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Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor: Everything You Need to Know About the CIA Certification

becoming a certified internal auditor

Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is an excellent idea wilfor internal auditors. But before you can become a CIA, you must learn all about the CIA certification, including the CIA career options, benefits, requirements, and more. So, keep on reading to get all the information you need to start the process of earning the CIA.

What Is a Certified Internal Auditor?

A Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is a type of accountant who performs internal audits. After these auditing professionals meet a series of CIA requirements, the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) awards them the CIA certification.

The CIA certification is the only internationally recognized internal audit certification. Furthermore, earning this certification is the best way for internal auditors to show they have the skills, knowledge, and abilities required to perform any audit, anywhere. The CIA certification provides Certified Internal Auditors with credibility, shows their dedication to the profession, and sets them apart from their peers.

What Does a Certified Internal Auditor Do?

A Certified Internal Auditor generally works in the audit department at financial institutions, corporations, or government agencies. The CIA’s role is to assess financial records to check for inadequacies in internal controls.

CIAs have more responsibilities than non-certified internal auditors. While regular auditors focus only on financial statements, CIAs perform other services to help safeguard the company’s assets and to help manage risk handling. They not only audit financial reports for accuracy, but they also help the company or organization establish systems to prevent loss, theft, fraud, and damaged goods.

While CIAs and CPAs both have training in auditing and perform many of the same tasks, a CIA has a more focused skill set. Therefore, Some of the duties CIAs are able to fulfill include:

  • Reviewing business procedures within an organization
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of risk management procedures
  • Protecting an organization against theft and fraud
  • Ensuring that the company is complying with relevant laws
  • Helping to improve internal controls and governance processes

Where Do Certified Internal Auditors Work?

As expert internal auditors, CIAs can work in a number of industries. These include:

  • Private commercial entities
  • Public commercial entities
  • Public accounting firms
  • Government agencies

Why Should I Go Through the Process of Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor?

The CIA certification provides internal auditors with a number of career advantages. Some of the benefits of obtaining this certification include:

Higher Income

As a CIA, you will have a financially lucrative career. According to the IIA, the average CIA earns $38,000 or 40% more than internal auditors who are not certified. Based on findings from job sites including Indeed, Payscale, and Glassdoor, the CIA salary tends to range from $69,000-$84,000 a year.

You can also increase your earnings by gaining more experience. When you earn a high position (e.g. Chief Audit Executive or Internal Auditor Direction), you can earn anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 a year! The earning potential that you will see with the certification makes being a CIA worth it.

Plenty of Job Opportunities

Certified Internal Auditors have numerous job options over the course of their careers. Entry-level internal auditors can hold a number of titles, including:

  • Auditing specialist
  • Compliance auditor
  • Risk assessment specialist
  • Lead internal auditor
  • Financial analyst
  • Internal controls auditor
  • Information systems auditor

Once you have proven yourself in one of these positions, you can seek higher lead internal auditor and internal audit supervisor positions. Some of these positions include:

  • Senior internal auditor
  • Audit manager
  • Risk manager
  • Internal auditor director

Once you have demonstrated experience in entry-level and mid-range internal auditing positions, you can find positions in the highest levels of leadership. Some of the internal audit executive roles that will be available to the most experienced CIAs include:

  • Finance Director
  • Chief Financial Director
  • Controller
  • Vice President of Internal Audit
  • Internal Audit Director
  • Chief Audit Executive

With so many job options available to CIAs, they will never find themselves without options.

Job Security

The internal auditor is one of the finance/accounting careers with one of the best job outlooks, according to the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also projected that there would be a 10% increase in hiring of internal auditors between the years of 2016 and 2026.

Demand for CIAs is high because the world has begun to recognize the value of internal auditing. CIAs offer assurance on internal control, risk management, corporate governance, and operations in various business conditions. Additionally, organizations are seeking to improve internal controls and transparency, which provides long-term career opportunities for those who earn the CIA certification.

Increased Skills and Abilities

In order to become a CIA, you will need to meet the IIA’s requirements for certification. During the process, you will develop more knowledge of internal audit and improve your understanding of internal audit activities. With this increased knowledge, abilities, and confidence as an internal auditor, you will find more employment opportunities.

The CIA certification will showcase your dedication to this career and will also demonstrate your willingness to invest in your own development. Additionally, the certification will differentiate you from your non-certified peers. Obtaining the CIA will allow you to meet the highest standards in the industry and allow you to be the best internal auditor possible.

Respect and Admiration of Your Peers

Having the letters “CIA” behind your name will show others that you’re a qualified auditor who is able to work exceptionally. As a CIA, you will gain more respect and credibility in your field.

Everyone in internal audit will know that your expertise of internal audit has increased and will look up to you as someone who can help improve the industry. They will also know that you’re more qualified than non-certified internal auditors. Pursuing a CIA will help you gain respect from both your coworkers and superiors.


The CIA is the most recognized internal auditing certification in the industry, but the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is basically the most recognized accounting certification of all in the industry.

So, to determine which certification you should earn, you should consider your long-term career goals. Would you like to focus on internal auditing, or would you like the opportunity to provide accounting services in a variety of fields? Furthermore, how high up the company ladder would you like to climb? Do you want to be the Chief Financial Officer or the Chief Executive Officer?

Knowing the answers to these questions and learning more about the CIA vs. the CPA will help you decide which of these prestigious certifications to pursue.

What Does Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor Require?

The IIA has a number of requirements that internal auditors must meet in order to enter the CIA program, take the CIA exam, and earn the CIA certification. These requirements focus on an individual’s character, education, work experience, and identification.

Learning more about these requirements can help you determine if you’re eligible for the CIA program. The requirements are as follows:


You must have earned an associate’s degree or higher in order to be accepted into the CIA program. The IIA accepts individuals with associate’s degree equivalents. These equivalents include a Foundation Degree, Higher National Diploma, and Diploma of Higher Education.

In order to verify your education, you must send the following documents to the IIA:

  • A copy of your degree or official transcripts. (If your name has changed since you earned your degree, you must also provide your legal name change document).
  • A letter from the university you attended confirming your degree.
  • A letter from an evaluation services agency confirming the level of your degree.

An alternate option for eligibility for the CIA program is to possess 7 years of verified experience in internal audit or its equivalent. This method of entrance into the program is subject to approval. The IIA offers this alternative for individuals who don’t meet the minimum education requirements.

Character reference

CIA candidates must demonstrate high moral and professional character. As proof of your character, you must have a CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CFSA, CRMA or supervisor sign a Character Reference form.

Work experience

The IIA bases the work experience requirement on the amount of education you have achieved. The CIA program’s work experience requirements are as follows:

CIA Work Experience Requirement

Education Level Years of Work Experience
Master’s Degree (or equivalent) 12 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent
Bachelor’s Degree (or equivalent) 24 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent
Associate’s Degree, A-Level Certificate (or equivalent) 60 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent

Candidates can apply to the CIA program and sit for the CIA exam before they have fulfilled the work experience requirements. However, you cannot become certified until you have met all of the program requirements.

Proof of Identification

Applicants must provide proof of their identity with a copy of their official passport or their national identity card.

These documents may not be expired. The IIA only accepts current I.D.

The photo on your I.D. must be clear when you scan and upload the documents to the IIA’s Document Upload Portal.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Internal Auditor?

The IIA requires candidates to fulfill the CIA program certification process within 4 years of your application approval. If you do not finish the process during that time, you will forfeit all fees and credit for passed exams.

Studying for each exam part can take dozens of CIA exam study hours. But, if you’re already somewhat familiar with the exam content, your review may take you less time. However, you should still plan to study for a healthy amount of time to ensure that you’ll be ready.

CIA Exam Study Time

Exam Part

Minimum # of Study Hours

Maximum # of Study Hours

Part 1

30 65

Part 2



Part 3 50


So, if you spend 15 hours a week studying, you’ll be ready for Part 1 in 2-4 weeks, Part 2 in 2-5 weeks, and Part 3 in 3-6 weeks.

If you only study for 10 hours a week, your preparations will take longer. You’ll be ready for Part 1 in 3-6 weeks, Part 2 in 3-7 weeks, and Part 3 in 5-9 weeks.

Therefore, depending on the number of hours you study, passing the CIA exam can take anywhere from 3-7 months. And if you get busy or fail one of the exam parts, you can still generally pass the exam within a year.

How Long Does It Take to Earn the CIA?

Obtaining an associate’s degree generally takes about 2 years. But if you only have an associate’s degree, you must acquire 5 years of internal auditing experience in order to become a CIA. If you get an associate’s and take the exam while you’re in school or working, you could become a CIA in 7 years.

The process of earning a bachelor’s degree takes 4 years. In this case, you would only need about 2 years of experience in internal auditing. So, you would be able to earn the CIA within 6 years if you go this route.

Finally, getting a master’s degree generally takes 2-3 years in addition to the 4 years needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. So, pursuing these degrees involves 6-7 years of education, unless you manage to graduate early. But, in this scenario, you would only need 1 year of work experience, so you could finish the CIA program in 7-8 years.

How Do I Become a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)?

If you’re interested in pursuing the CIA certification, you will need to meet the following steps:

What Is the CIA Exam?

The IIA creates the CIA exam, and Pearson VUE testing centers administer it. All candidates must pass the exam in order to earn the CIA certification. Moreover, the CIA exam format consists of 3 parts covering several different aspects of internal auditing.

The exam consists only of multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge of internal auditing. The number of questions and the amount of testing time supplied varies for each exam part.

CIA Exam Format

Exam Part

Exam Duration Number of Questions Avg. Time Per Question

Part 1

2.5 hours 125 1.2 minutes
Part 2 2 hours 100

1.2 minutes

Part 3 2 hours 100

1.2 minutes

What Does the CIA Exam Consist of?

The CIA exam addresses 3 different components of internal auditing and related topics to test the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. The latest CIA exam version covers the following subject areas:

Part 1: Essentials of Internal Auditing

  • I. Foundations of Internal Auditing
  • II. Independence and Objectivity
  • III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care
  • IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program
  • V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control
  • VI. Fraud Risks

Part 2: Practice of Internal Auditing

  • I. Managing the Internal Audit Activity
  • II. Planning the Engagement
  • III. Performing the Engagement
  • IV. Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress

Part 3: Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing

  • I. Business Acumen
  • II. Information Security
  • III. Information Security
  • IV. Information Technology

How Much Does the CIA Exam Cost?

Most countries follow the IIA’s CIA exam fee structure to establish how much the CIA exam will cost candidates. But some countries, such as the IIA India, offer discounts to their members. Furthermore, the IIA grants discounts on CIA exam fees to students, professors, and IIA members. However, initial costs for the CIA exam still include an application fee and 3 exam fees, one for each part.

CIA Exam Fees



Professional IIA Member Government IIA Member Professor IIA Member

Student IIA Member

Membership Fee


$260 $165 $145


Application Fee

$230 $115 $115 $65


Part 1 Exam Fee


$280 $280 $230


Part 2 Exam Fee


$230 $230 $180


Part 3 Exam Fee


$230 $230 $180



$1,315 $1,115 $1,020 $800


Additional CIA exam costs may include travel to the testing center, CIA program extension fees, or exam appointment cancellation and rescheduling fees. However, another crucial CIA exam cost you must account for is a CIA review course.

CIA Review Course Costs

A CIA review course contains a series of self-study resources that explain the exam content and test you on your knowledge so you know you’re ready to pass. These resources include CIA exam flashcards, access to an online platform, textbooks, audio and video lectures, practice questions, customer support, and more.

The CIA syllabus specifies that you must be proficient in much of the exam content. Therefore, a CIA review course is essential for developing the deep understanding of the information that you need to pass all 3 exam parts within 4 years. With this time limit for completing all of the CIA requirements in mind, you’ll want to pass CIA Part 1 on your first try, pass CIA Part 2 on your first try, and pass CIA Part 3 on your first try. And thankfully, a CIA review course enables you to do just that.

CIA review course prices range from $375-$895, so you might need to create a CIA budget in order to afford one. However, you can use CIA review discounts to save big on your preferred review course. For example, you can usually save about 20% on Gleim CIA Review, the most widely-used CIA course, when you use this Gleim CIA discount link.

How Long Do I Have to Pass the CIA Exam?

Total testing time allotted for each exam part varies. You will have 2.5 hours to complete Part 1 and 2 hours for Part 2 and Part 3 each.

Once the IIA has accepted you into the CIA program, you will have 4 years to meet all of the certification requirements, which include passing the CIA exam. If you do not pass all 3 parts of the exam during this time period, you will forfeit all fees and credit for any exam parts you have passed. In some circumstances, a CIA exam extension may be granted by the IIA.

Fortunately, you can take the CIA exam any time your local Pearson VUE testing center is open. The CIA exam doesn’t have testing windows or blackout dates.

How Hard Is the CIA Exam?

While the CIA exam is passable, it’s not easy. A few factors that indicate how difficult the CIA exam is.

For starters, we must consider the CIA exam pass rates. The most recent annual global overall CIA exam pass rate was 42%, according to the IIA. Therefore, the CIA pass rate is lower than the CPA Exam pass rates, CMA exam pass rates, and CFA exam pass rates. So, clearly, the CIA exam is challenging and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The amount of knowledge that the exam expects you to have is another indicator of how challenging the CIA exam is. The CIA exam syllabus assigns cognitive levels to the main content areas of each part of the exam to assess a candidate’s knowledge of a certain topic.

The CIA exam syllabus features 2 cognitive levels:

  • Basic Level: Candidates recall knowledge from memory and/or utilize their basic comprehension of concepts or processes.
  • Proficient Level: Candidates analyze, evaluate, and make judgments based on criteria. They also apply concepts, processes, and procedures. They also formulate conclusions and recommendations by putting elements or material together.

The amount of basic and proficient cognitive levels that recur in each CIA exam part varies.

CIA Exam Cognitive Levels

Exam Part # of Basic Level Topics

# of Proficient Level Topics

Part 1

14 16

Part 2


Part 3 32


Total 60


The CIA exam features almost an even number of basic and proficient level topics. Therefore, you should be very familiar with all of the content. And, gaining this familiarity requires you to spend a lot of time preparing for each exam part.

So, in light of the low pass rates and high expectations for candidate knowledge, the CIA exam truly is challenging. However, you can still pass it.

What Is a CIA Exam Passing Score?

A CIA exam score can range from 250-700. But, in order to pass the CIA exam, you must score at least 600.

The IIA has completely computerized the CIA exam. Consequently, a computer grades the exam.

How Is the CIA Exam Graded?

Furthermore, the IIA places all CIA exam scores on a scale. For this reason, the passing score of 600 does not represent the number of questions answered correctly. Instead, the IIA calculates a passing score based on how difficult the exam version was. So, the number of questions you must correctly answer to pass the exam differs depending on your exam version.

To put this into perspective, a candidate who takes an easier version of the exam might have to get 75% of the answers right in order to pass. However, when taking an exam version with a more difficult set of questions, a test taker might only need to answer 70% of the questions correctly.

Once the computer has established the raw score of how many questions were answered correctly, it then transforms this score into a scaled score.

CIA Exam Pretest Questions

The IIA weighs all of the questions that count toward your score equally. But not all questions will count because the exam includes pre-test questions.

The IIA includes pre-test questions on the exam to see if these questions sufficiently assess a candidate’s knowledge of certain topics. If the questions fulfill their purpose, the IIA may use them on future exam iterations. However, you cannot tell the difference between pre-test questions and actual exam questions. For this reason, you must answer all CIA exam questions to the best of your ability.

When Will I Receive My CIA Exam Score?

As previously mentioned, computers grade the CIA exam. And again, the exam only features multiple-choice questions. So, once you finish each part of the exam, the computer will show you your unofficial pass-fail score.

If you pass the exam, you will see the word “Pass” on the computer screen. But if you fail the CIA exam, you’ll see your exam score, which will fall somewhere 250 and 600.

After you leave the testing center, you can check the CCMS system on the IIA website to get your official exam results. Your results will appear within 24-72 hours. If you failed the exam part, you will receive details about your performance on each major topic. Then, you can use this performance report to determine how to improve before you retake the exam.

What Should I Do After I Pass the CIA Exam?

You don’t have to complete the education or experience requirement before you take the CIA exam. However, most candidates have earned a degree before they sit for the exam. If you’re in this situation, then you just need to acquire work experience after you pass the CIA exam.

If you have already completed all of the CIA requirements, you will receive your certification soon. But after you receive your certification, you will need to focus on satisfying the CPE requirements. The IIA requires practicing CIAs to complete 40 hours of continuing education a year. So, dedicate yourself to keeping up with your CPE so you can continue to enjoy the benefits of the CIA certification.

Where Can I Get Help for Passing the CIA Exam?

When you’re ready to pass the CIA exam so you can become a CIA, you’ll want to purchase a CIA review course. To do so, start by learning about the best CIA review courses on the market. Then, use a CIA review discount to save big on your CIA exam prep. You can also find the highest Gleim CIA discount available when purchasing your course.

Gleim CIA is the most popular course for CIA candidates to use. However, the alternatives to Gleim include Surgent CIA and Wiley CIA. Additionally, candidates may feel compelled to at least consider the IIA CIA Learning System. But, due to the fact that this course has some challenges to overcome before I can recommend it, you’ll want to heavily consider the other options. Finally, comparing the largest CIA review courses can help you make your decision. So, to aid your comparison, I’ve compiled an analysis of Gleim CIA vs Wiley CIAexcel, Surgent CIA vs. Gleim CIA, and IIA CIA Learning System vs. Gleim CIA.

But before you take the plunge into the CIA certification, you can get more help with the CIA process from these free CIA exam study materials. These materials tell you how to earn the CIA and how to pass each exam part on your first attempt. So, sign up today so you can start the process of becoming a Certified Internal Auditor!

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