How Long Should You Study for the CISA Exam? A Practical Guide

Whether you’re looking to work in information technology, or you’re already an IT auditor or assurance and information security professional, passing the Certified Information Systems Auditor Exam and becoming a CISA will launch your career in the IS space. As the world becomes more technologically advanced across all sectors, CISA professionals are in higher demand to ensure information systems are working properly and aren’t compromised. If a CISA certification is in your future, you may be wondering how long you will need to study so you can pass the CISA Exam. Since you’re investing in your career, you want to know the path ahead and if it will be worth the effort. Below, we’ll do a quick overview of the exam, as well as discuss how long it takes to pass.

A Quick Breakdown of the CISA Exam

The CISA examination is a four-hour exam consisting of 150 multiple choice questions. It’s split up into the following 5 sections:

  • 1. Information System Auditing Process (21%)
  • 2. Governance and Management of IT (17%)
  • 3. Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation (12%)
  • 4. Information Systems Operations and Business Resilience (23%)
  • 5. Protection of Information Assets (27%)

There are three testing windows throughout the year: February 1st through most of May, June 1st through most of September, and October 1st through most of January. Blackout days (non-testing days) are at the end of May, September, and January. The exam is administered at PSI testing centers, and preliminary scores are available immediately after the exam is finished. Exam registration costs $575 for Information Systems Audit Control Association (ISACA) members and $760 for non-members. You can learn more about these testing windows, and how to register for the CISA Exam by visiting ISACA’s website.

Studying for the CISA Exam: How Long Does it Take to Pass?

How long it takes you to study for the CISA Exam well enough to pass on the first attempt depends largely on your experience working in the field. However, that doesn’t mean candidates who have been working in the field for a short time won’t pass the exam; it simply means they may have to put in more time studying.

In general, if you study for 2 to 3 hours a day, you’ll be ready to sit for the exam within 2 months. However, this varies greatly from person to person depending on how well they learn to apply the concepts and if they have any experience in the field. Those with more experience may find they need to study less while those with less experience may take over 2 months.

With this variation from person to person, subjective study time for the exam has to be considered. The good news is, you have 12 months to pass the exam once you register, so you’ll likely have plenty of time to create a consistent study schedule and pass, no matter your work experience.

If you want a personal take on how you’re progressing through the exam materials, consider Surgent CISA Review. Surgent features a unique ReadySCORE™ feature which allows you to see what your score would be on the exam on any given day of study. Once your ReadySCORE corresponds with the CISA Exam passing score of 450, there is a good chance you’re going to pass.

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Also, be sure to check out the exam preparation resources offered by the ISACA. The CISA review manual and study guide will help you create a plan of attack and become CISA certified.

Preparing for the CISA Exam

While studying may seem like the obvious preparation for the exam, there are a few other items to consider before you go to the testing center on exam day.

1. Create a Study Plan

Before you jump into studying, make sure you have a plan laid out leading up to test day. Use the study times we talked about above to help you gauge how much you need to study before you’ll sit and pass. Then consider when you can study each day, and how consistent your study schedule is. Alternatively, you can find exam materials that have a build in study schedule, which will help you stay on track through exam day.

2. Time Management

You have 4 hours to complete 150 exam questions, meaning you have about one minute and ten seconds to answer any given question. Not every question will be the same; some will fall well inside the 1:10 minute time frame while others will take longer to answer. As you work through your practice questions and the practice tests, make sure you’re taking time management into account. Practice averaging an answer time faster than 1:10 (while remaining accurate of course) so you’ll go into exam day completely prepared.

3. Exam Familiarity

Studying and doing practice multiple choice test questions will definitely help familiarize you with the content, but you also want to make sure you’re familiar with the structure and physical features of the exam. Make sure you take plenty of practice exams, both within your exam study materials and through the ISACA’s website so you aren’t thrown off by the format on exam day.

4. Critical Thinking

One of the more difficult parts of the CISA Exam is that you can’t simply memorize answers in the questions database to pass. While 150 question in four hours doesn’t seem like much, it adds up when you have to process information and apply concepts like an ISACA professional. Learn to apply your knowledge to CISA review questions and the exam will be much easier.

5. Prepare for the Logistics

Once you schedule your exam, consider how long it is going to take you to get there on exam day. It’s a good idea to drive to the testing center at the same time on the same weekday you’ll have to do it for your exam so you know how long it will take to get there. The night before the exam, gather all of your necessary materials up in one place so you aren’t trying to figure out what you need to take the testing center the next morning. On exam day, leave a little early so you have plenty of time to get there. By being overly prepared on exam day, you’ll stress less and go into the actual exam fresh and ready to pass.

Getting your CISA certification will grow your career, whether you’re in IT auditing, IT security, or a variety of other information technology positions. Ready to learn more about the CISA Exam? Check out Surgent’s exam overview and exam materials, and get on the path to launching your IS auditing or IT professional career!

Paul Wiese serves as Vice-President for Surgent. In this role, Paul oversees market development relationships on a national basis. Additionally, he serves as a consultant on a variety of accounting advisory and professional development panels.