As the CIA exam pass rates prove, earning the Certified Internal Auditor certification is not easy. The CIA exam is fairly challenging on the whole, and many past CIA candidates (now CIAs) have struggled the most with CIA exam Part 3.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pass it. In fact, even though it’s hard, you can still pass Part 3 of the CIA exam the first time. I’ll tell you how to pass CIA part 3 in this CIA Part 3 exam discussion.
The title of CIA exam Part 3 is Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing. So, to pass CIA Part 3, you need to start by learning about the content that this part covers.
On January 1, 2019, the syllabus for each CIA exam part changed. Using the results of their 2017 global job-analysis survey, the IIA updated the exam to better test candidates on the knowledge and skills necessary for today’s internal auditor. The IIA also redistributed the exam content between each part and minimized overlap. As a result, the exam changes reduced the number of content areas in Part 3 from 8 to 4. However, the syllabus hasn’t changed again since 2019, so the following outlines the 2023 CIA exam syllabus.
I. Business Acumen
II. Information Security
III. Information Technology
IV. Financial Management
The IIA explains that CIA exam Part 3 tests candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities with these core business concepts.
Furthermore, the CIA exam syllabi communicate the cognitive level, or depth of knowledge, that candidates must have for each exam topic area. The exam specifies the cognitive levels in order to make certain that candidates understand the most critical concepts sufficiently. The two cognitive levels at which the exam tests candidates are:
Part 3 of the CIA exam has 32 topics that candidates must know at the Basic level and three topics that candidates must know at the Proficient level.
While we may like to know the exact CIA exam Part 3 pass rate, we can’t. That’s because the IIA only releases the overall CIA exam pass rate for the year, not the pass rates for each part. So, the latest CIA exam pass rate comes from 2021. (The IIA hasn’t released CIA pass rates for 2022 or 2023.) But according to IIA data, the most recent CIA pass rates are 45% for CIA Part 1, 50% for CIA Part 2, and 54% for CIA Part 3.
The passing score on the CIA exam Part 3 is the same as the CIA passing score on the other exam parts. Therefore, the computer grading system of the CIA exam converts all raw IIA CIA Part 3 scores into a reporting scale of 250-750 points. On that scale, the passing score is 600.
CIA exam fees are always lower for IIA members than for non-IIA members. Therefore, you can save money on your CIA Part 3 exam fee by becoming a member of the IIA. Furthermore, the CIA exam fee for Part 1 is more expensive than the fees for Part 2 and Part 3. So, you can save money on your entire CIA exam journey if you pass each part the first time. However, you can save the most money when you take the CIA exam as a student and become a member of the IIA.
(in US dollars)
CIA exam Part 3 has the same format as Part 2: 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that you must answer in 2 hours of total testing time. To finish all the CIA Part 3 exam questions in the allotted time, give yourself no more than 1.2 minutes to complete each question.
All 3 CIA Exam parts contain only MCQs. Therefore, the questions are typically pretty straightforward, and computational questions are rare. The CIA exam uses just MCQs because it focuses on testing candidate knowledge on a general and introductory level.
In the past, Part 3 developed a reputation for being the hardest part of the CIA exam. This status comes from the fact that the questions are more conceptual, and the answers are not as easy to deduce.
From my experience and candidate feedback, I have concluded that Part 3 gives candidates more trouble because it covers topics outside the scope of auditing. Consequently, candidates (mostly internal auditors) cannot relate as much to these topics with their own personal experience. Furthermore, the more theoretical questions of Part 3 also tend to be longer and trickier in general. Therefore, developing confidence in these questions takes more time and effort for many candidates.
Additionally, Part 3 features material you must memorize and understand in order to be fully prepared. To get through all of this information, you should go through the theoretical questions first. Then, work on the computational questions as extra practice.
Depending on your background with internal audit and your familiarity with the concepts of the exam content, you may need more or less time to prepare for CIA exam Part 3. However, based on my interactions with different CIA review courses, I have calculated my estimates for CIA exam Part 3 study time.
I recommend a minimum number of hours for candidates who feel confident in their knowledge and a safe number of hours for candidates who know they need to start with the basics.
As you can see, the CIA exam study time is the longest for Part 3. I believe this holds true no matter how comfortable you are with the content due to the nature of the subject matter.
Comparing the numerous success and failure stories I’ve heard from CPA, CMA, and CIA candidates over the years, I see three common reasons why people fail accounting certification exams.
Underestimating the difficulty of the exam and, consequently, the amount of time needed to prepare is one of the most common causes of failing the CIA exam. The exam contains theoretical questions that you can only prepare for by reading the books. Therefore, internal auditors can’t rely on their work histories to equip them with this information. Don’t fall into the trap of rushing your review. Instead, learn from the mistakes of the underprepared. To do so, give yourself enough time to study and answer lots of practice questions.
When it comes to studying, quality is as important as quantity. For this reason, only the periods in which you are completely focused on your materials and invested in learning count as good study sessions. For example, if you plan to study for 2 hours on Saturday morning but spend 45 minutes checking your email and social media accounts, we both know you didn’t study for 2 hours.
When you find your motivation and work ethic difficult to maintain, ask yourself: Would I rather only study when I feel like it and have to retake the exam several times? Or, would I prefer to really commit to the task, make every study session count, and pass each exam on my first attempt?
If external rather than internal conditions are hindering your studies (noisy environment, bad timing, hectic schedule), you probably need to alter your lifestyle for the next few months so you can stick to your study schedule. To get it done, assemble a support group and explain your goals and agenda to them. Then, ask them to fill in for you where they can, and promise to make it up to them once you’ve passed the exam.
Now, I don’t recommend putting an exam failure on your review course right away. If you’re not utilizing your review course properly or fully, and you buy another review course without correcting your bad habit, you’ll just waste your money without improving your situation. Instead, evaluate your use of your existing review materials. Did you finish the practice questions? Were you constantly answering questions that addressed your weak areas? On top of that, have you read the answer explanations to ensure you got a question right for the right reasons?
If you did everything you could to make a course work for you and still failed, then your materials might not have fit your learning style. Or, they might not have been capable of preparing you. In either case, purchasing a supplementary or additional review course would be wise.
When you avoid making these same mistakes in your own CIA exam studies, you can pass Part 3 the first time.
To pass the CIA exam Part 3 the first time, you need to follow these tips. And if you fail CIA exam Part 3, you should also adhere to these CIA Part 3 tips so you can get back on track for CIA exam success.
Step away from your score, whether for the real exam or a practice exam, and think back on your CIA Part 3 study technique. Have you made one of the three mistakes I just mentioned? Also, consider which questions on the exam were unfamiliar and difficult. Reflecting on the questions that confused you will help you pinpoint the topics you must focus on during this next study round. And you can get some help with the self-evaluation process by signing up for my free special mini-course for first-time testers or for retakers.
If you want to pass Part 3, you’ve got to know about all things IT. Specifically, make sure you’re very comfortable with the following topics:
Drilling yourself on all the included IT topics by answering more practice questions will really help you solidify your understanding. The Gleim practice questions are helpful for this.
Along with knowing everything you can about IT, you also need to focus on financial and managerial accounting. But specifically, you need to understand the concepts behind these content areas more than the associated calculations. The exam might give you scenarios about which you must determine the effect (or vice versa), so you’ve got to be ready to apply your knowledge of these topics.
Furthermore, you’ll need to know the basics of CVP analysis, the difference between variable costing, full costing, process costing, and JIT, and the concepts of BEP, CM, manufacturing COS, residual income, etc. Based on my readers’ experience, you won’t encounter as many formulas or calculations related to financial management.
CIA exam Part 3 features a broad range of topics, so it’s unsurprising that the syllabus overlaps with several professional accounting and finance exams. To demonstrate this, I’ve compared the CIA exam Part 3 content to that of a few other exams below. But, I must say that, in general, Part 3 only covers these topics at an awareness level. Consequently, the other exams mentioned go more in-depth.
As you’ll see, questions similar to those from all 4 CPA Exam sections appear throughout CIA exam Part 3. The CPA Exam section with the most common questions in Part 3 is Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Therefore, you will have questions about governance and organization and communications in Part 3, just like you would on BEC. Part 3 also touches on IT, just like BEC does.
Both the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) CPA Exam section and Part 3 focus on financial management. However, FAR goes much deeper into the topic than Part 3. So, you don’t have to worry about an excess of financial management on the CIA exam.
There is also a little bit of overlap between Part 3 and CFA exam Level I. Both of these exams emphasize financial reporting. Part 3 also covers the same topics as Level 2 but puts less weight on the financial topics.
Finally, Part 3 shares many content areas with CMA Part 2 exam. Both CIA exam Part 3 and CMA exam Part 2 focus on financial management as well, but the CMA exam discusses this topic to a much greater extent than the CIA exam.
My best advice for how to pass the CIA exam Part 3 is to use a CIA review course. A CIA review course is essential for exam success, so you should never start your Part 3 preparations without one. Instead, you should only begin studying for Part 3 once you’ve found the best CIA exam prep.
And thankfully, you don’t have to discover your best CIA review course on your own. Rather, you can rely on my assessment of the most popular review courses to make your decision. Or, you can even contact me to receive a personalized suggestion. Then, when you’re ready to save big on your perfect Part 3 course, you can use my CIA review course discounts.
One of the best CIA review courses on the market is Gleim CIA Review. Gleim’s course includes dozens of video lecture hours, thousands of CIA Part 3 practice questions, access until you pass, and exceptional candidate support. So, you should start your review course search by exploring Gleim CIA Part 3.
If you’d like to learn more about the CIA exam, check out my information about CIA exam part 1 and CIA exam part 2. I’ve also got some CIA exam preparation tips that I’m sure will help you out. Additionally, I’ve answered many common CIA exam questions.
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.