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How Long to Study for IAPP Certifications

Wondering how long to study for your next IAPP certification? I share my lessons learned from getting 4 IAPP certifications.

Why You Should Read This

When I sat down to take my CIPP/US, I wasn't sure if I studied enough.

How do you know if you're ready?

To answer this question, most people rely on word-of-mouth anecdotes, tips, and recommendations from their peers. This approach can work well if you have access to a reliable community of privacy practitioners—but not everyone does.

This post shares how long I studied for each of my 4 IAPP certifications, compares it to the IAPP recommendations, and provides a few related study tips.

If you're still deciding whether to get an IAPP certification, be sure to review the costs and benefits. Once you're ready, check out our complete guides to get your CIPP/US and CIPP/E!

Average Study Time

The IAPP says to study for a minimum of 30 hours. Post over, right? Not quite.

In my experience, 30 hours is a good benchmark—especially for your first IAPP certification. However, I'd encourage you to treat 30 hours as a reference point to ensure you're not under or over-studying—your actual study time will vary.

For reference, I spent 15-20 hours studying for the CIPM and CIPT, 25-30 hours for the CIPP/E, and over 50 hours for the CIPP/US. This averages out to 26-30 hours, but I didn't spend the same study time across each IAPP certification.

So how do you know whether to study for 15, 30, or 50 hours? It depends.

Consider Your Prior Knowledge

First, consider what prior knowledge you bring to each IAPP certification.

The CIPP/US was my first IAPP certification and covers a wide variety of privacy laws and requirements. I spent over 50 hours studying for it and I'm glad I didn't underestimate it. Conversely, I spent roughly half the time on the CIPT and felt that I over-studied. So what's the difference?

For me, the CIPP/US was brand new information, but the CIPT was more familiar.

I'm not an attorney and don't come from a legal background. I lacked the knowledge and mental models to understand the key aspects of privacy laws. To account for this, I spent a substantial amount of extra study time.

However, I was already familiar with many topics covered by the CIPT. I learned about topics like encryption and anonymization in my coursework and early career. I just needed a refresher and wasn't learning an entirely new discipline.

The same may not be true for you.

Consider your prior knowledge and apply it to the 30-hour benchmark. This helps you evaluate whether to spend more or less study time. In my experience, the CIPP/US and CIPP/E command more study time compared to the CIPM or CIPT.

Study Activities vs. Study Time

Next, think about study activities vs. study time and work backward.

Consider how you study best and identify the study resources you'd like to use. Do you learn best by reading the official textbooks or taking an instructor-led course? What about creating flashcards or a spreadsheet of relevant privacy laws?

From here, estimate how long each task may take, e.g., 12 hours to read the official textbook twice, 8 hours to complete a course, etc.

How does your estimate compare to the 30-hour benchmark? Higher or lower?

If your estimated study time is substantially off the benchmark, consider why. My anecdotes suggest this isn't always a bad thing, but it's essential to think about. If you can't identify a good reason, you may be under or over-studying.

If you're under-studying, supplement with new study resources or revisit existing ones. If you're over-studying, be mindful of diminishing returns.

Trust yourself and your knowledge and go for it.

Final Tips and Considerations

Don't worry if your peers spend more or less study time on the same certification—everyone is different.

Be selective when choosing your study materials. I passed all of my IAPP certifications by primarily relying on the official textbooks. You don't need to use all the resources available on the internet. Use the study methods that meet your needs on the timeline that works best for you.

Use the 30-hour guideline as a good benchmark but not the rule of law. Make adjustments when needed to account for your specific circumstances.

Finally, treat IAPP exams with due respect, but remember, it's not rocket science.

Wrapping Up

I hope this post was accessible, helpful, and practical for you. If you have any feedback or would like to share your successes (or failures) with me, please let me know. Cheers.