Pass the CIA Exam on Your First Attempt!

Hello, future CIA! My name is Stephanie. I'm a Wiley author and the person behind this site. I have been answering questions about how to best prepare for the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam since 2014.

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CIA Exam Prep Resources

Our step-by-step guide to the CIA exam is a must-read! It walks you through all of the important decisions that you must make as a CIA candidate. Our guide also explains the exam requirements, hidden fees, registration pitfalls to avoid, scheduling deadlines, study tips, and testing strategies. 

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What Is a Certified Internal Auditor?

A Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is an accountant who conducts internal audits. This specific type of auditing professional has received the CIA certification from the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

The CIA certification is the only globally recognized internal audit certification. Therefore, earning the CIA is the best way for internal auditors to demonstrate that they possess the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary to complete the responsibilities of any audit, anywhere. With the CIA certification, Certified Internal Auditors are known as credible and trusted internal auditors who are committed to the profession and differentiated from their peers.

What Does a Certified Internal Auditor Do?

Typically, a Certified Internal Auditor works in the audit department of government agencies, financial institutions, or corporations. Within these organizations, the role of a CIA is to objectively assess financial records to check for deficiencies in internal controls.

CIAs have more obligations than non-certified internal auditors. For example, rather than focusing solely on financial statements as regular auditors do, CIAs provide a broad range of services to aid management in handling risk and safeguarding the company’s assets. Therefore, CIAs don’t just audit financial reports for accuracy, but they also help company leadership establish systems for the prevention of loss, fraud, theft, and damaged goods.

While both CIAs and CPAs have audit training and can therefore perform many of the same duties, CIA stand apart due to their more focused set of skills. From their unique positions within the company, CIAs fulfill duties such as:

  • Reviewing an organization’s business procedures
  • Evaluating the efficacy of current risk management procedures
  • Protecting against fraud and theft committed against the organization
  • Ensuring compliance with relevant laws
  • Recommending improvements to internal controls and governance processes

Where can a Certified Internal Auditor work?

With their expertise in internal auditing, CIAs can work in the following industries:

  • Private commercial entities
  • Public commercial entities
  • Public accounting firms
  • Governmental agencies

Why Become a Certified Internal Auditor?

The CIA certification affords internal auditors plenty of career advantages, including:

  • Higher Income

With the CIA, your career won’t just be financially stable: it will also be financially lucrative. According to the IIA, CIAs earn an average of $38,000 or 40% more than non-certified internal auditors. Furthermore, the findings of jobs sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and Payscale confirm that the CIA salary ranges from $69,000-$84,000. And of course, the more experience you obtain, the more you make. When you hold a high position such as Chief Audit Executive or Internal Audit Director, you can make anywhere for a quarter to a half a million dollars annually. That expansive amount of earning potential makes everything you spend on the CIA certification more than worth it.

  • More Job Opportunities

Certified Internal Auditors encounter a wealth of job options at every stage in their careers. For example, when you’re just starting out as an entry-level internal auditor, you can still hold a distinguished title such as:

  • Auditing specialist
  • Compliance auditor
  • Risk assessment specialist
  • Lead internal auditor
  • Financial analyst
  • Internal controls auditor
  • Information systems auditor

Then, after you’ve proven yourself in these areas, you can be promoted to higher lead internal auditor and internal audit supervisor positions such as:

  • Senior internal auditor
  • Audit manager
  • Risk manager
  • Internal audit director

Finally, you can rise the ranks to the highest levels of leadership and assume an internal audit executive role such as:

  • Finance Director
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Controller
  • Vice President of Internal Audit
  • Internal Audit Director
  • Chief Audit Executive

With plenty of job options leading to the very top of the corporate ladder, CIAs never have to be bored or unsatisfied in their careers.

  • Greater Job Security

The 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide reveals that the internal auditor is one of the hottest finance and accounting jobs in today’s hiring market. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a few years ago that the hiring of internal auditors would increase 10% from the years 2016-2026. Demand is so high because the world is realizing the value of internal audit. CIAs are responsible to provide assurance on risk management, corporate governance, internal control and operations in all types of business conditions. Organizations are motivated to improve internal controls and transparency, so they need to hire and hold onto CIAs. So, when you earn the CIA certification, you also earn right to stay at a job as long as you want.

  • Increased Skills and Abilities

To become a CIA, you must meet the IIA’s requirements. In the process, you will strengthen your understanding of internal audit and increase your competence in internal audit activities. With greater internal audit knowledge and abilities, you’ll build up your confidence as an internal auditor and become more marketable to future employers. The CIA certification exemplifies your dedication to the profession and your willingness to invest in your own development. And on top of that, it sets you apart from your non-certified peers. Therefore, pursuing the CIA is a great way to be the best internal auditor you can be by meeting the highest standards in the industry.

  • Heightened Respect and Admiration

The letters “CIA” behind your name is a sure sign that you’re a qualified auditor capable of doing exceptional work. Therefore, as a CIA, you’ll receive more credibility and respect in your field. Everyone in internal audit knows what you went through to earn the CIA, and they’ll know that you enhanced your expertise with internal audit in the process. So, they will look up to you as individual who knows how to make the industry better. They will also admire you more than other internal auditors. So clearly, the best way to join an elite group of internal auditors and secure the esteem of your coworkers and superiors alike is to become a CIA.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Certified Internal Auditor?

The IIA has established a series of requirements internal auditors must meet in order to enter the CIA program, take the CIA exam, and earn the CIA certification. These requirements address:

  • Education
  • Character
  • Work experience
  • Identification

You can determine if you qualify for the CIA program by learning more about each of these requirements specifically.

  • Education
    • You must have an associate’s degree or higher in order to be approved entry into the CIA program.
    • The IIA also accepts associate’s degree equivalents such as a Foundation Degree, Diploma of Higher Education, and Higher National Diploma.
    • To verify your educational status, you must send the following documents to the IIA:
      • Copy of your degree or official transcripts (if your name has changed since you earned your degree, you must also include your legal name change document.)
      • A letter from your university confirming your degree
      • A letter from an evaluation services agency confirming your degree level
    • Alternatively, you can become eligible for the CIA program, subject to approval, if you possess 7 years of verified experience in internal audit or its equivalent.
    • The IIA makes this concession for candidates who do not possess the minimum education requirements.
  • Character reference
    • CIA candidates must exhibit high moral and professional character.
    • As proof of your good character, you must submit a Character Reference Form signed by a CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CFSA, CRMA, or your supervisor.
  • Work experience
    • The IIA bases the work experience requirement of the maximum level of education you’ve achieved. So, the work experience requirements for the CIA program are:

Education Level

Years of Work Experience Required

Master’s Degree (or equivalent)

12 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent

Bachelor’s Degree (or equivalent)

24 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent

Associate’s Degree, A-Level Certificate (or equivalent)

60 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent

    • Candidates may apply to the CIA program and sit for the CIA exam before they’ve satisfied the work experience requirement. However, you can’t become certified until you’ve met all of the program requirements.
  • Proof of Identification
    • You must provide proof of your identity with either a copy of your official passport or your national identity card.
    • These documents must be current; the IIA will not accept expired I.D.
    • You must scan and upload the documents to the IIA’s Document Upload Portal website in a way that ensures the photo is clear.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Internal Auditor?

The IIA specifies that CIA candidates must fulfill the program certification process within 4 years of application approval. If you don’t complete the certification process in this time, you forfeit all fees and passed exam parts.

Studying for each part of the CIA exam can take dozens of hours. If you are very familiar with the exam content, you can prepare for the minimum number of CIA exam study hours. However, if you need to learn the basics, you should plan to study longer so you’re sure to be ready.

Exam Part

Minimum # of Study Hours

Maximum # of Study Hours

Part 1

30

60

Part 2

30

70

Part 3

70

140

If you study for 15 hours a week, you can be ready for Part 1 in 2-4 weeks, Part 2 in 2-5 weeks, and Part 3 in 5-10 weeks.

If you study for 10 hours a week, you can finish your Part 1 preparations in 3-6 weeks, your Part 2 prep in 3-7 weeks, and your Part 3 prep in 7-14 weeks.

Therefore, passing the CIA exam can take anywhere from 3-7 months. If life gets in the way or you fail an exam part, you can still expect to pass the exam in about a year.  

Getting an associate’s degree usually takes 2 years. If you only have an associate’s degree, you must have 5 years of internal auditing experience in order to receive the CIA. So, by going this route, you could become a CIA in 7 years, provided you take the exam while you’re in school or working.

If you decide to obtain a bachelor’s degree, you can do so in about 4 years, and you’ll only need 2 years of professional experience. Therefore, you could earn the CIA in 6 years with this plan.

Finally, if you pursue a master’s degree, doing so could take 2-3 years. If you add that time to the 4 years needed for your bachelor’s degree, you’d spend 6-7 years completing your education (unless you graduate early). Then, you would only need 1 year of professional experience. In this case, finishing the CIA program would take 7-8 years.  

How Do I Become a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)?

If you’re interested in the CIA certification, you must follow these steps to become a CIA:

What Is the CIA Exam?

The CIA exam is an exam all candidates must pass in order to earn the CIA certification. The IIA creates the exam, and Pearson VUE testing centers administer it.

The CIA exam has 3 parts covering various aspects of internal auditing.

The exam strictly uses multiple-choice questions (MCQs) to assess candidates’ knowledge of internal auditing. The number of MCQs in each exam part varies, as does the amount of total testing time available.

Exam Part

Exam Duration

Number of Questions

Avg. Time Per Question

Part 1

2.5 hours

125

1.2 minutes

Part 2

2 hours

100

1.2 minutes

Part 3

2 hours

100

1.2 minutes

What Does the CIA Exam Consists of?

The CIA exam ensures that candidates have a comprehensive understanding of internal auditing by addressing 3 different components of internal auditing and the related topics. In 2019, the latest version of the CIA exam parts will focus on the following content areas:

How Long Do You Have to Pass the CIA Exam?

Total amount of testing time varies for each exam part.

You’ll have 2.5 hours to finish Part 1, and 2 hours each to complete Part 2 and Part 3.

Once the IIA approves your application into the CIA program, you will have 4 years to meet all the certification requirements, including passing the CIA exam. If you don’t pass all 3 parts of the exam within this time, you’ll forfeit your fees and your passed parts.

Thankfully, you can take the CIA exam whenever your local Pearson VUE testing center is open. There are no testing windows or blackout dates for CIA exam availability.  

How Hard Is the CIA Exam?

The CIA exam is passable, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A few distinct factors indicate how hard the CIA exam is.

The first clue about the CIA exam difficulty is the CIA exam pass rates. The IIA only publishes the global overall CIA exam pass rate once a year. So, the most recent CIA exam pass rate was 42%. Therefore, the CIA exam’s pass rate is lower than that of the CPA, CFA, and CMA exams. This surprising fact proves that the CIA exam isn’t a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a challenging test for which you must thoroughly prepare. Considering just the pass rates alone, we can see that you can’t take the CIA exam lightly.

Another source of insight into the CIA exam difficulty is the depth of knowledge the exam expects candidates to have. The CIA exam syllabi express how much candidates must know about a certain topic in order to succeed by assigning cognitive levels to the main content areas of each exam part. The exam syllabi feature 2 cognitive levels:

  • Basic Level: Candidates retrieve relevant knowledge from memory and/or demonstrate basic comprehension of concepts or processes.
  • Proficient Level: Candidates apply concepts, processes, or procedures; analyze, evaluate, and make judgments based on criteria; and/or put elements or material together to formulate conclusions and recommendations.

The recurrence of the basic and proficient cognitive levels in the CIA exam parts varies.

Exam Part

# of Basic Level Topics

# of Proficient Level Topics

Part 1

14

16

Part 2

14

21

Part 3

32

3

Total

60

40

As the CIA exam features almost as many proficient level topics as basic level topics, you must know a good deal of the content at a deep level. Therefore, you must spend a lot of time preparing to ensure your understanding extends far enough.

With low pass rates and high expectations for candidate knowledge, the CIA exam is clearly quite challenging. However, it is still passable.

What Is a Passing Score on the CIA Exam?

The range for a CIA exam score is 250-700. What score do you need to pass the CIA exam? You must score 600 to pass the CIA exam.  

The CIA exam is fully computerized, so the computer grades the exam.

Furthermore, all CIA exam scores are scaled scores. Therefore, 600 does not represent the number of questions you answered correctly. That’s because the IIA calculates a passing score based on the difficulty of the exam version. So, the number of correct questions required to pass the exam can be different from one exam to the next.

For example, on an exam of medium difficulty, a candidate may need to get 75% of the questions right to pass. However, on an exam with a more difficult set of questions, a candidate may only need to answer 70% of the questions correctly.

So, once the computer has established your raw score of questions correct, it transforms this score to the scaled score.

The IIA weights all of the questions that count toward your score the same. However, not all questions count, because the exam includes pre-test questions.

The IIA includes these questions on the exam to determine if these questions sufficiently assess a candidate’s knowledge of a given topic. If so, the IIA may use these questions on future exam iterations. There is no way to tell the difference between a pre-test question and an operational question.

When Will I Receive My CIA Exam Score?

As mentioned, the computer grades the CIA exam. And, the exam only features multiple-choice questions. Therefore, you will receive an unofficial pass/fail score on the computer as soon as you finish an exam part.

If you pass, you will simply see the word “Pass” on the screen. If you fail, you will receive a numeric score between 250 and 600.

Within 24-72 hours after you finish the exam, you can check the CCMS system on the IIA website to get your official exam results. If you failed, you will also receive an indication about your performance on each major topic so you know how you must improve for next time.

What to Do After Passing the CIA Exam?

You must finish the education requirement before you sit for the exam. But, you don’t need to complete the experience requirement prior to passing the exam. So, once you’ve taken the exam, you may need to continue the process of fulfilling the experience requirement.

If you have already met all the other CIA requirements, you will receive the certification soon. And once you do, you will need to focus on fulfilling the CPE requirements. The IIA requires practicing CIAs to earn 40 hours of CPE a year.

Don’t slack off with your CPE, because the longer you keep your CIA certification up to date, the longer you’ll experience the benefits of the CIA!

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