If you want to earn the CIA certification, you must pass the CIA exam. Consequently, you may be wondering just how many people pass the CIA exam annually. Thankfully, the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) discloses the CIA exam pass rate every year. Therefore, we can assess the CIA pass rate to determine what it says about the exam and what it means for you.
The IIA only releases the global CIA exam pass rate once a year. And sometimes, they share the overall pass rate for the CIA exam as well as the pass rate for each part of the exam. Here’s what we know about the last few years.
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Using this information, we can see that the average CIA exam pass rate has been about 43% in the last few years.
As you can see, the CIA exam pass rates were healthy in 2014, and then they experienced a bit of a dip in 2015. But thankfully, since then, the pass rates have been on the rise. In fact, 48% of candidates passed the CIA exam in 2021. And that’s much higher than in previous years. I believe we can potentially credit these increases to a few specific factors.
First of all, CIA candidate numbers have climbed steadily in the past decade. Globally, IIA membership has spiked, going from 164,896 in 2008 to 193,592 in 2017 to 218,000 in 2022. And the demand for the CIA certification has also elevated along with IIA membership numbers. In 2011, the IIA celebrated its 100,000th CIA certification. Then, in 2018, they awarded the 150,000th CIA certification, achieving a 50% increase in just 7 years. Therefore, more people are taking the CIA exam, and as evidenced by the pass rates, more people are passing the exam.
How people are passing the exam leads me to my second explanation for the CIA exam pass rate rise: improvements in the CIA exam prep industry. In recent years, review providers have updated and refined their study materials, increased the number of online courses available, and created video lectures to accompany their courses. Consequently, these modifications and more have helped each CIA candidate have a much better chance at exam success. And again, as recent pass rates seem to prove, the availability of better CIA review materials has bumped up the percentage of candidates achieving such success.
The IIA offers several programs for different accounting certifications, and they post the pass rates for these programs along with the CIA exam pass rates. Some of these certifications have been discontinued, including the CCSA, CFSA, and CGAP. However, it’s interesting to go back and look at these comparisons.
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Note: These are global pass rates. Therefore, these scores are reflective of all exams delivered in all countries in all languages for exams delivered via computer-based testing (CBT). Source: IIA website
In the past, when the IIA did not publish the CIA exam pass rate data, the most quoted CIA pass percentage was 45%. That is, people often state that number as a good general average. As you can see, the actual CIA passing rate hovers just above or just below 45% in most years.
Furthermore, the average CIA exam pass rate is actually lower than the average CPA Exam pass rate (50%) and the same as the average CMA exam pass rate (43%) and the average CFA exam pass rate (34% average for all levels last year). As many people believe the CIA exam is easier than these other exams, this fact is especially surprising.
One possible reason for the higher CPA Exam pass rate is the CPA program’s higher barrier of entry, as established by the CPA requirements. To earn the CPA license, CPA candidates must have 4-5 years of post-secondary education (150 credit hours) equivalent to an accounting major. Even just to sit for the CPA Exam, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree (120 credit hours) with a certain number of accounting and business classes. On the other hand, CIA candidates can meet the CIA education requirement with just an associate’s degree, depending on the number of years of professional internal auditing experience they have.
As you can see, the CMA exam pass rates are similar to those of the CIA exam, and regional differences among candidates may explain why.
A substantial number of non-U.S. candidates sit for the CMA and the CIA exams yearly. And in the past, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), the administrator of the CMA exam, has revealed the CMA exam pass rates by region. For example, the last time the IMA released regional CMA exam pass rates was in 2015. And at this time, we saw that the overall pass rate was 61% in the Asia/Pacific region, 62% in the Americas region, 68% in Europe, and 33% in the Middle East/Africa.
So, we know that the annual CMA exam pass rates from around the world have differed, and the non-English speaking regions have had the lowest CMA exam performances. The higher CMA exam pass rates of English-speaking countries make sense because the IMA is located in the U.S., and the CMA exam features essay questions on which candidates need high levels of English to do well.
The II does not release CIA pass rates for the different regions or countries in which candidates take the exam. However, the IIA offers the CIA exam in over 800 testing centers worldwide. Consequently, in 2017, the IIA granted the CIA certification to thousands of candidates in the major regions around the world, such as:
Therefore, the majority of candidates who take the CIA exam each year do not come from countries that speak English as their native language. And, while the IIA does offer the CIA exam in 19 languages, I have heard from past candidates that the translations of the CIA exam are not very good. Of course, the lower language quality of the CIA exam translations is understandable, as the IIA is based in the U.S. and uses a very American format and writing style on the exam. However, the fact that the CIA exam contains only multiple-choice questions and not essay questions like the CMA exam does is another benefit to non-English speaking CIA candidates.
Though the CIA exam pass rate has been rising, we’ve seen that it is still lower than or as low as that of several other significant accounting certification exams. Possible reasons for the low CIA pass percentage include the following:
As mentioned, the barrier of entry into the CIA program is not very high. Other than passing the CIA exam, the other 2 most challenging CIA requirements are the education and the experience requirement, and these requirements are not as strict as they are for some accounting certifications.
For example, the education requirement for the CIA exam is an associate’s degree or equivalents, such as a Foundation Degree, Diploma of Higher Education, Higher National Diploma, or 3 A-level certificates with a grade of C or higher. Additionally, college seniors can take the CIA exam when they provide proof of their education level. Finally, your education can be in any field, and you don’t need a specific number of accounting credits.
Furthermore, the CIA experience requirement varies according to the level of education you have. If you have an associate’s degree or an equivalent to that, you need 60 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent. With a bachelor’s degree, you need 24 months of experience. And those who’ve earned a master’s degree must acquire just 12 months of experience.
Or, if you don’t have any education, you can fulfill the education requirement with just a little more experience: 7 years total of internal auditing experience, to be exact.
The IIA kept the CIA certification entry barriers low to welcome diversity within the field of internal auditing. But, as candidates from all kinds of educational and professional backgrounds sit for the exam and find it quite challenging due to their lack of specialization, the CIA pass rates get pulled down.
A second reason candidates may struggle to score high enough on the CIA exam is the fact that internal auditing is a specialized niche. The approach of internal auditing is different from that of external auditing. So, unless you have very specific internal auditing experience, the concepts of the CIA exam may be unfamiliar to you.
The shift in internal auditing away from financial auditing and toward risk-based audit may also cause some experienced internal auditors to lack confidence in the exam content. The IIA evaluates the current condition of the industry as often as possible and updates the exam accordingly. So, if your company or your role hasn’t yet made the transition, you might not be as up on the trends as the CIA exam is.
What’s more, the depth of comprehension of the IIA’s internal auditing standards that the CIA exam requires adds to the challenges CIA candidates face. Part 1 of the CIA exam focuses on the basics of internal auditing, but it works off the foundation laid by the IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) and the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. Then, Part 1 expects candidates to be proficient in more than half of the topics it covers.
Therefore, if your internal auditing job did not encompass every part of the audit process, or if you’ve developed your own methodologies over the years, you can’t simply trust in your experience to pass. You’ve got to compare what you know with what the IIA wants you to know and adjust accordingly. And when candidates don’t, the CIA pass rates fall.
One of the biggest reasons candidates fail the CIA exam or any accounting certification exam is insufficient preparation.
A lack of preparation results when candidates don’t study long enough or well enough. The pass rates, as well as several other factors, indicate that the CIA exam difficulty level is high enough that you can’t rely on experience alone to achieve exam success. In fact, you leave yourself little to no chance of earning a CIA exam passing score when you underestimate the amount of time and effort you need to commit to studying.
Consequently, the IIA recommends candidates spend a total of at least 130 hours studying (40 hours for Part 1, 40 hours for Part 2, and 50 hours for Part 3). For candidates that need more exposure to the basics, I believe you may need to study as much as 55-95 hours per exam part, depending on the part. Furthermore, you must concentrate 100% of the time during your study sessions and maximize every minute of your review. Both quantity and quality study hours are essential, so eliminate all distractions every time you study.
Candidates also can’t pass the CIA exam without the right study materials. Unfortunately, the CIA review industry is not overly saturated with course options. Compared to the CPA Exam prep market, for example, the CIA exam prep market still doesn’t offer a wide variety of self-study resources. What’s more, some of the courses available are not as complete as others; they lack materials like video lectures, adaptive technology, professor assistance, etc. So, candidates may sometimes struggle to find a course that fits their learning style and CIA budget perfectly.
However, the CIA review market has improved recently. For this reason, I believe candidates can find everything they need to pass the CIA exam in the high-quality courses I recommend, such as Gleim CIA Review and Surgent CIA Review. While these courses require a monetary investment, they provide the content coverage, skill development, and support system you need to pass each exam part the first time and save additional time, effort, and money.
As you can see from the tables, all of the other IIA certification exams have higher pass rates than the CIA exam. So, should you pursue one of those certifications instead?
Well, the answer to that question depends on your job aspirations. But we can’t forget that the CIA is the most recognized certification the IIA offers. The CIA is also the most versatile and the most suitable for internal audit generalists.
Therefore, if you don’t currently plan to have an internal audit specialty or if you aspire to become a senior internal audit professional in a strategic or management role, the CIA certification is the one you want.
For this reason, I don’t recommend using the historical pass rates to select a certification. Instead, you should make a decision based on your long-term career goals.
Additionally, the eligibility requirements for these programs can also affect the pass rate discrepancies. For example, the CRMA exam requires candidates to pass Part 1 of the CIA exam. Therefore, this rule limits the CRMA exam candidates to committed individuals who have a good foundation in internal audit. As a result, the CRMA exam pass rate is naturally higher than that of the CIA exam.
The CIA exam pass rate is a bit low, and the reasons for the low pass rate are complicated. But despite this truth, every CIA candidate has an equal opportunity to succeed. And you can improve your chance of success by planning effectively and utilizing the best study strategies.
To start, you can get the answers to the most common questions of CIA candidates. Then, you can learn more about CIA exam Part 1. But most importantly, you should find the right CIA review course for you. To do so, consider my comparison of the most popular CIA review courses. Once you find the perfect course, study it until you score at least 85% on the practice questions.
If you’re still quite new to the CIA process, you should also sign up for my free CIA exam study materials. This free CIA course tells you how hard the CIA exam can be, how to study properly, and more. So, sign up today!
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.