According to Standard 1210: Proficiency from The IIA's International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing (Standards), "Internal auditors are encouraged to demonstrate their proficiency by obtaining appropriate professional certifications and qualifications." Obtaining a relevant internal audit certification is one way internal auditors can demonstrate their commitment to the profession. Moreover, internal audit departments can reinforce credibility within the organization through the audit staff's competencies and qualifications. Although many individuals beginning their internal audit careers would like to obtain a relevant certification, finding time to prepare for the exam can be challenging when balancing demanding job responsibilities, family commitments, travel, and other priorities. To many, the process may appear daunting.
Obtaining a certification is similar to successfully completing an audit engagement. In essence, it includes planning, scheduling, communicating, reviewing, assessing, and executing.
Develop a Plan
The development of any project plan starts with understanding the end goal. The first step is identifying the parts of the exam, if applicable. Many times, the logical choice is to begin with the first
part, the area of most familiarity, or the area in which the candidate has the highest likelihood of success. After identifying the first part to take, the candidate should develop a top-down understanding of the exam distribution by topic. Once the topics are identified, the candidate then should reflect on his or her knowledge of each topic to identify those that may present the greatest challenge. Although identified as challenges, these areas represent the greatest opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary to successfully pass the section (i.e., areas of focus for study). Additionally, understanding and using exam preparation tools and other resources that are available with respect to the exam can be of great assistance in the preparation process. The knowledge gained in studying for the exam will also assist in making the candidate a better auditor.
Another consideration is time, which is a limited resource for candidates working full time. As a result, identifying the most effective study periods is critical. Finding the time to study could include going to the office early, reserving a conference room during lunch, staying at work late, or studying while commuting. No matter the time or location, eliminating distractions — such as email, text messages, and social media — will help improve focus and maximize preparation time. Staying focused and making efficient and effective use of limited time is critical. In addition, candidates should consider talking to someone who recently obtained the certification to discuss exam preparation techniques and resources.
Once the plan has been developed, it is important to stay committed to the schedule. If the candidate diverges from the schedule, however, he or she should reevaluate and revise it accordingly. The plan should be challenging but not impossible.
Schedule the Test Date
Although many people prefer to wait until they have studied enough and feel ready to schedule the test date, this approach allows for procrastination. An easy solution is to schedule the test date based on when the candidate should be ready — that is, in alignment with the certification preparation plan. Establishing a test date can help facilitate meeting scheduled milestones for study preparation.
Communicate the Plan
Communicating the candidate's plan and intentions will help establish personal accountability. Passing the exam, for example, should be listed on the candidate's goals and objectives plan at work. Moreover, the candidate should tell his or her supervisor, co-workers, family, and friends about the exam. Ensuring numerous people are aware of the candidate's goals allows for a robust support system as well as assistance in holding the candidate accountable. This may also encourage or motivate other auditors in the candidate's support group to obtain a certification and thereby help promote increased professionalism among practitioners.
Review the IPPF and Relevant Standards
The International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) organizes authoritative guidance promulgated by The IIA. The information contained in the IPPF is the foundation of the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
exam. Parts 1 and 2 of the CIA exam are more focused on the IPPF specifically. Certification candidates who currently are practicing internal auditors should keep in mind that some organizations may not follow the IPPF completely, including the Standards. There is great variety of work in internal audit, and the answers should reflect the profession in general and not the candidate's specific work environment. For certifications other than the CIA, candidates should refer to any applicable standards or recommended exam-specific guidance from the sponsoring authority.
Understand Content and Structure
When preparing for an internal audit, it is important to complete a risk assessment of the audit client's environment and processes to consider the impact on the control structure. Similarly, developing a big-picture understanding of the exam structure can help a candidate better prepare for the exam. Understanding the number of questions in each section, the amount of time allotted per section, areas of coverage in each section, and the variability of question type (e.g., definitional, practical, or computational) can help the candidate better strategize during his or her exam preparation. Also, knowing in advance whether candidates are allowed to flag questions or to use scratch paper can assist in preparing for the exam in accordance with the test environment as well as in reducing anxiety upon arrival at the testing facility.
Execute the Plan
Having a challenging and demanding schedule is often the norm in the internal audit profession, and as internal auditors continue to grow in their careers, their responsibilities typically increase. As a result, especially when coupled with family and other commitments, this often means there is never a perfect time to commit to obtaining a professional certification. But with the right approach, internal auditors can address these challenges and effectively advance their professionalism. Developing and communicating a plan, following the plan, and performing the groundwork to understand the exam environment can set the foundation for successful completion of certification requirements.