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Ask the experts: Tips on taking the CAMS exam

Kevin Gulledge, CAMS
June 3, 2022
Read Time: 0 min

Taking the CAMS exam: Are you ready to be a student again?

These expert tips for studying and reviewing ACAMS material can help you pass the CAMS exam with flying colors

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Getting started

Determine your learning style

You're all signed up to take the CAMS exam. Great! You're taking the next steps to advance your career and join a select group of certified AML professionals. How will you prepare for the exam now that you've signed up? This compilation of best practices and expert tips for studying for the CAMS exam can help.

Most of us haven't studied since high school or college. Thinking back to your academic days, do you remember what it was like to take a test or write a lengthy paper? Did you excel at memorization or feel stressed? If the latter was more common, how did you handle it?

After determining what type of student you used to be, think about ways your life after school has impacted your study habits. You may have picked up some good practices during your career that you can implement to help be a better student. For example, you may feel more confident researching topics online or have more resources available to you now. Determining what kind of student you are today can help you identify strategies that will work for you as you prepare for the CAMS exam. The following questions can also help define your study style before you get to work:

  • Will you begin studying right away or wait until the last minute to cram? Either way is acceptable, as long as you understand what works best for you.
  • Do you learn best by reading and re-reading, or do you use flashcards? If so, there are several online ACAMS flashcard sources, some free and some available as a mobile app.
  • Are you memorizing the words or making keyword connections when reading? If you're not familiar with keyword connections, try out the technique.
  • Do you learn better by reading, or would you rather listen to an audio recording? You may rather listen to the audio study guide passively and then return and read and listen actively. If you routinely listen to podcasts or audiobooks while working, try listening to the audio study guide.
  • What time of day do you study? We are not all the same, and neither are our study habits, so choose what works for you.
  • Do you like to take practice exams? There are valuable online sites that give sample ACAMS test questions and sample ACAMS quizzes; a quick Google search will lead you to a wealth of study resources.

One size does not fit all, so examine your preferences to determine which study method suits you.

Under pressure

How to manage stress

Stress is inevitable. We all want to be immune to pressure, but no one is exempt--especially while preparing for an exam. There are several techniques to deal with stress to keep your mind clear so you can study. Take up a hobby or spend time with family between study sessions. Be sure not to overdo it. If you read through a paragraph but do not remember what you just read, it's time to take a break. Time management is essential when studying, just like when taking the CAMS exam.

Whatever you do, don't spend all your time studying; you will get tired and frustrated. It is difficult to learn with na exhausted brain. Take breaks, go for a walk or hike, take up yoga, or work on a puzzle. Whatever it is, do something to give your brain a break and de-stress.

Our CAMS-certified advisory team can help you get ahead.

get started

Zero in

What should I study most?

The CAMS study guide is a great resource. We suggest focusing on the chapters where you feel your knowledge is lacking. Experts also recommend not studying everything word-for-word but learning to make connections between keywords and remembering key takeaways or points.  Don't skip over things in the study guide that you "think" you know, but focus on your weaknesses or areas where you are not as confident. For example, many exam takers need to focus on the international sections since they are less familiar with other countries’ operations. If you are a U.S.-based BSA professional, you must think globally. Don't just consider what someone in New York, Texas, or Kansas would do. Think about what a BSA professional in France, Vietnam, or Japan would do.

We would also suggest focusing on the Financial Action Task Force's 40 Recommendations. Remembering which recommendations correspond to a number, such as "what is recommendation #25?" is not important, but understanding the overall purpose and the highlights is esssential. The practice exam in the back of the study guide is also an excellent tool. Remember that practice makes perfect.

Use your resources

Once you register for the exam, ACAMS gives you everything you need for the exam, including a written study guide, practice exam, audio study guide, and flashcards. Practice exams provided by other private companies can be helpful in terms of repetition. Still, you may not get as much out of their practice exams as with ACAMS’s provided materials. In addition, practice exams offered by private companies often come with a fee, while free online resources have been found just as helpful. A few other tips include:

  • Print out the flashcards and put them on a binder ring so you can have them readily available to study.
  • Read through the questions carefully in the study guide; they sometimes use different language, which may be confusing.
  • Have your spouse, significant other, or a friend review and collate your notes to help with organization and practice testing (and then tell them how much you love them).

Strategy recap

Show what you know

Remember, the exam is 120 questions, and the questions have multiple choice answers. You have three and a half hours to complete the exam. Take your time. Breathe. Read the questions carefully. Sometimes, the exam questions use the word "could" instead of "should," and that one little word can completely change the question. You can also "mark" questions for further review during the test, so we suggest marking the questions you're on the fence about and reviewing them again after you've gone through the exam.

As a recap, here are a few strategies you can take to prepare for the CAMS exam:

  1. Reflect on what type of student you were in high school or college; you can start by figuring out your preferred study method.
  2. Manage your stress by finding some time for things you enjoy.
  3. Focus on areas where you need improvement and use the available resources.
  4. Take your time and consider coming back to questions you're unsure of. Above all, trust yourself and your instincts.

To pass the ACAMS exam, you must achieve a score of 75% or higher. You will receive your score as soon as you submit your exam. Remember, even though it's not guaranteed, if you put in the hard work in studying, you are setting yourself up with a much higher chance of success. Good luck!

If you're new to the BSA world, check out our blogs on "Back to Basics BSA Training" here and here. And, of course, you can always reach out to [email protected] with questions.


  • Contributing authors: Cara Lemley and Kimberly Harrison
About the Author

Kevin Gulledge, CAMS

Senior Risk Management Consultant
Kevin Gulledge has over sixteen years’ experience in the retail banking sector, having worked with mid-sized and large international institutions in a variety of roles, including retail, operations, compliance, and BSA/AML. Since 2014, Kevin has served Abrigo customers as a Senior Risk Management Consultant, working with domestic and international institutions

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