According to the Institute of Internal Auditors, the CIA exam pass rate is 39% – 42% over the last four years. This is a relatively low passing rate as compared with other professional exams. Surprisingly, this is true despite what you may have heard about the Certified Internal Auditor exam.

If you are considering becoming a CIA, you might have found write-ups on how the exam is relatively easy. This is often stated especially in comparison to other certifications, like the CPA exam because fewer topics are covered. But if the exam is easier, why is the CIA exam pass rate so low?

That’s a good question. Don’t worry; there’s no reason to misinterpret the statistics and panic! Let’s take a look at the details and see what these stats actually tell us.

Keep reading to learn more about how hard the CIA exam is and why the majority of people fail it.

Overview – How Many People Fail the CIA Exam?

Latest CIA Exam Pass Rates

First, before we get into what the stats mean, I think we should review them. Here are the CIA exam pass rates for the last three years along with the other IIA exams.

IIA Exams2015 Pass Rate​s​2016 Pass Rates2017 Pass Rate​s

As you can see, in the last three years, the percentage of people failing the exam has actually gone down.

But yes, numbers don’t lie.

Unfortunately, the majority of CIA candidates fail the exam. Institute of Internal Auditor’s (IIA’s) Professional Certifications Board recently approved the publishing of 2017 pass rates for its global programs. CIA global pass rate for 2017 is only 42%, rendering the global pass rate at 41% for the past 4 years since 2014. To state this differently, we can say that over the 4-year period, 6 out of 10 CIA candidates sitting for the exam insufficiently and inappropriately prepare for it and end up failing it.

Despite the abundance of resources and accessibility to study tools, methods and prep materials in the market to gain competency on how IIA’s quality and value-adding internal audit, the pass rate remains the same over the years.

International CIA Exam Passing Rates

The CIA exam is offered in over 17 languages in countries around the world. This variation in candidates, cultures, and environments might contribute to the overall low rates. Unfortunately, the IIA does not publish a regional or country breakdown of passing rates, so we can’t analyze the effect of this diversity.

CIA Exam Section Pass Rates

Likewise, the IIA does not provide details on the passing rate per section of the exam, so we don’t know if candidates are doing better on one section over another. We just don’t have access to this information.

Published passing rates from IIA only provide a general overview of the exam and may not provide a useful guide on how to prepare for the exam. Unofficially, various study prep tools providers analyze and maintain statistics on how CIA candidates using their products fare on each section of the exam. But still, nothing is more important than self-awareness and understanding your motivation when planning and preparing for the exam.

Why are CIA Exam Pass Rates so Low?

There are so many different reasons and factors that cause candidates to fail the exam. Here are some of the main reasons why people don’t succeed. Take a look and make sure you know what to do so you don’t fall into the same trap when you are preparing for the exam.

Lack of Sufficient and Appropriate Preparation

By far the biggest reason people fail the exam is their lack of preparation. If you properly prepare for the exam, you can confidently say that the CIA exam was easy. But, most candidates don’t properly prepare. They typically study with the wrong study materials and don’t study enough. Quantity and quality of preparation must be carefully considered.

During orientations given by the IIA, prospective candidates are allowed to take diagnostic exams to get a feel of the exam and light evaluation on their readiness level. Based on this you can see how much you will need to study for the exam. If your readiness level is low, you will need to study more and vice versa.

The best way to prepare for the CIA exam is to get a review course that matches your learning style. Remember quality and quantity must be looked. You have to get a quality review course that will help you learn and understand the concepts effectively. Then you have to put in the time to actually use the review course (quantity).

Find a review course that will work for you and dig into it!

Internal Audit is a Specialized Niche

Even an experienced external auditor will have a few adjustments to make in deciding to shift career to internal audit. From objectives to consider, risk assessment, and to audit focus, internal audit employs a different approach as compared to an external audit. To the majority of candidates, the concepts and methods applied in internal auditing may be unfamiliar.

To keep in mind, the CIA exam is NOT ONLY about answering the question, “Do you know how to audit?” More appropriately, it is about answering whether you know how to audit based on how IIA defines what internal audit is. Before sitting for the exam, it might help to check if you can confidently answer this question.

Lack of Education

IIA set educational and experience requirements prior to being issued authorization to take the exam. The requirements were set to aim IIA’s objectives at maintaining high diversity with its member professionals and ensuring that its certification holders have the minimum experience in an internal audit field. As such, the entry barriers were kept relatively low.

To welcome diversity and acknowledge that an internal auditor can come from various careers, the educational requirement is opened to all possible expertise. However, contents of the exam, especially part three, are mainly under the domain of business professionals. Enough time and planning are vital to take master unfamiliar concepts.

For a professional nurse working as an auditor in health care company and an engineer who works as an auditor in a manufacturing facility aiming to be certified, the coverage of the exam will pose a challenge. This challenge is manageable as proven by now many CIA’s with professional backgrounds from various specialization. However, to take additional time, energy and effort for granted for preparing will be gross neglect.

Lack of Experience

On experience requirement, IIA focuses on the type and quantity of work experience. Quality of experience is not keyed into factors considered in accepting candidates authorized to sit in the exam. Candidates may meet work experience requirements, but will not guarantee that the exam and preparing for it will be smooth flowing.

The standards are issued to unify the internal audit practice and establish the criteria for what can be considered quality audit. Undergoing the CIA certification process will push you to evaluate your current practice to what is ideally expected. When a candidate failed to properly evaluate his work experience from what the standards expect. Results may be disastrous for a candidate.

A few questions to know whether you will be needing the extra effort in making an evaluation of your experience are as follows:

  1. Is internal audit practice in your company is heavily regulated and regulating body uses the IIA framework or other widely-recognized frameworks as criteria for the conduct of audit?
  2. Is your company a well-known auditing firm?
  3. Are your superiors holding experience working for auditing firms that are well-known to practice systematic audit methodologies and practices?
  4. Does your internal audit department periodically undergo quality assurance and improvement programs from external independent service providers?
  5. Are methods to review the quality of audits performed in place?

The list above may not be exhaustive, but if the majority of your answers to them is no, it will save you from disaster if you pay extra attention in evaluating your experience with what the Standards.

Study Right. Pass the Exam!

There’s no reason to fail the CIA exam. If you practice proper exam prep, you won’t have any trouble passing it on your first time. My recommendation is to find a review course that works for you and start studying.

You will be glad you did when you get your passing score!

Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.