CIA Exam Difficulty: How Hard Is the CIA Exam Compared to Other Accounting Exams?


Before you embark on the CIA journey, you might want to understand how tough it is to get the qualification. For example, you may have questions like, “How hard is the CIA exam? How does it compare to other accounting certification exams such as the CPA?” To give you the answers to these questions, we’ll assess the different factors contributing to CIA exam difficulty.

CIA Exam Difficulty: Format

CIA Exam

One aspect that is welcoming to most candidates is that the CIA exam is 100% multiple-choice questions (MCQs). Most candidates prefer this type of simple, straight-to-the-point, black-and-white type of questions rather than the task-based simulations (TBSs) and written communications (WCs) 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 are 2-3 task-based simulation sections that represent 50% of the total score.

These questions are essentially condensed case studies that examiners use to evaluate your knowledge in a specific area. The TBSs 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.

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

CIA Exam Difficulty: Duration

CIA Exam

There are currently 3 exam parts. Part 1 is the longest with 125 questions. Part 2 and Part 3 each have 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:

Each section contains dozens of questions and offers 4 hours in total testing time.

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

The CPA Exam has more parts, and the total duration is double that of the CIA exam.

CIA Exam Difficulty: Testable Content

The CIA exam content is very similar to the AUD, BEC, and REG sections of the CPA Exam — a mile wide but only an inch deep. The overall styles of the exams and the way questions are worded are both similar.

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

Part 3 is probably closer to BEC, which covers economics and business concepts.

There are considerable overlaps between the two exams, but the 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 those in Part 1 and 2) are theoretical questions.

This is both good and bad news for candidates. For those who do not like calculations, this is great. However, there are many candidates who appreciate the very clear, black-and-white style of computational questions and dislike the theoretical questions in which more than one answer seems to be correct and one is ultimately forced to pick a slightly better one. This predicament is typical in internal control questions.

CPA Exam

The CPA Exam has a much wider variety of question styles: there are the standard MCQs, the case-study like TBSs, and the essays in one of the exam parts.

Furthermore, the MCQs testlets contain 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.

Estimating CIA Exam Difficulty

Based on the factors we have discussed, I believe that for most candidates, the CIA exam is likely less difficult than the CPA, especially if you are working in the IA or general audit and compliance industry.

Part 1 and Part 2 should be relatively straightforward for most candidates with relevant experience. Part 3 could be more of a challenge as it covers IT, business acumen, and financial management.

Alleviating CIA Exam Difficulty

There are lots of ways you can prepare for the CIA exam. First, you can discover the CIA exam pass rate. Then, you can learn more about the CIA exam format. And don’t forget to consider your exam prep options to find the best CIA review course for you, as well as the CIA review discount that will help you save on your perfect course.

Finally, you can learn how to pass the CIA exam on your first attempt in my free CIA course. Sign up below!

Conversely, if the CPA Exam doesn’t sound so bad, you can learn more about how the CIA compares to the CPA so you can know which may be better for your career. You can also learn how to pass the CPA Exam with CPA review courses and CPA review course discounts.

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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