The CAPM certification is an entry-level credential from PMI that confirms you have the knowledge to work effectively in a project environment. It tests your understanding of core project management principles across a range of domains and methods.
As you complete your CAPM exam preparation, you will no doubt use a range of prep materials to help you understand and absorb what you need to know. Some topics will be easier to grasp than others, and that’s OK. We’ll see below lessons learned from CAPM students and passers and how you can tailor your studies to focus on the areas that matter the most to your success.
We recommend that you use a range of study materials to prepare. As well as our flagship CAPM exam simulator and the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), you will also want a comprehensive training course that will help you meet the educational requirements. You may want other tools as well, like a prep book or flashcards (more on them below).
We scoured through hundreds of forum posts and student comments to pick out 15 fantastic tips for CAPM exam takers that will help you prepare.
These are tactical, practical, tried-and-tested approaches that will help you get the most out of your study time and reap the CAPM benefits in no time.
The first of our tips for passing the CAPM exam is to take breaks. It might be tempting to cram hours and hours of revision, but that isn’t a good approach. Linda De Boer, CAPM, recommends scheduling rest time.
“I set a timer for 30 mins and then took a 10 minute walk around the house, thinking about what I had just studied,” she says. “Then I would mull over anything I learned before that. Let it really sink in before you pile more on top. I found this to be extremely helpful.”
Make sure you have enough study time to allow for breaks: it really will make a difference! Research on effective learning shows that students who take breaks remember 20% more than students who don’t. The Pomodoro Technique can help you space out your learning.
The test covers agile techniques as well as predictive (and other) methodologies. “Do give lots of study consideration to adaptive/agile,” says Brittany Stueber, CAPM. “[R]ead the section on the considerations for this in each of the chapters. You will need to know this information!”
Marsha Banton, CAPM agrees. “I will definitely advise exam candidates to have a good grasp of the various agile applications in the PMBOK® Guide,” she says. “There was definitely an emphasis on this.”
It’s important to understand how agile approaches are different from other ways of leading projects. “I would review the PMI talent triangle as well as the different project environments (predicative, waterfall, agile, etc.) and how they are different to each other,” says Leah Goff, CAPM.
It’s time to get familiar with your study materials! The next of our study tips for CAPM exam takers is to make the most of the investment you have made in learning materials.
You’ve invested in them for a reason, so make sure you use them to their full extent.
“For me it was quite exhausting to watch the videos since I prefer interactive sessions,” says Mustafa Kirdök, CAPM. “However, I highly recommend you watch the lessons; the content and examples provided by Mr. Cornelius are helpful. You should not skip this point!”
Once you have reviewed your study materials, you’ll have a good idea of the topics you are personally finding challenging. The areas you want to focus more on are likely to be different from other students, based on your past experience with project management training and the projects you have worked on.
“My suggestion for candidates would be focus extra time on cost, communications and procurement,” says Adam Hijazi, CAPM, who crammed for his test using the PrepCast CAPM exam training materials in 48 hours. “Those were the ones I found had extreme detail that was complicated although I recognize that might just be my experience.”
Sabra Bryant, CAPM, agrees that some topics are more challenging than others. “I read the PMBOK® [Guide] cover to cover once,” she explains, “then went back and focused on Integration, Communication and Stakeholder which were the most challenging topics for me.”
Flashcards are digital or physical cards with a word or phrase on one side and the definition on the other. They are a good way to test your recall for particular terms and project management jargon.
“I put a flashcard application on my phone that lets you create flashcards using the desktop and export them to the Android version of the application,” says Linda De Boer. “I created cards for anything I wanted to review and then was able to study while waiting for an appointment, or any other “spare time” that came up.”
Brittany Stueber did the same, except she went for physical cards. “I actually made little flashcards,” she says. “I drilled on [them] several times a day till I could get through the whole deck without a mistake.”
Make your own CAPM flashcards or use a digital app to get them online.
Use an exam simulator to become familiar with the kinds of questions you’ll face on the test: this advice came up often during our research for this article!
“Do as many sample/practice exams you can do,” recommends John Tackett, CAPM. “Don't get discouraged if you don't pass the practice exams. I never got above a 62% on the practice exams.” John still passed. “These practice exams gave me good examples of the type of questions I needed to pass on the exam,” he says.
The other benefit of using a test simulator is the detailed explanations you get about why an answer was incorrect. “I highly recommend you spend at least the same amount of time checking the results of correct and wrong answers as you have spent answering them,” says Mustafa Kirdök. “The explanations are helpful regarding the final exam.”
The next of our tips for taking the CAPM exam is to set yourself up for success when taking notes.
PMI members can download a PDF copy of the PMBOK® Guide from the PMI website. However, Brittany Stueber, recommends that you invest in a physical copy as well.
“The reason I took such super thorough notes is because my copy of PMBOK® [Guide] is from the library,” she explains. “Even though you can get a free PDF of one if you join PMI as a paid member, I highly HIGHLY recommend you get your own physical PMBOK® [Guide] and simply highlight/underline/note take in there. This would've saved me an insane amount of time instead of taking notes on a whole 1.5 inch thick textbook. I'm surprised my hand is still attached to my body!”
Once you’ve booked your assessment, your study time has a defined finish date! Make the best of your remaining time by creating a study plan for your learning activities.
“Planning how many chapters or subjects I wanted to study per week and scheduling it, definitely helped,” says Linda De Boer. “It does not have to be so detailed that it holds you back, just give yourself some “daily” flexibility since life happens.”
You’ll have to decide how much time you can dedicate to exam prep and use that as your benchmark for scheduling your learning time. S Bryant, CAPM, commenting in our forum, said that they had a three week period of intensive preparation with a minimum of two hours study per day.
You don’t have to do everything in just three weeks: if it makes more sense for your learning, spread out your studies and pace yourself. You can make any schedule work as long as it is planned!
There are many processes in project management, and you’ll need to understand the core terminology and steps for each of them. However, what’s more important is understanding what they are and why they are used. That will provide you with context and background to help you make the best choice when faced with a number of possible answers.
“The CAPM [exam] had a few questions that asked you to apply your knowledge to a situation, but most questions just asked you to show that you know the terms, can calculate critical path, etc,” says Naomi Mandel, CAPM. “I also found that PM PrepCast questions throw you off with answers where it feels like more than one answer could be correct. With the CAPM, as long as you know the material, it was usually obvious which was the right answer.”
Study the basics and learn the materials, and you’ll be able to answer those questions confidently.
There isn’t a lot of math to learn, but if you do get a question that involves a formula, knowing how to work out the answer makes it easy.
“Personally, I memorized the EVA formulas and also made sure I understood them,” says Naomi Mandel, “so when these came up they weren't hard at all.”
The exam is a computer-based test that comes with a built-in calculator. Don’t worry about having to do sums in your head. “If you freeze and forget what 4x5 is, you can just use the calculator,” Naomi says.
Expect there to be some questions that ask you to use formulas, calculate the critical path, work out the earned value or draw a diagram. If you get questions that test those concepts, you’ll be prepared.
With everything you have to prepare for the test, it can be easy to forget the basics, like knowing where to go! If you are attending a test center, make sure you have the address and have planned your route.
“Make sure that you know the route to the test center well,” advises Linda De Boer. “I went to the center personally a week before, just to determine an accurate travel time, then added a buffer onto my arrival so that I had time to relax before the exam.” Linda found that being relaxed beforehand helped her to concentrate on reading the questions thoroughly.
Leah Goff agrees. “I arrived about 45 minutes early to the testing facility (this was mostly by accident as I had almost no traffic) and checked in,” she says. “Arriving early helped me stay calm as I knew I had enough time to find the testing center and there was no chance I would be late. The facility was pretty empty and I ended up being able to check-in and get started on the exam right away.”
There is a short tutorial at the beginning of the test and that will show you how to use the testing system including how to mark questions. However, you can give yourself more confidence flagging and reviewing questions if you practice doing that during your practice tests. A good exam simulator will have the ‘mark for review’ feature, so get used to using it.
Leah Goff answered the questions she knew right away and flagged any that she was deliberating on. “Time was not an issue,” she says. “Before I reviewed flagged questions I had about 70 minutes left on the exam and I had gone through the questions pretty slowly compared to my practice tests.”
Brittany Stueber used a similar approach to successfully pass her examination. “You do have the ability to flag questions on the exam to come back to them later,” she says. “I suggest you do that any time you answer a question that you're not completely sure of. Then at the end you can utilize your time to review as necessary.”
The CAPM practice test is three hours long and many of us haven’t had to sit a test of that duration since school. Plan how you are going to use that time so you pace yourself.
“I have a lot of test taking anxiety,” explains Leah Goff, “so to help with that I go through a method during lengthy exams. For this test I did 50 questions, three minute break, 50 questions, five minute break, 50 questions, bathroom break to stretch and then review of flagged questions.”
Many students report having ample time in the exam, so use some use CAPM practice exams to get comfortable with what three hours feels like and what pace you should set for yourself.
“I finished with a little under an hour left,” says Brittany Stueber, “and I was going quite slowly. Don't stress about being timed - you will have enough time.”
One way to reduce test anxiety and prepare yourself mentally is to know what to expect.
“Read the CAPM Examination Policies and Procedures in [the] CAPM handbook,” suggests Vignesh Kannan, CAPM. “This will help you to expect the things on the exam and avoid unnecessary surprises.”
When you understand what is expected of you and how the experience will play out, it’s less stressful and you can focus more on answering questions instead of feeling anxious about what is going to happen.
Finally, many of our students report that looking after yourself is an important part of preparing adequately and managing the natural nerves you might be feeling.
“Try to go [to] bed early and get a good nights’ sleep,” recommends Leah Goff. “Cramming at this point isn’t going to help you retain any more information. Make sure to eat a good breakfast or at least a snack before the exam. Drink some water too; you don’t want to be dehydrated during the exam.”
Now you’ve read through this CAPM exam prep guide with expert tips, we hope you are feeling positive about the next steps for your career journey to becoming certified.
We’ll leave the final words to Brittany Stueber:
“I'm so relieved and happy to have passed on the first try, and done myself proud,” she says. “It's not easy to study and learn as an adult student, so I know what you are going through. Be kind to yourselves, be patient, and definitely don't beat yourself up too much like I did there for a while. It will be okay!”
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