4 Secret Ingredients to Pass the CAPM Exam

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Are you interested in or starting your career in project management? Are you looking for a way to gain credibility with project managers and employers? Then taking the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM exam should be on your “to-do” list. The CAPM exam is developed and administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI)® to provide recognition of individuals who are just starting their career or are interested in project management. Those who pass the CAPM have demonstrate knowledge of the principles and terminology within A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

This may seem like a lot for someone just starting out in project management — but don’t worry. While the material may seem overwhelming, there are a few important factors to consider when preparing to successfully earn your CAPM certificate. Understanding the exam eligibility requirements, learning the project management principles, developing a solid study plan and sticking to it, as well as practicing exam-taking strategies are essential ingredients for CAPM exam success.

A Handbook that Will Help

To get all of the details about the CAPM — aside from the questions you’ll have to answer on the exam — download this useful resource: PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) Handbook.

Secret Ingredient #1: Eligibility Requirements

Because the CAPM is designed for those interested in or just starting out in the project management field, the eligibility requirements are minimal. However, you still need to understand what they are prior to applying. There are two options for eligibility, and the base for both is the requirement to have a secondary diploma (a high school diploma or global equivalent). Beyond that, you need to have either project experience or formal education in project management

The project experience option requires 1,500 hours (about 38 weeks) of professional work on a project team. If you select this option, you will need to report on your work on projects within the five project management process groups (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing) summarizing your experience for each project. Each project should be individually recorded no matter how many projects you have worked on.

The formal education option requires 23 contact hours of formal education. If you select this option you need to record hours spent on learning objectives in project management such as project scope, quality, cost, time, human resources, procurement, communications, risk and integration management. You can gain these hours through several avenues: PMI® Authorized Training Partners (A.T.P.s) such as MPUG, PMI chapters, employer-sponsored programs, training companies, distance learning companies and university or collage programs. One thing to keep in mind is that one hour of classroom training equates to one contact hour. For example, if you take a university course that meets three hours a week for 15 weeks you will earn 45 contact hours. Another note: The contact hours must be completed prior to the time of your exam.

Secret Ingredient #2: Learning Project Management Principles

Specific principles addressed in the CAPM exam include learning project management and processes in context, as well as integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resource, communication, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management. Each of these principles are covered in the PMBOK. You must understand them individually and how they work together to ensure overall success in project management. It is essential to use the most current version of the PMBOK® Guide for studying and review.

Secret Ingredient #3: Developing and Sticking with a Solid Plan of Study

As with all standardized exams, the CAPM covers a wide variety of material in a relatively short period. Don’t be discouraged! Remember that careful planning and structure are essential to your exam success. It is important to develop a CAPM exam study plan to reduce the material into manageable portions. People often find they work well with a structured exam preparation course that provides focused instruction over a specific timeline. If you select the formal education option for meeting the eligibility requirements, you can use this course work to help provide structure to your study plan. Just remember, if you select an online course, make sure it has an end-of-course assessment with a written certification of participation and completion of required hours of instruction.

The CAPM exam consists of 150 questions to be answered in three hours. Questions on the exam fit into the following categories:

  • Understanding project management and processes in context (15%);
  • Integration management (12%);
  • Scope management (11%);
  • Time management (12%);
  • Cost management (7%);
  • Quality management (6%);
  • Human resource management (8%);
  • Communication management (6%);
  • Risk management (9%);
  • Procurement management (7%); and
  • Stakeholder management (7%).

Many people often divide up their study time in a similar manner, dedicating more hours to those topics that are tested more heavily. Others take practice exams and note specific weak areas in their knowledge and then choose to focus more review time on those topics. When developing your study plan, make sure it is suited to match your strengths and weaknesses as well as your test timeline.

Create a realistic plan with a manageable schedule of material you wish to cover each day. Most resources recommend spending one to two hours a day for four to eight weeks in preparation. You can approach developing a plan like a mini-project where weekly goals are set and progress is tracked. As part of developing your study plan, don’t forget to plan time for external commitments and responsibilities. Also schedule in downtime and breaks to keep from burning out.

Secret Ingredient #4: CAPM Exam-Taking Strategy

The CAPM exam consists of 150-multiple choice questions conducted on a computer at a Prometric testing center. The test starts with a 15-minute tutorial followed by three hours to complete the exam. Included in the 150 questions are 15 pretest questions that are not graded and are used for future exam purposes. You can’t take anything into the exam; however, you will be provided with paper and pencils to jot down thoughts and notes during the exam. The exam is only administered in English, but if English is your second language, there are a variety of language aids available.

Practice exams are available from a variety of test preparation websites. Practice exams help you become familiar with the style and format of questions and allows for practice of taking a three-hour exam. It is commonly recommended that consistently scoring above 80 percent on practice exams is a strong indicator of success for the real thing. Evaluate your progress each week to determine how comfortable you feel with each topic area. Arriving to the test center with confidence on exam day means you’ve already won half the battle.

Remember to:

  • Get a good night’s rest the night before;
  • Eat a healthy breakfast;
  • Wear comfortable clothing; and
  • Arrive early.

Before beginning the exam, many candidates like to use the paper provided to write out things like formulas, lists of processes with their inputs and outputs, as well as tools and techniques that will be useful throughout the exam. Breaks are not built into the three hours allotted for the exam, but consider planning on taking one or two. Don’t waste too much time on a single question; if you get stuck mark it for review and move on.

Applying these four simple steps will help ensure your valuable time and CAPM exam cost ($225 for PMI members and $300 for non-members) isn’t wasted. Successful completion of the CAPM depends on your ability to understand and apply project management principles, to thoroughly prepare with a solid study plan, and to bring everything smoothly together on a stressful exam day. Preparation is the key to reducing stress and guaranteeing success.

This article originally appeared on The PM PrepCast at https://www.project-management-prepcast.com/free/pmp-exam/articles/949-the-4-secret-ingredients-to-pass-the-capm-exam-3 and is reprinted by the permission of the author.”

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Written by Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted PMP expert. He has helped over 47,000 students prepare for the PMP Exam with The Project Management PrepCast and The PM Exam Simulator.
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  1. Once you have CAPM, what are the steps to obtain full PMP?

  2. Hello Cornelius,

    I have an MBA, 10 plus years of combined grants, operation, and college administration management. My background also includes mostly non-IT project management, although I have been a PM for prior database conversions “many” years ago. I passed the CAPM, and plan to also acquire the PMP.

    My question for you is what are your next step recommendations for acquiring work in the IT arena that will position and undergird for a PM position. Especially, as many of the positions I have previously reviewed a) are very database specific, and b) generally required three or more years of project coordinator experience in order to get one’s foot in the door (in spite of/or addition to the CAPM)?


    – G.

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