Because the CMA and CIA Exams do not need to be taken in any particular order, many candidates ask, “Which part should I take first?” I will answer that question for both the CMA and CIA exams.
On the CMA Exam, the topics are not connected between the exam parts, so you will not get questions on Part 2 that are related to Part 1 topics, or vice versa. Therefore, I recommend that that you look at the exam syllabus and the topics tested on each part. If you are more familiar with the Part 2 topics than the Part 1 topics, then you should start with Part 2. Otherwise, start with Part 1.
Many people believe that CMA Part 2 is easier than CMA Part 1 because Part 2 has a higher pass rate. However, this does not mean that Part 2 is easier. Because most candidates start with Part 1, a lot of candidates never take Part 2 if they can’t pass Part 1. So the main reason that the Part 2 pass rate is higher is that the majority people taking Part 2 have already passed Part 1.
On the CIA Exam, Parts 1 and 2 have separate syllabi, but we have received feedback from a number of candidates who feel that they were tested on Part 1 topics in Part 2 and vice versa. This is partially because there are topics that are tested on both parts but from different perspectives. Because of this, I suggest that candidates look at the CIA Exams not as three exams, but as two exams, with Parts 1 and 2 combined into a larger exam. Because of this, you may want to consider preparing for Parts 1 and 2 at the same and taking them together.
Whether you should start with Parts 1 and 2 or with Part 3 depends on you background. If you are an internal auditor without other professional certifications, I recommend starting with Parts 1 and 2. If you have passed a professional certification with content similar to CIA Part 3, then I recommend that you start with Part 3 because many of the topics will already be familiar to you.
When you decide which Part of an exam to take first, you only need to make certain that you decide what will be best for you; it does not matter what your friends or colleagues did. Start with the exam Part that will be the easiest one for you to prepare for and don’t second-guess yourself once you choose. Remember that you have to take all of the exams Parts eventually – the order is only important for your planning purposes.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA