The PMI-ACP® credential is the Project Management Institute (PMI) fastest growing credential. “ACP” is short for “Agile Certified Practitioner“ – the credential tests for and demonstrates understanding and experience with agile approaches.
What and Why?
So why choose the PMI-ACP® credential over the slew of other agile-related credentials?
First, unlike other most agile credentials, the PMI-ACP® credential is approach agnostic. It spans many agile approaches including Scrum, Lean, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and Test-Driven Development (TDD). So, possessing the credential demonstrates knowledge and application to a broad array of approaches. This increases your versatility, showing employers you have skills and a wide range of commonly used agile approaches.
The PMI-ACP® certification is the only agile credential that meets ISO/IEC 17204 requirements. This is the standard that PMI and many other reputable certification bodies use, such as those used for doctors and teachers. Hiring managers know that credential holders went through a well designed and properly administered testing process to obtain their certification. Furthermore, a comprehensive Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) program exists to ensure credential holders stay current and committed to lifelong learning in their profession.
Finally, agile is a topic of growing importance in project management. The PMI-ACP® certification is PMI’s fastest growing credential. The marketplace reflects the growth of agile, as project practitioners increasingly embrace agile as a technique for managing successful projects. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report said, “Organizations that are highly agile and responsive to market dynamics complete more of their projects successfully than their slower-moving counterparts — 75 percent versus 56 percent.”
See PMI’s website for more details about the PMI-ACP® credential and RMC’s website for products to help you pass the exam.
How to Apply for Your PMI-ACP Exam
If you are thinking about taking the PMI-ACP exam, here are some key pieces of information on how to apply. Project Management Institute published a comprehensive PMI-ACP® Credential Handbook available on their website, which covers the application process and much more. The first step is to check that you meet the eligibility criteria. To qualify for the PMI-ACP® credential, you need to meet four educational and professional experience components.
Eligibility Criteria The first step is to check you meet the eligibility criteria. To qualify for the PMI-ACP® credential, you need to meet four educational and professional experience components.
Educational Background– A secondary degree (high school diploma, associate degree, or global equivalent).
General Practice Experience– 2,000 hours of general project experience working on teams. A current PMP® or PgMP® credential will satisfy this requirement but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP exam.
Agile Project Experience– 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies. This requirement is in addition to the 2,000 hours of general project experience.
Training in Agile Practices– 21 contact hours of training in agile practices.
Complete the Online Application
Once you meet the eligibility criteria, the next step is to sign up online. The process is straightforward and allows you to save and come back to it if you need more time. The system also acts as a portal to view your submitted application, check your eligibility status, and download forms and reports. Once your online application has been completed and processed, PMI will send you an electronic notification requesting payment.
Once you receive this notification, you can go back into the system and onto the next step which is agreeing to the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. You must agree to the code of ethics and the certification renewal process up front. Like death and taxes, you cannot avoid paying for the exam. The fee is $425 for PMI members and $495 for non-members.
It might seem unfair having to pay for the exam before you select a date to take it. However, it should have a motivating effect on studying and booking your exam. You are now committed (financially) to the exam, so you might as well buckle down and follow through.
You Might Get Audited
Do not be concerned if you are selected for audit. Like airport security lines, a percentage of people are randomly selected for audit. I know people who were audited on both their PMP® and PMI-ACP® applications.
If selected for audit, you will be asked to submit supporting documentation, such as copies of your diploma/global equivalent or signatures from your supervisors or managers from the projects recorded in the experience section of your application. You might also be asked for copies of certificates from the training institutes for your agile training, etc.
Be prepared to answer any follow-up questions or requests for information. The process usually takes a couple of weeks, then the application progresses as normal.
The amount you need to study will depend on your current level of agile experience and knowledge. Generally, people who have taken both the PMP® and the PMI-ACP® exam agree that the latter is much easier. There are less formulas to remember and no what-comes-next-in-the-process type questions.
The PMI-ACP® exam (three hours) is also shorter than the PMP® exam (four hours) and has 120 questions rather than the 200 questions on the PMP® exam.
Schedule Your Exam
The exam is administered through Prometric, and you can use their website to locate a test center and schedule your test. Starting in July 2017, PMI introduced paper-based testing for people who live more than 150 miles (240 km) from a Prometric site. Paper-based testing may also be an option if you do not have a Prometric site in your country and traveling across borders is prohibited/unduly burdensome.
It is possible to reschedule your test if needed. If your exam date is more than 30 days away, it is free to reschedule. If you need to reschedule within 30 days of your exam date, there is usually a $70 charge. Medical emergencies and other extenuating circumstances may be eligible for refunds but only after first paying the $70 and providing evidence of the extenuating circumstances to PMI.
Take the Exam
The PMI-ACP® exam asks 120 questions developed and independently validated by groups of agile project professionals. Questions are based on topics outlined in the PMI-ACP® Exam Content Outline and a few select agile texts.
Now a quick warning about sample tests. It is natural to want to test your knowledge before taking your exam. However, make sure you use quality exam simulators from a reputable source. Exam simulators that test the wrong subjects (for instance, topics from the agile reference books that are not in the exam content outline) will just create anxiety. Likewise, questions that are poorly written and based on recalling information will not prepare you for the types of questions you will see on the exam.
Most of the PMI-ACP® exam questions are “situational.” They describe a situation and ask you to choose the response that best fits the application and knowledge of agile approaches. These differ considerably from recall-based questions. An example of a recall type question would be:
The agile approach most concerned with team knowledge capture is:
- Sprint Planning
- Sprint Demo
- Release Planning
This is a poor question because it tests recall of knowledge only. You will not see questions like this on the PMI-ACP® exam. Unfortunately, you will find many questions like this in low quality exam simulators because they are easy to generate. Instead, test yourself with situational questions like you will find on the exam, like this one:
Your team planned to complete six stories in the current sprint. But as you reach the end of the sprint, only four of them are done. What should you do?
- Return the remaining stories to the backlog for re-planning.
- Ask the product owner to extend the sprint.
- Work on the remaining stories when you can fit them in.
- Schedule the remaining stories at the start of the next sprint.
In this situational question, we must first interpret the scenario by analyzing the situation then choose the best response. It tests beyond the recall of information stage of learning into the application of knowledge stage.
How to Study for Your PMI-ACP Exam
We touched briefly on studying for the exam, but I would like to introduce a two-step study approach based on your experience level.
Step 1 – Choose the Right Products Based on Your Experience Level
Your study path will depend on your starting point. If you are new to agile approaches, for instance, using them for only one year at one company, then you will need to study more than if you have five years experience at multiple organizations.
Around One Year Agile Experience
The experience requirement to qualify for the exam is 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies. Assuming a 40-hour week, that’s a minimum of nine months of agile team experience. This is really not much time to be exposed to all the aspects and elements in the PMI-ACP® Exam Content Outline.
For people at this lower end of the experience spectrum, I would recommend reading my PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book and supplementing it with products like FASTrack to get experience answering situational questions. I would also recommend PMI-ACP® Hot Topics to study key concepts in your free time.
For a full “belt-and-braces” approach, you might also benefit from the PMI-ACP® Workbook, which tackles the key topics from a different perspective. The Workbook is great for visual or kinesthetic learners. It has less background text to read and more exercises and is arranged alphabetically, making it easier to find topics and create you own study plan.
One to Two Years Agile Experience
If you have one to two years of agile experience, I recommend starting with my PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book. Read it and try the end of chapter review questions. Go online to the accompanying RMC website and try the practice quiz. If you score well on these questions, you may be ready to take the exam.
For more practice on situational exam questions, consider supplementing the book with FASTrack and/or the PMI-ACP® Workbook, which also contains many sample exam questions.
Two to Five Years Agile Experience
If you have two to five years of agile experience and/or already have a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or similar agile designation, I recommend the PMI-ACP® Workbook. With this experience, you should already know the agile manifesto and values and probably just need to supplement your knowledge with some lean and leadership topics.
The PMI-ACP® Workbook is perfect here. It allows you to create your own customized study plan focusing on just the necessary topics to supplement your experience. It even includes a study Kanban board to track your progress.
Once you have worked through the workbook exercises and sample situational questions, you should be ready to take the exam. If you want additional practice with exam questions, consider the FASTrack exam simulator.
The only time I recommend people with this level of experience to use my PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book rather than the Workbook is if they want the linking narrative between the topics. If you are a book reader or appreciate background information, you might prefer the textbook style of the PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book. My PMI-ACP® Workbook is very granular, just the facts and a collection of exercises and questions.
More than Five Years Agile Experience
If you have more than five years of experience working with agile teams, I recommend the PMI-ACP® Workbook. You can use it as an assessment tool to test for gaps in your knowledge relative to the exam content outline. You will likely find just a handful of topics you need to study. You can also use the situational quiz questions to get yourself familiar with the exam format.
Step 2 – Use the Products Effectively
Both my PMI-ACP® Exam Prep Book and PMI-ACP® Workbook contain detailed study plans in their introductions. I recommend reading them carefully and following the suggested learning paths. While you may know plenty about agile approaches, adult learning theory is new to most people. Read and follow the instructions—they will make you more effective as a learner, and you will be ready for the exam sooner.
The PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book describes three learning plans. The first learning plan is using the entire system, the book, FASTrack, and Hot Topics. The second plan uses the book on its own, and the third uses the book in a study group setting.
The PMI-ACP® Workbook provides exam taking tips for CSMs and includes a useful mind map of key topics. It also describes how to use the Workbook and the quizzes to test if you are ready for the exam. Finally, it outlines how to design and build your own study plan in ten guided steps while using the provided Kanban board to track your progress.
Your study plan should be tailored to your experience levels and comfort with the material. Even if you are very familiar with agile concepts, you may not be practiced in answering the situational exam questions, so invest in the appropriate study materials, read and follow the study plans, and maximize your likelihood of success. Good luck, and be sure to join my PMI-ACP LinkedIn Study Group to share your experiences and questions with your peers along the way.
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