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CIA Exam Part 3: How to Pass the First Time

cia exam part 3

By Stephanie Ng

Most candidates consider Part 3 of the CIA exam to be the toughest. To ease the difficulty of this part and help you gather the information you need to pass, I’m going to tell you how to pass CIA exam Part 3 the first time. To do so, you’ll need to know about the exam content and format, its unique points of difficulty, some potential pitfalls, and effective tips for passing. Seeing its similarities with other accounting exams can help as well.

CIA Exam Part 3 Content

If you’re new to CIA exam Part 3, you should know that the current version covers topics such as governance and business ethics, risk management, leadership principles, information technology, and financial management. These are the 8 main content areas that Part 3 will address for the rest of 2018.

2018 CIA Exam Part 3 Syllabus

Content Area

Coverage Percentage

1. Governance/Business Ethics


2. Risk Management


3. Organizational Structure/Business Processes and Risks


4. Communication


5. Management/Leadership Principles


6. IT/Business Continuity


7. Financial Management


8. Global Business Environment


In January 2019, the syllabus of each CIA exam part will change to better test candidates on the knowledge and skills required of current internal auditors. In order to update the exam according to their 2017 global job-analysis survey, The IIA will redistribute the content between the exam parts and minimize overlap. In light of these CIA exam changes, Part 3 will see its content areas reduced from 8 to 4 sections in its new syllabus:

2019 CIA Exam Part 3 Syllabus

Content Area

Coverage Percentage

1. Business Acumen


2. Information Security


3. Information Technology


4. Financial Management


You can learn more about CIA exam Part 3 content on my site.

CIA Exam Part 3 Format

Part 3 has the same format as Part 2 of the CIA exam: 100 multiple-choice questions to be answered in two hours of total testing time. This combination of questions and time gives you 1.2 minutes to complete each question.

CIA Exam Part 3 Difficulty

As I said, Part 3 has a reputation for being the hardest. I have concluded that Part 3 is so challenging because it covers topics outside the scope of audit that candidates (who are mostly internal auditors) cannot relate to as much with their own personal experience. The questions about these topics also seem to be more conceptual in nature, quite long, and fairly tricky, so it takes more time for candidates to develop their confidence with these questions.

On top of that, Part 3 has more content to memorize and understand. To get through it all, start with the theoretical questions first and then complete the computational questions for extra practice.

Reasons for Failing CIA Exam Part 3

When I compare the numerous success and failure stories I’ve heard from CPA, CMA, and CIA candidates over the years, I see three common reasons why people fail accounting certification exams.

  1. Insufficient Preparation Time

Quite frequently, internal auditors underestimate the difficulty of the exam, assume their experience is more than enough for a Part 3 pass, and inevitably don’t study enough. They then realize that their work history didn’t equip them with everything they needed to know and that the exam has theoretical questions for which you can only prepare by reading the books. Learn from their mistakes by giving yourself enough time to review and answer plenty of practice questions.

  1. Insufficient Effort

Quality of study time is just as important as quantity of study time. Let me explain: if you plan to study for an hour in the morning but spend half the time checking your email and social media accounts, we both know that you didn’t really get a good hour of studying in.

If you struggle with laziness or a lack of motivation, ask yourself: would you rather only study when you feel like it and have to retake the exam several times or really commit to the task, do it right the first time, and only have to study for each exam once?

If an external rather than internal factor is inhibiting your studies (noisy environment, bad timing, hectic schedule), you may need to adjust your lifestyle for the next few months for the sake of sticking to your schedule. Gather a support group, tell them about what you’re trying to accomplish and why, ask them to help you pick up the slack, and make it up to them once you’ve passed the exam.

  1. Unsuitable Review Course for Your Learning Style

Now, I don’t recommend blaming your review course right away. If the problem lies in how you utilize your course but you get another review course without addressing that problem, you’ll probably just waste your money and be no better off. So instead, consider how you used your existing review materials. Did you finish the practice questions? Did you keep working at the ones that addressed your weak areas? Did you read the answer explanations to ensure you got a question right for the right reasons?

If you gave your review course the very best chance and still failed, the materials may not have fit your learning style or may not have been up to the task of preparing you. In that case, purchasing a supplementary or additional review course is a good idea.

If you resolve to avoid making these same mistakes during your own preparations, you can pass Part 3 the first time.

Steps to Come Back from Failing Part 3

If you fail CIA exam Part 3, complete my self-evaluation process for regaining your momentum. Once you’ve determined the weak areas of your review, use this information about the exam content to start making improvements.

  1. Review the Governance and Risk Management Practice Guides

According to my experience and information, the actual exam questions are as hard if not harder than the practice questions found in most review courses. To increase your preparation for these sections, you may want to read the IPPF Practice Guides, which you can download from the IIA website. You’ll find them under Supplementary Guidance, and they’re free for IIA members.

  1. Answer more practice questions about Organizational Structure, Management / Leadership, and IT

Drilling with more practice questions will help you really get these concepts down. Gleim has great practice questions for these sections, so rely on those to help you grasp the concepts.

  1. Go back to the basics of Communications and Global Business Management

Make sure you have a solid grasp on the fundamentals of communications and global business management so these content areas don’t trip you up again. Gleim also does a good job covering the content of these two sections, so go back through the Gleim content outlines. There is no need for supplements when you choose the most-widely used CIA review course.

  1. Understand the principles of Financial Management

Part 3 tests Financial Management at an elementary level, so you don’t need to spend much time practicing the calculations. Just be sure to know the primary theory behind the questions.

Overlap with Other Accounting Exams

As we saw from the current syllabus, Part 3 features a lot of topics. It’s therefore not surprising that its content overlaps with quite a few other accounting and finance certification exams. I’ll show you what I mean, but I’ll also mention that in general, Part 3 only covers these topics at an awareness level. The other exams mentioned go more in depth.

  • CPA Exam
  • You’ll see questions from all 4 CPA Exam sections spread throughout CIA Exam Part 3. Most of them will be from Business Environments and Concepts (BEC). The Part 3 questions about governance, organization, and communications will definitely look familiar to those who passed BEC. Part 3 also addresses IT, economics, and business law, just like BEC. Both Part 3 and Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) cover financial management but don’t worry, because Part 3 doesn’t dive as deep into accounting as FAR does.

  • CFA Exam
  • There is also a notable amount of content overlap between CIA exam Part 3 and CFA exam Level 1. Part 3 and Level 1 of the CFA exam share an emphasis on ethics, economics, financial reporting and analysis, and risk management. Part 3 also covers the same topics as Level 2 but puts less weight on the financial topics.

  • CMA Exam
  • Part 3 shares many content areas with CMA exam Part 2, the biggest being professional ethics and risk management. Both CIA exam Part 3 and CMA exam Part 2 cover financial management as well, but the CMA exam discusses this topic to a much greater extent than the CIA exam.

CIA Review for Passing Part 3

Though Part 3 seems to be the one that trips candidates up the most, it doesn’t have to keep you down. When you find the CIA review course that works for you and invest enough time and effort into the study process, I know you can pass. I wish you the best on the CIA exam!

Additional CIA Exam Help

There’s more where that came from. Learn about the other parts of the CIA exam, check out some additional study tips, and get answers to all your CIA exam FAQs:

Bio: Stephanie Ng has been answering candidates’ questions and writing about how to pass the CIA and other exams since 2010. She helps candidates pass the CIA exam at her site, the CMA exam at, the CPA Exam at, and the EA exam at

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