How to study for the CIA Exam
Studying for the CIA exam is not an easy task (What is the CIA exam and who is it for?). If you are pursuing this certification, you are most likely a motivated internal audit professional with increasing professional responsibilities. You may be managing a growing team and playing a role on multiple projects, in addition to executing against your typical weekly responsibilities. So as you embark upon the process of preparing for the CIA exam, what are some strategies and tactics to keep in mind to make the study process as efficient as possible and, most importantly, maximize your chances of passing?
In this article, we’ll explore some foundational concepts, strategies, and tactics to apply to the process of preparing for the CIA exam (or really any standardized test, professional exam, or academic endeavor).
Recognizing the Relative Importance of Talent & IQ vs. Practice & Preparation
When it comes to performing well in school or on standardized tests and professional exams, most people place far too much weight on IQ, raw intelligence, or “natural talent.” They assume that others may be easily understanding the material while they struggle.
The fact is, yes, some people may “get it” slightly faster than others when it comes to mathematics, others are more comfortable reading and writing, and some people may be better than others at learning new languages. That said, these differences in natural ability are seldom anywhere close to what you might imagine them to be. No one learns how to do math, read, write well, or understand a new language without a lot of practice and preparation and focus on the task at hand. You often just can’t see how much practice another person is putting in and thus assume it’s easier for them.
Quality of Study vs. Quantity of Study
When preparing for a professional licensing exam, it can be difficult to put your finger on the level of “quality” of the study session you just engaged in. Too many people spend a lot of hours studying, but they aren’t studying the right way. For example, simply reading material for long stretches of time is a very poor way to study (especially for tasks that require problem-solving and critical thinking), even though you might feel like you’ve accomplished a lot.
Many studies show that the key to learning and building skills is a concept called deliberate practice.
What is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate practice is high-quality practice and done in large quantities, often explains what many people inaccurately perceive as “natural talent” in any given domain. While lots of studying is better than some studying and some studying is better than no practice, the quality of your practice matters a lot. Five hours of good studying for the CIA might be better than simply reading notes and PowerPoint slides for 15 hours. But what makes studying “good?” How do you study using the principles of deliberate practice?
It’s about achieving a high level of focus, full engagement, and immediate feedback. It involves, but requires much more than hard work.
When you study for the CIA exam, try to do so in the following ways, which are consistent with the principles of deliberate practice:
- Shift your focus from completion of readings to true understanding. You aren’t trying to finish, you’re trying to understand fully
- Be incredibly focused (i.e., no cell phones, TV, computers, etc.)
- Build a foundation by striving for complete understanding of basic concepts before moving on to more complex ones.
- Break concepts down to their component pieces, looking for patterns in what makes one question easy, the next a little harder, and the most difficult ones the trickiest
- Receive immediate feedback. Do a lot of “mini-quizzes” along the way. You may not be able to have a personal tutor available. But you can do 10 questions and review what you missed immediately instead of doing 50 problems and forgetting what you were even thinking when you answered a question a certain way.
- Push yourself to the mental limits of what you are currently capable of. This is a key dimension of the skill-building process. You should be mentally tired after an effective study session. Your muscles are tired after lifting weights and your heart is beating fast after running a mile. Attempt to give your brain the same workout.
- Don’t study for more than 1-2 hours. This implies that if you are going to spend, just as an example, six hours studying for the CIA, you should break that down into 3-5 study sessions, not one marathon study session on Sunday morning.
One of the most important elements of deliberate practice is full engagement and ownership over understanding the concepts. Read to truly understand. Test yourself often. You must avoid the temptation to open the book and read how to get to the solution unless you are definitely lost and don’t know what to do.
Who is most likely to engage in Deliberate Practice when studying for the CIA?
Many experts in psychology and education believe strongly that the best way to explain why, for example, person X is able to obtain a Ph.D. in Mathematics when person Y failed, comes down to true interest and passion for the material. These experts surmise that those who enjoy a subject and are passionate about it are far more likely to engage in a large number of hours of deliberate practice to build their skills. They are truly curious and dedicated. The Math Ph.D. must focus with passion on learning more and uncovering the why and how of mathematical reasoning. If they aren’t interested in math, they just are less likely to put in the work.
But you are not getting a Ph.D. in Mathematics, you are studying for the CIA exam. In many regards, this makes things easier. Many people have to take math classes in high school and college as part of their major, even though they’d rather not. But you probably are not required to pursue the CIA designation – it is something that you have chosen to do. If you are not truly interested in building your skills as an audit professional, you probably aren’t interested in the CIA material you are studying. The CIA designation is not rocket science, but you must be truly interested and engage with the material and, in some sense, look forward to your CIA exam prep sessions.
How to build a CIA study plan
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to study specifically when you are literally studying. But let’s step back. You don’t want to just jump into studying for any exam. You should always follow the below steps:
- Reflect on the timing of your exam and your personal schedule between now and then
- Plan in advance which days and times of the week you will study
- Review at least a few different types of CIA prep materials to determine what’s best for you. Don’t just go with the first thing that pops up on Google or whatever your friend used. Think about how you learn (text vs. videos, etc.), the amount of content, etc. (Compare the CIA exam study materials providers here).
- Build a detailed study plan taking the above into consideration, and following deliberate practice principles (e.g., don’t try to study for more than two hours in a day).
- Don’t cram your studying into the weeks before the exam. Prepare in advance.
- Take regular practice tests under timed conditions, especially later in your study process
You will be far more likely to pass the CIA on your next attempt if you follow the principles of deliberate practice and recognize that it takes practice and preparation to do well on the exam. You should also be sure to build a detailed study plan that includes regular practice tests to track your progress.
About the Author
Mark Skoskiewicz founded MyGuru in 2010 based on a belief that customized, 1-1 tutoring, following the principles of deliberate practice, was the best way to improve general academic and test prep performance. Today, MyGuru offers a wide range of subject tutoring and test prep. In addition to offering CIA tutoring, MyGuru specializes in GMAT tutoring and private tutoring for many other standardized tests and professional licensing exams. He has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and an undergraduate business degree from Indiana University.
Many people made a resolution to pass a professional exam in 2022. There are plenty of articles on staying motivated and keeping up with your resolutions that recommend:
- Have a "Why" and keep the big picture in mind.
- Develop small habits and do a little bit every day.
- Practice self-care.
- Find an accountability partner.
Forbes also suggests Five Ways To Keep Your New Year's Resolutions Based On New Research.
All of these are excellent general recommendations, but we find that the following six steps are the most helpful for keeping your resolution of passing a professional exam:
1 - Sign up for the free trial materials
Our free trial is the best way to see if the HOCK materials are a good fit for you so that you can determine if you like the learning platform, if the textbook is clear to you, and if the videos match your learning style. You don’t have to pay anything to get started, so sign up for CMA Free Trial or CIA Free Trial right away! Don't procrastinate!
2 - Learn how to use PassMap
PassMap is your step-by-step study guide that includes the Personal Study Plan, ExamReady progress bar, study tips, and connects you to the student forum where you can get unlimited CMA and CIA support from HOCK experts. Learn more with our Free PassMap Demo Session.
3 - Choose the materials package that works best for you
The biggest difference between HOCK Standard and HOCK Complete packages is that Complete includes videos and the "You Pass Or We Pay" Guarantee. Compare the HOCK CMA Exam Packages and CIA Exam Packages.
4 - Save money
Once you choose which materials work the best for you, use coupon code RESOLUTION to save 40%! That is the best price on the market! Don't miss the deal! Buy CMA materials with 40% off or Buy CIA materials with 40% off.
5 - Set up your personal study plan
Scheduling and planning are the keys to passing a professional exam. We have designed a Personal Study Plan for CMA and CIA exam candidates that shows what to study week by week. The plan automatically adjusts based on the study units you have completed, how many units you have left to study, and how many days you have until your exam.
6 - Ask questions
As the PassMap is leading you through every topic, be sure to understand each unit fully before moving on. Follow the sequence: read textbook and watch the video(s), then practice the MCQs and essays, and use our expert teacher support. If you have any questions, see if it was already answered on the student forum, and if not, you can ask and get an answer from our experts. Check out HOCK CMA and CIA Student Forums.
We wish you a successful and productive year – the year you become certified!
Approach Your Exams Like a Buffalo
The Rocky Mountains go through the state of Colorado and big mountain storms come down from the mountains and head east into the Great Plains of the United States. While many animals live in the Great Plains, it is the cows and the buffalo that we are interested in.
As a storm arrives, the cows walk with the storm trying to stay ahead of it. Of course, the storm moves faster than the cows so the storm overtakes the cows. And because the cows are moving in the same direction as the storm, the cows spend even more time in the storm than if they had just stood still and let the storm pass over them.
The buffalo, on the other hand, take a different approach. As the storm approaches, they walk into the storm. While this is a strong and cold headwind, because the buffalo are walking against the direction the storm is moving, the amount of time that they spend in the storm is greatly reduced. The buffalo spend significantly less time in the storm than the cows because the buffalo know (somehow) that heading into the storm with determination is the fastest way to get out of the storm.
Your Exam Is the Storm
If you have not figured it out yet, in this analogy the amount of time that you need to prepare for your exam is the storm. And you have the choice to be either a cow or a buffalo. If you take the cows’ approach and do not make a dedicated effort to do your studying, the time that it will take you to get through your preparation will be a lot longer. It may seem for a while that you have been able to stay ahead of the storm, but eventually you will realize that even if you delay, the storm is still coming and you will need to pass through it. All you have done is extended the amount of time that you have had to live with your preparations.
You could instead choose to be the buffalo. When you do this, you make a plan, make a schedule, and start your studies from the beginning with the intent of sticking to your plan even when it is difficult and you are tired. But, by doing this, you will reduce the number of weeks that you spend studying and you will get to the other side of the storm much faster.
Whether you have not yet started studying, are partway through your studies, or are almost done, you can decide how you will go through the remainder of your studies – like a cow and drag it out for longer, or like a buffalo and attack the storm head on so that you can get through it as quickly as possible.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
The CMA Exam results came out last week and while there were many candidates who were successful, there were also some candidates who did not pass their exams. If you are one of these candidates, I encourage you to continue your studies and take a realistic look at how much you think you need to study to pass the next time you take the exam. Based on this assessment, you can determine when you should plan on re-taking the exam. As a general guideline, if you scored 320 or above, you are close to being ready to pass, and should probably plan to take the exam as soon as you are able to. If you scored less than 320, then you may want to plan a few more months of studying before you take the exam again.
Do you need a second Test Bank?
After results come out, we get requests from candidates who are looking to purchase a second Test Bank to study from. It is my experience that a second Test Bank does not add a lot of value to your preparations. All of the main providers use released CMA Exam questions as the foundation of their Test Banks. We all add some of our own questions to the Test Bank as well, but the majority of questions between providers will be the same. Therefore, even if you purchase a second Test Bank, you will not be getting a second set of questions to prepare with.
What additional materials should you consider?
If you are looking for additional study materials, I often recommend that you purchase Videos, especially if you do not have Videos already. While there are differences between the Textbooks of the main providers, a second Textbook is still a book that you read. Some candidates learn more effectively by listening or watching, so if you purchase Videos, you are getting a new way of learning the material, and a new perspective on that material.
Do you already have all of the materials from a provider?
If you already have a Textbook, Videos and a Test Bank and are still looking for additional materials, you should look to purchase the study tool that you think will be most beneficial to you. If you did not always understand the Textbook that you have read, another Textbook will bring value to you. If you did not like the Videos that you have, someone else’s Videos will provide greater value to you. If you have a Test Bank that does not have answer explanations to the incorrect answers, another Test Bank with incorrect answer explanations will be very helpful to you.
Use free samples before purchasing
Before you purchase a second of any study tools, make certain to use the free samples that all of the main providers offer so that you can see the Textbook, Videos and/or Test Bank you are looking to add.
Don’t give up!
While we would always prefer to pass an exam on our first attempt, the global pass rate for the CMA Exams is only about 50%. If you are in the position of having to take the exam again, I encourage you to keep striving for your goal of becoming a CMA. And while additional study tools may be helpful, make certain that you think carefully about what you already have and what would be helpful to you. This analysis will help you make good decisions about what additional investments you need to make to pass the exam on your next attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
CMA Exam Videos are on 40% sale right now. Check out the free samples here: CMA Exam Videos.
In this post, we look at preparing for an exam using some of the same concepts that you might study while preparing for the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) or CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) Exam.
Planning is a topic covered in many professional exams because of how important planning is to a business. Without long-term planning, a company does not know what it is trying to accomplish. Every department within a company needs to have a plan too so that it can do what it needs to do to help the company achieve its objectives. Even individual employees need to have a plan so that they can help their department achieve its goals. With proper planning, a company can ensure that all of its components are moving in the same direction.
Just like a company, a candidate for a professional exam also needs to have plans, which we can break down into Long-Term, Medium-Term, and Short-Term.
The first plan that you need is a strategic plan that encompasses what you would like to be doing in 5 years in your career, and which professional certification will best help you achieve your plan. You need to know:
- What are the certifications in your chosen career?
- What are the certifications most highly valued in the country where you want to work?
- Which certifications does your company want for its employees?
Once you have selected a certification, you need to find determine:
- Do you have the necessary education required by the exam? If not, how will you get it?
- Do you have the necessary experience in order to be certified? If not, where can you achieve the experience?
- What is the syllabus for the exam and what will you need to study to pass the exams?
Then, you are ready to create a medium-term plan to pass the exams and get any education or experience that you need.
The medium-term plan should set up a time frame for when you will pass the exams and get the needed education or experience if you don’t already have them. You need to find out what the average time is for preparing for the exam, and when the exams are offered.
For example, you may decide that it will take you 6 months to prepare for each part of the CMA Exam, and so you determine that you want to take Part 1 in early January and Part 2 in late June. Or, maybe you decide that it will take about 3 months to prepare for each Part of the CIA Exam, so you plan to take them in January, April, and July.
You should also decide the order in which you will take the different Parts of the exam. I usually recommend that you start with the Part that you feel will be easiest for you.
You are now ready to start your short-term plans, including making a study schedule for each week. You should know when during the week you will be studying and set these times aside. If you are going to study Tuesday evening for 3 hours (for example), then when someone asks you to do something Tuesday evening, your answer should be that you are busy. Your scheduled study times should be committed appointments that you will not cancel except for an emergency.
Having a schedule will make all of your time less stressful. If you know when you will study, then in the time that you are not studying you can relax without thinking that you should be studying; your study time and your personal time can stay separate.
Just like a plan that helps a business achieve its goals, proper planning will make achieving your goal of earning a certification much easier.
What are some of your planning strategies to help you stay on track with your studies?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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Brian Hock gives advice about how to overcome some of the stress that candidates feel on the essays and problems on the CMA Exam:
Check out more CMA Exam study tips from Brian Hock.
How to Make a Good Guess Quickly
On the CMA and CIA Exams, it is important to answer every question, even if you have to guess. One of the reasons for this is because there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.
However, rather than just randomly guessing from the 4 choices, sometimes you can quickly narrow your choices down to three or even only two possibly correct answers. Having a 33% or 50% chance of guessing the answer correctly is better than 25%!
Watch the video to learn the words to keep in mind as you make a quick educated guess, and other tips from Brian Hock.
If you are already a CMA, CIA, or CPA Exam candidate, you may be interested in more study tips from the HOCK team. If you haven’t started studying yet, check out today’s deals and get unlimited access to the HOCK materials.
Brian Hock talks about the need to answer every question on the CMA and CIA Exams and the strategy to use for long and difficult questions.
Do you know how is the CMA and CIA Exam scores are determined? Learn everything you need to know!
Brian Hock talks about the idea of “slowly and then all of a sudden.” This expression is used to describe how someone falls asleep, and was used by Mark Twain to describe how he went bankrupt. Brian sees a lot of similarities between this idea and how CMA, CIA, and CPA students learn some of the exam topics.
In this video, Brian also shares his personal experience of sudden understanding with the statement of cash flows almost 25 years ago.
When it comes to passing certification exams, every candidate has to learn the same content. Whether you prefer to prepare by reading, listening, or watching, you must learn the content and be able to answer the questions that are asked on exam. Unlike preparing, there is only one testing method for the exam regardless of how you prefer to learn or communicate.
There are three stages of preparation that you must go through in order to pass the exam: learning, practicing, and passing.
As long as you are learning what you need to know, how you learn is not as important. You may choose to use a textbook as your primary learning tool, or you may prefer videos or audios. But, no matter what method you use to learn, you need to use materials that are designed specifically for your exam. There are a number of different providers for most exams, and every provider has the same knowledge and information about exam content (regardless of what some companies may claim or advertise). While any materials from these exam prep providers should be geared specifically to the exam, it is always good to have a copy of the syllabus that you can refer to as you study.
On the other hand, if you use materials that are not exam-specific, you run the risk of studying a lot of things that are not on the exam, or not studying important topics that are on the exam.
How many hours you need to spend learning will depend on your background, education, and experience. You may find that different topics require different amounts of time to learn. Do not let yourself get locked into a specific number of hours. If you think you have learned a topic a bit faster than you expected, that is OK. Similarly, if it takes a bit longer than expected, that is OK too. The key is to learn the content, not stick rigidly to a time budget that may not lead you to success on the exam.
Of course, keep in mind that for any exam that the passing mark is usually 70-75%, so you do not need to learn 100% of the details about 100% of the topics on the syllabus. You just want to make certain that you are closer to 100% coverage than 75% coverage so that you have a margin of error.
After you have learned the material, you need to “activate” it with practice.
In order to pass the exam, you need to make certain that the knowledge that you learned is “activated” for the exam and the way that exam questions are asked. The best way to do this is to practice past exam questions, which will enable you to learn how the questions have been asked in the past and the language that is used in the questions. This practice will also help you see what the examiners have thought are the most important questions within a topic. For example, on the CMA exam, process costing is a big topic, but in looking at past questions you will see that the calculation of equivalent units produced has the most past exam questions about it.
When you are practicing questions, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- More questions is not automatically better. The questions that you are practicing need to be on-topic and similar to the questions that are asked on the exam. It is easy to do a lot of multiple-choice questions that are just definitional in nature, but if the exam does not ask definitional questions, then those questions will not help you pass the exam.
- Do not memorize questions or answers. Ideally, your software will change the order of the answers when it repeats a question, but even in that case, you do not want to memorize that the question about Johnson Co. is $600,000. What you want to be able to do is understand why the correct answer is correct. On the real exam, the questions will be different than what you practiced. If the real exam question is changed in what it asks from a similar practice question, unless you truly understand the topic, you will not be able to get that exam question correct.
- Use the incorrect choices as a learning tool. Just as you need to understand why the correct answer is correct, in many questions you can also practice by being able to understand why the incorrect answer is incorrect. In some cases, changing just one word in the question would make one of the incorrect choices correct.
While you are practicing the questions, using flash cards (whether you prepared them or they were provided with your materials) is also a good way to practice what you learned.
Sometimes when you are practicing, you may realize that you did not fully learn a topic or two. This normal, and not a problem. When you do not understand the questions for a topic, just go back and look at the textbook or watch the videos for that topic to make certain that you have learned it. Many times, when you re-learn a topic after doing some questions you can learn it much better because you have an understanding of what you need to know having answered some of the practice questions.
After you have completed your learning and practicing, it is time for the third stage. But, before you take your real exam, you need to pass your mock exam. The mock exam should resemble what will be on your real exam, and you will want to complete the mock exam in the same time limits as the real exam. If you have 3 hours to complete your exam, you need to take your mock exam in 3 continuous hours all in one sitting. You want to go through the process of sitting for three hours answering exam questions so that you know what to expect when you take the real exam.
A very common question we get is what score on the mock exam indicates being ready for the real exam. We suggest that you want to be at least 5-10% above the pass rate for the exam, which usually works out to 80-85%. Higher is better, but keep in mind that repeating the mock exam to get a better score is probably going to be counter-productive due to memorization. Instead, use the mock exam as a final assessment of any weak topics that you still need to go back and review.
Once you have learned the material, practiced what you learned, and passed your mock exam, the last step is to pass the real exam. Think of the real exam as being the final step in your success. Having prepared properly, you can go into your exam confident and relaxed, rather than stressed. You are ready to pass!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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