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Creating a CIA exam study plan

Using a CIA exam study plan will help ensure you make the most of your study sessions and pass the CIA exam. Follow these strategies and tips to create a CIA exam study plan.

Your goal is to pass each part of the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam the first time you sit for it. This will require you to develop a CIA exam study plan tailored to meet your needs.

Ask yourself:

  • How familiar am I with the material on the CIA exam?
  • When was the last time I studied for an exam or took an accounting course?
  • How much available time do I have to study each week?
  • Do I have a deadline for becoming a Certified Internal Auditor?
  • How long can I concentrate in one sitting?

NOTE: Be realistic about what you can expect from yourself, and make a plan that you can keep. Everyone is able to study for a different amount of time each week, so really think about your schedule when making your CIA exam study plan.

How to find time to study for the CIA exam

Passing the CIA exam is not an easy task, so you’re going to need to spend ample time studying for each part of the exam. While it can be hard to find time to study, remember that becoming a CIA is an investment in yourself.

You will need to make sacrifices in order to find time to study for the CIA exam. Some candidates find it best to make several small sacrifices (e.g., waking up an hour early, studying during a lunch break, or watching a bit less television). Other candidates prefer to make one large one (e.g., working fewer hours a week or taking a summer off from school).

The most important thing is to be honest with yourself—don’t plan on sacrificing something essential. Sacrificing essential aspects of your life makes it harder to stick to the plan you have set for yourself. Finding time to study is only worthwhile if you actually stick to your plan. Studying for the exam will be a marathon, not a sprint, so critically consider your weekly activities, and make the time to study for the CIA exam.

Our CIA exam blog is full of candidate stories to help you find inspiration and motivation to stay on top of your study schedule!

Creating a CIA exam study plan with a deadline

Determine how familiar you are with the CIA material and base your study needs on your answers to the questions provided above.

It can be helpful to review the CIA Exam Syllabus and practice answering CIA exam questions. Gleim has free CIA exam questions available for candidates to quickly determine how familiar they are with the material.

Three year calendar for a CIA exam study plan to pass within the eligibility period.

Get a calendar (digital or physical) and mark your deadline on the calendar.

  • Setting a deadline for your studies is vital to creating a study schedule.
  • If you have an outside factor setting a deadline (e.g., accounting busy season or starting a new job), this is an easy step.

Working backward from your deadline, mark off any days you will be unable to study.

Think about any obligations, holiday plans, or events you have planned that may impede your study time.

Count the number of weeks from the time your studies begin to your deadline.

  • Divide the number of weeks by the total number of hours you’ll need to study (see the chart below) to get the number of hours you need to study per week.
  • Weeks where you have 3 or more days marked off should be counted as half weeks for this calculation.

NOTE: Determining your half weeks is not a one-size-fits-all rule. If you only study on Saturday and Sunday, and even one of those days is marked off, it might count as a half week. On the other hand, in that same scenario, you could mark off every weekday and still have most of your study hours available. Use your best judgment when determining half weeks.

Average time spent studying per part of the CIA exam
Part 1~ 75 study hours
Part 2~ 85 study hours
Part 3~ 125 study hours

If you have not already, schedule your exam at least 4 weeks in advance.

  • Appointments at Pearson VUE Test Centers can fill up quickly, especially for weekends and evenings. If you have a hard deadline, you will want to be sure you pick your date in advance to avoid scheduling conflicts.
  • If you need any special testing accommodations, you will need to fill out The IIA’s Accommodations Application and submit it with your exam registration. You may also want to confirm with your chosen test center to be sure they can accommodate your requests.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, The IIA teamed up with Pearson VUE to offer the CIA exam online for candidates for a limited time. Our CIA exam changes page goes over the details to help you make the decision between taking the exam at a test center or online.

Plan to begin your final review the week before your CIA exam.

  • Your final review will be a great time to touch up on topics you haven’t practiced for a while and focus on any topics you’re struggling with.
  • Plan to take a full-length practice exam at the beginning of this week and base your final review on the results of that exam.

Set benchmarks on your calendar. You should have a benchmark every week to check your progress against.

We recommend setting weekly goals instead of daily goals to avoid being distracted by small interruptions in your plan. It’s important to plan and work around the unexpected.

Write down important exam deadlines on your calendar.

  • Your scheduled test day
    • This scenario assumes you have a testing day picked out as you’re studying.
  • CIA exam rescheduling deadlines
    • You can reschedule your CIA exam up to 48 hours prior to your testing appointment, but you will be charged $75 USD each time you reschedule.

As you make your way through your studies, mark your progress off on the calendar.

Do not abandon your study plan if you begin to miss benchmarks! If you start to fall behind (missing 2 benchmarks in a row), you may need to adjust the remainder of your CIA exam study plan. Readjusting your study plan involves the same steps as creating a new study plan, just using your remaining time.

As your exam day approaches, look at your recent benchmarks to determine whether you’ll be prepared.

  • If you’re behind, you can still reschedule your CIA exam if you meet the requirements (at least 48 hours before your testing date and rescheduling to a date within your exam registration window).
  • When determining your schedule for the CIA exam, do not plan to cram during the days just before your test. Cramming for the CIA exam does not have a good success rate; you’ll need time to process and practice applying the concepts after learning them.

Creating a study schedule without a deadline

If you create a CIA exam study plan without a deadline, you’ll decide your testing date based on the amount of time per week you are able to study.

NOTE: You will want to select a testing date and schedule it as a part of this process. This will give you a deadline to work towards and help cement your exam prep as a priority.

Use a calendar to mark off the days over the next few months that you won’t be able to study.

Based on the number of hours you can study in a week, determine how many weeks it will take to reach the total number of study hours you’ll need.

Any week for which you have marked off half of your study hours or more should be considered a half week.

Select a testing date for the CIA exam.

The CIA exam does not have testing windows, so you can schedule your exam for any time that an eligible Pearson VUE testing center has seats available.

After you have selected a testing date, you can use steps 5 through 10 from the deadline-based approach to flesh out your CIA exam study plan.

What’s next?

Of course, creating a great study plan is only the first step to earning your CIA certification. After you have your CIA exam study plan scheduled out, we have tips to help you make the most out of your precious study time. From there, you’ll want to make sure you’ve appropriately applied for the CIA exam, and then you need to sit down and enact your plan!

Looking for more information on applying and scheduling your exams? Check out our CIA Exam Guide!