If you’ve learned all about the CIA requirements, scheduled your CIA exam appointment, and purchased your CIA review course, you’re ready to take the next step: starting your exam studies. Whether or not you have prepared for an accounting certification exam before, you can benefit from reading my top 5 CIA exam tips for studying. I’ve collected them from readers, review course providers, and industry experts. They’ll help you increase the efficiency and effectiveness of each CIA study session. So, use these tips to prepare for the CIA exam today.
I’ve explained how to accomplish my top 5 CIA exam tips in this CIA study guide. These tips tell you how to:
Why should you prioritize studying efficiently for the CIA exam?
Once you enter the CIA program, you only have 3 years to pass all 3 CIA exam parts. And once you receive your authorization to test, you only have 180 days to schedule your exam appointment. So, studying efficiently for the CIA exam will help you meet these deadlines and earn the CIA certification faster.
Efficient CIA exam prep involves taking these 5 steps:
Before you delve deeper into the content of the CIA exam, you need to discover the basics. Researching the CIA exam format reveals that the exam has 3 parts:
Each CIA exam includes 100-125 multiple-choice questions you must answer in 120-150 minutes. With this time limit, you have a little more than a minute to complete each question.
The CIA exam passing score is 600 on a scale of 250-700. Since the questions are 100% multiple-choice and equally weighted, we can deduce the passing rate as 80%. Though that percentage is high, the test is straightforward, so you can pass if you put in the effort.
Again, you need to understand the structure of the CIA exam ASAP so you can see what you’re up against. Knowing more about the exam format before focusing on the topics will clarify your path to success. And when you know where you’re going, you can get there faster.
The extent of your internal auditing background may influence the study materials you use and the length of your CIA exam study time. But no matter how much experience you have with internal auditing, you need to purchase a CIA review course. That way, you can get experience with the exam.
Candidates with little auditing experience benefit from a CIA review course covering all of the exam content. These courses also help you learn that content with resources like video lectures, textbooks, audio lectures, and flashcards. So, don’t have to worry if your job doesn’t involve part of the audit process. Your review course will address it all.
Candidates who have been around the internal audit block will find other big advantages in CIA review courses. Specifically, they’ll appreciate the practice questions and exams. If you’re already familiar with the information tested on the exam, you need to get familiar with how the exam tests that information. You must answer plenty of practice questions and complete practice exams to do so. You should also work with practice questions and exams that emulate the format and functionality of the CIA exam. That way, you won’t be surprised by any of the real CIA exam questions.
So, how do you find the right CIA review course for you? First, check out my comparison of the most popular CIA review courses on the market. Then, sign up for the free trials of the courses that interest you. Explore the trials for a few days to see which course best meets your learning needs. Then, use my CIA review discounts to save big on your preferred CIA exam prep. And always get the latest edition of the course. Then, you know it will prepare you for the current version of the exam.
Creating a realistic yet effective study plan is crucial to CIA exam success. But sadly, being so prudent and organized sometimes goes against human nature because it takes dedicated time and effort. Sometimes, even though we know a study plan is so important, we still struggle to implement one. But that’s exactly why some of us fail part of the CIA exam.
So, if you want to pass the CIA exam in a timely manner, you must make a study plan. This plan will keep you on track to seeing all the exam content before taking the test.
How do you make a good study plan? Well, you may be able to rely on your review course for assistance, as many come with interactive study planners. But if you can’t, start by considering how many CIA exam study hours you’ll need to finish your preparations for one part. Then, assess your weekly agenda to see how many study hours you can clock in one week. You may need to cut back on or completely eliminate non-essential activities for the time being to fit in enough CIA study time.
After you see how much you can study per week, divide that number by your total number of study hours. Then, you can see how many weeks the study process will take. Then, put all your study times into your calendar and stick to these times as strictly as possible.
If your CIA study plan will take a few months to finish, that’s totally fine. Research indicates that spacing out your study time (e.g., reviewing 10 hours per week over the course of 2 months) is better than cramming all of your studying into a short period of time (e.g., 8 hours a day for 2 straight weeks).
Studying at your most productive time of the day is also key to studying efficiently. Some of us may be more alert at night, while others are wide awake in the morning. No one time of day is universally best. So, find the hour or 2 when your mind is most active. Then, schedule your daily study session during that time.
You can more easily set yourself up for CIA exam success when you acclimate yourself to the testing environment in advance. And the best way to get familiar with the exam experience beforehand is to use an exam-emulating online course. Such a course will look like the real CIA exam, down to the screen colors and button sizes. An online course is also advantageous because the CIA exam is fully computerized.
Once you’re using a course like this, take the emulation one step further by studying in a quiet, isolated workspace. This place could be in your office after hours, your home office, or a library. Bonus points if the location is also a little cool, as the Pearson VUE testing centers usually are (if you’re planning to take the CIA exam in-person). And if you’re planning to take advantage of the temporary option to take the CIA exam online, make sure you take all of your practice exams in the same space (like your home office) where you’ll take the real exam.
Being efficient means doing something as fast as you can. On the other hand, being effective means doing something as well as you can. As you prepare for the CIA exam, you should focus on studying effectively. That way, you can learn more and perform better at the same time.
To have effective CIA study skills, you must:
When we find other activities to preoccupy us instead of the most important or time-sensitive activity, we procrastinate. And if we’re procrastinating, we’re not using our time effectively.
The temptation to procrastinate can be pretty strong when we try to study in a cluttered space or have errands on our to-do lists. So, to remove these things from our radar, we need to clean up our study space quickly. Then, we should keep it clean for future use. We should also delegate some of our other responsibilities, if possible.
Clearing your plate of additional tasks and getting more support temporarily gives you less to do. And, if you don’t have anything else to do, you can study effectively.
Building off the previous point, effective studying involves practicing self-control that prevents us from getting distracted. You may be in a clean, quiet space, but you can still be too close to a major time-suck: your phone. Keeping your phone on hand may be necessary for staying accessible. But, when you’re studying, it’s just another source of words and images that keep your eyes off your books. And for that reason, you must avoid it as much as possible while studying.
So, to ensure that you don’t miss anything extremely important, tell a friend or family member when you’ll be studying and ask them only to interrupt you in an emergency. Then, avoid all other communication by putting your phone far out of reach and even on silent if you can. When you go off the grid in this way for even just an hour, you can concentrate a lot better and make the most of every minute.
As you recall, making a CIA exam study plan is critical for sufficient and successful studying for the CIA exam. And adhering to this study plan will require you to give up some of the temporary pleasures of your life.
As hard as that may be, demonstrating this responsibility is more rewarding than indulging yourself with another episode of your favorite TV show or scrolling through social media for a few more minutes (hours). Unlike studying for the CIA exam, prioritizing these mindless activities won’t get you any closer to a promotion, a raise, your dream job, a better life for you and your family, etc.
So, keep the big picture in mind. Then, acknowledge that this picture doesn’t contain the momentary entertainment that keeps you from studying.
If you’re still struggling to fit all that essential study time into your week, then you should take these extra steps. They demand a little more discipline, but they’ll also help you secure and enjoy the CIA certification.
Now, I would never say you don’t need sleep. In fact, I firmly believe that you need to make getting a healthy amount of sleep every night one of your main goals in life. But at the same time, you don’t need to overdo it, especially when you have something as significant as the CIA exam looming in your life.
So, at least before you pass the exam, you should adhere to an adequate sleeping schedule as religiously as you follow your CIA exam study schedule. Do everything you can to get in bed at the right time so that you aren’t losing sleep and out of bed at the right time so that you aren’t wasting time. I know this routine can be hard for people who love their beauty sleep but remember: it is temporary and totally worthwhile.
Sometimes, you have so much going on that you constantly go from one thing to the next. With your schedule jam-packed, you may not even think you have an extra minute, but what about when you’re moving to the next event? Or that time when you’re not moving, just waiting for the event to start?
When traveling or waiting, we can also study thanks to mobile devices and study resources. And when we choose to study during these times, we can guarantee that we get enough study time every day.
So, for example, you can listen to audio lectures while you’re driving to work. You can flip through flashcards when you’re riding the subway or bus. You can even take a quick practice quiz on your phone while sitting in the waiting room.
Thanks to our internet access on our phones and tablets and the variety of study materials popular CIA review courses include, we have many ways to study on the go. And if you have the chance to do so throughout your day, you should take advantage of it, as you’ll be able to study enough for the CIA exam.
You don’t have to go through the CIA exam process alone. Instead, you can get your friends and family involved to receive essential support and encouragement. If you’re married and/or have kids, you must talk to your spouse and children about what you’re trying to accomplish and what your days need to look like. Because they love you, they should understand and extend the helping hand you’re reaching for.
If things get hectic, you may need to spread your news outside the house by telling extended family and coworkers about your situation. When you tell the people you care about, they’ll be thankful that you’re letting them into this part of your life and should be respectful of your needs and requests.
Families should bear big responsibilities together. So, try to schedule family study time as often as you can. If your kids are in school, study at the table with them as they do their homework. If your spouse has a hobby or project to work on, tackle your different activities simultaneously but still together if possible.
When preparing for the exam, I brought my daughter to the library almost every Saturday morning so she could read books beside me while I studied. I also flipped through my flashcards when watching my little son shower. When you get creative, you don’t have to sacrifice being with your family to prepare for the CIA exam.
As mentioned, every part of the CIA exam consists solely of multiple-choice questions (MCQs). This question type has its pros and cons. For example, the simplicity of the exam is convenient, but mastering this question type can be tedious.
What’s more, MCQs can test your knowledge of a wide variety of topics, but they can’t assess the depth of your knowledge. They fail in this way because they cannot ask you to analyze a very involved scenario. For this reason, you can expect the CIA exam’s coverage of auditing to be a mile wide and an inch deep.
So, to make sure you’re ready for a high number of questions that will have somewhat low expectations for your knowledge levels but can still overwhelm you with quantity and vague wording on occasion, you need to do 2 things: implement a strategy for retention and improve your accuracy with practice questions. I’ll explain how.
Passing the CIA exam involves remembering a lot of information about auditing. You need to accumulate this information over a period of several weeks and then regurgitate it all in just 2 hours. For this reason, you must take a few specific steps to help you retain the information throughout your studies and produce it again on exam day. This process has 3 steps:
No matter how obvious it sounds, it must be said that your brain must be actively involved in your studies every day. So, if you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, you have to do more than simply read the same paragraph in the textbook over and over again to retain the information.
Instead, you must get involved by:
I personally find the process of reading/watching/listening and then writing out the key points to help a lot with retention as opposed to just reading the materials.
And while these methods will make finishing a chapter or study unit take longer, they will also greatly improve your ability to recall the information weeks later. Therefore, they are all completely worth the extra time and effort.
Every multiple-choice test requires a certain amount of memorization to pass. Examiners love using MCQs to test candidates on fundamental concepts, definitions, and terms; the CIA exam is no exception. Therefore, you must commit these bits of information to memory and be able to differentiate between them.
No matter what your job involves, if you work in internal auditing, you can use the concepts of the CIA exam daily. Discovering how these concepts apply to your regular work activities is an excellent way to deepen your retention and understanding. You can practice auditing principles on the job, including cost accounting, variance analysis, or internal control. So, keep an open mind and look for opportunities to practice the skills you need to pass the exam at work every day.
Just because the process of answering MCQs is straightforward doesn’t mean the answer is always clear. The CIA exam presents you with 4 answer options, and the correct answer is hidden in plain sight among them.
I say hidden because you have to pick the best answer out of several answer options that may seem correct. The point of the additional answer options is to distract you with their plausibility (in fact, these answer options are technically called “distractors”), and the CIA exam MCQs are good at doing just that. This trickery is partly why the CIA exam pass rates are so low.
So, to make sure you know the real correct answer and don’t let the distractors fool you, you need to take these 7 steps toward improving your CIA MCQ accuracy:
You know the exam covers a lot of information, but you can’t or don’t want to study for it 24/7. So, you may be tempted to consult fellow CIA candidates or the internet to discover what topics the exam asks about the most. But trying to cut corners with the exam information is risky because you have no idea what your version of the CIA exam will focus on.
While the main topics on the CIA exam syllabus are clearly shoe-ins, that doesn’t mean the minor ones are definitely shoe-outs. Therefore, you must know every topic as deeply as the CIA exam syllabus specifies rather than trying to predict which ones will be the most popular. If you manage your time well and stick to your CIA exam study plan, you can learn all the exam content without taking shortcuts.
Preparing for MCQs is not the same process as preparing for other types of test questions. The CIA exam always asks you to choose the best possible answer out of 4 possibilities, so you need a specific strategy for fulfilling the task.
To develop this strategy, consider what makes MCQs easy and what makes MCQs difficult.
MCQs can be easy because:
On the other hand, MCQs can be difficult because:
Now that we can see the challenges MCQs present, we know that we must address these challenges with our MCQ strategy. To answer MCQs well, we must strengthen our weak areas with the exam content so that we know the right answer without seeing the answer choices. We must also build up our stamina so that we can answer all of the questions to the best of our ability. Finally, we must practice our time management by taking realistic practice exams to finish within the allotted testing time.
As you’re going through your course’s test bank, you must devise a systematic approach for identifying and tracking incorrect answers.
Whenever you answer a question incorrectly or answer it correctly for the wrong reason, write down the reason for your answer choice in a notebook.
Did you not know the concepts? Then write down the concepts you did not know.
Did you not read the fact pattern carefully? Did you misread the question stem? Or misread the answer choices? Make a note of any of these mistakes in your notebook.
The purpose of tracking your incorrect answers and why you gave them is to improve these bad habits and eliminate them in time for exam day. So, you must constantly review your notes to discover patterns, such as giving the wrong answers for a certain topic, a certain MCQ format, or a certain fact pattern.
With your notes, you can see exactly what your test-taking weaknesses are and begin to address them ASAP. You might need to commit more time to learning a certain concept, or you might need to practice reading more slowly and carefully. No matter what you discover, you’ll be able to fix it with your system.
Some CIA review courses have adaptive technology that will also help you address your weak areas, but when you combine your system with your course’s, you can improve faster and more accurately.
Once you’re familiar with the fact patterns and question styles of the exam, you can try to answer practice questions faster while maintaining accuracy.
If you start to miss a lot of questions again, slow down on questions involving your weak areas. Then, when you think you’ve overcome this weakness, try to speed up again.
This process may feel like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back at times. But it’s good to practice your time management throughout your review. Therefore, you should work on your speed regularly.
You’ll see unfamiliar questions when you’re answering practice MCQs and maybe even real CIA exam MCQs. At these times, you should employ educated guessing.
Educated guessing involves mentally eliminating any obviously wrong answer choices and using whatever you’ve learned before (or even just your instincts) to guess which remaining answer might be correct.
Using educated guessing to answer practice questions allows you to improve this skill over time and via a variety of topics. So, don’t ever skip a question you don’t know. Just do whatever you need to do to come up with what you think is the best answer, whether by process of elimination, recalling information from another question, or inserting the answer options into a real-life scenario. Then, you’ll have one extra skill to call on when you encounter the actual CIA exam.
Also, don’t be afraid to give yourself more opportunities to practice educated guessing by turning on the test mode (instead of study mode) in your question bank. Test mode is a bit stressful, but we practice in it so that we can manage our stress!
Practice or mock exams are essential to your CIA exam preparations because they give you the chance to refine your time management.
As you may recall, you’ll have a little more than 1 minute to answer every CIA exam question. And having time to answer every exam question is the best way to maximize points.
So, as you take mock exams, mark questions you don’t know or don’t feel sure about. Then, as you speed up, try returning to these questions with any extra time you’ve accumulated.
The questions you struggle with will usually be more complicated, so it’s better to quickly guess for 1 complex question and buy time to correctly answer a few easy questions.
After you’ve used my multiple-choice studying CIA tips every day of your review period, you’ll have the chance to put these MCQ CIA test tips into action on exam day. With these tips, you can avoid silly (yet costly) mistakes and maximize your CIA exam score.
When you follow these tips during the test, you can:
The IIA positively grades the CIA exam. Therefore, even blind guessing gives you a 25% chance of answering correctly and earning points. For this reason, you should always aim to answer all of the questions on each exam part. To do so, you’ll need to manage your time, read all the answer choices, and never leave a question unanswered.
Managing your time is the most important step toward answering all of the questions. That’s because you get a different amount of total testing time depending on the exam part. Remember, Part 1 has 125 questions, so you get 150 minutes to answer them. Part 2 and Part 3 each have 100 questions and give you 120 minutes to finish.
But the questions on all 3 exam parts can be complex occasionally, so you can’t spend too much time on any one question. Stick to 1.2 minutes per question on all exam parts.
Just because I’m asking you to read all the answer choices doesn’t mean I’m implying that you don’t know your stuff.
When you’re super familiar with the exam content, you should be able to surmise the right answer before reading the answer choices. However, you should still look at all of your options. The first one you see may look right but may not be the best answer.
Therefore, you need to consider B, C, and D before making a hasty selection. You may even have the option to choose “All of the above” or “None of the above.” So, you need to check for that as well.
The IIA does not penalize you for wrong answers. So, if you find yourself staring at a question for some time, don’t be afraid to just pick something.
Blind guessing is better than leaving a question blank, and you can’t assume that you’ll be able to come back to that question at the end. You can flag it just in case, but you should also answer it, just in case.
You’ve heard about the distractors that you’ll see among the answer options of actual CIA exam questions. So, you’ve got to steel yourself against them on exam day. The correct answer choice will be hidden among the posers. So, you’ve got to be able to identify that answer on exam day.
No matter how many hours you spend studying, fulfilling this task is easier said than done when the pressure’s on. But you can have the best chance of making the right call every time when you:
When all the answer options seem plausible, weeding out the worst and uncovering the correct one is challenging.
Again, with so much efficient and effective studying behind you, you should be able to predict the answer after seeing the question. And during the exam, you should take the time to make this prediction. That way, you’re already headed in the right direction before the distractors try to sway you.
Furthermore, if the answer you come up with matches one of the answer choices, you can be confident that your particular response is correct.
Sometimes, a few answer choices state accurate information about the topic. But, they do not relate to the question. They may make a good point but don’t make the point the question wants you to make. So, they can’t be the best answer, as the best answer is both correct and relevant.
When you know such a deceiving answer option is possible, you can watch out for it.
Just as the CIA exam may present a true but irrelevant answer option, it may also toss in a somewhat but not completely true answer option. Such an option may be only partly true or only true under a narrow set of conditions. But either way, it’s probably not the best answer. In that case, you should move on from that option.
Absolutes are extreme, and extreme is usually not the answer in auditing.
Examples of absolute statements include “always,” “every,” “never,” and “none.” And when you see one of these in a potential CIA exam question response, you should consider it a pretty good clue that such a response is not the answer you want.
The CIA exam covers real business situations, and real life rarely offers absolutely right or wrong situations.
It’s not just the answer options that can trip you up on the CIA exam. The question stem may also confuse you by including negatives, double negatives, and 2-part statements. Thankfully, double negatives are fairly rare on this exam, but you can’t assume you won’t see them, nonetheless.
In my opinion, the CIA exam question stems generally aren’t trying to trick you. I say this because the word “not” does appear in bold. But you still need to pay close attention to such words because they reverse the meaning of the sentence.
So, you may see a question stem ending with a phrase like “all of these except.” At this point, the correct answer suddenly becomes the answer you thought would be wrong until you finished reading the stem. For this reason, I advise you to be careful with these words.
To take this step, you need to use common sense. If the answer choice is somewhat silly or doesn’t make sense in a real-life situation, it is most likely wrong.
In cases where you aren’t sure which answer is right, you may need to make an educated guess. To give yourself the best chance at success with this method, you can
Occasionally, paying attention to the grammar of the question stem can give you a bit of an advantage. For example, if the question stem ends with “an” instead of “a,” you know that the correct answer begins with a vowel. Plural and singular verbs can also indicate which form the correct answer choice should be in. This tactic may not always reveal the correct answer. But you should still look for opportunities to use it because you just never know.
Specificity can sometimes serve as another hint about the correct answer. So, if one answer choice repeats a keyword found in the question stem, you’ve probably found your answer. Or, if one answer option contains a long and specific description, it is also likely the right choice. Therefore, you should keep your eye out for answer options that say a lot.
When a few answer options have the potential to be correct, you can create true or false questions to see how they hold up. If any part of the answer choice is false, then the entire answer is incorrect.
With years of experience and weeks of studying in your mental repertoire, you can trust yourself to know a thing or two about auditing. Furthermore, self-doubt is one of the things you shouldn’t take into the testing center. So, leave it at the door and carry only the greatest confidence with you to the exam.
While the CIA exam questions are often conceptual, they also involve real business situations. So, if you’re running out of time and techniques to answer a tough exam question, use your confidence to:
Usually, taking these steps to follow your instincts can help you score some major CIA exam points.
Just because an answer option seems straightforward or simple doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Instead, the exam may have just served you one of your dream questions.
You’re well prepared for this exam, so you can’t necessarily dismiss the obvious choice. Tricks and traps usually aren’t there. So, believe that you know what you’re doing. Then, don’t waste time talking yourself out of the right answer!
On the other hand, you don’t want to go with your gut on every question. Contrary to popular belief, your first guess is not often as correct as your second guess. In fact, studies show that you are more likely to change your original answer from the wrong answer to the right answer as opposed to the other way around.
Multiple-choice questions are all about recognizing what you have already learned. Therefore, if you are well-prepared and read everything properly, you should be able to determine the correct answer. But, if you truly are guessing, you should guess again before moving on.
Now, you may come across an answer option that you don’t think is right, but you can’t recall why. Like someone who can’t remember the name of a person they know, you know there’s a reason you don’t like this answer option. It just won’t materialize in your mind.
In this case, you should try to imagine each answer option as the correct answer. If you do this and the questionable answer choice still just doesn’t feel right, you should throw it out. You’re most likely in this scenario because you are familiar with the concept. But you just don’t have a firm grasp on it. Therefore, you should put enough stock in your feelings to discount that answer option.
The CIA exam is fully computerized. So, the system pulls a set of questions from a pool and presents them to you in random order.
Knowing this, you shouldn’t bother spending your time in search of patterns in your answers. Any repetition is coincidental, so don’t worry if you selected the answer “C” 4 times in a row.
I know all of these CIA tips can be overwhelming. But you can keep them straight by categorizing them under each of your ultimate exam day goals. To have the best chance at success, your aim on exam day is simply to:
When you keep all of my advice about studying and testing efficiently and effectively within the perspective of these 3 clear and simple goals, passing the CIA exam becomes a lot more manageable.
The road to CIA certification is also easier to follow when you take my free CIA e-course. This course covers the CIA process and tells you how to pass the exam on your first attempt. So, learn more today or sign up now!
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.