First CIA Exam Experience

First Hand Exam Day Experience, Lesson Learned, Next

Getting ready

I took my part 1 CIA exam back in 2016, but to this day I still remember that day. It was a life changing experience and a game changer for my CIA exam preparation plan. I will start by telling how things went before, during and after the exam, and finish by telling the wisdom I concluded from that experience.

There was no test center in the city that I lived in at that time, and the closest exam center was around 200 KMs away from my home. I had to cross boarders to reach the target city. To my advantage, I had visited that city before and I knew the main roads and how to get around the city.

I am a morning person; my best hours of concentration are the early hours of the day. I think this applies to the majority of people. It’s a challenge to sit for an exam in the middle of the day or later in the evening. Now this, I scheduled my exam as early as possible; 10:00 am. 200 KMs means at least a two-hour trip. In addition, although I knew the city a bit, I did not know the exact location of the exam centers and whether there would be heavy traffic in that region. So to play it safe, I decided to travel one day before the exam. Also, I decided to book a hotel room beforehand, since that city was a tourist destination in summer. I arrived to the city the morning before my exam and the first thing I did was to locate the test center. Of course, when booking the hotel room, I made sure the hotel was a walking distance from the exam center so that I can avoid morning traffic jams.

I spent the rest of the day between resting, going for a walk, and doing a final review of the material and a mock exam. I did not study for long hours, and I definitely did not stay late at night studying. I made sure that I slept at a reasonable hour so that I would be fresh and ready for the exam the next morning.

I made sure I had my alarm set and requested a wakeup call from the hotel.

Exam morning

I took a shower, had a light breakfast, put on a t-shirt and a shirt and headed towards the exam center to make sure I arrive there half an hour before my exam time. Having visited the center the day before, I already knew the distance between the hotel and the exam center, and also having visited the exam center I knew the air conditioning could be a bit too much for me as I generally don’t like air conditioners. I put on a shirt over my t-shirt so that I can put it on if I get cold, and take it off if I get hot. You don’t want to struggle with the exam while also struggling with body temperature regulation.

Once I reached the exam center, I handed them my exam authorization letter and my ID. The lady on the reception was very helpful and professional. She handed me the exam rules to sign and took a photo of me, and also took my fingerprints. She gave me a few minutes to read through the exam rules. Having read the rules, I signed the form and handed it back to her. Then she guided me to a room where there were several lockers where I could store my stuff. I had a back bag, my phone and some books. I put them in a locker and took the key. I made sure I put my phone on silent mode so that it doesn’t start ringing during my exam and annoy everyone around.

The admin handed me a notepad, 2 pens and earplugs. After a quick search and check by the admin to make sure I’m not carrying any recording devices on me, I was let into the exam room.

There were three other people in the room taking exams. One of them was really angry and frustrated. His exam required a lot of typed answers for which he punched real hard on the keyboard making a lot of noise. I was lucky he finished his exam 5 minutes after I was in. That is obviously why they give you the earplugs. If there’s too much noise, you can isolate yourself from your surroundings.

In the exam room, the admin made sure I had everything I needed and that I was provided access to the exam that I registered for and informed me not to leave my seat at all. If I needed anything, I should raise my hand and she will come to see what I needed.

Exam Starts

The first couple of questions were scary. I did not understand anything. I did not know the answer to any of the questions. I felt very frustrated and discouraged. I panicked and started to think: “I shouldn’t have wasted time and money preparing for this exam. I will definitely fail”. After a few minutes, I started to relax and cool down and was able to answer a question correctly! That was a game changer. My confidence started to build up from that point on. I started to answer more questions, and within 15 minutes I felt a lot more comfortable and confident. I answered all easy and short questions and flagged long and difficult ones. Once I finished the easy questions, I went back to the questions I flagged and almost laughed out loud. I realized how stressed I was at the beginning of the exam! The questions that I thought were very difficult and did not understand turned out to be quite easy. I was able to solve them right away. I spent the rest of my time focusing on the difficult questions and was able to solve all of them. I had about 20 minutes left by the end of the exam (after having filtered long and difficult questions twice). I allocated those 20 minutes to reviewing all the exam questions to make sure I haven’t skipped any questions and that I haven’t misread any questions or answers.

I was done 5 minutes before the end of the exam time, I spent those five minutes on two questions which I wasn’t 100% sure about, and tried to answer them to the best of my ability.

Once the exam time ended, the exam screen was closed and I raised my hand to notify the administrator. When the administrator came to the exam room, I told her I was done; she made sure the exam screen was appropriately closed and led me out of the exam room.

Exam Done!

As the CIA exam is all MCQ questions, you get your preliminary result right away. The admin asked me to sit down and wait while she printed a paper and handed it out to me, informing me that the paper was my exam result. I felt very happy and thankful when I read “passed” on the paper. She informed me that the result was not final, and that I will receive a formal result from the examiner within the next 48 hours. I left the exam center very excited and ready for the next challenge; part 2 exam.

The wisdom

  • Take care of exam logistics. Make sure you know the location of the exam center, and arrange for travel and accommodation beforehand.
  • Have a good night sleep before the exam.
  • Take a light breakfast. Nothing too difficult to digest, and don’t go on an empty stomach. The exam needs all of your energy.
  • Wear layers on the exam to be able to adapt to the temperature of the room.
  • It’s ok to get nervous at the beginning of the exam. Don’t panic. Try to calm down. You will feel better once you start answering questions correctly.

Lesson learned

Once you have sat for your first exam, your whole exam preparation strategy might change. That is totally normal. The exam experience will assure you what works and what does not. If you have problems managing your time during the exam, you need to make sure you work on your time management skills for your upcoming exam. If you felt that you should have prepared more for the exam, you can do that next time.

If you fail your first exam, review your experience objectively. Most of us tend to blame others for our mistakes. It’s a defensive mechanism that our brain plays so that we don’t feel bad about ourselves. Before you point fingers at the examiners, the review course providers or luck, ask yourself: Why did I not pass? Try to analyze the reasons objectively to avoid them in your next exam. Don’t give up just yet. You have lost a set of the game, but you haven’t lost the whole game. Cheer up and get ready for the next set.

If you have passed from your first attempt, it means you are doing things right, but you might also need to review your exam preparation method and strategy. For me, I realized that I was over-prepared for the exam. I was ready for the exam weeks ago, but I kept going over the questions over and over until I was 150% ready for the exam. That was overkill. For my next attempt, I would not spend that much time on preparation.

I was able to pass parts 2 and 3 from the first attempt and got certified. I thank PRC for their support throughout this journey, and I would also like to thank my wife and family who supported me during this period as well.

Good luck everyone!