Hard Exam [Part 1-2]
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If you take an average of all three parts, the most current Enrolled Agent exam pass rate is 74%, which puts it at the top end of the range it has occupied for years: fluctuating between 70% and 74%. The table below provides the pass rate for each part of the exam since 2018.
The EA exam is graded on a scale of 40 to 130 available points, and the IRS sets the EA passing score Opens in new window at 105 points. Scoring at least 105 points demonstrates that you have the knowledge to practice before the IRS and deserve all the benefits that come with earning your EA.
Your score is the number of questions you answered correctly which is then converted to a scaled score from 40-130 points. The scaled score accounts for differences in the exams that candidates receive and also accounts for the experimental questions.
Part 1 currently has the lowest pass rate, which has been the trend for the last several years. This is likely due to an increase in candidates taking the Enrolled Agent exam as they try to get the designation, which is becoming increasingly popular. Additionally, there have been quite a few changes to tax law in recent years that have shaken up tax preparation in general, which have certainly made the exam more difficult to prepare for than it otherwise might have been.
The Part 2 pass rate is a bit more consistent from year to year compared to Part 1. The great news is the pass rate has been increasing year over year. The Business section is considered the hardest among most tax preparers and often gives Enrolled Agent candidates anxiety.
The war has been won! A few days ago, I passed my final Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam. IIA have now confirmed I am a Certified Internal Auditor. It has been a long, rewarding and demanding journey. I passed CIA Part 1 in August 2018, CIA Part 2 in May 2019 and CIA Part 3 in March 2020. I passed all of my CIA exams at the first attempt.
It was no accident that I passed all of my exams at the first attempt. This was due to a well-designed and executed study program. In designing my study program, I benefited from talking/finding information on the Internet from auditors who had already taken the exams. This helped immensely. To pay it forward, I thought I would write an article on the approach I took to pass my CIA exams. I hope this helps people on their CIA journey.
The key elements of my CIA study approach can be broken down into four different areas: pre-study preparation, core study activities performed for all exams, study activities performed for only certain exams, week before the exam preparation and key focus areas for day of the exam.
To pass CIA exams you need a score of 600 out of 750 points. This equates to 80% to simply pass. This means that there is only a narrow margin of error. Many of the questions are also very challenging as they require having a thorough understanding of concepts and applying them to new situations, which may not be covered in the study material. Another key aspect of the CIA program is that you have only a limited amount of time to complete the CIA program. When I enrolled this was 4 years, now it is 3 years.
So, the first thing I thought about in designing my study program was what were my effectiveness and efficiency goals My effectiveness goal was that I wanted to crush the exam and use the new knowledge to become a much better internal auditor.
My efficiency goal was that I wanted to complete all of the CIA program requirements in 4 years, in line with the requirements. I then decided on a reasonable amount of time to devote to study each week given my work and life commitments and this efficiency goal. I decided to use a benchmark that the local university recommended for study hours for courses taken on a part-time basis. This was 12 hours per week. I also defined my acceptable exceptions criteria for not meeting this benchmark. For me, this was sickness, holidays and unexpected short-term demand issues requiring additional time for either work or my personal life.
There were two other key aspects of my pre-study preparation. I researched the approach other candidates had taken to preparing for these exams and the study materials they used. I found the following website very helpful in conducting this research: I also attended meetings of the local IIA CIA study group, which I found useful in testing my ideas on optimal study preparation and study materials.
This research led me to a couple of key conclusions, which had a big impact on my eventual success. First, a radically different approach would be needed to prepare for Part 3 compared to the first two exams. Second, the optimal study materials approach was actually using both IIA and Gleim study materials.
My first performance goal was to achieve 90% in every single section test/quiz. I would always take tests in date order for tests not taken/performance objectives not achieved. For example, if I took a section test and got 80%, I would only return to the same section test to retake it after I had completed all of the other section tests that I had not yet achieved my performance goals. I found this worked incredibly well as it meant there were often large gaps in time between retesting of tests. This greatly aided the validity of the test retakes in producing sustainable improved performance.
I also recorded all results and dates of tests taken. This was a great way to track performance and encouraged me as I could clearly see my improvement in results over time. Once I had achieved 90% in every single section test, I had two rewards. I booked and paid for my exam with IIA. I was also able to graduate to try and achieve my second performance goal.
My second performance goal was to achieve 10 consecutive mock exams with a score of at least 90% and three consecutive mock exams with a score of at least 95%. Once I achieved these goals, I worked out when would be a convenient time to take the exam and immediately booked the exam date with Pearson VUE.
This method worked great for all three exams. One of the great things about this approach was that the concepts got firmly embedded into my brain and so I became very quick at getting through mock exams. My last five mock exams in preparing for Part 3 I had scores of either 98% or 99% and I completed all of these exams in 30 minutes. This really paid off during the exam as I was able to answer about 30% of the questions very quickly, within 5-10 seconds, which allowed me more time to deal with some of the very difficult/unexpected/time consuming questions and to review these answers. My Part 3 test had two complex financial calculation questions. On one of these questions it took me 5 minutes just to do all of the calculations so I could be certain of the correct answer. However, I could afford to take the time on this because some questions I answered very quickly and was 100% sure of these answers due to my thorough study methods.
I think having performance goals is also a much more effective approach than the approach some take of having an arbitrary time goal of when they will take the exam, which is not based on any evidence of exam readiness. One of the key aspects of study design for me was that I only took my CIA exams when there was significant evidence that I was ready to crush the exam.
I do not think I would have passed Part 3 without this work on the GTAGs. In the exam, I had many questions where I knew the answer from my GTAG study, but would not have known the correct answer otherwise.
I took every CIA exam on Tuesday at 10am. There were a couple of reasons for this. As a morning person, my clarity of thought and focus tends to be higher in the mornings than afternoons. I was fortunate in that my employer always gave me 3 days study leave to prepare for the exam. By taking the exam on a Tuesday, I had several consecutive work-free days beforehand where I could concentrate solely on CIA study. My study leave started on Friday, which meant I had the weekend as well as Friday and Monday to prepare. For Part 3, I also took 4 days annual leave to prepare more intensively for this very difficult exam.
For Part 1 and 2, I would do one mock exam per day and 2 hours additional preparation, which mostly involved reading my study notes. For Part 3, my preparation involved one mock exam per day, a two-hour session on GTAGs/IT and another two-hour session on my weakest areas. I typically studied for 6 hours a day for Part 3.
For all of my exams, I always made sure that the day before the exam I only did 2 hours study and relaxed to get mentally prepared for the ordeal ahead. I also went to bed early and slept as late as possible to make sure I was mentally sharp on the day.
The third thing was to remember to manage my time efficiently. My method for this was keeping track of time remaining at the 25 question, 50 question and 75 question marks to see how I was tracking against the benchmark of spending on average 1 minute per question. The thoroughness of my study methods meant that there was no time pressure in any exam I took as I answered the questions I was certain on super quickly.
The fourth thing was to focus on (a) analysing the question, in particular the keywords in the question, and (b) the answer options and the keywords in each answer option. For CIA exams many of the questions you will not be certain of the answer and you need to make an educated guess based on thorough analysis of the question and possible answers.
I hope readers have found this article useful. Most of the things I did to prepare for my CIA exams worked incredibly well. Nevertheless, there were some things I would do differently if I was to take the exams again.
The list below outlines my assessment of the different return on investment (ROI) from the various exam preparation activities I performed. My ROI calculation is my assessment of the payoff I gained in the exams for the study effort expended on each activity. Strong positive ROI is where the exam gains were disproportionately positive to the study effort expended. Positive ROI is where the exam gains were proportionate to the study effort expended. Neutral/negative ROI are disproportionately negative exam returns compared to study effort. Neutral/negative ROI are not activities I would do again to prepare for CIA exams. 59ce067264