How to Become a Certified Internal Auditor: 10 Steps to Earning the CIA Certification

Do you know just how beneficial the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation is and how to become a CIA? The career advantages of being a CIA are numerous, as this certification enables you to stand out in your field. The CIA also garners great financial gains.

For example, the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) reports that CIAs earn an average of $38,000 more annually than their peers without the certification. Moreover, CIAs also experience greater job satisfaction and a high level of admiration in the industry.

If all the perks of the CIA sound good to you, you need to learn how to become a Certified Internal Auditor so you can start enjoying them. Therefore, this 10-step guide details the path to the CIA designation. By relying on this guide, you can ensure your CIA journey is as efficient and effective as possible. Because the sooner you complete every step, the sooner you’ll become a Certified Internal Auditor.

How to Become a Certified Internal Auditor

Each of the steps outlined below is essential to earning the CIA. Therefore, you must commit to all of them. The IIA doesn’t provide any shortcuts to the certification.

Now, I understand that these 10 steps can seem overwhelming. After all, we’re busy people. Therefore, you may find addressing the steps to be easier when you approach them in two distinct phases.

The first phase, which includes steps 1-4, will require you to investigate and commit to the CIA. To do so, you must honestly assess your career goals and your life stage. The second phase, which contains steps 5-10, will enable you to complete the CIA requirements and qualify for the certification.

When you break the steps down into these groups, you’ll find the path to the CIA much more manageable. So, start by discovering each step.

1. Understand the CIA Certificate and Its Benefits

The first step encompasses learning what the CIA is, what it offers you, and what earning it entails. This step is critical because the CIA certification process is a big commitment. You need to know exactly what you’re getting into and why so you have the motivation to see it through.

So, as the only globally recognized internal audit certification, the CIA is the gold standard in auditing certifications. The IIA administers the CIA program and has established the CIA requirements in order to guarantee that only credible and trusted internal auditors who demonstrate great dedication to the profession receive the certification.

While meeting the CIA program rules and regulations may be taxing, it is also highly rewarding. What’s more, the CIA supplies so many benefits that you won’t be lacking motivation during the process of earning it.

CIA Benefits

Specific benefits of earning the CIA include:

  1. Higher income
  2. More job opportunities
  3. Greater job security
  4. Increased skills and abilities
  5. Heightened respect and admiration

So, with the letters “CIA” behind your name, you’ll enjoy plenty of esteem, accumulate greater earning potential, and see doors of opportunity open before you. Therefore, if these advantages inspire you to pursue the CIA, then you can take the next step in the process.

2. Compare the CIA Certification to Other Certifications

While the CIA is a great choice for an accounting certification, it is not your only option. You actually have several good accounting and finance qualifications available to you. These qualifications include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), and Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA).

Some of these designations are more general, such as the CPA. So, you’ll want to compare the CIA vs CPA before you make your decision. Conversely, others are more specialized, such as the CISA. As such, you should also analyze the CIA vs CISA to know which one is best for you. Depending on your career and financial goals, you may want to pursue more than one certification.

But in the end, the CIA is the single most important designation for internal audit professionals. And adding such a globally recognized and well-received certification to your list of credentials is always prudent.

3. Evaluate Your Ability to Meet the CIA Requirements

The IIA CIA certification is completely worth your effort. However, you must ensure that you have the time to devote to studying and are fully committed to the process. And you must ensure you can satisfy the IIA certification criteria.

As mentioned, you must meet specific CIA requirements to earn the internal auditor certification. However, these requirements can differ in certain countries. So, if you live in one of these countries, double-check the CIA requirements, processes, pricing, and taxes for your country.

  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Chinese Taiwan
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Malaysia>
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • UK/Ireland

For residents of all the other 100+ countries in which the IIA operates, the IIA has established 8 total certified auditor requirements. As such, you can’t secure the CIA until you’ve checked every item off the list. And, if you’re like most other CIA candidates, you’ll find the most challenging requirements to be the education, experience, and exam requirements.

The 3 “E” CIA Requirements

  • Education: You must have an associate’s degree or higher.
  • Experience: You must have at least 1 year of professional experience, depending on your level of education.
  • Exam: You must pass all 3 parts of the CIA exam.

Fortunately, if you’ve already earned some degree, you’ve probably met the education requirement. Consequently, you’ll need to focus on the experience and exam requirements.

Plus, certain exemptions are available to candidates who are already members of the ACCA or have their CPA. For example, the CPA exemption allows CIA candidates with a CPA to skip the proof of education requirement. After all, they had to meet certain minimum education hours to get their CPA in the first place.

The CIA Exam

And as a general rule, acquiring the necessary experience requires additional time, while passing the exam requires extra effort. But some candidates find that the exam is the most daunting obstacle in their path to the CIA for several reasons.

First of all, the CIA exam has 3 parts that delve deeply into auditing via 4-6 content areas each. The exam includes hundreds of questions, and you’ll only have about 100 minutes to answer them.

Secondly, while the CIA exam is not impossible to pass, it is not easy. In fact, the CIA exam pass rate is fairly low. In the last 3 years, the CIA exam has averaged a pass rate of just 45% or so.

These and other factors contribute to the CIA exam difficulty, which is significant enough that you can’t take this exam lightly. Rather, you must ensure you have everything you need to pass, and you’ll find it all in a CIA review course. You can pass the CIA exam when you equip yourself with such a course and use it to study regularly.

Our favorite CIA prep courses are:

4. Account for the Costs of the CIA Certificate

For many CIA candidates, the salary increase is one of the greatest incentives for pursuing the certification. But earning the designation will still cost you. For starters, you must pay a one-time application fee. Then, you must pay an exam registration fee for each exam part.

Now, you can get discounts on your CIA exam fees by joining the IIA. But you’ll have to pay the IIA membership fee before receiving those discounts.

Consequently, the CIA exam fee totals come to the following according to your membership status:

  • IIA member: $1,105
  • Non-member: $1,315
  • Student: $695

And as mentioned, in order to pass the CIA exam, you’ll also need to invest in a CIA review course. Typically, this type of review course costs another $400 to $900. So, your CIA investment could be as high as $2,000 or more. But with CIA review course discounts, you can save big on your CIA exam prep and reduce your overall expenses. And remember, your investment is going to pay off once you pass the CIA exam.

5. Fulfill the CIA Education Requirements

CIA candidates can demonstrate their CIA internal audit competency through several different combinations of education and experience. Furthermore, the IIA sets the education bar for the CIA a little lower than that of other accounting certifications. Specifically, they require CIAs to have at least an associate’s degree or equivalent. These equivalents include:

  • Foundation Degree
  • Diploma of Higher Education
  • Higher National Diploma
  • 3 A-level certificates with a grade of C or higher (outside North America)

Additionally, the IIA allows students in their senior year of college to sit for the CIA exam. So, you don’t need to be completely done with your degree to apply for the CIA program. But you do have to prove that you have or are in the process of earning the necessary education. To do this, you must send the IIA one of the following documents:

  • Copy of your degree or official transcripts
  • A letter from your university confirming your degree
  • A letter from an evaluation services agency confirming your degree level

Alternatively, the IIA may grant you entrance into the CIA program if you have 7 years of verified internal audit experience or its equivalent.

6. Apply for the CIA Program

Applying for the CIA program requires you to visit the IIA website so that you can create an account in the IIA Certification Candidate Management System (CCMS). This system allows CIA candidates to complete tasks such as:

  • Apply for the CIA program
  • Register for the CIA exam
  • Review your certification status
  • View your exam score report
  • Assess the next steps in your certification process
  • Update your personal information
  • Check your credential and exam history
  • Contact IIA customer service

Once you have a CCMS account, you will also have the ability to fill out the CIA application form. As part of this process, you must provide proof of your education and your identification. You’ll also need to supply your character reference.

Next, you must pay the application fee via credit card, check, or wire transfer. The application fee structure is as follows:

  • IIA member: $115
  • Non-member: 230
  • Student: $65

After you’ve finished this step, the IIA will email you to confirm your successful application. In fact, so long as your application is complete and correct, the IIA should approve it within 24-48 hours.

The IIA has implemented timelines for meeting all the CIA requirements. So, once you receive application approval, you’ll have 4 years from that date to complete the entire certification process. And if you don’t meet all of the requirements within that time, you’ll forfeit all fees and exam credit.

What Is the CIA Challenge Exam?

CIA candidates who have already passed another major accounting exam, such as ACCA or the CPA, may be eligible to take the CIA Challenge Exam. The Challenge Exam (also known as the ACCA CIA Challenge Exam) is a 1-part exam that combines questions from CIA Parts 1-3 into 1 exam. While there’s only 1 exam, the passing rate, which hovers around 39-42%, is lower than the traditional 3-part exam. Therefore, we recommend that you discover if you’re eligible to take the CIA Challenge Exam and study with a course made specifically for this exam, like the Gleim CIA Challenge Exam Review Course.

7. Register for the CIA Exam Parts and Schedule Your Testing Appointment

After the IIA has approved your application, you can register for the CIA exam within your IIA CCMS account.

Within CCMS, you’ll see the option to register for each part of the CIA exam. Then, after you agree to the Pricing Provisions and Conditions statement, you’ll complete the process by paying the registration fee for each exam part.

Again, members will pay less for each exam part than non-members. Members only pay $280 for Part 1 and $230 for Part 2 and Part 3, while non-members must pay $395 for Part 1 and $345 for Part 2 and Part 3. But at $230 for Part 1 and $180 for Part 2 and Part 3, students pay the least.

CIA Exam Eligibility Window

After you’ve submitted your registration, the IIA will process it and then email you your authorization to test. That email will also include instructions for scheduling your CIA exam testing appointment on the Pearson VUE website.

But the IIA wants you to wait 48 hours after receiving your authorization to test email before contacting Pearson VUE.

Yet, once that initial 48 hours period ends, you need to schedule your exam appointment as soon as possible in order to secure your preferred testing date.

Also, your exam eligibility window is only open for 180 days or until your program expiration date, whichever comes first. Consequently, you should also schedule soon to guarantee you can sit for the exam on time.

Thankfully, most Pearson VUE testing centers are open 5-6 days a week. But, they don’t accept walk-ins.

CIA Exam Scheduling

As mentioned, the CIA exam has 3 parts:

  1. Essentials of Internal Auditing
  2. Practice of Internal Auditing
  3. Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing

You can take the exam parts in any order and at almost any time.

Pearson VUE administers the fully-computerized CIA exam at 900+ testing centers around the world. And currently, the computerized CIA exam is available in 19 different languages including Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Czech, English, Estonian, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Thai.

But in 2019, the IIA updated the CIA exam for all languages according to the recent exam changes.

Consequently, when you schedule your Pearson VUE CIA exam testing appointment, you will select a testing center and your preferred exam language. Pearson VUE will then email an appointment confirmation to you after you’ve scheduled your exam.

After that, do your best to stick with your exam date. You may be able to cancel or reschedule, but doing so will involve additional fees.

8. Prepare for and Take the CIA Exam

Not surprisingly, all 3 of the CIA exam parts focus solely on internal auditing. What’s more, the exam parts cover all of internal auditing’s topics in-depth. So, the content areas and coverage percentages of each CIA exam part are as follows:

1. Essentials of Internal Auditing 2. Practice of Internal Auditing 3. Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing
I. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%) I. Managing the Internal Audit Activity (20%) I. Business Acumen (35%)
II. Independence and Objectivity (15%) II. Planning the Engagement (20%) II. Informational Security (25%)
III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)> III. Performing the Engagement (40%) III. Information Technology (20%)
IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%) IV. Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress (20%) IV. Financial Management (20%)
V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
VI. Fraud Risks (10%)

The entire CIA exam only contains multiple-choice questions (MCQs). However, each exam part has a different number of MCQs. Part 1 has 125 MCQs, and Part 2 and Part 3 each have 100 MCQs.

Consequently, for Parts 2 and 3, you’ll have 120 minutes of total testing time. But you’ll have 150 minutes for Part 1 to account for the additional questions.

A passing CIA exam score is 600 on a scale of 250 to 750. And because the computerized exam consists solely of MCQs, your computer will grade your exam and give you an unofficial score report right away. You’ll then receive your official score report a few days later.

If you fail any part of the CIA exam, you must wait 90 days to take that part again. Otherwise, you can take the CIA exam as many times as you need to pass within 4 years.

How to Pass the CIA Exam

Clearly, you want to give yourself the best chance at passing each exam part on your first try. So, what’s the absolute best way to ensure your CIA exam success? By using a CIA review course. In fact, most candidates use a self-study course to pass the CIA exam, and all the most popular courses are available online.

You can discover the best CIA review course for you by reading my comparison. Then, you can score major savings on your course with my CIA review discounts.

9. Complete the CIA Experience Requirement

Because you don’t need to finish the experience requirement before you pass the CIA exam, fulfilling the experience requirement is often the last step on a candidate’s journey to the CIA.

For the experience requirement, the IIA expects your career history to involve audit/assessment disciplines such as external auditing, quality assurance, compliance, and internal control. And, as indicated, the amount of internal auditing experience you need to earn the CIA depends on the level of education you have.

Basically, the more education you have, the less experience you need.

Education Level Years of Work Experience Required
Master’s Degree (or equivalent) 12 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent
Bachelor’s Degree (or equivalent) 24 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent
Associate’s Degree, 3 A-Level Certificates, grade C or higher (or equivalent) 60 months – internal auditing experience or its equivalent

As you may have noticed, candidates with an associate’s degree or equivalent must start earning their 5 years of experience before they start the CIA program. Otherwise, they won’t be able to meet all the requirements within the IIA 4-year eligibility period.

The final stipulation for your work experience is that your current or former supervisor or a CIA, CCSA, CGAP, CFSA, or CRMA verifies it.

Education and Experience Waivers

Good news: The Professional Certification Board (PCB) has approved CIA education and experience exemptions for candidates who actively hold either the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification or the U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. The PCB waives the CIA education and work experience requirements for ACCA members and the education requirement for CPAs.

The PCB makes these exemptions because the experience and education requirements for the ACCA and CPA programs meet or exceed the corresponding requirements for the CIA program. But to be considered for these exemptions, you must complete the appropriate fields on the CIA application.

Once you submit your application, the IIA will place it into pending status. During this time, their certification administrators will verify that your ACCA membership / CPA license is active.

10. Receive the CIA Certificate and Start Earning CPE

After you’ve acquired the expected amount of experience and submitted the work verification form on the CCMS, you should receive your Certified Internal Auditor certification within a matter of days.

From there, you must start satisfying the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements. The IIA imposes the CIA CPE requirements for a specific reason. They want you to maintain your knowledge and skill while also staying up to date on current developments and improvements in the industry.

Fortunately, the IIA awards you with 40 hours of CPE the year you achieve CIA certification and 40 hours the following year as well. So, you don’t technically have to begin earning CPE for the first 2 years as a CIA.

Then, after that, you need to report 40 hours of CPE every year so long as you are a practicing CIA who actively performs internal audit or related activities. If you are a non-practicing CIA who does not actively perform internal audit or related activities, then you only need to collect 20 hours of CPE every year.

And, no matter how many CPE credits you’re responsible for, you must always dedicate 2 CPE credit hours to the study of ethics every year.

More About How to Become a Certified Internal Auditor USA

I’ll admit that the process of becoming a CIA may sound a bit complicated. But it’s definitely something you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. And I’m here to help you do just that with my free CIA e-course.

This course covers the entire CIA process and explains how to pass the CIA exam on your first attempt. So, learn more about my free CIA course today or sign up now!

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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