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CIA Exam Part 1: How to Pass CIA Part 1

cia exam part 1

The CIA exam has three parts that you must pass. So, at some point, at the beginning or end of your CIA exam experience, you’ll need to take CIA exam Part 1. And before you do, you should learn all about the syllabus, format, difficulty, and best passing strategies for this part. You’ll find all that information and more right here.

Content: CIA Part 1 Syllabus

To pass the CIA exam Part 1, you must know all about the content this part covers. The title of CIA Part 1 is Essentials of Internal Auditing, so this part addresses the basics of the profession.

What’s more, you need to know that on January 1, 2019, the IIA changed the syllabus for each CIA exam part. In order to better test candidates on the knowledge and skills necessary for today’s internal auditor, the IIA updated the CIA exam in early 2019 according to the results of their 2017 global job-analysis survey. Part of the exam modifications involved redistributing the content between each part to minimize overlap, and in the process, the number of content areas in Part 1 doubled from 3 to 6. However, the CIA syllabus hasn’t changed again since 2019, so the following reflects the current topics.

2022 CIA Part 1 Syllabus

Essentials of Internal Auditing

Content Area

Coverage Percentage

I. Foundations of Internal Auditing


II. Independence and Objectivity


III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care


IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program


V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control


VI. Fraud Risks


As you can see, this exam part addresses critical components of internal auditing so that it aligns well with the IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF). The IIA explains that CIA Part 1 tests candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities relating to the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. Specifically, Part 1 of the CIA exam deals with the Attribute Standards (series 1000, 1100, 1200, and 1300) and Performance Standard 2100.

To ensure that candidates have an adequate understanding of the crucial concepts, the CIA exam syllabi communicate the cognitive level, or depth of knowledge, that candidates must have for each exam topic area. The two cognitive levels at which the exam tests candidates are:

  • 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.

Part 1 of the CIA exam has 14 topics that candidates must know at the Basic level and 16 topics that candidates must know at the Proficient level.

Pass Rate: CIA Exam Part 1 Pass Rate

Unfortunately, the IIA does not release pass rates for each CIA exam part specifically. Instead, they simply provide the overall CIA exam pass rate. Plus, the IIA hasn’t released the CIA pass rates for 2021 or 2022. However, as you can see from previous years, the CIA exam pass rate is less than 50%.

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
42% 39% 40% 42% 43% 42% 41%

Passing Score: How to Pass CIA Part 1

As the CIA exam is fully computerized, a computer grades the exam and converts all raw CIA exam Part 1 scores into a reporting scale of 250-750 points. The passing score on that scale is set at 600. The CIA Part 1 exam passing score is the same as the CIA passing score for the other exam parts.

Fees: The Cost of the CIA Part 1 Exam

The fees for each CIA exam part are as follows:









Part 1




Part 2




Part 3




As you can see in this chart, the CIA Part 1 exam fees are higher than the fees for the other exam parts. Therefore, you can save money on the CIA exam process by passing Part 1 (and the other exam parts) the first time.

Furthermore, the cost of taking the CIA Part 1 exam is lower for IIA members than non-IIA members. So, to save even more money on CIA exam fees, you should become a member of the IIA. But to save the most money on CIA exam fees, you should take the CIA exam as a student.

Format: CIA Part 1 Exam Questions

The format of CIA Part 1 differs from that of CIA exam Part 2 and CIA exam Part 3.

Each CIA exam part includes multiple-choice questions (MCQs) only. However, Part 2 and Part 3 have 100 MCQs each, whereas Part 1 has 125 MCQs.

Number of CIA Exam Questions

Part 1 125
Part 2 100
Part 3 100

Additionally, the total testing time for both Part 2 and Part 3 is 120 minutes. But because Part 1 has more questions, you get more time to finish it. So, the total testing time for Part 1 is 150 minutes.

Conveniently, the proportional increase in the number of questions and total testing time that takes place between Part 1 and Parts 2 and 3 means that you have the same average amount of time to complete each question: 1.2 minutes.

Finally, the CIA exam focuses on concepts at a general and introductory level. For this reason, questions are straightforward, and computational questions are rare.

Difficulty: CIA Exam Part 1 Difficulty

Because the IIA does not release CIA exam pass rates for each part, we don’t have an objective measurement of the CIA exam Part 1 difficulty.

But, if you currently work in internal audit, CIA exam Part 1 could be the easiest exam part for you. As it covers the basics of internal audit, you most likely interact with a lot of this information on the job.

However, you must not underestimate Part 1, as it requires you to be very familiar with the IIA’s standardized methodologies, some of which you may not use on a daily basis.

In fact, if you learned a lot about your craft on the job, you’ve probably developed your own methodology for carrying out audits. In that case, you must review the IIA’s standards, so you can ensure that your methodologies align, or so you can learn the IIA’s methodologies specifically.

If you’re not an internal auditor at the moment, you may have even less history with the concepts tested in CIA exam Part 1. In that case, you must be ready to commit a bit more study time to Part 1.

Furthermore, Part 1 encompasses more content areas than the other exam parts. Part 1’s topics are balanced, clear, and uniform. But, due to their quantity, you may find preparing for the first part of the CIA exam to be the biggest challenge in your journey.

Studying: CIA Exam Part 1 Study Time

The amount of time you will need to spend preparing for the CIA exam Part 1 depends on your background in internal audit and your familiarity with the exam content. Consequently, studying for Part 1 may take you more or less time than the average CIA candidate. But to give you a point of reference, I have used my insight into the different CIA review courses to estimate study times for CIA exam Part 1.

Candidates who feel pretty familiar with internal auditing from the start can probably plan to study for the minimum amount of study time. Whereas, candidates who know they need additional instruction to fill in knowledge gaps should expect to study for a safe number of hours.

Minimum  Safe
 Part 1  30-40 hours 55-65 hours
 Part 2  30-40 hours 60-70 hours
 Part 3  40-50 hours  85-95 hours

Though CIA exam Part 1 has the most content areas and MCQs, the content is basic enough that you shouldn’t need to study for this exam part for as long as the other exam parts.

Passing Strategy: CIA Part 1 Study Plan

To achieve CIA exam success, you should apply some general study tips to your entire preparation process. However, to do well on CIA Part 1 specifically, you should follow this advice:

1. Prepare to understand the basics

Most of my readers have told me that they find Part 1 to be relatively straightforward. This part is all about the foundations of internal audit that internal auditing professionals should know by heart.

That said, your experience may not cover every topic. And if you’ve been in the industry for decades, you may be rusty in a few areas.

Therefore, you’ll need to revisit topics that you may already know or understand to ensure that your information is up to date and completely aligned with the IIA’s standards.

2. Know the concepts well

Though a good number of Part 1 CIA exam questions will be pretty direct, many may be more conceptual. These questions can be tricky unless your knowledge of the concepts runs deep, because to answer them, you must be able to tell the difference between key terms and definitions.

You may find yourself being able to narrow the answer choices down to 2 but then struggling to pick the right answer in the end.

In this case, I suggest going through these tricky questions very slowly. Start by thinking of the two answer choices as if they were two scenarios in a real business situation. Then, recall the concepts you’ve learned to decide which one intuitively makes more sense.

Answering questions this way can take a bit more time, but with practice, you’ll develop the intuition you need to handle them properly on the real exam.

3. Analyze fact patterns and develop answering strategies

Because the CIA exam consists solely of multiple-choice questions, you’ll want to increase your familiarity with fact patterns and the best answering strategies for MCQs.

Working through plenty of practice questions and noting any systematic errors you make (e.g., getting the wrong answers for certain topics or certain types of questions) will really help you refine your weak areas and be ready to pass CIA exam Part 1 on your first attempt.

4. Write your own notes

A great deal of research proves that writing your own notes engages your various senses in the learning process and forces you to process the concepts in your brain. Taking notes demands a lot of time and effort, but it works. 

I read Parts 1 and 2 twice. During the second read-through, I summarized the information by reading the section and then writing the important points of that section in a notebook. It took some time, but I believe the benefit of retaining what I read and wrote was worth it. I used the notes I prepared 3 days before my exam. I read through them to refresh my memory and get an overview of what I studied.


Lynnel was one of our bloggers who took Part 1 twice but passed Part 2 and Part 3 on her first try after figuring out the best way to tackle the CIA exam.

Review Courses: CIA Part 1 Study Material

To give yourself the best chance at CIA Part 1 success, you should use CIA exam prep to prepare for it. The best CIA review course for you supplies the resources you need to master the exam content and maximize your confidence, so you have no problem passing Part 1 of the CIA exam. You can read my comparison of the most popular CIA review courses or contact me to get personalized advice about your best CIA study options.

You can also take my free CIA e-course to learn everything you need to know about the exam process and how to pass the first time. See what my free course is all about, or sign up below!

2022 CIA Part 1 Syllabus

  1. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)
  2. Independence and Objectivity (15%)
  3. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)
  4. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%)
  5. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
  6. Fraud Risks (10%)

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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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