How To Prepare For And Pass Your PMI-ACP Exam

Two days after submitting his online application for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® exam, Allen Matheson got a message that many exam candidates dread: he had been randomly selected for an audit.

“They asked that I give them more detailed evidence of two things within the next 90 days,” said Allen, a project manager and Agile consultant, in an interview with Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, host of The Project Management Podcast. “They wanted proof of my attendance on the Agile training I had taken and proof of my 1500 hours experience working on an Agile project.”

Luckily, Allen was fully prepared for the audit. “The data was pretty easy to gather,” he said. “I had copies of my Certified Scrum Master certificate and signed letters of attendance for other Agile training.” He also had to get a colleague to verify his project experience. “You really need to keep that in mind when you complete contact person’s details on your application. If you’re selected for an audit, you’re going to need to track down that person and have them vouch for you.” Allen didn’t warn his contact person in advance, but as he was working side-by-side with them with a good relationship he didn’t think this would be a problem – and it wasn’t.

PMI® requested that Allen put the signed form in an envelope, seal the envelope and have the contact person from that project sign the back of the envelope over the seal. He followed their instruction exactly as requested. This is to prove that no one has tampered with the document.

Once the audit process was successfully out the way, Allen scheduled his exam. “I feel that the best path for successfully passing an exam is to follow a structured exam program in one form or another including study and exam schedule,” he said. Allen used a PMI-ACP exam preparation book (PMI-ACP Exam Prep by Mike Griffiths) as his primary study source and supplemented that by reading other Agile books and blogs, listening to podcasts and watching Agile videos. He set his own schedule and followed it closely.

“Instead of purchasing all 11 books on the PMI recommended reading list, there is a Safari books website and they currently carry 10 of the 11 books that the PMI® recommends,” he said. “So you can purchase a subscription there for currently $20 a month I believe to gain access to 10 books. If you’re okay to read from a screen instead of paper, you should certainly consider getting a subscription. It really helped me.” The PMI eReads service, available to members, also offers project management books available to read online.

Allen studied for the PMI-ACP at the same time as working towards the Certified Scrum Professional certification from the Scrum Alliance. Due to his other commitments, he didn’t really dive deeply into the material until about 8 weeks before his exam, when he spent a couple of hours each day studying. Alongside his study materials he used simulators to practice for the exam. “I found a few sources online with some practice questions,” he said. “It was a challenge to find a really large set of questions that I felt were an accurate reflection of the difficulty of the actual test. So you really need to be aware and don’t let the practice exams affect your confidence level in the wrong way. If a practice exam has too many easy questions, you can really become over-confident and that will increase your risk of entering the exam room unprepared.”

On the day of the exam, Allen got to the test center early, having already been there several times for other exams. He signed in straight away and left his personal items in a locker. At his center, candidates were not allowed to bring in earplugs or headphones but earplugs were available on request.

Other candidates in the room were taking different exams, and there was a lot of coming and going. Allen coped with the distractions and spent about 2 hours on his answers, with a further 20 minutes review, easily finishing within the allocated 3 hours. “When I pressed the final button, the message that I had passed was displayed right away,” he said.

Allen received his printed test report outside the exam room. “It has your levels of proficiency in the two content areas, the Tools and Techniques area and the Knowledge and Skills area,” he explained. “There are three proficiency levels they rate you on: Proficient, Moderately Proficient and Below Proficient. They rate that for each of those two areas. I was Proficient in both areas but the report didn’t show exact numbers such as how many questions I missed or got correct.”

Overall, Allen found the questions a little easier than those on his PMP exam. He said that PMI-ACP candidates need to know the Agile Manifesto as a solid grounding for the exam. “All the other Agile frameworks and methods are closely aligned with the Manifesto so you really need to understand it in extreme detail,” he said. “You also need to understand and be able to list the important attributes of Scrum and XP; those are the two most commonly followed Agile frameworks. There are Scrum events, roles and artifacts. XP has several core values and engineering practices. You need to know how, when and why to apply these and it was helpful for me to memorize them and be able to quickly list them out. The exam certainly isn’t limited to Scrum and XP, but since those are the two most commonly used methods, you really need to understand them very well.”

For candidates still to take their exam he has this advice: “Just stick with it and you can do it,” he said. Believe in yourself. I know it sounds a bit cliché but you can push through and pass the exam.”

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