll be tested with respect to appropriate behavior in a professional setting and the notion of teamwork. Specifically, topics may include: navigating professional scenarios with integrity; maintaining an image of professionalism; understanding the dynamics of a health care team, including the importance of prioritizing patient outcomes; and managing your time effectively by appropriate prioritization of various work-related responsibilities.

Regulatory Guidelines and Medical Law

This section is broad in scope, and covers a wide range of law- and regulatory-related topics. These may include the following: patient confidentiality; patient statuses related to public health; consumer protection; the Centers for Disease Control; scope of practice for medical assistants; the Drug Enforcement Agency; the HITECH act; HIPAA; the Food and Drug Administration; OSHA; and various patient directives such as a living will and power of attorney. Additionally, technical topics such as patient confidentiality, responsibilities and rights as related to health care (such as the Patient’s Bill of Rights), various legal terms in the medical field, and the different categories of law (including criminal, civil, statutory, and common law) may be covered.

Medical Ethics

An understanding of medical ethics is essential for any health professional. In this test section, your understanding of medical ethics will be assessed. Topics may include the standards and best practices associated with the health profession, as well as the moral and legal factors that impact ethical decisions in medicine.

Quality Assurance, Risk Management, and Safety

Managing risk in a health care setting is absolutely essential. This section of the CMA exam covers topics related to safety, risk management, and the maintenance of quality standards for patients. Topics could include compliance and reporting of errors, unsafe conditions, and conflict of interest; safety issues as related to the treatment environment; the various safety signs and symbols present in the workplace; and the prevention of accidents such as falls, slipping, etc.

Medical Terminology

A firm grasp of medical terminology is important for allied health professionals. The medical terminology section of the test may cover topics such as roots, prefixes, and suffixes of medical terms; the structure of medical terms; and the meaning of commonly used medical words, such as those related to areas of practice and professional specialization, surgery, diagnosis, and various pathological conditions.

2. Administrative

With the General section of the test behind you, you’ll move on to the Administrative section. Here, you’ll answer questions related to the administrative side of patient care, including scheduling, financials, business practices, and more. This section of the test contains 45 questions, which accounts for 25% of the total test. Below, we’ve compiled a list of all the subsections that fall under the Administrative section, including detailed information about the subtopics that may appear on the test.

Medical Reception

The reception component of a health care practice is incredibly important: it gives patients their initial impression of the clinical setting, and the smooth functioning of the intake process is essential for an efficient practice. In this section, you’ll be tested on your understanding of the various processes involved in the medical reception system. Questions may cover themes such as patient information packets and office policy; practical reception area considerations, such as patient comfort and environmental cleanliness; working with various vendors; verifying patient insurance; and preparing patient records.

Patients Advocates and Navigators

As a health care worker, it’s important to understand the resources available to patients in need of an advocate or navigator. This section covers this topic, including your awareness of how to offer resources and information to patients, how to refer patients to professionals in the community, and how to follow up in order to check on the status of such referrals.

Business Practices for Medical Businesses

Running a business in the health care industry requires an incredibly amount of attention to detail. As a medical assistant, it’s important to have an understanding of what’s happening on the business side of things, regardless of where you happen to be employed. This subsection will cover subjects such as office inventory; equipment related to the business, including safety issues and the importance of maintenance; communication as related to the business, including memorandums and various reports; and computer applications, including databases and management systems, spreadsheets, email, security issues, and more.

Establishing Medical Records for Patients

Creating and maintaining thorough, accurate records for patients is vital. This subsection of the exam may include: how to chart patient information, including various charting systems such as source-oriented and problem-oriented approaches; how to understand patient data; and various forms of clinical information, including history, tests and lab results, charts and tables, discharge summaries, and more.

Appointments and Scheduling

Scheduling patients efficiently is a complicated process. Specific protocols must be followed in order to ensure the desired outcome for various kinds of procedures. Here, your knowledge of the appointment and scheduling system in a health care practice will be tested. Areas can include guidelines for scheduling patients; making appointments for new and established patients; flow of patients, including preferences regarding specific practitioners; outsourced diagnostic services, such as lab tests and imaging; and the protocols associated with various types of appointments, including referrals, what to do when patients don’t show up, appointment reminders, issues related to delayed practitioner availability, and more.

Financials for Medical Practices

Medical billing is an industry unto itself. For anyone familiar with the financial side of the health care industry, it goes without saying that the finances of a health care practice can be extremely complicated. As a medical assistant, it’s important to have a thorough grasp of these details. In this subsection of the exam, you’ll be tested on various terms and procedures related to practice financials, coding, and insurance. Specifically, this section may include: assets, credits, debits, liabilities, and other general accounting terms; processes associated with practice finances, such as co-pay procedures, entering financial data, procedures related to billing, and collection of debts; coding applications for diagnoses and procedures, including Current Procedural Terminology, International Classification of Diseases, Clinical Modifications, and the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System; and working with third-party insurance companies and other payers, including Medicare, Medicaid, commercial and government plans, referrals, prior authorization, and insurance claims.


After completing the General and Administrative parts of the exam, you’ll move on to the final section: Clinical. Here, your understanding of various clinical details will be tested, including anatomy and physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, diagnostic testing, and more. This final section of the test includes 85 questions, which accounts for 47% of the test in its entirety. Below, we’ve outline the subsections that fall under Clinical, along with the topics can you can expect to see covered under each subsection.

Anatomy and Physiology

An understanding of general anatomy and physiology is essential for allied health practitioners. This is an incredibly broad topic, and includes a significant amount of detailed information. As part of the Anatomy and Physiology area of the exam, you may be tested on the body as a functional unit, including its structures, divisions, and planes; the various systems of the body; and various diseases and pathophysiological conditions. Specifically, exam topics may include: anatomical divisions, positions, and directions; the systems of the body, such as the integumentary, nervous, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, respiratory, reproductive, digestive, urinary, sensory, and endocrine systems, and the normal function and structure of these systems; and various diseases and pathophysiologies, such as those that relate to each of the above systems.

Controlling and preventing infection

When working in a health care setting, communicable, transmittable diseases are present on a daily basis. Controlling and limiting the spread of infection is important for both practitioner and patient wellbeing. This subsection of the exam will cover topics such as the disposal of waste; precautions for specific pathogens; surgery and asepsis; the infection cycle; means of disease transmission; and the different kinds of agents responsible for infection. Specifically, this section may cover: means of infection such as bacteria and viruses; the different modes of infection transmission, including airborne, direct, indirect, and so on; the importance of hygiene, especially handwashing; pre-surgical procedures and sterilization; precautions related to bloodborne pathogens, including measures related to bodily fluids, blood, and excretions; protective equipment such as masks and gloves; and disposal of hazardous wastes, such as sharps and body fluids.

Patient intake and documenting care

Medical assistants are often involved in patient intake procedures. It’s important to understand these procedures in depth, however, regardless of whether they’ll be a part of your daily duties. This area of the test focuses on medical records and documentation, including both subjective data (such as the patient’s complaint, current illnesses, their family history, review of symptoms, and so on) and objective data. Procedures associated with correcting errors and documenting compliance will also be covered.

Preparing patients and assisting providers

Preparing patients to see the provider and assisting that provider are essential components of many medical assistants’ daily work. The range of topics that fall under this subsection is quite wide, and covers a significant amount of ground. Broadly speaking, topics might include patient vitals, exam methods, procedures, educating patients, and preventative care. Specifically, this subsection may include: blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and oxygen saturation; examination methods such as palpation, auscultation, percussion, and manipulation; body positioning; pediatric examination; OB-GYN examination; supplies related to specific procedures, including those such as eye or ear irrigation, changing dressings, removing sutures, preparation of sterile surfaces, and surgical instruments; coaching patients on improving their long-term health, including instructions for diabetic patients, obtaining blood pressure readings at home, and obtaining alternative therapy; and preventative care such as cancer screenings, preventing sexual transmitted diseases, the risks associated with smoking, substance abuse issues, and domestic violence.


Understanding the importance of nutrition is vital to providing patients with optimal care. This subsection deals with nutritional concepts such as macronutrients, dietary needs, and weight control. Specifically, the Nutrition section includes a discussion of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins; dietary supplements; dietary needs associated with particular conditions, such as gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, and certain diseases such as diabetes or cancer; and eating disorders.

Collecting and processing test specimens

As a medical assistant, you may regularly engage in the collection and processing of test specimens from patients. This subsection of the CMA exam will assess your knowledge and understanding of these processes. General topics covered include collection methods, preparation and processing of specimens, quality control in the laboratory setting, and the processes associated with performing specific tests. In particular, topics may include: collecting blood, urine, fecal specimens, and sputum specimens; swabbing procedures; labeling and specimen preservation; incubator, centrifuge, and microscope use; slides and wet mounts; following protocols and keeping records; control tests; urinalysis; hematology panels; metabolic testing; immunology; fecal occult tests; and more.

Diagnostic testing

A variety of diagnostic tests are utilized in a clinical setting. In this section, you’ll be tested on your understanding of a number of different diagnostic testing area. These include cardiovascular, auditory, allergy, respiratory, and vision tests. Specifically, topics covered may include EKG/ECG; cardiac stress tests; vision distance testing; word and speech recognition; scratch tests for allergies; pulmonary function tests, spirometry, and peak flow rate; and how to understand and recognize the difference between normal and abnormal test results.


An understanding of pharmacology, including commonly prescribed medications, is an important knowledge area for medical assistants. This subsection of the exam will test your understanding of medications overall; their preparation and administration; recordkeeping procedures; and immunizations. Additionally, individual topics may include: classes of drags; adverse reactions; medication storage; medication dosage and conversion; means of administering medications, such as oral, intramuscular, topical, rectal, and so on; selecting an injection site; types of medication packaging; controlled substances; reporting errors; and immunizations for both children and adults.

Emergency management and first aid

Emergencies happen, and it’s important to understand how to respond to them. This final section of the exam will cover how to assess and screen patients in emergencies, how to respond to emergent situations, and the importance of office-wide preparedness in the face of an emergency. Particular topics may include treatment and triage flow charts; different types of emergencies such as shock, burns, bleeding, poisoning, seizures, asthmatic attack, concussion, and more; emergency equipment such as crash carts and defibrillators; and the details of an office emergency response and evacuation plan.

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