How to Pass CIA Part 1 on Your First Try

The path to becoming a CIA includes several significant obstacles, one of which is CIA exam Part 1. Because it is one of the 3 CIA exam parts, you must pass CIA Part 1 within 3 years of entering the CIA program. And in order to fulfill all of the other CIA requirements in that time period as well, you’ll want to pass Part 1 as soon as you can. The longer passing Part 1 takes, the more you’ll have to pay CIA exam fees. So, to avoid failing part of the CIA exam, use this review course, syllabus, difficulty, and study strategy information to discover how to pass CIA Part 1 on your first try.

Get the Right CIA Exam Part 1 Review Course

If you really want to pass CIA Part 1 on your first attempt, you’ll get a CIA review course right away. If you don’t, passing this exam part will demand so much more of your time, money, and effort that it may just burn you out. A review course is a sizeable initial investment, but it definitely helps you earn the CIA certification faster, and the CIA pays for itself.

You’ll receive the following benefits from buying a Part 1 CIA review course:

  1. Thorough coverage and helpful explanations of the exam content
  2. Resources for deepening your knowledge and developing your skills
  3. Several layers of exam and auditing support to keep you on track

With a CIA review course, you get everything you need to prepare for first-time CIA exam success. You’re all set to pass when you receive study materials such as access to an online platform, textbooks, a test bank, a study planner, performance tracking software, and more.

And though the CIA review industry presents many course options, finding the right one for you can be simple. First, get the lowdown on all the most popular CIA review courses. Or, simply reach out to me for your personalized recommendation. Second, when you know which course you need, use my CIA review course discounts to save lots of money on your purchase.

So, initiate your CIA review course search by exploring Gleim CIA Review. Gleim’s course is the most widely used on the market. Furthermore, it’s one of your best options because it has dozens of video lecture hours, thousands of CIA Part 2 exam questions, and multiple forms of candidate support. You’ll also get access until you pass, so check out Gleim CIA Part 1.

Brush Up on the Basics of CIA Part 1

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) calls CIA Part 1 “Essentials of Internal Auditing.” Therefore, this exam part focuses on the most critical aspects of internal auditing and aligns well with the IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF). CIA Part 1 also tests candidates for abilities relating to the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing.

You can see this exam part’s content areas, subtopics, and coverage percentages in the Part 1 CIA exam syllabus.

CIA Part 1 Syllabus

  1. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)
  2. Independence and Objectivity (15%)
  3. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)
  4. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%)
  5. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
  6. Fraud Risks (10%)

This syllabus outlines Part 1 but doesn’t go into detail about the topics. However, you’ll need to know as much as you can about all the topics in these content areas, so use this advice to gain that knowledge:

CIA Part 1 Study Strategies

Foundations of Internal Auditing
On CIA Part 1, 15% of the questions cover the basic principles underlying the internal auditing career field. So, having a broad knowledge base about the function and fundamentals of being an internal auditor will help here.
Independence and Objectivity
Both independence and objectivity are integral to the internal auditing process. Consequently, understanding how to maintain objectivity in different scenarios is essential for success in this section.
Proficiency and Due Professional
Care (18%)
Questions in this realm involve methodology and best practices for internal auditing. So, review both to prepare for these questions.
Quality Assurance and
Improvement Program (7%)
Because of the low percentage of questions on this topic, you may want to focus on other areas first if you have limited time to study. However, the questions in this content area will center on basic quality assurance principles as well as processes for improvement.
Governance, Risk Management,
and Control (35%)
Contrary to the quality assurance section, Part 1 dedicates the greatest number of questions to this section, so you can’t skimp on your studies here. One of the biggest functions of an internal auditor is managing adherence to standards, both corporate and public. For this reason, deeply comprehending the application of current industry standards and regulations will be key to passing CIA Part 1.
Fraud Risks (10%) Fraud Risks comprises fewer Part 1 questions than most of the other topics, but again, you can’t ignore this section. Instead, because identifying and dealing with fraud is one of the most important roles an internal auditor can play within a company, you must make sure you’ve studied this topic before you take the exam.

Every CIA exam part, including CIA Part 1, contains multiple-choice questions (MCQs) as the sole question type. However, Part 1 of the CIA exam has the most MCQs: 125. Part 2 and Part 3 only have 100 MCQs each. Consequently, this exam part also gives you the most testing time: 2 ½ hours (150 minutes). Answering every exam question increases your chance of passing, and to do so, you should spend no more than 1.2 minutes on each question.

But even though Part 1 is the longest CIA exam part, you need the same CIA exam score to pass it: 600. During the grading process, the IIA puts all CIA exam scores on a scale of 250-750.

Discover the CIA Exam Part 1 Difficulty

Because CIA exam Part 1 deals with the basics of internal auditing, you’ll find that having internal auditing experience can help you pass this exam part as well as Part 2.

Internal auditing experience gives you a Part 1 advantage because you’ve used at least some of the information in this exam on the job. In fact, you may find Part 1 to be the easiest exam part for this reason.

Yet, you can’t phone it in with Part 1 because it does demand a great deal of familiarity with the IIA’s standardized methodologies. As you probably don’t interact with all of these on a daily basis, you’ll need to brush up on them.

What’s more, if you’ve learned more about internal auditing from your job than from the IIA’s standards, you will need to confirm that your methods align with the IIA’s. Of course, if they don’t, you’ll have to learn the IIA’s methods.

And, if you haven’t clocked any time as an internal auditor yet, you must prepare to put even more time into preparing for Part 1, as much of the content may be new to you.

Finally, the fact that Part 1 features more content areas and MCQs than the other exam parts may force you to stretch your CIA exam study time. But thankfully, Part 1’s topics are clear, balanced, and uniform, so the number of them should be more of a challenge than the nature of them.

Part 1 CIA Exam Pass Rates, Cognitive Levels, and Study Times

Though the IIA doesn’t release pass rates for each CIA exam part, the overall CIA exam pass rate still proves that each part of the CIA exam is pretty difficult by remaining below 50%. Furthermore, the CIA exam’s current pass rate of 43% is lower than that of the CPA Exam pass rates and the CMA exam pass rates. Consequently, we can assume that no part of the CIA exam is easy.

The depth of knowledge the IIA expects you to have for CIA exam Part 1 serves as another clue about this exam part’s difficulty. When the IIA last changed the CIA exam, they specified the cognitive levels at which Part 1 tests candidates. The CIA exam assesses candidates’ knowledge of each topic at 1 of 2 cognitive levels:

  • Basic Level: Candidates retrieve relevant knowledge from memory and/or demonstrate basic comprehension of concepts or processes.
  • Proficient Level: Candidates apply concepts, processes, or procedures; analyze, evaluate, and make judgments based on criteria; and/or put elements or material together to formulate conclusions and recommendations.

For Part 1, candidates must have a Proficient level of knowledge for 16 topics and only a Basic level of knowledge for 14 topics. So, you do need a deep understanding of most of Part 1’s content.

However, the good news about the difficulty of CIA exam Part 1 is that you don’t need to spend as much time studying for this exam part as you do the other exam parts.

CIA Exam Study Hours

Exam Part

Minimum Number

Safe Number

Part 1

30-40 hours

55-65 hours

Part 2

30-40 hours

60-70 hours

Part 3

40-50 hours

85-95 hours

Part 1 encompasses the highest number of content areas, has the most MCQs, and lasts the longest, but the content is so fundamental that most CIA candidates don’t need to spend more than 65 hours studying for it. Considering the fact that Part 3 takes almost twice as long to prepare for, Part 1’s abbreviated study time is a big relief!

Learn Why People Fail CIA Exam Part 1

Due to its intense focus on internal auditing, the CIA exam is pretty different from any other professional certification exam. However, the reasons people fail CIA exam Part 1 are not so unique in the history of test-taking.

Insufficient Preparation Time

Assuming they can finish their exam studies faster than they actually can is a problem that has plagued test takers for years, and CIA candidates are no exception. People often underestimate the total CIA exam study time. And in doing so, they set themselves up for failure.

Now, I did just say that the content of CIA exam Part 1 doesn’t go far beyond the basics of internal auditing that you’ve probably been using on the job since Day 1. However, that does not mean that preparing for Part 1 requires little time or effort.

This process still requires a good deal of both. You may need to spend the maximum amount of recommended time studying for Part 1, or you may even need to study for longer. But even if you don’t need to study more than 30-40 hours, you still have to adjust your schedule to get at least that much study time into your life before your exam date.

To give yourself the best chance of passing the first time, you should complete your CIA review course before you sit for the exam. So, you need to give yourself enough time to get this done. Don’t skimp on your studies, or you may fail needlessly.

Insufficient Effort

The Certified Internal Auditor certification is prestigious. Consequently, not just anyone can hold it. The IIA intends to preserve the honor of the CIA by using the CIA exam to weed out unqualified candidates. Therefore, to earn the CIA, you must pass the CIA exam to prove you’ve got what the CIA position takes. And the CIA exam asks you to demonstrate a lot of internal auditing knowledge and skills. So, preparing to pass is a rigorous test of your abilities.

You must ensure you understand all of Part 1’s content correctly before taking the exam. Even if you use this information at work all the time, you still need to ensure that your knowledge of internal auditing aligns with the IIA’s IIPF and International Standards. If you don’t know these exact principles of auditing very well, you won’t pass Part 1, no matter how much professional experience you possess.

So, don’t turn your brain off when reading through your course textbooks just because the words are familiar. Instead, focus on the points the book is making. Then, take the steps necessary to burn the information into your mind. Then, you’ll have no reason to fail Part 1.

Actively learning during your study sessions may require taking notes, highlighting text, creating your own CIA exam flashcards, and interacting with the exam and accounting experts your course gives you access to. But all of this extra work is worth it, as it greatly increases your chances of passing CIA Part 1 on your first attempt.

Unsuitable Review Course for Your Learning Style

If you do fail a CIA exam part, the culprit may be your CIA review course. However, you can’t be certain of that until you’ve thoroughly assessed your study habits. You need to consider whether you:

  • Studied for a sufficient number of hours,
  • Did you best during every study session,
  • Answered as many practice questions as you could,
  • Read all of the answer explanations, and
  • Focused on strengthening your weak areas.

Can you honestly say that you took every one of these steps? If so, then you are probably right to conclude that your course doesn’t fit your learning style. Or, it simply isn’t up to the task of adequately preparing you. So, in these instances, you should purchase a course supplement or an entirely new course.

And to avoid getting into this position, you should do your homework about your CIA exam prep options by reading my CIA review course analyses, exploring the free trials, and getting a personalized CIA course recommendation if necessary.

Follow These Steps to Pass CIA Part 1 on Your First Try

The last thing you need to do to pass Part 1 on your first try is adding a few more things to your exam to-do list. You can check off learning about the exam basics, difficulty, and pitfalls, but now you must incorporate these steps into your CIA study tactics. Then, you’ll have every opportunity to reach CIA exam success.

1. Focus on your long-term goals.

The benefits of the CIA certification may have convinced you to start the CIA process, but now that you’re looking at suggestions to spend hundreds of hours studying, your motivation is waning. These feelings are understandable, but you can’t let them overwhelm you.

If you want to take advantage of all the ways the CIA can help you make a better life for yourself, then you’ve got to maintain your resolve when faced with such an arduous task as passing the CIA exam.

Consequently, doing so will require you to abstain from enjoying some unnecessary pleasures for a time. To experience the privilege of passing CIA exam Part 1 the first time, you must be responsible enough to turn off the TV, leave the social media sites, and turn your phone on silent for a few hours at a time every day. You may also need to decline an invitation to an event or gathering every once in a while.

These sacrifices are painful, but they’re essential for achieving the objectives that have a greater impact on your life. These aspirations include promotions, raises, better job offers, etc.

So, focus on the big picture as you plan out and stick to your CIA exam study schedule. And don’t let the big picture get covered up by fleeting amusements that distract you from studying.

2. Get ready to go back to the basics.

As I’ve mentioned, Part 1 deals with internal auditing basics and is, therefore, relatively straightforward. So, you may already know much of this information by heart.

And yet, you may not. Your experience may not encompass every topic. Or, your company’s approach to internal auditing may not fall perfectly within the IIA’s guidelines. Furthermore, you may have been doing one thing in the industry for so long that you’re a little rusty on the rest of internal auditing.

For all of these reasons and maybe more, you should be ready to revisit topics you already understand. That way, you can be certain you know exactly what the IIA wants you to know to pass Part 1.

3. Take your own notes.

To pass CIA Part 1 the first time, you can’t leave everything up to your course. Instead, as we’ve discussed, you have to put real effort into learning.

And for linguistic, kinesthetic, solitary, or logical learners, this effort should involve writing out your own notes. You can do so either in a new notebook or in your textbook’s margins (or both).

Though this step is laborious, it is also advantageous enough to be worthwhile. Plenty of research confirms that taking notes gets your various senses involved in learning. Consequently, this enables people with different learning styles to progress successfully through the exam material. Notetaking also forces your brain to officially process the information you’re taking in. Putting something in your own words is a good demonstration of your understanding. Finally, having your own notes gives you one more resource to utilize on the go and during your final review.

Therefore, though most of your course will be online, you now have plenty of reasons to create some old-fashioned study materials. These notes will help your brain perform one of its most essential functions.

4. Brace yourself for tricky questions with deep knowledge.

While some of the Part 1 CIA exam questions are direct, you may encounter several more conceptual questions. And unless you have a strong grasp on every key term and definition in Part 1, these questions may trip you up.

CIA candidates often tell me that they were able to eliminate 1 or 2 of the answer options in the CIA exam questions right away. But then, they were left with other answer options that looked equally correct. Therefore, selecting the correct answer was a real struggle.

But you can give yourself a fighting chance against all the CIA Part 1 questions intent on thwarting you by ensuring your understanding of the exam content runs deep. To do so, you should answer a lot of practice questions. But, reading the answer explanations for both the correct and incorrect answers is of equal importance. You may accidentally use the wrong reasoning to get the right answer. So, reading the answer explanations helps you guarantee that you took the right train of thought to come to your conclusion.

Reading the answer explanations may increase the duration of some of your study sessions. But it also allows you to go beyond a shallow grasp of the concepts. And as you deepen your comprehension, you also perfect your intuition. You’ll need this intuition to see through the distracting answer options and select the best answer to problematic CIA exam questions.

5. Strategize the best way to answer the MCQs.

Remember, to pass any part of the CIA exam, you only need to master one type of question: MCQs. And though you may already be fairly well acquainted with MCQs, the CIA exam MCQs are in a league of their own. For this reason, you need a well-devised game plan to defeat them.

My best strategy for answering CIA MCQs involves taking several steps.

Step 1

First of all, you should plan to answer every CIA exam question because the IIA doesn’t penalize you for getting a question wrong. So, even if you have to guess, you still have a chance to earn points. To avoid leaving a question unanswered, you need to manage your time. Then, you must read all of the answer choices before picking an answer. Finally, make an educated guess if necessary.

Step 2

The next step in my CIA MCQ strategy is dodging the distractors (wrong answer choices imitating the right answer). You can successfully avoid being sidetracked by anticipating the correct answer before reading the answer options. Then, you should focus on finding the relevant answer options. You also need to eliminate any partially true options, detect absolute statements and double negatives, and discredit weird responses.

Step 3

To take the third step of increasing your odds of selecting the best answer, you should look for grammatical clues. Also, keep your eye on the answer with the most information. For extra assurance, you can even turn each answer option into a true or false question.

Step 4

The final step in my strategy for CIA MCQ domination is developing trustworthy instincts about CIA exam questions. This step involves resisting the temptation to over-analyze your options. However, you’ll also need to know when to second-guess yourself. I say this because you actually have a good chance of changing your answer to the right answer if you go with your second choice. If an answer choice just doesn’t feel right, then feel free to eliminate it. And don’t fret if you’ve answered “B” 4 times in a row because the CIA exam doesn’t follow testing superstitions.

Get More Information About How to Pass CIA Part 1 on Your First Try

My free CIA e-course has the information you need to not only pass Part 1 on your first try but also Parts 2 and 3 as well. It guides you through the CIA application and the entire CIA exam process, and as I said, it’s completely free! So, learn more or sign up here!

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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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