I Pass the CIA Exam!

CIA vs CISA: Which is a Better Certification for Your Career?

How do you compare CIA vs CISA? In a nutshell:  CIA is for generalists; CISA is for specialists.

What exactly does it mean? Check out my analysis below.

CIA vs CISA Comparison at a Glance

Focus & Recognition CIA vs cisa cisa vs cia
Focus General internal audit IT audit
Overall recognition
Industry recognition
Exam Requirements
Exam entry barrier Bachelor (waiver available) none
Standard experience required 2 years 5 years
Minimum specialty experience 1 year of IA 2 years of IT audit
Exam Format
# exam days per year Throughout the year 3 days per year
Total exam hours 6.5 4
No. of parts/levels 3 1
Latest pass rates 40%  Unknown (~50%)
Estimated expenses (US$) $1,000 – 2,000  ~$1,000 – 1,500

What’s Good about CIA?

If you aspire to be an internal auditor, but not sure which area to specialize or that you prefer to stay at a general / management role of internal auditing within a corporation, then CIA is a good choice. If it pairs up with CPA, then it is a great combination for senior positions as head of internal audit or CAE.

CISA is useful only if you want to pursue or break into IT auditing.

What’s Great about CISA?

CISA is the gold standard for IT auditors. If you like the job nature of IT audit, and you believe that the future of audit is moving towards more technology based audits, go for it.

Another practical benefit is that CISA is, for most people, an easier and faster exam. There is only 1 part and the scope is narrower. At the same time, it A typical candidate can get it done within 6 months (even 1-2 months if your work involves IT audit). In comparison, it may take 1-2 years for candidates to complete the 3-part CIA exam.

This is more of a short-term consideration but the CISA exam itself is more affordable. You cost you around $1,500 for a CISA certificate, vs ~$2,000 for the CIA certificate.

How about CISA and CIA Together?

If you have CIA and want to specialize in CISA, it has its value. At the same time, the effort to take the pass the CISA is minimal if you still remember what you went through in the CIA exam.

But then, the other way round is less useful. Assuming that you have taken the CISA exam because you want to be an IT auditor, then getting the CIA doesn’t add much value in my opinion.

CIA vs CISA in terms of Career Prospect

As a specialized professional within auditing, you are more likely to have higher salary. CISA certificate holders tend to earn more than CIA certificate holders. Having said that, it largely depends on your role, the company and the industry.

Here is a Summary in Video Format

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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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  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    a couple of questions.
    firstly I forgot the passing mark for the CMA, is it 320? (I know wrong forum. sorry)
    secondly, I am thinking of taking either the CISA or CIA and I want to get one of them as fast as possible.
    I work in risk management. accounting background.
    In your experience with these comments that you have seen, which one seems easier and faster to get done?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Rob, passing score of the US CMA exam is 360.
      CISA is specialized in IT audit. If you don’t have plans for that, the CIA exam is more versatile.
      It’s hard to generalize, but if you are a working IT Audit professional, CISA is likely easier, and fast as well given there is only one exam; but if you aren’t familiar with IT audit, it could take longer to study. Regards, Stephanie

  • Judi says:

    Im an Acca affiliate. No work experience. Would like to do auditing. Which one is better cisa or cia? Or is it ok if i do both and in which order

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Judi, your ACCA is good enough for general auditing positions. Maybe you can first working and decide? It is better to know which path you like for your longer-term career. Regards, Stephanie

  • ISHA JAIN says:


    I would like to know I am working as Internal Auditor and have done M>BA Finance. Doing CISA would be technical for me? Should I do CIA in this case?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Isha, in terms of passing the exam, you should be fine with your IA background. But in order to get the certification, you do need at least 3 years of specifically IT audit experience. So getting that experience should also be part of your plan. Regards, Stephanie

  • Muhammad Ali Shiwani says:

    Any guidance how to tackle with 20 chapters in cia part 3, it is so lengthy as compared to previous parts. which order of reading (more importantly memorizing the concepts) chapter is better to be followed? kindly help.

  • Mubashir says:

    CIA & CISA both are difficult. I prefer CISA because
    1-No Accounting involved at all.(For CIA, person should be Accounting expert).
    2-No calculations. No need to use Calculator.
    3-Not lengthy questions like CIA.
    4-CIA’s own Official Books are boring, irrelevant most.
    5-CIA have three papers-CISA one paper.
    6-For CISA , no need to learn any software
    7-CISA,s Official book is excellent. To use any other book except it is time wasting…

    • Rob says:

      Hi mubashir,
      I heard the cisa is quite difficult in that it isn’t more than one exam but if you don’t have audit experience in a firm.. it is pure luck to pass… almost 0% chance to pass.
      a few people told me this.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Mubashir, thanks for your sharing! A good summary for sure. Cheers, Stephanie

  • Mubashir says:

    Dear Rob,
    The people who told you about CISA actually were wrong absolutely. No such condition at all. I experienced CIA .If you will pass 2 papers of CIA but fail in 3rd,you will hang. CISA ‘s demand is much more as compared to supply. Salary comparison of CIA & CISA is available on internet. I have no audit experience and also have commerce background. If I find any problem ,I take help of GOOGLE which is best teacher. It helps you to search your relevant material. Lectures are available on topics.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Rob, I didn’t take CISA myself but I also don’t think it is as difficult as your friends said…

      • Rob says:

        Hi Stephanie,
        I am just relaying the information word for word that he said.
        He worked at KPMG and informed me that the exam had heavy emphasis on audit procedures in practical scenarios that are not taught to IT grads.
        I don’t know if that means its a tough exam or if it can be done with practise questions only.

        • Mubashir says:

          CIA exams are scenario based. One question often of 10 lines about. CISA exams are not scenario based are about mostly 2 lines. But it demands in depth study like CIA.
          Read CISA Review Manual minutely and then study Official database (Reasons of right and wrong should be carefully studied).Don’t cram MCQ’s .Official Material is best. No need to use any other book.Total Chapters are five.
          Only read Section Two of each chapter.No need to study Section one of each chapter. Hence, more than 100 pages will become less. This is main point which students mostly don’t know. Kindly read my comparison points also.

        • Stephanie says:

          I see 😉 Thanks Rob
          Guess it is afterall an audit exam (IT audit is part of audit) so I wouldn’t be surprised to see audit procedures tested there… the question is whether one can learn about this without actual experience.


  • Mubashir says:

    Hi Jenny

    CISA Official Book + Official Database is quite enough. To attend CISA preparation classes is much valuable. Don’t read any other non official CISA book. It is time wasting..However, you can take help from GOOGLE for any topic. Only read Section 2 of each chapter.

    • Rob says:

      Hi Mubashir,
      I find this CISA etc. super interesting.. I would love to have a job in it one day… problem is… getting a job in that field is very difficult… it is very specialized.. without the job.. its just a paper.. but its a dream of mine.. they say its a growing field.. I just need the job.

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you Mubashir 🙂

      For someone who has limited knowledge in either programming or IT skills, can he/she manage the CISA exam?

  • Mubashir says:

    No need at all of programming /IT Skills. Only focus towards course contents minutely. No programming at all in syllabus. No mathematical calculations. No prior experience required. Undermentioned forum is much helpful.


    membership is free.
    After sign in, go to FORUM and write in search box CISA (in capital letters)
    This forum is much beneficial for many IT certifications.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks! Unfortunately the forum doesn’t look active any more — last post was updated April 2014…

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you Mubashir for your detailed explanation.

      For a CISA certified, it is expected a person already have reasonable knowledge to conduct IT audit in real life scenarios?

      I always have this thought a person WITHOUT any IT technical knowledge will have far less advantage in the field of IT auditing even she/she is qualified CISA.

      Do you think my observation makes sense?

      Thank you

  • Mubashir says:

    Forum is alive fully. I posted yesterday, Open again,

  • Mubashir says:

    Jenny! your thinking is on wrong side. Database is useful to learn in this perspective.

  • Tim says:

    HI Stephanie,

    For the CISA experience requirements it mentions Control or security experience. What does the control portion of this relate to? Does it mean internal controls such as SOX 404? Thank you!

  • Mohamed Badawy Cia, CCSA, CRMA, CertIfr. says:

    Thanks you Ms. Stephanie for great article; just i noticed that the CISA is computer based test (not a paper based ) as mentioned in the video, accept my greetings.


    Hi, i am going to pursue for CISA exam in september, 2017. if you have any Study materila which is helpful in clearing my CISA exam in one attempt then please share it with me at my mail id
    *** removed ***.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Sumit, I’ll have to remove your email because it isn’t safe for you to expose that in public domain. Also, having run this site for years I have to say no one goes so far to proactively send strangers review materials. Please try to get those from your friends or purchase the latest copy. Regards, Stephanie

  • Auditor says:

    Hello Stephenie,
    I am working in IT for the last 10 years but have no experience as an auditor.
    Is it a good idea to start studying from now and appear for the exam in September 2017.
    Are 2 months sufficeint for the preparation and passing th exam.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Auditor,
      In terms of studying you can do that without much background in audit, although you may need to work extra hard (and smart) to overcome that. Might be a bit tight to shoot for Sep exam unless you are very natural with accounting/audit concepts. But you can certainly give it a try. It also largely depends the number of hours you can dedicate to studying during this period. Good luck! Stephanie

  • Awais says:

    hi stephanie

    I would like to know I am working as Account & audit assistant in USC of Pakistan from one year and still working & have done MBA Finance
    one year of teaching experience of Arts subject at private college
    i am very confused to choose cia or cisa.
    i am also little bit wellaware of computers or IT related things like networks,software,social media,websites etc
    one of my ACCA friend suggested me to go for Cia but i think the coming future will be of Cisa.Bec everthing is converted into computerized n technology based…

    Cisa takes 5 year experience to complete the certification
    so 5 years is too much for me…any help regarding this
    Cisa or Cia?
    what would u suggested me

    or mubashir..if u there then guide me…bec i want to attain a highly paid job as quick as possible to serve my family…bec i am from a poor family n i want to attain something big as i am hardworking in every work….
    IF i go for Cia then how much further experience i need

    & if i go for Cisa then how much further experience i need…

    the currently job experience will be include or not & for Cisa i must take any IT experience or my currently job experience when it becomes above 3 years will be sufficient?

    this all things confusing me….
    any help and guideline regarding this
    i will be very much thankfull….

  • Tina says:


    I am having difficulty passing the CIA exam. My two coworkers have just passed the CISA. I perform more of the administrative audits in our group and they perform more of the IT ones; however, i am considered an IT auditor. I was wondering if the CIA of the CISA was harder to pass? If i am already having a tough time passing the CIA I am wondering if I even have a chance with the CISA. Does anyone have any advice?

    • Art Yip says:

      Hi Tina,

      I have passed both the CIA & CISA Exams. You didn’t specify which CIA Exam part you’re having difficulty with. If you’re referring to CIA Part 1 or Part 2, then yes, the CISA is harder than those exam parts. I do feel CIA Part 3 is actually harder than the CISA due to it’s broad range of topics and the trickiness in how the exam questions are set up. In other words, neither the CIA nor CISA exam will be easy to complete.

      I’m not sure what you mean by administrative audits. I’m thinking perhaps you might want to gain more audit experience, then try the CIA exam again. It is a good general audit certificate to have. After attaining that, then you can get the CISA if you want to get into IT Auditing. Studying for the CIA exam will help prep for the CISA, but not so much the other way around!


  • Art Yip says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    How are you? Long time no e mail! I want to let you know I took and passed the CISA Exam yesterday!

    I want to thank you for providing such an informative website on the CISA Exam! I read it thoroughly during my prep time! I especially liked your CISA Books and Study Guides Comparison page. I ended up using CISA Study Guide 4th Edition by David Cannon supplemented with ISACA’s Questions, Answers & Explanations Database. That combo worked well for me!

    If you or any of your readers have any questions about my experience with the CISA Exam, I would be glad to help!


    • Stephanie says:

      That’s wonderful Art! In fact I have also thinking about taking the CISA exam! (it’s my 2018 resolution)
      I plan to document my process in my blog post — it would be great to share notes then. I will let you know when I start, hopefully in early Jan.

      By the way, what do you think about David CAnnon’s book? I’ve got the 4th edition as well. I can see the author really wants to teach us the knowledge required for an IT auditor. I really appreciate his effort but I wonder if he covers quite a bit outside of the syllabus? Thanks! Stephanie

      • Art Yip says:

        Hi Stephanie,

        It’s great to hear from you!

        I was told that David Cannon’s book explains IT concepts very well. During my information gathering phase, I read various CISA candidates’ comments from techexams.net and Isaca.org forums that the ISACA’s Official CRM is very dry. Quite a few candidates felt David Cannon’s book was a helpful alternative to them. I do agree that he covers more than what is needed for the CISA exam. I just skimmed those parts. I did find that he explains the technical topics such as encryption, biometrics, IDS, etc. very well. I also liked the graphs and diagrams in the book. I felt they helped me to understand and remember the concepts. I read the entire book once, and reread the technical chapters 2 more times. I completed all the questions from the book and made good use of the flash cards as well!

        I look forward to reading your blog post and sharing notes with you in your upcoming CISA exam study process!


  • CHERUIYOT says:

    I have gone through the posts and I am now enlightened. I now believe CISA is the way to go.

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