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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 Auditing 2: Practice of Internal Auditing 3: 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

14 16

Part 2

14 21

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 Part Duration Number of Questions Average Time per Question
Part 1 2 ½ hours 125 1.2 minutes
Part 2 2 hours 100 1.2 minutes
Part 3 2 hours 100 1.2 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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