CIA Exam Format: Learn About the CIA Exam Parts, Structure, and More

cia exam format

Of the several Certified Internal Auditor requirements you must fulfill to become a CIA, one of the most challenging is passing the CIA exam. Yet, you can certainly overcome this challenge if you prepare for it properly. One of the first steps in your CIA preparations should be learning about the CIA exam inside and out. So, start by discovering the CIA exam format, including the parts, questions, structure, duration, difficulty, and more.

CIA Exam Format

The CIA exam has 3 parts. These parts focus on the following areas of internal auditing:

Specifically, Part 1 focuses on the IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) and Furthermore, assesses candidates’ abilities related to the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. Furthermore, Part 1 discusses the Attribute Standards (series 1000, 1100, 1200, and 1300) as well as Performance Standard 2100.

Additionally, Part 2 tests candidates’ knowledge and skill with the Performance Standards (series 2000, 2200, 2300, 2400, 2500, and 2600) and current internal audit practices.

Finally, Part 3 analyzes candidates’ understanding of select core business topics, such as financial management and information technology (IT).

CIA Exam Parts and Content

Within the 3 parts, the CIA exam addresses a comprehensive scope of internal auditing concepts. Each part commits a certain amount of coverage to specific content areas. The CIA exam part content areas and coverage percentages are:

1: Essentials of Internal Auditing2: Practice of Internal Auditing3: Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing
I. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)I. Managing the Internal Audit Activity (20%)I. Business Acumen (35%)
II. Independence and Objectivity (15%)II. Planning the Engagement (20%)II. Informational Security (25%)
III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)III. Performing the Engagement (40%)III. Information Technology (20%)
IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%)IV. Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress (20%)IV. Financial Management (20%)
V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
VI. Fraud Risks (10%)

This information about the CIA exam content appears in the CIA exam syllabus. The syllabus contains summaries of the topic areas in the CIA exam. So, from the syllabus we learn that the CIA exam focuses on the following internal audit topics:

  • Auditing processes
  • Control frameworks
  • Documentation standards
  • Engagement planning and procedures
  • Fraud
  • Governance and business controls
  • Internal controls and risk management
  • IT and security systems
  • Regulatory issues

CIA Exam Cognitive Levels

The exam syllabus also specifies the skills for which the IIA has designed the CIA exam to test candidates. To pass the exam, CIA candidates must:

  • Possess current knowledge of The IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) and demonstrate appropriate use.
  • Be able to perform an audit engagement with minimal supervision in conformance with the IIA’s International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing.
  • Be able to apply tools and techniques to evaluate risks and controls.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of organizational governance.
  • Apply knowledge in business acumen, IT, and management needed for internal auditing.

Furthermore, the syllabus also reveals the depth of knowledge about each exam topic that the CIA exam expects candidates to have. The exam syllabus assigns 1 of 2 cognitive levels (formerly awareness levels) to each topic within the exam part content areas:

  • 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.

Therefore, candidates must achieve the appropriate cognitive level with the following number of topics in each CIA exam part:

Exam Part

Basic Level

Proficient Level

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3



CIA Exam Questions

The CIA exam consists solely of multiple-choice questions (MCQs). Specifically, each exam part has the following amounts of MCQs:

  • 1: 125 MCQs
  • 2: 100 MCQs
  • 3: 100 MCQs

Thankfully, preparing for this singular question type is somewhat simple, as you can easily drill through practice questions and monitor the progress of your comprehension with an online CIA review course. A review course equipped with a test bank of a few thousand practice MCQs can adequately prepare you for the CIA exam questions.

Furthermore, by using only MCQs, the exam intends to test your breadth of knowledge, not depths of knowledge.

CIA Exam Structure

The CIA exam is fully computerized, which allows for the smooth implementation and administration of the exam at 900+ Pearson VUE testing centers around the world.

Furthermore, the computerized CIA exam affords candidates scheduling flexibility. The CIA exam does not have testing windows or blackout dates, so candidates can sit for it at any time of the year.

What’s more, studying for the computerized test with online CIA exam prep is prudent and productive. The quality of the most popular CIA review courses is high, while the prices are low. So, there’s no need to make the exam any harder on yourself by skipping out on digital study materials.

One last benefit of a computerized exam that only serves multiple-choice questions is immediate score reporting. As soon as you submit the exam at the testing center, you’ll receive an unofficial score report right there at the computer. Therefore, you won’t have to wait for weeks to get your exam results!

You’ll get your unofficial score right away, and then you can find your official score in your candidate profile at the IIA website. Though the first score report is unofficial, I’ve never heard of an official score differing from an unofficial score. So, you really can trust the numbers you see after you finish the test.

CIA Exam Languages

The computerized CIA exam is available in 19 different languages including Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Czech, English, Estonian, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Thai.

However, the IIA updated the English version of the CIA exam according to the recent exam changes at the beginning of 2019. The update schedule for the remaining language versions is:

  • French and Spanish: June 1, 2019
  • German and Turkish: July 1, 2019
  • Arabic and Russian: August 1, 2019
  • Korean and Portuguese: September 1, 2019
  • Chinese Traditional and Japanese: October 1, 2019
  • Chinese Simplified and Thai: 2020

Therefore, once the IIA has released all of the updated exam versions, you won’t be able to take the exam in Czech, Estonian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, or Polish. So, you don’t have much time left to take the exam in these languages.

CIA Exam Duration

The length of each CIA exam part varies according to the number of questions. So, because Part 1 contains more questions, it also offers more total testing time. Total testing time for each exam part is as follows:

  • 1: 150 minutes
  • 2: 120 minutes
  • 3: 120 minutes

When you divide the total testing time for each exam part by the number of questions that part contains, you can determine the average amount of time you should spend on each exam question.

Exam PartDurationNumber of QuestionsAverage Time per Question
Part 12 ½ hours1251.2 minutes
Part 22 hours1001.2 minutes
Part 32 hours1001.2 minutes

CIA Exam Difficulty

The range for the CIA exam score is 250 to 750, and the passing score is 600.

Moreover, the latest overall CIA exam pass rate is 42%. Therefore, the CIA exam difficulty level is high enough that you can’t take this exam lightly. Comparing it to other accounting certification exams proves this point as well.

Compared to the CPA Exam

The content of the CIA exam overlaps the most with the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section of the CPA Exam. To a lesser extent, the CIA exam also has content similarities with the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section and the Regulation (REG) section.

I haven’t personally taken the CIA exam, but my readers have told me that both the CPA and the CIA exams are 5 miles wide and 1 inch deep, meaning they require you to know a little bit about a lot of concepts instead of a lot about a few concepts. I believe this is especially the case for the CIA exam because it only includes MCQs, as opposed to the CPA Exam, which also has task-based simulations and written communications.

Compared to the CMA Exam

Generally, the questions on the CMA exam are longer and more complex than those on the CIA exam. The fact that the CMA exam also includes essay questions further supports this statement.

CIA Exam Success

Knowing the details of the CIA exam format is essential for planning your CIA exam studies. So, to ensure you’re ready to pass, you’ll want to prepare with an online review course packed with plenty of practice questions. If you need additional instruction about the exam concepts, you should invest in a course that also includes thorough books and video lectures. You can find the perfect exam prep for you in my comparison of CIA review courses. And, you can even save big on these study materials with my CIA review discounts.

But first, you can learn even more about the process of earning the CIA by taking my free CIA e-course. When you sign up for this course below, you can start your CIA journey off on the right foot.

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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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  • nayef says:

    hi my name is nayef from Jordan, I want to know the best way to study because I don’t know HOW , should I study every thing I’m the materials like university I mean. could u help me please.

  • Muhammad Ali Shiwani says:

    Hi,hope you would be fine
    I need comprehensive guidance regarding preparation of CIA part 3 More over I want IIA learning system book for part 3.

    Please entertain.

  • Eleanor says:


    MY CIA exam part 1 is tomorrow. I am quite nervous as I have heard the exam is a little tricky. I have passed the CMA exam, 1st time, I hope I would do the same with CIA (feeling so nervous now).

    • Stephanie says:

      Getting nervous is absolutely normal Eleanor. I hope you passed the exam! Stephanie

      • Eleanor says:

        I passed the exam with difficulties thou, as the questions are quite tricky. Had used almost 2 hours of the alloted time, since I have to review my answers twice.

        • Stephanie says:

          Hi Eleanor, so glad you passed! Yes, Part 1 is actually quite tricky. Many find Part 2 slightly easier (in terms of questions being less tricky). Good luck on your next part — I assume it’s Part 2? Stephanie

  • Diana says:

    Hello, I’m from Kazakhstan. My native languag is russian, by i had to prepair for exam in english because the Gleim course is only in english. During preparation i undestand that the level of my english is not enough high.
    Now i whant to register for exam and i want to choose english as exam language.
    Please tell me is it possible to pass exam in english and change language of the questions during exam? i meen is it it possible to have 2 language exam?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Diana, it is doable but I can see how things would be easier in your native language. I would say, give the English version I try first, since it is only multiple choice (instead of essays) and as long as you understand the terms and questions you are all right.

      As to whether you can change the language of questions during exam? I don’t think so. You can choose to take the exam in a language other than English but there is no instant translation. Regards, Stephanie

      • Tom says:

        If you select a language other than English you have the possibility to switch to the original English question during the exam. My impression is that the translation is not always 100% percent precise (small words like “independent” got lost – those words can really make a difference), so I recommend to give the English wording a try

  • Sylvie says:

    Hey just passed part one of the CIA can I get a job

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Sylvie, you can always get a job regardless of having a certification. But it can be helpful to increase the chance if you know how to “package” it. Ideally you should work towards the full CIA certification 🙂 Stephanie

  • Amira says:

    Hi Steph,

    Next week is my third attempt to sit for CIA part 2 after failing in it twice! In the previous attempt I have studied thoroughly from Gleim and the additional practice advisories on the IIA website and yet got a failing score of 577.
    Could you advise what should I do to pass next week ? I am currently only relying on Gleim and extremely anxious that I will fail this time.
    surprisingly I did not find the exam tricky last time but I realized that there were many questions addressing topics not covered in Gleim which makes me hesitant to rely on Gleim.

    Appreciate your advise and your best wishes for me in passing this time.

    • Thiem says:

      Hi Amira,

      Have you taken the Part 2 yet, Did you pass, would you share something about part2 please. thanks

      • Amira says:

        Hi Theim,

        Yes I did last week and I passed!! Finally.. after two fail attempts. I have realized that I have applied a different technique when answering the questions in the third attempt which I did not apply for the first two attempts. While I was answering the questions, any question that I did not know the correct answer for I flagged it so that I could answer at the end. Apparently when I had 15 minutes to answer the flagged questions at the end, I was able to answer them with confident without over analyzing. Also, another technique I applied is that I did NOT over analyze the question. The more you over think and over analyze, you waste your time and get the wrong answer. So what I did is that I paid attention to the key words in the question and what the question is EXACTLY ADDRESSING..

        -Materials that I have studied from:
        1) Gleim

        2) IIA ( The IIA is extremely detailed! I honestly think that the candidate wastes his/her time by using the IIA for part 2 when Gleim is already available. HOWEVER, I have used the IIA only for the chapters that I have difficulty with or are unclear in Gleim.

        3)Latest 2017 Standards: Available on the IIA website. I feel that this is the most useful material to refresh your memory with while revising the last day as it combines all standards.

        On the day of the exam:
        I made sure I had sufficient hours of sleep, had my coffee and power breakfast in the morning to keep me ALERT and FOCUSED.

        Hope this helps!

        Good Luck..

        • Stephanie says:

          Very detailed and systematic. Thanks Amira, and of course, really happy for you!

        • Thiem says:

          Congratulation!!! thanks Amira, I didn’t notice your reply, your advice also bolster my confidence that I can pass part 2.

        • Mokshita says:

          Hi Amira ,

          i just looked in to the conversation and i m also same as Theim, i failed in Part 2 twice and started prepararing again.
          u mentioned about IIA material , i searched for same n dint find it . Can you helpp me with any reference link to get to that material.
          I am referencing Gleim but would like to go beyond it little becaz i failed with 594 marks

          Thank you in advance

  • Melissa Budea says:

    I had also taken part 1 three times and passed on the 3rd time! It is trickier than you think but yes don’t over analayze questions and look to answer the question before looking at choices it helped me a lot! I used my remaining 25 minutes to over all 125 questions quickly and answer a handful of u answered ones. The key is to watch for key words and how they are used in questions, I found that helped me. I am hoping to pass part 2 on the 1st try! Good luck to all! Melissa Budea

  • Ramil says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for helping

    I want to get CIA certificatie because I love my job as auditor and I have more experience in this position.
    And I am going to get better job and one of the main requirements is CIA. That is why I have to get this certificate.

    I have some questions if you respond these it will be pleasure for me

    I registrated in IIA in 2014 and got ID number from them. I have not try to passing exam till nowdays (reason is hard work envoirement). As I know passing all CIA levels should be done in 4 yeas after registration (is it true?), I am going to pass CIA Part 1 in august 2018. Qusetion is:

    Should I pass exam CIA PART 1 in this case?
    Or can I registrate again in IAA (is it possible)?

    Thank in advance


  • Bt_Rdn says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I, most likely “we”, appreciate your kindness.

    I’m planning on taking the whole 3 parts in 6 months and I was wondering if I could listen to your opinion (and advice 🙂 ) about taking all 3 parts within a short amount of time between them.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Meghan D says:

      You can take all 3 parts within 6 months. For parts 1 and 2, you only need about 50 study hours. And depending on how strong your accounting background is, p3 should take around 100 hours. So, it’s definitely doable within a 6 month window.


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