CAPM exam preparation

How to Prepare for the CAPM Exam

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is good starting point for entry into the project management industry. In this article, you will have a blueprint to prepare for the CAPM exam – a chart outlining what needs to be done first, second and third and how you can give yourself the best opportunity to clear the exam in your first try. All of the preparation can be done in three weeks. The only thing I do ask of you is that you dedicate your undivided attention for at least 2 hours a day during the time period.

There are two ways you can plan your exam strategy – one way is to schedule the exam and starting to prepare for it and the other way is to be a little prepared and then scheduling the exam. Either ways the study plan that I’m going to share will be useful. Personally, I would book the exam date and then prepare as it would help me define, plan and focus on the exam study better. If there is one takeaway I want you to have now then it is to ensure you compress the CAPM exam study time to a short, fixed duration. Three weeks of focused preparation should be enough for all.

As with any competitive exams, the CAPM requires a focused, dedicated approach to obtain the certification. I passed the exam in my first try, studying for less than 1.5 hours a day for three weeks. Ideally, you would want to spend more time on a daily basis, but my work consumed over 10 hours of my day so all I could manage was the 1.5 hours late into midnight.

Before beginning our preparation plan, I’m assuming you have checked your eligibility for taking the CAPM exam. If not, you can check the CAPM eligibility requirements here.

How to pass the CPAM exam – the secret

The key to passing the exam is focusing on understanding the concepts, the cause and effect of each process, time management during the test and practice. I understand there are a lot of blogs, resources that suggest memorization of processes, mathematical formulas and it’s not the most efficient use of your time.

What do I mean by understanding the concepts? Learning how process affects the others, why the processes are done in a specific order and their role in the overall project lifecycle. Your ability to ‘zoom out’ and ‘zoom into’ project management areas/concepts are the most valuable tools while studying. Here are the other key tools you must have before beginning preparation:

  1. PMI’s PMBOK Guide
  2. Pen & Paper
  3. Computer with decent internet connection

These are just the bare minimum tools needed to clear the exam in three weeks. If you have additional time and resources, feel free to browse through the list of recommended books/courses mentioned at the end of the article.

Preparation Plan for the CAPM exam

Here’s a quick overview of the three-week study plan

  1. In the first week, understand the different knowledge areas, process groups and get comfortable with PMBOK guide
  2. During week 2, practice, identify weak areas and understand how each project management process/tool/technique fit into the project lifecycle
  3. In the last week, take practice test, get comfortable with the online test.

Breakdown of the 3-week plan

During the first week, your focus needs to be on getting comfortable with the PMBOK guide. The book does seem intimidating at first but once you understand the different knowledge areas, their dependencies and the project management terms, the book becomes straightforward to understand.

There are 5 process groups (columns) and 10 knowledge areas (rows), and in the intersection of these are born the processes. Each process has inputs, a tool & techniques that will used to execute it and some outputs. While going through each processes, make a note of

  1. what is the purpose of each process
  2. what is the immediate output of it

Please do not memorize the processes. Try to understand the concept. I have provided some useful patterns to remember when learning the ITTOs (Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs).

Initiating –2Planning -24Executing -10Monitoring and
Controlling -12
Closing -1
Project Integration
Develop project
Management plan
Direct and manage
the project work
Manage project
Monitor and Control
Project Work
Perform Integrated
Change Control
project or
Project Scope
Plan scope
Collect requirements
Define scope
Create WBS
Validate scope
Control scope
Project schedule
Plan schedule
Define activities
Sequence activities
Estimate activity
Develop schedule
Control schedule
Project cost
Plan cost
Estimate costs
Determine budget
Control costs
Project quality
Plan quality
Manage qualityControl quality
Project resource
Plan resource
Estimate activity
Acquire resources
Develop team
Manage team
Control resources
Plan communications
Monitor communications
Project risk
Plan risk
Identify risks
Perform qualitative
risk analysis
Perform quantitative
risk analysis
Plan risk responses
Implement risk
Monitor risks
Plan procurement
Control procurements
Plan stakeholder
Monitor stakeholder

During the first week, all you need to do is understand the purpose of each process and the flow of them within a project lifecycle. And, it is to be noted that not all processes need to be implemented for all projects. The project manager will tailor the processes depending on the project requirements.

You can also look at creating flashcards, notes of definitions that will be useful while revising before the exam.

In the second week, start taking practice questions. One way to do them is using the Pocket Prep app for CAPM exam. I highly recommend the paid upgrade to the app, as it provides access to 800 questions across knowledge areas. If you don’t want to spend money, self-test after completing every knowledge area and identify your weaker sections.

While identifying weaker areas, you should continue to build notes on each processes and start finding patterns among them. Create a mind map, if required. At the end of week 2, you should be able to

  1. Identify all process groups, know their purpose
  2. Know your strong and weak knowledge areas
  3. Create a mind map of all processes

In the third week, take a practice test that simulates the exam environment. There are a lot of simulators, practice tests that are available at a click of a Google Search. The focus of this week is to get comfortable providing answers to multiple questions in a stretch, understand the nuances of each process in the project lifecycle, not learn anything from the scratch but rather working on strengthening your strong areas and building confidence in weaker sections.

Here’s a quick checklist for your three-week CAPM study plan:

Prepare for CAPM Exam – three questions to ask

One of the main challenges you will face while preparing for the CAPM exam is the need to remember a lot of concepts. They can range from processes, definitions, formulae or diagrams. It is important to note that the exam is a test of your concepts – not memorization power.

Remember to ask yourself these questions when encountering new concepts:

  1. Why is it important?
  2. What do I need to remember in order to recollect this concept? (Creating signposts, labels that you can associate with that concept)
  3. Will I be able to teach this to my friend/parent/brother/anyone who has no initiation to the topic.

Once a concept these three tests, make sure to write it down. Writing it will reinforce the learning and will be super useful for last-minute readings.

Passing Score for the CAPM exam

The passing score for the CAPM exam is believed to be anywhere above 60%. However, PMI has never revealed any specific number regarding it. There are a total of 150 questions, including 15 ‘pre-test’ ones that don’t contribute to your overall score. These 15 questions help PMI test the difficulty level, suitability of them being used in future exams.

The best indicator that can tell you if you’re going to pass the exam is your practice score. If you’re getting over 70% in all of your CAPM practice tests, you should be able to clear the actual exam – again, depending on how close the simulation was to the actual one. I scored 65%, 72% and 74% in my mock CAPM exams.

The CAPM exam scorecard will list all the knowledge areas and grade you into three levels

  1. Below target
  2. Target
  3. Above target

Here’s an example:

That’s it! You have all the necessary tools to ace the exam. Remember, it’s about quality of study over the number of hours you put in. This three week-plan should help you clear the CAPM with an ‘above target’ result with ease. I wish you all the best in your journey and success.

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