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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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