10 Essential PMP Lessons Learned From The CAPM Exam

It’s a lot of work to study for an exam, so you want to maximize your chances of passing on the first attempt. In this article, we’ll share CAPM exam tips from people who passed on their first try.

You have put a lot of effort into studying, as well as taking time away from work and family to dedicate the time to learning the materials. Add to that the extra cost of having to reschedule your test again and you can easily see the benefits of working hard to pass first time!

We’ve done the hard work for you. We researched what made a real difference to first-time CAPM exam takers and led to their success. With these key tips for passing the CAPM exam, you can give yourself an extra boost towards passing on your first (and only) attempt!

10 Study Tips for CAPM Exam Takers

We reviewed hundreds of forum posts from certified CAPM certificate holders and pulled out the top lessons from successful students. If you are looking for advice on how to pass the CAPM exam on your first try, you are in the right place!
Here are the tips:
  1. Revise with practice questions.
  2. Take full practice exams.
  3. Review questions you got wrong.
  4. Practice eliminating incorrect answers.
  5. Write your own notes.
  6. Prepare for questions using calculations and diagrams.
  7. Watch the PM PrepCast videos.
  8. Revise regularly.
  9. Read the PMBOK® Guide.
  10. Set a date.
Let’s look at each of those tips and techniques for passing the CAPM exam in more detail. We’ll also share some stories from successful test takers so you can see how to apply the lessons to your own prep time.

1. Revise with Practice Questions

One common theme throughout all the lessons learned we reviewed was the need to spend enough time doing self-assessments and quizzes with realistic questions. You can take timed knowledge tests to focus on particular topics and review your learning.

“I first started with the self-assessments provided in the PrepCast and RMC,” says Mustafa Kirdök. “Thereafter, I took quizzes in order to get an overview of the exam simulator prior to taking complete exams.”

Leah Goff counts doing practice questions as one of the things she’s glad she did in preparation for the test. “It’s important to do questions from PMI certified vendors,” she says. “This means you will have to pay for them, but at least you know the questions will be on par and contain correct information for the exam. That being said I’d much rather pay $60 for exam questions and pass the first time rather than pay for a retest. [In] total I think I did 1600 questions of practice.”

Use a CAPM exam simulator to give you test questions and also full exams… which is our next tip.

2. Take Full Practice Exams

As well as timed knowledge tests and self-assessments on specific topics, another major theme in our research was the need to take full CAPM practice exams. This was a key lesson mentioned by multiple students who were successful on their first attempt.

The main benefit of taking CAPM full practice tests is that you can get used to managing your time in examination conditions. This helped Emmanuel Darco for his CAPM certification exam.

“I answered questions I knew right away and flagged any that I was deliberating on,” he says. “Time was not an issue. Before I reviewed flagged questions I had about 50 minutes left on the exam and I had gone through the questions pretty slowly compared to my practice tests.”

Mustafa Kirdök also invested time in taking full assessments. “During the week before the exam I took three complete exams,” he says. He failed two and passed the third. “In total I have spent 10 hours and 58 minutes 13 seconds answering questions in the simulator.”

Getting used to operating under test conditions and having confidence in your abilities will help you succeed on the day.

3. Review Questions You Got Wrong

Taking full tests and practice quizzes is fine, but to boost your chances of first-time exam success you need to review the questions you got wrong.

“For missed practice questions, spend the same amount of time as you did on the exam and go through each question to understand why you got it wrong,” Leah advises. “There was not one question on my exam that was the same as any of the 1600 practice questions I did. It’s obviously important to know the material, not just the right answer. Know the WHY!”

People often ask if CAPM is hard to pass, and the answer truly depends on how well you know the material. Reviewing your wrong answers will give you deep insights into the topic and improve your chances of success on test day.

Good quality exam simulators will show you the correct answer and explain why it is correct, with references to materials you can use to refresh your skills in that area. That’s why it is important to choose the best CAPM exam simulator for you - one that suits your study preferences and gives you access to fantastic supplementary information to enhance your learning.

The best tools will also tell you why the incorrect answers are not the best choice. All of this information is great material to boost your confidence and your knowledge in areas where you need more support.

4. Practice Eliminating Incorrect Answers

Another of the tips for taking the CAPM exam is to practice spotting and eliminating incorrect answers. This technique worked well for Emini Ese.

“Learn the art of 'logical elimination’,” Emini says. “This is where the PrepCast quizzes helped. [They] allowed me to master how to eliminate at least two incorrect answers from the options for questions that I was not sure about. Once you have your options narrowed down to two, then read the question again and see if there is a clue in there that points you to the right answer. You will need to be able to do this in the exam.”

Emini advises that you practice reading the questions in detail and if you don’t understand what it is about, use the multiple choice answers as a way to work out what the question is asking.

5. Write Your Own Notes

Most students choose to prepare for the certification test with a class supported by video lessons and maybe a prep book. However, successful first-time test takers also take their own notes.

Research shows that taking notes by hand improves retention. In one study, some students took notes on a laptop and others made notes with pen and paper. The recall of the pen and paper group was higher because they couldn’t type verbatim - they had to engage with the material to summarize it, which helped them retain the information.

“I used to take notes while watching the videos in [the] PrepCast, says Vignesh Kannan. “Simultaneously I used to mark the important keywords of the definition or topics. Marking the important keywords was really handy when I was revising each chapter in [the] PMBOK® [Guide].”

Mustafa Kirdök felt the same. “I prepared a learning sheet with the information which [was] hard for me to memorize,” he says. He made sure not to fill up his notes with information he already knew well, so he could use his learning sheet purely to focus on areas where he needed additional time to revise the concepts.

6. Prepare for Questions Using Calculations and Diagrams

One of the questions that comes up time and time again with our students is: “What type of questions should we expect from the CAPM exam?”

While nobody knows exactly what questions will be on your test paper, test-takers report that there are questions where you are given a diagram and asked about how to interpret it. One lesson to be aware of is that it’s worth preparing yourself to see diagrams on the test. You may also be asked to do simple calculations.

Emmanuel Darco’s exam included a question which required drawing a network diagram to arrive at the correct answer. It also had a question with a bell curve diagram and several that required calculations.

Questions with diagrams and calculations are actually great opportunities for you to pick up some easy points. If you know the math, calculation questions can be simple to work out and there is only ever one correct answer!

Diagram questions are similar: if you understand what the diagram is showing you, it’s easy to eliminate incorrect answers and choose the correct response.

7. Watch the PM PrepCast videos

Study materials are important for making sure you understand the key concepts. As we looked through the tips for CAPM exam takers, it was clear that quality study materials helped build the confidence required to pass first time.

Charle Magne Karlo A. De La Cruz passed with a result of ‘Above Target’. “My advice is strictly watch and absorb all the lessons from [the] PM PrepCast and understand the PMBOK® Guide,” he says. While he was watching the videos, he was also reading the PMBOK® Guide in parallel. “Don't stress yourself and avoid the ‘panic’,” he says. “All you need is confidence and hardwork. Believe me, tomorrow is your time.”

8. Revise Regularly

There is a lot to take in during your prep time, and many of the key tips for the CAPM certification that we read talked about making sure you revise regularly. That’s no surprise: studies show that distributed learning -- that’s learning spread out over several periods -- is better than a long, concentrated period. Dr Dave Haylock, senior lecturer in psychology at Newman University, says that revising in small chunks is “more likely to reduce stress, which will enhance learning and cognitive performance.”

Daniel Blossey shared his key lessons, after a very long period of study around his day job. “Never give up and do small portions because you will make it one day,” he says. “I still did my regular sport activities and drank a lot of sugar free fruit tea (at least 2 litres per day). Do not forget to move your body and make breaks.”

Daniel took around 5 years to successfully pass - when people ask us how long does it take to prepare for the PMI CAPM exam, we normally say 8-12 weeks! Daniel certainly isn’t typical, but everyone studies to their own timeline.

Create a study timetable and make sure you can fit in regular small blocks of revision time to go through your prep materials. Finally, Daniel jokes, “Have much better preparation time management than me!” You don’t need to spend years preparing: good time management and consistent, regular studying will get you to the finish line quickly.

9. Read the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

If you’ve already started studying for the CAPM certification, you’ll know that the PMBOK® Guide is essential reading. The main lesson we saw from test takers is that you should simply dive in! It might look like a daunting text, but your study materials will help you make sense of it.

“I was REALLY reluctant to read the PMBOK® [Guide],” says Leah Goff . “I figured that Cornelius went over everything in the videos so why bother with this giant book, right?! Nope! I should’ve just read along or at the end of each video section. Instead I ended up spending reading a chapter a night and about 4 chapters on the weekend just prior to the test.”

Leah’s key takeaway was that reading the book helped her become familiar with the wording and terminology that would be presented on the test. “It also really cemented several items that I was previously having a lot of trouble with,” she adds. “Don’t be like me and procrastinate, just read the book.”

10. Set a Date

Finally, if you haven’t yet, we recommend setting a date! Another lesson from first-time successful test takers was that they had a deadline to work towards.

“I should’ve set a date for the test as soon as I meet the requirements,” says Leah Goff. “Not doing this caused me to delay in studying and practicing for the exam.”

Once you’ve got a date in the diary, you can plan your study time more effectively as you know how much time you have got left. The urgency around having a date helps focus the mind on the upcoming test!

You can book your examination as soon as you receive notification that you are eligible. If you haven’t started studying yet, we found that most students can comfortably work through the materials in 8-12 weeks, although obviously that depends on your personal circumstances and how much time you can dedicate to learning.

We have a whole step-by-step guide to passing your CAPM exam that you can check out if you have yet to set a date and are ready to make that first commitment!

Get ready to ace the exam

There are a lot of common themes throughout the key lessons in this article: regular study with quality materials and mock exam practice with test questions pretty much sums it up. That’s because there is a tried-and-tested solid approach to passing on your first attempt. There aren’t any tricks to succeeding: it’s all about having a robust study plan and putting in the time to revise the core concepts.

Looking for more tips? Here’s our roundup of CAPM exam tips from certified professionals to help you prepare for your test.

Many students have successfully followed the same path and emerged after the online exam with their CAPM designation. We wish you the best of luck as you embark on the same journey!

What lessons will you come back and share with the community once you’ve passed your exam? We look forward to hearing your success story!

Training for Project Management Professional (PMP)®, PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®, and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®

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