The CAPM exam (Certified Associate In Project Management) is an evaluation offered by the Project Management Institute to designate that an individual has a basic understanding of how projects are managed and the knowledge areas and processes involved in project management. Having a CAPM certification can be valuable for both internal opportunities with your current employers and external opportunities as well.
CAPM Vs. PMP
The CAPM exam shows employers that you have a basic understanding of project management principles. The PMP (Project Management Professional) shows employers that you can apply the principles of project management and have a proven track record. In order to sit for the CAPM you need a high school diploma and 1500 hours of project experience. In order to sit for the PMP you need 7,500 hours of experience LEADING projects, OR a 4 year degree and 4,500 hours of experience leading projects.
Needless to say the barrier to taking the PMP is much greater, and it is a much more difficult test. It is also more valued by employers. Although I have experience leading projects, my total hours that I can count as leading projects falls a bit short of the requirements. In another year I should be in a position where I could sit for the PMP if I desire to. For now at my stage in life passing the CAPM exam was the way to go.
How I Studied to Pass The CAPM Exam:
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is the collection of knowledge that the CAPM and PMP exams are based on. To prepare for taking the test I read through the PMBOK, which is such obtuse writing that I am sure if it was all I did I would not have passed. The PMBOK is basically a textbook. After reading through the PMBOK I felt more comfortable with the vernacular of project management but I needed more to be able to fully understand the material.
Rita Mulcahy’s Book:
I then read and studied Rita Mulcahy’s CAPM Exam Prep Book. This book breaks down the PMBOK into 12 lessons designed to help you pass the CAPM exam. My methodology was to read through the book, taking notes and highlighting key parts, take the quizzes at the end of each chapter, and then going back through the book, reading it a second time and taking the quizzes again. The second trip through the book gave me a much clearer understanding than I had the first time through the book.
This book puts the PMBOK into plain English and focuses on teaching an understanding of the principles rather than rote memorization. While preparing for the test I found several articles and message board discussions focusing on rote memorization of the inputs, tools + techniques, and outputs of every process. There is no way I could have memorized all of these. There are a few I committed to memory, but having an understand of what is going on in the process allows you to logically figure out what the inputs need to be, what the outputs need to be and what tools and techniques will be helpful. Rita Mulcahy’s CAPM Exam Prep Book is around $60 on Amazon and well worth it. This was the major tool I used to pass the CAPM exam.
Online Practice Tests
After I had gone through Rita Mulcahy’s book the second time, I then found a set of practice questions online. The practice test I took was a pdf file broken down by chapter. The major draw back of this particular practice test is that since it was broken down by chapters, the chapter headings could lead me to the right answer. In retrospect I think I would have been more comfortable taking the exam had I purchased a set of practice tests designed to be like the actual exam. For anyone planning to pass the CAPM exam I strongly recommend taking some extra practice tests. When I go for the PMP I will most likely subscribe to Brainbok. On Brainbok you can get 1 practice CAPM exam for $15 or 3 for $40. For the PMP the cost is $20 for 1 exam of $50 for the set of 3. They also have other study material that can be purchased at reasonable costs.
Last Minute Review:
The day I was scheduled to take the exam I spend a final two hours reviewing the areas that I thought were weak points for myself. When I took the exam there were multiple questions I was able to answer that I would not have been able to without this review. After driving to my test site and locating the testing lab, I returned to my vehicle and spent 15 minutes looking over the formulas in the Cost Management segment of Rita Mulcahy’s book so they would be fresh in my mind.
Registering For The CAPM Exam:
In order to sit for the exam you need to register with PMI and submit your work history documenting 1500 hours of project work. PMI then gives a window of 1 year to take the exam. When submitting work history you divide your hours between the process groups of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. In order to schedule the exam you must have 1500 hours of experience entered and pay the $300 registration fee. If you do not pass you get two more chance to take it within the 1 year window. Each additional exam attempt costs $150 instead of the original $300.
Prometric Testing Locations:
When I finished studying I selected a testing location that was about an hour and a half drive from my house. This was the closest location that offered the CAPM exam. Prometric’s online registration page does not function properly, so I had to call customer service to schedule my exam. I was surprised how quickly I was able to get in, They had an appointment available only two days out.
The test is composed of 150 multiple choice questions with 4 possible answers. There is a 3 hour limitation on taking the CAPM exam, which breaks down to approx 1 question a minute with 30 minutes for review.
Passing The CAPM Exam:
I decided to take the test in multiple “passes”. Prometrics gives you two dry erase boards to mark on, I used one to track my status on the test and the other for actual test questions. In the first pass I answered all questions that I knew were right 100% or that I had narrowed down to two possibilities and was fairly sure it was the one I selected. All other questions I marked for review. I completed this pass in 1 hour and 10 minutes. I assigned a confidence value of 80% to these questions and multiplied the number answered by 80% to give me the total number of points I most likely had so far. In the first pass I had completed a little over 100 of the 150 questions. I had read that a passing score is 88 points total and with an expected 80 points from my first pass I felt very confident I would pass the exam.
When I went through on the second pass I answered all questions that I had narrowed down to 2 answers. There were several questions that the second time around made more sense to me and I felt like I confidently knew the answer to. When I finished this second round I multiplied the number answered by 65% because I felt I had a bit better than a 50 – 50 chance on them. Between the first and second round questions I expected my score to be around 108 out of 150, which gave me quite a margin over the 88 that most people think is needed to pass. The second pass took me about 30 minutes.
On The 3rd pass I went through and answered the remaining questions. I believe I ended up with 8 questions that I had no idea what they were. I answered these, assuming I would get at least 2 right based on the probability of a 4 question multiple choice test. The third pass only took me a few minutes because I was mostly guessing on them. At this point I still had over an hour left on the timer. giving me time to go through my answers once more to make sure nothing popped out at me as being wrong before I submitted my answers.
Finishing The CAPM Exam:
At the end of the exam a temporary certificate prints out if you pass. I passed the CAPM on my first try and for the next 5 years can include the CAPM designation on my resume. Unlike the PMP which is good for life, the CAPM must be renewed after 5 years. If in 5 years I feel I am at a point in my career where I need to maintain a designation I am sure I will go after the PMP. By that point in time I will certainly have enough hours leading projects to sit for the PMP. About 2 weeks after passing the CAPM exam my official certificate arrived in the mail.
On my resume I can have the CAPM initials listed after my name, which designated to employers that I have met the requirements of having an overall understanding of how projects are managed. It shows that I am dedicated to the projects career path and most importantly it is something to give me a little extra edge against other applicants for the same job.
Overall I spent roughly 70 hours of my time and $400 acquiring my CAPM certification. Even if passing the CAPM exam never helped me get a job, the knowledge I gained from studying for it will be valuable in the projects I already work on. When I finished college I put a stop to further formal education and I think that was a mistake. I could have easily taken the CAPM or the OSHA 30 4 years ago when I graduated college. When you think of the time commitment of earning a degree the CAPM exam is equivalent to about 1 typical college class. Each class worth 3 credits typically requires 45 total hours of class time, plus another 30 hours of time outside of the classroom studying and doing homework. Paying for Rita Mulcahy’s CAPM Exam Prep Book was certainly worth it and was the major reason I was able to pass the CAPM exam.
Update July 2016: I recently interviewed for a job that started at around $60,000 per year, with the ability to move up to a position earning close to 6 figures within 2 years. During the interview the hiring project manager mentioned that having passed the CAPM stood out to him and that was a major plus in my qualifications that brought me to the top of the stack. I was offered the job, but I ultimately turned it down for a variety of reasons. After this experience I know that having earned the CAPM will help me find a job in the Project Management field.
Have you taken any professional development classes or certifications recently? How have these classes benefited you?