CIA Exam Difficulty vs Other Accounting Certifications


cia exam difficultyBefore you embark on the CIA journey, you might want to understand how tough it is to get the qualification. For example, how is the CIA exam difficulty when compared to other popular accounting qualifications, notably the CPA? Let’s take a look.

CIA Exam Difficulty in terms of Format

CIA Exam

One aspect that is welcoming to most candidates is that the CIA exam is 100% multiple choice questions. Most candidates prefer this type of simple, straight-to-the-point, black and white type of questions rather than the task-based simulations and written communications in the CPA exam.

CPA Exam

The similarity is that both CPA and CIA exams are computerized. The main difference is that for the CPA exam, there is a task-based simulation section which represents around 40% of the total score.

These questions are essentially “condensed case studies” for examiners to evaluate your knowledge in a specific area. They are meant to test how candidates apply the concepts in real business situations, and as you can imagine, this gets a lot more complex than multiple choice questions.

CPA Exam is likely more complex and more difficult to prepare.

How Hard is the CIA Exam in terms of Duration

CIA Exam

There are currently 3 exam parts. Part 1 is the longest with 125 questions. Part 2 and Part 3 each has 100 questions. You are given 2.5 hours and 2 hours respectively, implying that you have 1.2 minutes per question.

CPA Exam

There are 4 exam parts: FAR and AUD sections are the longest with 4 hours each. AUD and BEC are 3 hours each, totally 14 hours.

You are generally given more time per question for the CPA exam, but given the complexity many candidates still run out of time, especially for FAR and REG.

CPA Exam has more parts and total duration doubles that of the CIA exam.

CIA Exam Difficulty in terms of Tested Content

The CIA exam content was very similar to the AUD, BEC and REG sections of the CPA exam — a mile wide but only an inch deep. the overall style of the exam and the way questions were worded were both similar.

Most candidates find the majority of Part 1 and Part 2 of CIA exam to be a review of what they have been doing in audit. Therefore, most people seem to have the confidence of passing on their first try.

Part 3 is closer to BEC and probably comparable to the pre-simulation version and covers economics, and other business type sections.

There are considerable overlaps between the two exams, but CPA exam’s coverage is broader.

CIA Exam Difficulty Style of Exam Questions

CIA Exam

The exam is 100% multiple choice, and the vast majority of questions (especially Part 1 and 2) are theoretical questions.

This is good and bad news for candidates – for those who do not like calculations, this is great; but there are many candidates who appreciate the very clear, black-and-white style of computational questions, and dislike the theoretical questions when more than one answers seem to be correct and one is forced to pick a slightly better one. This is typical in internal control questions.

CPA Exam

The CPA exam has a much wider variety of question styles – there are standard multiple choice questions, and a case study like question sets known as the task-based simulations, and essays in one of the exam parts.

Within the multiple choice questions, there is a mix of computational and theoretical questions.

You either love or hate the CIA exam questions depending on your love/hatred towards theoretical questions. It helps if you have practical IA experience and are more intuitively able to pick the correct answer.

Conclusion: Is CIA Easier than CPA?

It is safe to conclude that for most candidates, the CIA exam is likely less difficult, especially if you are working in the IA or general audit and compliance industry.

Part 1 and Part 2 should be relatively straight-forward for most candidates with relevant experience. Part 3 would be more of a challenge as it covers wider topics, covering IT, business process and financial management.

Here is the Summary in Video Format

How to Increase Your Chance of Success?

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For your Further Reading

About the Author Stephanie

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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  • Brent says:

    “You are given 2.5 hours and 2 hours respectively, implying that you need to complete each question in 1.2 seconds.”





    1.2 seconds per question

  • SKB says:

    1.2 seconds per question


  • Satyanarayan says:

    Presently I am working in audit deptt.whether after doing CIA, I will join Axis ,Icici for better package. I expect 20 lakh p.a.

  • Dippy says:

    In case someone is not able to clear part 1 in first attempt then again I can reappear however do I need to pay the fees again? Pls let me know…

  • Leslie says:

    I find the CIA as not as straight to the point as you have described. It is multiple choice but you dont pick the right answer, you have to pick the answer that they want. Which is bullshit because what they want is not always right or what we are doing at the many organizations I have worked at. I’m a CPA and find it hard to pass CIA exam for some reason. Taken part 1 twice already.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Leslie, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your different views. I guess CIA exam questions are more theoretical, so for those who are stronger in computational questions vs the theoretical ones, it would be harder. Sometimes it seems to have several correct answers and we have to find the best one. I used to have this issue in the internal control section. For me, the only way is to go through each questions slowly and carefully, to think through the core concepts before moving on. I hope this helps?

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