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How to Become a CIA: Earning the CIA Certification

how to become a certified internal auditor

Earning the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification is beneficial for auditors. The CIA can help you attain increased earning potential and job satisfaction. If the advantages of the CIA sound appealing to you, you need to know how to become a Certified Internal Auditor. This 10-step guide will lead you down the path to the CIA designation, so follow along for an efficient and effective journey.

How to Become a CIA

Each of these steps is essential to earning the CIA. Therefore, you must completely commit to all of them and address them as quickly as possible to achieve CIA success in a timely fashion.

The first 4 steps involve making important decisions about your career goals and abilities to ensure you can secure the CIA. Then, the next 6 steps tell you everything you need to do to meet the CIA requirements and officially qualify for the certification.

1. Discover the Benefits of the CIA Certificate

Learning what the CIA is and everything it offers is the critical first step to certification.

The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is a certification designating credible and trusted internal auditors committed to the profession and differentiated from their peers by high knowledge and skill levels. The CIA is the only globally recognized internal audit certification, and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) grants the CIA certificate to internal auditors who meet the CIA requirements.

So, before you allow all of the CIA rules and regulations to overwhelm you, take a minute to consider everything you’ll gain from earning the certification. The process is a bit demanding, but it is also highly rewarding. And you can’t commit to something so involved without knowing why you want to do it, so ask yourself why you want to become a CIA in the first place. Is one of these Certified Internal Auditor USA perks the biggest draw for you?

CIA Benefits

  1. Higher income
  2. More job opportunities
  3. Greater job security
  4. Increased skills and abilities
  5. Heightened respect and admiration

With the letters “CIA” behind your name, you’ll enjoy plenty of esteem and see doors of opportunity open before you. What’s more, while the IIA does enforce several CIA requirements, fulfilling these requirements invokes varying levels of effort, so they’re not impossible to complete.

Finally, keeping the CIA advantages in mind will help you maintain your motivation for the long haul. So, if you’re feeling plenty incentivized, then get ready to take the next step toward the CIA.

You have to be committed to your work. Internal audit, whether it is the working part or the studying, requires a lot of time and hard work. Some days are good and some are terrible, so just stay focused and keep going – it will be worth it in the end.

Annette (Blogger) 

2. Compare the CIA Certification to Other Certifications

While the CIA is a great choice for an accounting certification, it is not your only option. You actually have several good accounting and finance qualifications available to you. These qualifications include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), the Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), and the Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA).

Some of these designations are more general, such as the CPA. So, you’ll want to compare the CIA vs CPA before you make your decision. Conversely, others are more specialized, such as the CISA. So, you should also analyze the CIA vs CISA to know which one is best for you. And depending on your career goals, you may want to combine certifications, as doing so can further define your specialties and boost your earning potential.

But in the end, the CIA is the single most important designation for the internal audit profession. And adding such a globally recognized and well-received certification to your list of credentials is always beneficial.

3. Evaluate Your CIA Accounting Ability

The IIA CIA designation is completely worth all of the effort you put into it, but you must make certain that you have the necessary effort to contribute.

As mentioned, earning the internal auditor certification involves satisfying the CIA requirements. If you live in one of the following countries, the CIA requirements, processes, pricing, and taxes may be different for you:

  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Chinese Taiwan
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • UK/Ireland

For residents of all the other 100+ countries in which the IIA operates, the IIA has established 8 certified auditor requirements in total. Therefore, you can’t secure the CIA until you’ve checked every item off the list. And if you’re like other CIA candidates, you’ll find the most challenging to be the education, experience, and exam requirements.

CIA Requirements

  • Education: You must have an associate’s degree or higher.
  • Experience: You must have at least 1 year of professional experience, depending on your level of education.
  • Exam: You must pass all 3 parts of the CIA exam.

If you’ve already earned some sort of degree, you are probably good with the education requirement. So, at that point, you’ll need to focus on the experience and exam requirements. Accumulating the experience will take additional time, whereas passing the exam will take additional effort. And you may find the exam to be the main obstacle to your progress for several reasons.

First of all, the CIA exam has 3 parts that delve very deeply into the realm of auditing via 4-6 content areas each. The exam parts present hundreds of questions and only give you about 100 minutes to answer them. Secondly, the CIA exam pass rate is low. In the last year, the CIA exam has averaged a pass rate of just 49%.

2022 CIA exam pass rate

These and other factors contribute to the CIA exam difficulty, which is significant. Therefore, you can’t take this exam lightly, and the best way to prepare for it is to use a CIA review course. If you make this investment and study consistently, you can pass.

4. Analyze the Costs of the CIA Certificate

If you believe that one of the best things about the CIA certification is how much money it can help you make, then you’ll be interested in knowing how much it will cost you.

To take the CIA exam, you must pay a one-time application fee and an exam registration fee for each exam part. To get discounts on these CIA exam fees, you can also pay the IIA membership fee. If you become a member of the IIA, the cost of the CIA exam will come to $825. Without an IIA membership, your total will be $1,215. If you’re a student IIA member, you get the most significant savings: your exam fees will add up to just $675. Of course, you’ll also need to pay CIA exam application fees, too, which range from $65 to $230.

However, to pass the CIA exam, you’ll also need to invest in a CIA review course, which usually costs another $400 to almost $1,000. So, your CIA investment could be as high as $2,000 or more. But with CIA review course discounts, you can save big on your CIA exam prep and reduce your overall expenses.

5. Fulfill the CIA Education Requirements

The IIA lets CIA candidates demonstrate their CIA internal audit competency through several different combinations of education and experience. Furthermore, the IIA sets the education bar slightly lower than other accounting certifications by expecting at least an associate’s degree or equivalent. The IIA specifies that associate’s degree equivalents include a Foundation Degree, a Diploma of Higher Education, and a Higher National Diploma. Outside of North America, the IIA also accepts 3 A-level certificates with a grade of C or higher.

Additionally, the IIA allows students in their senior year of college to sit for the CIA exam. So, you don’t need to complete your degree to apply for the CIA program.

But to prove that you have or are in the process of earning the necessary education, you must send the IIA one of the following documents:

  • Copy of your degree or official transcripts
  • A letter from your university confirming your degree
  • A letter from an evaluation services agency confirming your degree level

Alternatively, the IIA may also let you enter the CIA program if you have 7 years of verified experience in internal audit or its equivalent.

6. Apply for the CIA Program

The CIA application and exam registration process starts with applying to the IIA CIA program. To apply for the CIA program, you must visit the IIA’s website and create an account in the IIA Certification Candidate Management System. Within this system, you can do many things, including:

  • Apply for the CIA program
  • Register for the CIA exam
  • Review your certification status
  • View your exam score report
  • Review the next steps in your certification process
  • Update your personal information
  • Review your credential and exam history
  • Contact IIA customer service

Once you’ve created an account, you’ll see the option to fill out the CIA application form. This process will involve providing proof of your education as well as proof of your identification and a character reference.

Then, the next step will be to pay the application fee, which you can do via credit card, check, or wire transfer. If you are an IIA member, the fee will be $115. Non-members pay $230, and students pay $65. After you finish this step, you’ll receive an email from the IIA confirming your successful application. If your application contains all the necessary documents and involves no abnormalities, the IIA will probably approve it within 24-48 hours.

Then, once you receive approval of your application, you will have 3 years from that date to complete the entire certification process. If you don’t meet all the requirements within that time, you’ll forfeit all fees and exam credit.

7. Register for the CIA Exam Parts and Schedule Your Testing Appointment

After the IIA has approved your application, you can register for the CIA exam. Once again, you’ll use the IIA’s Certification Candidate Management System to do this.

The CCMS will show you that you can register for each part of the CIA exam. After you’ve agreed to the Pricing Provisions and Conditions statement, the system will ask you to pay the registration fee for each exam part.

Again, members will pay less for each exam part ($295 for Part 1 and $265 for Part 2 and Part 3) than non-members ($425 for Part 1 and $395 for Part 2 and Part 3). But again, students pay the least ($245 for Part 1 and $215 for Part 2 and Part 3).

CIA Exam Eligibility Window

After you’ve submitted your registration, the IIA will process it and send you an email authorizing you to test. This same email will tell you how to schedule your CIA exam testing appointment on the Pearson VUE website. However, the IIA asks that you wait 48 hours after receiving your authorization to test email from them before contacting Pearson VUE to schedule an exam.

But once that initial 48 hours period ends, you should schedule your exam appointment as soon as possible. Your exam eligibility window is open for 180 days or until your program expiration date, whichever comes first. So, scheduling soon helps you ensure that you can secure your preferred date and sit for the exam on time. Most Pearson VUE testing centers are open 5-6 days a week, but they do not accept walk-ins.

CIA Exam Scheduling

As the pricing structure indicates, the CIA exam has 3 parts:

You can take the exam parts in any order and at just about any time of the year.

Pearson VUE administers the fully-computerized CIA exam at 800+ testing centers worldwide, so you will need to schedule your testing appointment through them. This step will involve selecting a testing center and choosing your preferred exam language.

Currently, the CIA exam is available in several languages, including Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Thai.

Pearson VUE will email an appointment confirmation to you after you’ve scheduled your exam.

8. Prepare for and Take the CIA Exam

The 3 parts of the CIA exam focus solely on internal auditing. And they cover many related topics in-depth. The content areas and coverage percentages of each CIA exam part are as follows:

1. Essentials of Internal Auditing

2. Practice of Internal Auditing

3. Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing

I. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)

I. Managing the Internal Audit Activity (20%) I. Business Acumen (35%)

II. Independence and Objectivity (15%)

II. Planning the Engagement (20%) II. Informational Security (25%)
III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%) III. Performing the Engagement (40%)

III. Information Technology (20%)

IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%) IV. Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress (20%)

IV. Financial Management (20%)

V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)

VI. Fraud Risks (10%)

The only question type you’ll see on the CIA exam is multiple-choice questions (MCQs).  However, you’ll see a different number of MCQs on each exam part, as Part 1 has 125 MCQs, and Part 2 and Part 3 each have 100.

You’ll have 120 minutes of total testing time for Parts 2 and 3. And, to account for the additional questions, you have more testing time for Part 1: 150 minutes.

Passing the CIA Exam

To give yourself the best chance at passing each exam part on your first attempt, you must rely on a CIA review course. Most candidates use a self-study course to pass the CIA exam, and all the most popular courses are available online. You can discover the best CIA review course for you by reading my comparison. Then, you can score major savings on your course with my CIA review discounts.

A passing CIA exam score is 600 on a scale of 250 to 750. Because the CIA exam consists solely of MCQs that the computer can grade, you’ll receive your unofficial exam score right away. You’ll then receive your official score report a few days later.

If you fail part of the CIA exam, you must wait 90 days to take that part again. Otherwise, you can take the CIA exam as many times as you need to pass within 3 years.

9. Complete the CIA Experience Requirement

Again, you don’t need to finish the experience requirement before you pass the CIA exam. So, for many candidates, fulfilling the experience requirement is the last step on their CIA certification journey.

The work experience the IIA expects involves audit/assessment disciplines such as external auditing, quality assurance, compliance, and internal control. And as indicated, the amount of internal auditing experience you need to earn the CIA depends on the level of education you have.

Basically, the more education you have, the less experience you need. So, CIA candidates with a master’s degree or equivalent only need 12 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent. If you have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, then you must accumulate 24 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent.

And finally, possessing an associate’s degree, A-Level Certificate, or an equivalent requires you to amass 60 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent. Therefore, candidates with just an associate’s degree or equivalent must start garnering their 5 years of experience before they start the CIA program, as they won’t be able to do so within the 4-year eligibility period.

The final stipulation for your work experience is that your current or former supervisor or a CIA, CCSA, CGAP, CFSA, or CRMA verifies it.

Education and Experience Waivers

Good news: The IIA reports that the Professional Certification Board (PCB) has approved CIA education and experience exemptions for people who actively hold either the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification or the U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. The PCB waives the CIA education and work experience requirements for ACCA members and the education requirement for CPAs.

They make these exemptions because the experience and education requirements for these programs meet or exceed the corresponding requirements for the CIA program. So, to be considered for these exemptions, you must complete the appropriate fields on the CIA application. The IIA will then place your CIA application into pending status while their certification administrators verify that your ACCA membership / CPA license is active.

10. Receive the CIA Certificate and Start CPE

After you’ve acquired the expected amount of experience and submitted the work verification form on CCMS, you should receive your Certified Internal Auditor certification within a matter of days.

Then, you must start satisfying the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements. The IIA imposes the CPE requirement on CIAs so you can maintain your knowledge and skill while staying up to date on current developments and improvements in the industry.

But you don’t technically have to begin earning CPE for the first 2 years as a CIA because the IIA awards you 40 hours of CPE the year you achieve CIA certification and the following year as well.

Then, after that, you need to report 40 hours of CPE every year so long as you are a practicing CIA who actively performs internal audits or related activities. If you are a non-practicing CIA who does not actively perform internal audits or related activities, then you only need to collect 20 hours of CPE every year. And no matter how many CPE credits you’re responsible for, you must always dedicate 2 CPE credit hours to the study of ethics every year.

Help Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor USA

I’ll admit that the process of becoming a CIA may sound a bit complicated. But it’s definitely something you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. And I’m here to help you do just that with my free CIA e-course.

This course covers the entire CIA process and explains how to pass the CIA exam on your first attempt. So, learn more about my free CIA course today, or just sign up below!

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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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