With just 42% of candidates passing the Certified Internal Auditor Exam, it’s one of the hardest credentialing exams in accounting — at least on paper. Even so, you need to fully understand how the exam is formatted and how that knowledge can work to your advantage (or disadvantage). Let’s examine which part of the CIA exam you should take first for your best results. 

Overall CIA Exam Format

The CIA Exam is entirely computer-based and consists of three separate sections of multiple choice questions. Part 1 has 125 questions and a 2.5 hour time limit while Parts 2 and 3 each have 100 questions and a 2-hour time limit.

So, no matter which section of the CIA Exam you’re sitting for, you’ll have roughly 72 seconds to answer each question (though questions some will take more time while others much less).

All questions are equally weighted and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Part 1

The CIA Exam covers a huge breadth of topics and information but often only with minimal depth. Part 1 should be the easiest option for currently working auditors.

I. Mandatory Guidance (35-45%)
II. Internal Control / Risk (25-35%)
III. Conducting Internal Audit Engagements – Audit Tools & Techniques (25-35%)

For specifics on the Part 1 syllabus, visit the IIA’s website.

Part 2

Part 2 is similar to Part 1 in that focuses on day-to-day tasks internal auditors encounter in the field.

I. Managing the Internal Audit Function (40-50%)
II. Managing Individual Engagements (40-50%)
III. Fraud Risks and Controls (5-15%)

For specifics on the Part 2 syllabus, visit the IIA’s website.

Part 3

Part 3 breaks from the practical focus of Parts 1 and 2 and is much more conceptual in focus. As such, it also covers quite a few more topics.

I. Governance / Business Ethics (5-15%)
II. Risk Management (10-20%)- Proficiency Level (P)
III. Organizational Structure/Business Processes and Risks (15-25%)
IV. Communication (5-10%)
V. Management / Leadership Principles (10-20%)
VI. IT / Business Continuity (15-25%)
VII. Financial Management (10-20%)
VIII. Global Business Environment (0-10%)

For specifics on the Part 3 syllabus, visit the IIA’s website.

Which Part of the CIA Exam Should You Take First?

Well, the definitive answer depends on your current situation. Candidates who are already working consistently as an auditor will likely find Parts I and II interchangeable, as they’re focused on practices that are commonly encountered in the field. These are likely the easiest parts of the CIA exam to take first, depending on your personal familiarity with the concepts.

The broader and more conceptual Part 3 is often considered the hardest of all the sections. So, your best option would be to take it first if you’re more comfortable with its lineup of topics. Otherwise, many candidates choose to take Part 3 last — and allow for much more study before tackling it.

So, in general, your best option is probably to simply take the CIA exam in 1-2-3 sequential order, as it’s designed.