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How to Become CISA Certified

how to become cisa certified

Are you ready to learn how to become a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)? I am going to tell you everything you need to know about the CISA and how to get the certification.

What Is CISA?

The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification is the most recognized designation for information systems audit control, assurance, and security professionals. However, you are not alone if you’re unsure how this certification differs from others in the industry.

The CISA certification is one of 4 that ISACA grants. Established in 1969, ISACA is an association for information systems audit, assurance, security, risk, privacy, and governance professionals. Currently, ISACA has more than 140,000 members in 180 countries.

Tech is a growing industry, and the need for securities and protection is growing with it. Consequently, the demand for the CISA and similar certifications has increased after a series of financial scandals, the Enron/Arthur Anderson fallout, and problems in internal control have plagued the industry. Therefore, when you earn your CISA certificate, you’ll be able to help organizations manage the security and health of their IT systems.

So, who earns the CISA? This certification is particularly useful to:

  • IS/IT Auditors
  • Security Professionals
  • IS/IT Consultants
  • Non-IT Auditors
  • IS/IT Audit Managers

What Are the Benefits of Becoming a CISA?

If you already work in information systems, you can enjoy some significant career benefits from earning the CISA. The vocational advantages of the CISA include:

By going through the certification, you’ll identify and master any areas you’ve missed. You’ll see what you need to work on, and you will have the chance to learn and improve your skills.

The certification isn’t just about testing what you know but filling in those essential knowledge gaps and ensuring you continue to do so over time.

CISA also bears international recognition. If you’re working with corporations and IT professionals in other regions, or you make a move to an international company with set protocols, CISA can really help you communicate—and advance your career.

Furthermore, tech recruiters often search for or require CISA certification for certain roles. In short, CISA can put you in a higher pay grade, even if your job responsibilities are similar to your current ones. Who wouldn’t like more money for doing the same work?

What CISA Does for Organizations

CISA also helps organizations maintain standards and manage risk. CISA ensures you’re at a certain level of learning.

If you take a new role requiring CISA certification, it’s likely the company may not only pay for continuing education but actively support you. After all, you need to keep learning to maintain your CISA.

Whether you’re working on a large corporation’s IT infrastructure or securing your router at home, CISA ensures you have the knowledge you need to protect data and maintain proper encryption protocols.

The number of CISAs has doubled in the last decade. Are you ready to join them?

What Jobs Can You Get with CISA Certification?

We’ve talked about how internal auditors get their CISA, but there are other jobs the certification would open you up for as well. Here are some examples:

  • Internal auditor
  • IT audit manager
  • Public accounting auditor
  • IS analyst
  • IT security officer
  • Network operation security engineer
  • Cybersecurity professional
  • IT consultant
  • IT risk and assurance manager
  • Privacy officer
  • IT project manager
  • Chief information officer

What Is the CISA Salary?

The salary potential for people with their CISA certification is also increased. Earnings will vary based on your location, job title, and past experience. However, the average for CISA-certified professionals ranges from $52,459 to $122,325 per year.

Many candidates find their salaries increase in the same job position or type after certification. If you’ve been thinking about asking for a raise, CISA is a good way to ensure you qualify.

How to Become a CISA

If you already have the work experience, then earning the CISA is actually easier than earning other similar certifications. The CISA certification process isn’t so bad in part because you don’t need any qualifications to be eligible for the CISA exam. Instead, anyone can take the CISA exam. However, to obtain the CISA certification, you must fulfill the working experience requirements.

This means you have two options of how to do it:

  1. Take the exam first and then accumulate the work experience
  2. Get the work experience first, which often helps make passing the exam easier

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of becoming a CISA, so you can see if it’s right for you.

How to Become CISA Certified

1. Register for the CISA Exam

You may not realize, but there is no prerequisite to take this exam. As long as you have given this a good thought and believe that the CISA exam is useful for your career, go ahead.

2. Complete the CISA Exam

In the past, this exam was a pencil-and-paper test available three times each year. However, now, the exam is available to take any time because of online proctoring. Furthermore, anyone can take the exam as long as they pay the registration fees. Once you register, you have a 365-day window to take and pass the exam. However, if you need to choose a different exam date after registering, make sure you know how to reschedule the CISA exam.

The test is a 4-hour exam consisting of 150 questions in a multiple-choice format. Your raw score is converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800 for your final CISA exam scoring results. Furthermore, you must pass with a score of at least 450.

In terms of syllabus, there are 5 domains surrounding the role and responsibility of IT auditors. Theories are tested but in general, if you are a practicing IT auditor, it is relatively easy. (See below for more details on the CISA syllabus).

The passing rate is around 50%. Successful candidates can work towards the experience requirements and apply for the certificate.

3. Fulfill the Experience Requirement

This is actually the stricter part of the CISA certification process. You need to have at least 5 years of experience in information system auditing, control or security.

The work experience must be gained within 10 years preceding the application date, or within 5 years from the date of passing the exam.

Note: Substitutes to work experience may be applied for a maximum of 3 of the 5 required years. ISACA allows the following as qualifying substitutes. (See below for more on substitutions and waivers.)

4. Maintain the Certification

You can maintain its active status by paying the maintenance fees and fulfilling the CPE requirements. You’ll need to have at least 20 contact hours per year, and 120 contact hours within a fixed 3-year period. For details, please refer to this CPE Policy on ISACA website.

CISA Exemptions and Waivers

If you don’t have the five years of experience, you may qualify under some of these exemptions or waivers.

  1. The following work experience can substitute 1 year of the above:

  • 1 year in information systems
  • 1 year in non-IS auditing
  • 2 years as a full-time university instructor in a related field (e.g., computer science, accounting, information systems auditing)
  1. These education credits can waive 1 year of relevant experience:

  • 60 credit hours (2-year degree) from university
  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree from a university that enforces the ISACA-sponsored Model Curricula
  • A master’s degree in information security or information technology from an accredited university.
  1. These degree/programs can waive 2 years of relevant experience:

  • 120 credit hours (4-year degree) from university
  • ACCA (member status)
  • CIMA full certification
  1. Other relevant degrees/programs:

If you have obtained other degrees, qualifications, and credentials with significant IS auditing, control, assurance or security component, you can submit the case to the CISA Certification Committee for consideration.

About the CISA Exam

The CISA certification itself was launched in 1976. However, in the past couple of decades, the number of candidates for this certification has quadrupled! That is a definite testament to the growing tech industry. More than 27,000 IT professionals take the exam each year.

The CISA exam is a one-part exam with 150 multiple-choice questions (reduced from 200 questions) that come from five domain categories. I will explain these domains in more detail below. You have four hours in total to complete these 150 questions.

The exam is offered in several languages, including Chinese (simplified and traditional), English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Turkish.

Furthermore, Traditional Chinese, German, Hebrew, and Italian are offered in June exams only.

CISA Exam Pass Rate

While there are no requirements to take the exam, you may want to be sure you are fully prepared before you sign up. As stated above, only about 50% of candidates pass it on the first try.

If you want to increase your odds at passing on the first go, it’s important to learn about what is on the exam.

CISA Exam Syllabus

As explained above, there are five domains to the CISA Exam Syllabus. It will be important to know these as you study and prepare for the exam. These five domains are how the exam is broken down into parts, based on the subject matter each section covers.

The five domains are:

1: The process of auditing information systems (21%)

2: Governance and management of IT (16%)

3: Information systems acquisition, development, and implementation (18%)

4: Information systems operations, maintenance, and support (20%)

5: Protection of information assets (25%)

Now, let’s look at each more in-depth:

1: The process of auditing information systems

This section covers how IT auditors provide certain services, auditing standards, and how to assist an organization in protecting and controlling their information systems. Tasks also include developing and implementing a risk-based IT audit strategy, planning and conducting the actual audit, and reporting the findings of the audit.

Candidates will be expected to know the ISACA IT Audit and Assurance Standards, Guidelines and Tools Techniques, Code of Professional Ethics and other standards, as they apply for auditors.

2: Governance and management of IT

This domain covers how IT auditors provide assurance that structure and processes are in place at an organization. This may include evaluating the effectiveness of the IT governance structure, for example, or the organizational structure.

It could also involve evaluating the HR management, policies and standards, and seeing how these things align with the company’s strategies and objectives as a whole.

3: Information systems acquisition, development, and implementation

This domain covers how IT auditors provide assurance that the practices the organization has for acquisition, development, testing, and implementation of IS meet the strategies and objectives of the organization.

Some tasks might include evaluating potential investments, development, maintenance, and subsequent retirement, or evaluating project management practices within the company.

4: Information systems operations, maintenance, and support

In this domain, you will look at how the auditor provides assurance that the processes for IS operations, maintenance, and support meet the strategies and objectives of the organization. This could include periodic reviews of the IS, evaluating certain service level management practices, and processing information systems maintenance.

5: Protection of information assets

Finally, the last domain is about the protection of information assets to the company. It provides assurance that the organization’s security policies, standards, procedures and controls and allow confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the information assets.

This could include anything from evaluating the information security policies, standards and procedures to the design, implementation, and monitoring of various controls, such as system and logical security controls, data classification processes, and physical access and environmental controls.

Which CISA Domains are Most Important?

Domains 4 and 5 represent more than half of the syllabus. It is important that you know these two areas very well, and at the same time achieve a decent score in the other domains.

How Long Does It Take to Get CISA Certification?

If you already have the relevant work experience required, you can get your CISA certification as soon as you take and pass the exam. Because of this, it will only take as long as it takes you to study and prepare for the exam and get scheduled to test it.

How Can You Get CISA Study Material?

If you want to ensure your best shot at passing the exam, consider the best CISA training courses and CISA study guides. There’s the CISA SuperReview and Surgent CISA Review to name the best.

I believe most candidates would agree that CISA SuperReview has the best video lectures, practice questions, and CPE credits. On top of that, it includes excellent customer support with access to Allen himself. Because of this, it’s at the top of my list, but the others are also good.

Wrapping It Up – Are You Ready for CISA?

By now, you should know more about how to become CISA certified. Furthermore, you should also have enough information to help you determine if this is right for you. If you have the work experience already, it’s a no-brainer.

We live in a very tech-driven world today and CISA certification is one way to prove you have the skills needed to work in these highly tech-driven fields. It can greatly increase your value as an employee or potential candidate.

If you’re planning to take the CISA exam, check out our CISA study guide here. Therefore, you can then go into it fully prepared and ready to pass.

For Your Further Reading

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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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