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 for most candidates, CIA exam Part 3 seems to be the hardest. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pass it. In fact, even though it’s the toughest part, you can still pass it the first time. I’ll tell you how. To help you start the process of passing Part 3, I’ll reveal what you need to know about the content and format, the difficulty level, and reasons people fail. Then, I’ll provide some essential tips for passing and show you how the CIA exam Part 3 content overlaps with that of other accounting certification exams.
For those who are new to Part 3, I’ll introduce you to the content this part covers.
A major CIA exam syllabus change will be effective January 2019. Learn about the exam changes now to adjust your study plan accordingly.
The CIA exam Part 3 syllabus that will be valid for the rest of 2018 addresses these 8 content areas:
I. Governance/Business Ethics
II. Risk Management
III. Organizational Structure/Business Processes and Risks
V. Management/Leadership Principles
VI. IT/Business Continuity
VII. Financial Management
VIII. Global Business Environment
You can see the complete CIA exam Part 3 syllabus at the end of this article.
As mentioned, the syllabus for each CIA exam part will change in January 2019. Using the results of their 2017 global job-analysis survey, The IIA will update the exam to better test candidates on the knowledge and skills necessary for today’s internal auditor. The IIA will also redistribute the exam content between each part and minimize overlap. As a result, the exam changes will reduce the number of content areas in Part 3 from 8 to 4:
I. Business Acumen
II. Information Security
III. Information Technology
IV. Financial Management
CIA exam Part 3 has the same format as Part 2: 100 multiple-choice questions that you must answer in 2 hours of total testing time. To finish in the allotted time, give yourself no more than 1.2 minutes to complete each question.
Again, Part 3 has a reputation for being the hardest part of the CIA exam. The questions are more conceptual, and the answers are not as easy to deduce, which you’ll probably notice in both the practice questions and the real exam questions.
From my own experience and candidate feedback, I have concluded that Part 3 gives candidates more trouble because it covers topics outside the scope of auditing that candidates (who are mostly internal auditors) cannot relate to as much with their own personal experience. The more theoretical questions of Part 3 also tend to be longer and trickier in general, so developing confidence with these questions takes more time and effort for many candidates.
Additionally, Part 3 features more material for you to 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.
When I compare 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 for failing the CIA exam. The exam contains rhetorical questions that you can only prepare for by reading the books, so 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. Learn from the mistakes of the underprepared by giving yourself enough time to study and answer lots of practice questions.
When it comes to studying, quality is as important as quantity. Only the periods in which you are completely focused on your materials and invested in the task of 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 that you didn’t really study for 2 hours.
If you find your motivation and work ethic difficult to maintain, ask yourself this question: would I rather only study when I feel like it and have to retake the exam several times or 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, explain your goals and agenda, ask them to fill in for you where they can, and make it up to them once you’ve passed the exam.
Now, I don’t recommend putting an exam failure all 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 end up wasting your money without improving your situation. So instead, evaluate your use of your existing review materials. Did you finish the practice questions? Did you keep working at the ones that addressed your weak areas? Did 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 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.
If you fail CIA exam Part 3, you can’t lose hope. Instead, follow these suggestions to get back on track for CIA exam success. This list was created with the help of Art Yip, a most helpful reader and CIA exam candidate who passed all 3 parts on his first attempt.
Step away from your exam score for a minute and think back on your study efforts. Did you make one of 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 round of studying. You can get some help with the self-evaluation process by signing up for my free special mini-course for retakers.
Based on my experience and readers’ feedback, I’ve found that the actual exam questions tend to be slightly harder than the practice questions from any of the review providers. To better prepare for these sections, you should read the IPPF Practice Guides. You can download them on the IIA website (under Supplementary Guidance), and you can view them for free with IIA membership.
Here are some specific tips from Art:
I recommend reading any Practice Advisories and Practice Guides that cover Governance and Risk Management. Practice Advisories PA 2110-1 to PA 2120-2 are very helpful. The Practice Guides on Assessing Organizational Governance in the Private Sector, Coordinating Risk Management and Assurance, and Risk Management using ISO 31000 are excellent for preparing for these 2 areas. If you can get familiarized and understand the concepts in these documents,you should get the boost you need to tackle these 2 seemingly troublesome topics.”
Drilling yourself on these topics by answering more practice questions will really help you solidify your understanding. The Gleim practice questions are helpful, but if you need to get a better grasp of the concepts, the IIA Learning System explains the topics very well.
You don’t want these content areas to trip you up again, so you’ve got to really master the fundamentals of communications and global business management. Gleim also does a good job of covering the content of these two sections, so go back through the Gleim content outlines. There’s no need for other supplements.
Part 3 tests financial management at a basic level, so you don’t need to spend too much time practicing the calculations. Just make sure you’ve got a primary understanding of the theory behind the questions.
My weak areas were IT and some parts of Management/Leadership principles. I knew Gleim was insufficient in terms of IT, in the book but not in the test bank, but once I read the GTAGs, I understood the concepts very well.
My CIA blogger Lynnel used only the Gleim review course to study for Part 3, but she also downloaded the following supplementary materials:
CIA exam Part 3 features a broad range of topics, so it’s not surprising that the syllabus overlaps with quite a few professional accounting and finance exams. 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. 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 that has most questions in common with Part 3 is Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). You will definitely have questions about governance, plus some about organization and communications on Part 3, just like you would on BEC. Part 3 also touches on IT, econ, and business law, 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 no worries.
With the help of these tips, CIA blogger David passed Part 3 on his first try.
I passed CIA Part III today, first time! This means that I’ve now achieved my CIA!
I wanted to say a huge thank you for the postings on this site, as I believe this is what made the difference between passing and failing. “
He shared his story and insights as a way of saying thank you to our community.
People often ask which review courses my successful readers use. The bloggers mentioned in this post used the following review courses to pass Part 3 on their first try:
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, and 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.
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