Here is my mega list of CIA exam preparation tips that is equally applicable to CRMA, CCSA and other IIA specialty exams. Thank you readers, review course providers and industry experts for all your sharing.
Here are 6 tips selected from this list, presented invideo format:
If this is helpful, check out the rest of my tips and strategics:
|Efficient prep||Effective study||More Productive Time||Quick Prep tips||Test taking tips|
This is how you can prepare for the CIA, CCSA and CRMA exam in the shortest amount of time:
1. Understand the Beast
First of all, make sure you know what you are getting into, in terms of the exam content, format and marking scheme of the CIA exam. There are three parts, each with 100-125 questions to be completed in 2-2.5 hours. This is manageable compared to other accounting exams.
The passing score is 600 out of 750. Since the questions are 100% multiple choice and are equally weighted, we can deduce the passing rate to be 80%. It looks scarily high, but given the test is straightforward, you will be all right.
2. Pick the Right Tools
Many readers shared how they use their experience in Internal Audit to pass Part 1 and Part 2. This means that candidates must understand how a concept can be applied to real business situations.
For those who have years of experience in the industry, your focus should NOT be on reviewing the materials, but to actively work on practice questions. This is the best way to associate your real life experience with theoretical concepts tested in the exam.
Here is what you can do:
Unless you are very tight in budget, always get the latest version so you don’t need to worry about missing a few points due to outdated materials.
3. Persist with a Workable Plan
Creating a study plan takes time, effort, and is against human nature — most candidates understand the importance of getting organized but few actually implement it. That’s why so many candidates fail this exam.
A good plan makes sure you don’t fall behind and are able to cover all study materials given the time you have. Gleim has an excellent interactive online tools to map out a plan for you.
For those who study offline, you can download my study planner spreadsheet here.
4. Space Out Your Prep Time
Research has indicated that spacing out your studying time (e.g. reviewing 10 hours per week in the course of 2 months) is better than intense studying over a short period of time (e.g. 5 hours a day for 3 straight weeks).
Everyone has different learning patterns, but studying in the morning is in general better than late night cramming.
5. Immerse in “Real” Testing Environment
Try to practice in an environment similar to the actual exam. For example:
Being “effective” is different from being “efficient”. An effective student can learn more and perform better given the same amount of studying time.
6. Clean Your Desk
Studying in an uncluttered space with minimal distraction helps you concentrate on the studying.
7. Restrict from Emails and Social Media
It’s not practical to stop checking your emails, Facebook and Twitter altogether; but you can certainly set a time of the day for that (e.g. 15 minutes each in the morning and evening), and be strict about it. You will be amazed how much concentration you can regain with this strategy.
I recently implemented the Pomodoro Technique myself and it helps a lot to keep things manageable. I now schedule the email checking in the long breaks. You can give it a try with the free apps that you can install on smartphones.
8. Prioritize Based on Long Term Goals of Your Life
If you insist in watching that TV show or uploading your cat photos to Facebook, think about what these mean to you 10 years down the road. Would they get the promotion, the dream job and a better life for you and your family? Let’s prioritize based on our long term goals instead of short term enjoyment.
9. Minimize Sleep-In
Getting adequate amount of sleep is very important so I don’t suggest cutting back your resting time for CIA exam preparation. However, you can make better use of the time when you are awake but not physically out of bed.
I’ve tried putting the alarm clock in the opposite side of my room, and have my favorite snack ready for me to grab as an extra incentive. Once the routine is established, it is much easier to keep the discipline.
10. Make Best Use of Idle Time
Some of you may have lots of time between activities, such as waiting to pick up kids for stay at home moms, and long commute for those living in suburbs.
With the proliferation of mobile devices, we are now able to study on the go in the form of audio review, streaming video instructions or test prep apps on smart phones. These learning tools may not work for everyone, but do explore and see if one fits your learning style.
If everything fails, the good old 3″x5″ handwritten flash cards always work for me. Give it a try.
11. Delegate. Outsource. Seek Help
Don’t be shy to ask for help from your husband/wife, parents, aunts, neighborhood friends and possibly colleagues. It makes them happy to feel helpful and appreciated during your CIA exam preparation.
If you have older children, it’s perfect time to give them extra responsibility for their own personal development.
12. Combine Family and Studying Time
I tried bringing my daughter to the library every Saturday morning, so she could read books beside me while I studied. I also flipped my flash cards when watching my little son shower. Be creative to find extra time for your studies.
Multiple choice questions represent 100% of the CIA exam. Therefore, the characteristics of MC questions determine the style of the test. For example, MC questions are generally used to test a wide variety of topics but they usually don’t go deep, as in they cannot ask you to analyze a scenario. Because of this, you can expect the CIA exam to be a mile wide or an inch deep.
13. Engage Your Brain When Studying
Your brain needs to be engaged when studying. Reading the text book over and over is too passive, and this affects retention.
How do you engage your brain? Give it something to do! Examples:
I personally find the process of reading / watching / listening and then writing out the key points help a lot in retention vs reading the materials alone.
Any of these methods will prolong your CIA exam preparation but it’s totally worth the effort in my opinion.
14. Pay Attention to Key Definitions and Terms
This is true for multiple choice questions in any exams.
Examiners love to test fundamental concepts, definitions and terms in multiple choice questions. Therefore, make sure you understand the important terms and be able to differentiate them.
15. Apply the Concepts at Work
We can practice important CIA exam concepts in real business situations, in our everyday work. It could be cost accounting, variance analysis, or internal control. Just keep an open mind and find opportunities to practice your skill.
Another characteristics of multiple choice questions that there is always a correct answer hidden among the 4 choices. The difficulty of the question depends on (1) whether you know the correct answer; and (2) whether you get tricked by any of the wrong answers.
16. Don’t Try to Outsmart the Examiners and Pick “Hot” Topics
Candidates are busy and they often make an educated guess or ask around on which topics they should focus on, given the limited amount of time for studying.
This approach is risky because you never know what’s on in each exam. Some topics e.g. cost accounting will certainly be on, but it doesn’t mean we can skip other seemingly off-the-track sections.
Time management and a good study plan (tip #3) is again very important when it comes to CIA exam preparation.
17. Understand How Multiple Choice Questions Work
Multiple choice questions require a special way of preparation when compared to the essay question. In each multiple choice question, the student is asked to identify the correct answer out of 4 possibilities.
Why MC questions are easy for some candidates:
… and at the same time could be difficult for other candidates:
Our goal is to identify our own weaknesses, and directly address those during the exam preparation.
18. Keep Track of Incorrect Answers with a “System”
It is critical to have a systematic approach in identifying and keeping track of incorrect answers.
Whenever you answer a question incorrectly (or answer it correctly but for the wrong reason), write down the reason for your answer choice on a note book. Did you not know the concepts? Write down the concepts you did not know. Did you not read the fact pattern carefully? Did you misread the call of the question? Or misread the answer choices? Make a note of that in your own cheat sheet.
19. Analyze Your Weaker Areas
Constantly review this cheat sheet. Does it reveal any patterns, such as:
The integrated review course has online tracking system to identify your weaker areas by various means.
20. Speed It Up
Once you are familiar with the fact pattern and style of the questions, try moving faster and maintain the accuracy in all practice sessions.
21. Refine Your Skill in Educated Guessing
As in any professional exams, candidates often get caught by questions they have never seen before.
With this in mind, it is very important that candidates practice the art of “educated guessing” throughout their study.
In other words, get practices on a large variety of topics and don’t skip around the questions if you don’t know. Also, don’t be afraid of the “test mode” (vs study mode) — I don’t like the extra stress either but that’s precisely why we have to overcome it!
Try your best to get the best answer by whatever means — it could be by elimination, by relating a concept you learned from your other exam for example… this skill is going to be critical in the actual exam.
22. Don’t Run Away from the Mock Exam
The most important lesson to learn from mock exam is time management.
If you are running out of time, skip and mark anything you don’t know or don’t feel comfortable with. If time becomes an issue, it is less paintful to miss one complicated question than 3 easy ones.
The following tips can help you avoid silly mistakes and make better educated guess on the exam day.
This exam is positively graded: Even blind guessing has 25% chance of success. You should therefore always aim to complete the entire section.
23. Manage Your Time
This is rule number 1. The multiple choice in the CIA exam, especially in Part 3, can be more lengthy and complex than some professional accounting exams. This makes time management critical. For example, for Part 1, you can allocate 2.5 hours (150 minutes) evenly to the 125 questions, which means 1.2 minutes per question.
24. Read All Choices before Picking the Answer
Many candidates pick the answer that “looks correct” and rush to the next question. But sometimes, there could be a better answer in B, C or D, or that you can choose “all of the above” when all answers are correct.
It only takes a split of a second to skim the 4 possible answers.
25. Don’t Leave Any Questions Unanswered
There is no penalty for wrong answers. If you run out of time, blind guessing is better than leaving them blank. Flag that question for review afterwards.
One correct answer is hidden among the 4 answer choices. If you study well, you should be able to identify it. In reality, however, many diligent candidates fail despite spending hundreds of hours in studying.
In most cases, they fall victim to the “distractors”. Here are tips on how to overcome them:
26. Anticipate the Correct Answer before Reading the Choices
Sometimes, the available answer choices look “reasonable” and they could do more harm then good by throwing you off and distracting you. In fact, the 3 incorrect answer choices are technically known as “distractors”.
You should always come up with the answer in your head before looking at the choices. If your answer matches with one of the responses, then you are confident that the particular response is correct.
27. Select Answer that are Correct and On Topic
Some responses may be correct but are not directly related to the question. The best answer should be both correct and relevant.
28. Eliminate “Partly True” Answers
Similarly, ask yourself whether the answer you are considering completely addresses the question. If the answer is only partly true or is true only under certain narrow conditions, then it’s likely not the right answer.
29. Be Careful with Absolute Statements
When you see words such as “always”, “every”, “never” and “none” in the response, they are likely to be incorrect. The CIA exam cover topics in real business situations, and there are very few absolutely right or wrong situations in real life.
30. Be Careful with Negatives
Watch for negatives, double negatives and two part statements in the stem (thankfully, double negatives seem to be quite rare in this exam).
In general, I don’t think the CIA exam is trying to trick us, because they do bold the “not” in this case. Having said that, these words are key because they reverse the meaning of a sentence, and therefore, should be careful.
31. Avoid Weird or Funny Responses
Again, use your common sense. If the answer choice is funny or doesn’t make sense in real life situation, it is probably wrong.
In cases where you aren’t sure which answer is right, you can still greatly improve your odds by eliminating implausible answers. For example, removing two of these improves your odds of guessing the correct answer from 25% to 50%.
32. Look for Grammatical Clues
If the “stem” (body of the question) ends with “an” instead of “a”, then the correct response most likely begins with a vowel.
33. Pick the Answer with the Most Information
If a response repeats the keywords used in the stem, or that it is longer with more descriptive words (as if the examiner is trying to be specific about the description), it is more likely to be the correct answer.
34. Use the True/False Technique
This is helpful when you are confronted with 2 similar answers: If any part of a potential answer is false then the entire answer is incorrect.
The CIA exam questions are often conceptual but they test on real business situations. If everything fails or time is running out, pick the answer with the following strategies:
35. Don’t Over-Analyze
Don’t dismiss a response because it seems too obvious and simple. If you are well prepared for the exam, some questions may appear very straight forward.
Similarly, don’t waste time looking for tricks and traps. Usually they are not there.
36. Follow Your First Impression
Multiple choice is all about recognition of things you have learned. If you are well prepared and you have read the question and choice of answers carefully, your first impression is often the best.
37. Eliminate the Choice that Doesn’t “Feel” Right
If you get stuck, try imagining each choice as the correct answer. People often “feel” that one of the answers is wrong. This happens when you are familiar with a concept but don’t have a firm grasp at it, just like you may know a person but you can’t recall his name.
The CIA exam is fully computerized. The system pulls a set of questions from a pool and present them in random order. Therefore, don’t waste time looking for patterns in your answers. Don’t worry if you find you have checked four “C” answers in a row.
Knowing Part 3 is the toughest part for many of you, I included more tips on my CIA Exam part 3 page.
Bonus #2: Narrow Down Your Goals on the Exam Day
What you are trying to achieve on the exam day is simply to:
Things become a lot more manageable with 3 simple and clear goals.
These 38 tips could be overwhelming, but each pushes you closer to your passing success. Bookmark this page so you can take a look from time to time. All the best to your CIA exam!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.
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