The Ultimate Guide to CAPM Certification

This guide will provide everything you need to know while considering whether the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) credential is suitable for you.

What is the CAPM? What are the benefits?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) certification is among the top ten most in-demand professional credentials (Entrepreneur magazine, June 2023). The CAPM® credential demonstrates that early-career project managers are taking their profession seriously. These professionals have the skills and capabilities to succeed in project management’s demanding but rewarding discipline. According to a recent PMI study, the ability to stand out and demonstrate project management competency is crucial in a career forecasted to increase by 2.3 million job openings annually through 2030.

The CAPM exam is based on widely used project management principles and practices, including the seventh edition of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). PMI has a global presence with over 208 PMI chapters worldwide, so mastery of its project management standard is essential in today’s workforce. It signifies that you speak and understand the international language of project management and connects you to a community of professionals, organizations, and experts worldwide.

Who should take the CAPM Exam?

The CAPM certification is aimed towards project managers who are just starting out and do not yet fulfill the Project Management Professional (PMP®) criteria and to project team members who wish to align their work with project managers by mastering the discipline’s principles and best practices. For those who desire to accumulate experience and later pursue the PMP certification, having the CAPM credential allows you to waive the PMP exam’s 35-hour project management training requirement.

The newest exam content from July 2023 also tests business analysis concepts and processes, making the business analyst another target for those seeking certification. It also serves as a starting point for those wishing to pursue PMI’s PMI-PBA (professional business analyst) credential.

What are the requirements for the CAPM, and what does it cost?

Anyone with the following qualifications can take the CAPM exam:

  • Twenty-three (23) hours of project management training. Ensure you have details about the name of the course, the instructor, and enrollment dates for the CAPM. Also, ensure you have a certificate of completion in the event of an application audit (discussed below).
  • A high school diploma or equivalent

The CAPM exam costs $300 USD, though you can save $75 if you are a member of PMI, bringing it to $225 (membership is $149 per year). You are not required to pay this fee until your application is approved. Once approved, you have one year of eligibility to take the exam. Scheduling your exam is handled through PMI’s exam partner, Pearson Vue. Note that if you attempt to cancel or reschedule your exam within 30 days of your selected exam date, you will incur a $70 change fee.

What happens if my CAPM application is audited?

PMI randomly selects some applications for audit to ensure the quality and integrity of the credential. If you are selected, you will be notified upon your application submission by email. You then have 90 days to submit all required academic and professional documentation. This documentation can be uploaded through your PMI account portal (you do not need to be a PMI member to have an account). Once complete, PMI will take 5–7 days to review the material and notify you whether your application has been accepted.

Do I need to renew the credential periodically?

You must renew the credential for $60 USD every three years if you are a member and $150 if not. Renewal is contingent on your acquiring 15 professional development units (PDUs) during that three-year period. Each PDU is equivalent to one hour of a qualifying activity and can be broken down into 15-minute segments (0.25 PDU). At least nine of the 15 PDUs must come from taking related courses or other training. The balance can be either training, delivering project management content (such as making a presentation), or volunteering through PMI.

You can learn more about the PDU process by reviewing the information on continuous certification requirements at the PMI website. Many project management courses will provide the number of qualifying PDUs in the class description.

What is the CAPM exam like?

The exam duration is three hours, but after completing 75 questions, you will be asked if you’d like a 10-minute break. However, if you opt for the break, you will be unable to check your previous answers, so you’ll need to ensure you’ve done so before taking the break.

The exam has several types of question formats as follows:

  • Multiple-choice. Most questions follow a multiple-choice format where you select the best answer.
  • Multiple answers. You will be asked to choose two or three responses from a list of five that would apply to the question.
  • Matching. You will likely have at least one question that asks you to match a list of items in a column on the left to a corresponding column on the right, typically in order of appropriate sequence.
  • Scenario cartoon. You will have at least one question where you will read a scenario depicted by a cartoon and need to respond to a multiple-choice question based on it.
  • Hot spot. You are shown a diagram with several points denoted and must choose the best one given the corresponding question.

Is the CAPM exam hard?

The CAPM  exam should not be taken lightly. It will test not only the terminology of project management and business analysis but also your ability to apply your understanding of best practices to different scenarios. These situational questions can be challenging if you have not thoroughly studied for this exam.

How do I prepare for the CAPM?

Taking an exam prep course from a reputable instructor is usually the best way to prepare and ensure you have all the required content covered. These courses typically start at $300 and can approach $1000. If you do take a class, ensure that it will cover content from the latest version of the exam content outline, which can be found on PMI’s website under the CAPM certification page.

Other than a prep class, the best way to prepare is to review the following texts published by PMI:

  • A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK® Guide, Seventh edition
  • Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide
  • Agile Practice Guide
  • The PMI Guide to Business Analysis

Note that all can be downloaded for free electronically if you are a PMI member, though it is not possible to print any of the pages. Otherwise, they can be purchased directly from Amazon. You will also need PMI’s latest exam content outline (ECO). This outline is the template used for the test questions and can be found here.

The ECO enumerates the tasks that the exam will cover, grouped by domain. There are four domains as follows:

  1. Doman 1: Project Management Fundamentals and Core Concepts. This domain requires that you understand concepts such as project life cycles, project planning, and project roles. You can expect approximately 54 exam questions from this domain.
  2. Domain 2: Predictive, Plan-based Methodologies. This domain requires you to know traditional project practices, such as when a predictive approach is warranted, and how to use techniques such as critical path and earned value. You can expect 25 questions from this category.
  3. Domain 3: Agile Frameworks/Methodologies. This domain tests your understanding of agile methods, such as when an agile approach is warranted and how to plan, manage, and control a project using different agile frameworks. There are approximately 30 questions that cover this domain.
  4. Domain 4: Business Analysis Frameworks. This domain requires you to differentiate between the different business analysis and stakeholder roles to gather and validate product requirements, among others. You can expect to answer approximately 40 questions from this domain.

Another excellent way to prepare for the exam is to take as many sample CAPM tests as possible. Taking these tests helps you in several key ways. First, even if you believe you know the content, you can’t know for sure until that knowledge is tested using questions approximating the type asked on the exam. Second, taking sample test questions helps you gauge your pace. You have 150 questions to cover in 180 minutes. Your pace, therefore, needs to average 72 seconds per question. As you practice, you will get to recognize your rate and be able to adjust so that you will be prepared by exam day. Third, your performance on practice tests will give you a readiness indication. You will be in good shape for the actual exam if you consistently average at least 85% on your practice tests.

As you search for practice tests, be wary of providers that claim to use actual test questions. PMI does not release their questions, so providers that advertise they have them can be viewed as unethical. Also, be careful of providers and tests that have not updated their question bank to the latest ECO. The CAPM test changed significantly in July 2023, so unless the provider explicitly states that the questions cover these changes, be skeptical. The free CAPM practice tests on our website are the best place to start.

The time to act is now.

In summary, there is no better time than now to take the CAPM exam. You will stand out, even among those who already have the CAPM certification, since the exam content covers new ground highly relevant in today’s workforce. Agile frameworks and business analysis responsibilities are increasing in demand, as are project managers in general. To get started, simply visit PMI’s website, create a free account, and apply.