Before 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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