CISA Exam Prep Ultimate Guide: 13 Actionable Tips!

CISA exam prep

It’s going to be really important to have some great CISA exam prep tips before the big day when you take the exam. In this post, I’m going to tell you how to pass the CISA exam. You’ll learn how to create your own CISA study plan in order to navigate the exam topics and pass with ease on the first try. Ready? Let’s go!

To fully understand how to prep for the CISA exam, you need to take advice from people who have done it. There are many CISA exam study guides and materials out there, but only the ones written by people who fully understand and have taken the CISA themselves. While anyone can put together a tips article, it takes someone who has experienced it and truly knows the material to give you solid advice.

CISA Exam Prep Starter Info

When considering your CISA exam prep, look at the source of the information for starters. Then you also want to consider things such as test questions or mock exam materials, CISA study guides, and how often the materials are updated. ISACA makes updates annually to CISA questions, so you need a study guide that is updated regularly as well.

Finally, you want to do more than just find good study guides. You also want to have a solid plan of action regarding how and when you will study. Implementing the plan is just as important as having the materials. It won’t do you any good to collect a bunch of CISA study materials and then never commit yourself to actually studying them.

It sounds obvious, but this is an important fact to remember. Prepping for CISA is about the long haul. It’s not a simple exam you cram for the night before and go take. This is because it’s not about memorizing facts.

Instead, the CISA exam is about using the knowledge you have in a practical way, as you would when working in the field.

Here is a collection of CISA exam prep tips I gathered from successful exam takers around the world. Let’s take a look at how you can get started on your CISA exam prep.

Part 1: CISA Exam Prep Tips

We’re going to start with some CISA exam prep tips. As I said above, preparation for the big exam is going to be an important part of the entire process. Here I will break down the steps of proper CISA exam prep. Remember that you do not have to follow every tip completely to the letter.

Rather, this is meant as a guidepost or an outline of what you can do. It will be important for you to find the best study tips and practices that work for you. For example, if you work better with help, then you may want to find a study buddy who can go through the CISA exam prep with you until you are fully prepared for the test.

If you work better independently, it’s important to use study materials that actually test you on your comprehension of the learned materials. Great study guides will test you on how you respond to a specific situation. It’s not about simply memorizing facts. So, let’s dig into this more.

1. Understand the Core Concepts

The first step in CISA prep is to understand the core concepts. What is this exam all about anyway?

In simplest terms, core IT auditing concepts can be summarized in 4 words: Risks, security, control, and audit related to the information system.

To expand what it means, candidates are expected to understand:

  • Information technology in general ( concepts and practice)
  • Risks when deployment IT components
  • Functions and features of security and controls of IT components
  • How controls are implemented to mitigate risks
  • How to audit IT components by understanding the risks, review the security, evaluate the controls, identify weaknesses and provide recommendations to mitigate control weakness

In the actual exam, you may be asked to rank the risks in terms of the highest or lowest. In terms of security and controls, you may be required to pick up the best or least effective controls. An IS audit question may require your judgment in terms of concepts, practical procedures or presenting findings to the management.

Remember, that this exam is not about memorizing facts or data. Instead, it’s going to test you on your ability to use the information that you have in a practical setting. You need to know the core info as listed above, but the test itself is quizzing you on the ability to use that information.

2. Gauge Your Existing Knowledge with Self Analysis

Since the exam is about more than just memorizing facts, you need a solid way to quiz yourself and know that know enough about the core subjects to pass any questions they might ask you about them. Some areas may not be as difficult for you if you’ve already been working in a CISA field. However, the only way to know for sure if you are truly prepared is to practice as if you are taking a real exam.

There are different ways to do this. For example, some CISA study guides have mock exams or practice test questions you can use. You could also have a friend, family member, or study buddy quiz you on potential test questions and situations.

You can then try out the self-analysis on the ISACA website. This helps to estimate the level of your existing knowledge in the context of the exam, and identify gaps that you need to work on.

3. Design Your Study Plan

As I mentioned above, your study plan is going to be really important. This is your plan of action to ensure you study regularly and properly in the timeframe you have so that you can pass the CISA exam on the first try.

Depending on how much you already know, you can start drafting your study plan. The duration depends on the number of materials you need to go through and the number of study hours per week. How many study hours you put in will also depend on your personal schedule. Are you working full time while you prep for the exam? Or, did you take time off to get the exam out of the way first?

The more experience you have with audit practice, the easier it is for you to integrate the new content with your existing knowledge. People who have been working in this field already will usually find this part easier.

(i) Seasoned IT auditing professionals

You probably only need a month to prepare. Start skimming through the CISA book and get familiar with the terms used by ISACA. Then, focus on practice questions and mock exam.

(ii) Candidates with some audit or IT experience

You may need around 3 months for exam preparation. If you are an auditor, get the technology perspective; if you are an IT professional, get the audit perspective. Then, read the book and spend sufficient time in practice questions.

(iii) Candidates with neither audit nor IT experience

Studying for the actual exam may take up to 6 months. There are reference books listed at the bottom of this page if you need background information on IT auditing.

It is better if you can get both the official CISA Review Manual for core studying, and one of the supplementary books for further explanation on the concepts. The ISACA Questions Database is a must for lots of practice.

 4. Familiarize with the Exam Question Format

The CISA Exam Questions can be broadly categorized into:

  • Conceptual: testing your knowledge of fundamentals related to technology and auditing standards.
  • Practical: testing your ability to understand a scenario and apply concepts in real business situations.

There may be few questions on core technologies, such as encryption, EDI, internet security and telecommunications control. You are however not required to study specific technology platforms, such as SAP, Oracle, and SQL.

5. Put on the ISACA Hat when Answering Questions

As you go through the practice questions, learn how ISACA asks the questions. First, read the questions very carefully – quickly but word by word. They can be quite wordy, tricky and sometimes, even appear subjective.

Most tricky questions have at least one choice as the “distractor”. People fall into the trap if they don’t read the question carefully, not clear on the concepts, or rely on “gut feeling” when answering questions.

Therefore, for each question, you should:

  • Read the question carefully
  • Eliminate the distractor and obviously incorrect answer(s) to narrow the choice
  • Pick the best answer

6. Analyze Your Answers and Read All Explanations

When checking the answers, it is best if you read the explanation for both correct and wrong answers. You will then know you got them for the right reason, and not just at random.

For the wrong ones, evaluate based on the following:

  • Did I read the question correctly?
  • Did I understand the concept being tested?
  • Was my reasoning flawed when answering the question?

Rework the wrong ones until you get 100% correct, and for the right reason. This is going to help tremendously, even if you don’t have the exact same questions on your exam. The logic is that it helps you with the thinking processes that you need to pass.

7. Don’t Blindly Memorize

You need to memorize the fundamental concepts, but it is more important to understand how they can be applied. I talked about this earlier in this post. It’s not just about memorizing facts.

There are only 150 questions, but there will be questions based on your ability to think and process the information. It will test your applied knowledge on the topic areas, not your ability to remember facts alone.

8. Don’t Forget the Mock Exam

Again, don’t forget the mock exam. This is one of your greatest tools for preparing for the CISA exam because it simulates what it will be like for you on test day.

Keep practicing until you are reasonably comfortable with your performance. It is also important to allow time for at least one mock exam, so you can answer the questions in a more stressful (and realistic) testing environment. You can also practice time management which is one of the most important exam testing strategies.

Part 2: Test Taking Strategies

Now that we’ve talked about prep, it’s time to talk about test-taking strategies. Everyone learns differently and we all have different ways of going about taking a test. Some people learn better with visuals, for example, and others learn best by acting things out as if they are happening. You can take your learning style into account when studying, but what do you do when taking the actual exam?

This part focuses on how you can maximize your score on the exam day:

9. Prepare Yourself Mentally Before the Exam

One way to reduce exam-related stress is to remove as many uncertainties as you can. Going through a mock exam is one good example. You should also test drive your way to the exam site and estimate the traffic time. In addition, prepare a list of what to bring on exam day so you are fully prepared.

You don’t want to wait until the day of the scheduled exam to run around and do these things. There are too many unpredictable variables. Also, if you miss your exam time, you don’t get a refund. You don’t want that money and time invested to go to waste because you didn’t plan for traffic on your route, for example.

10. Time Management

Next, you want to consider your time management on the day of. There are 150 (down from 200 previously) questions to be answered in four hours. This means that you have ~70 seconds per question.

You may answer some quick, and you may take longer for others. Therefore, you must track the time periodically. There will be a clock in the exam room to help you keep track.

My suggestion is to allow 1 hour for every 50 questions. Depending on how fast/slow you progress, you can slow down/speed up accordingly. You can get an idea for how you will do on the mock exam practices, but you won’t know for certain until you’re in there on exam day.

Also, the questions do not appear based on the sequence of the domains, so don’t waste time figuring out which domain a question belongs. Just answer and move along.

11. Think Like ISACA

Many candidates have the knowledge required to pass the CISA exam, but about half failed on their first try. Your knowledge, and probably, more importantly, your ability to pick the correct answer, is the key to success.

For the purpose of the exam, answer the question the “ISACA way”. Don’t answer questions based on your personal experience unless it is in line with ISACA thinking. This is all about thinking like the test creators. If you’re ever unsure about a question, or feel like there could be more than one right answer, use this policy to guide you.

12. If Unsure, Pick an Answer and Move on

You don’t have time to waste on questions you’re not sure about. If you are not sure of an answer, circle the question, then pick your best guess and move on.

Do not leave it blank because (i) you may not have time to go back; (ii) the exam is positively graded, which means it is better to blind guess than leaving it blank.

13. Double Check Your Answers are Marked in Correct Boxes

Given this is a pencil-and-paper exam, it is important to check that you don’t skip any questions. Again, leaving a question blank will hurt you more and there is always the risk that if you leave one blank (skip), you could accidentally mess up the questions that come after it. Just fill them all in with something.

CISA Exam Prep Overview

Now that you have the basics in the two parts above, let’s look at some more info. Choosing the right CISA exam study guide will boost your chances of success by a lot. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about studying.

You will also benefit from CISA exam study materials like a CISA questions database, which gives you examples of the types of questions that have been on past exams and that might be on this one.

You can also see my post, CISA Books and Study Guide Comparison for more information on the best study guides to prep for the CISA exam.

Best Way to Study for CISA

Studying for CISA is very important. The best way to study is always going to be a certified course. We have three main ones here that we love to recommend. You can read this CISA review course comparison to learn more about them. If you’re looking for how to pass CISA in the first attempt, this is it. You have to have a great review course like this.

It’s well worth the money you spend on it when you pass on the first try. Also, you’ll break even with the costs when you get your first job or a raise in your current position because you’ve now gotten CISA certified.

How Long Does it Take to Study for CISA

If you’re curious about the CISA study time, it varies for everyone. If you committed two to three hours each day to study, you should be ready to sit for the exam within 2 months. Some things to consider when deciding how long it takes to study are:

  • how much free time you have each day
  • what dates you want to sit for the exam

Last But Not Least…

Sleep early and tell yourself you are ready! It’s so important to get enough rest on the day of the exam and also in the days leading up to the exam. You’ll want to be refreshed and well-rested. Then, tell yourself you are ready and go in there and get it done!

Do you have any questions about CISA exam prep that we didn’t answer in this post? Leave a question in the comments and we’ll do our best to help.

For Your Further Reading

Please rate this

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.

follow me on:
  • Azislam says:

    Brilliant!
    I am just wondering, could anyone help me to figure out, how can I start my preparation for the exam. I have a graduation degree in Accounting and only 3 years experience in public account firm. Last 7 years I couldn’t get back to work due to personal reason. Any suggestions would be helpful.
    I appreciate your kindness. Thank you so much.

  • >