Today I passed the exam for Project Management Institute’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP).

The certification is geared towards project managers, scrum masters, or other project professionals looking to improve their knowledge of agile methodologies and practices. This comes about one year after passing’s Professional Scrum Master (PSM I) exam and between the two, I’m much prouder of the ACP.

All things considered, it was a tricky exam I’ve gained a great deal of confidence managing agile projects which is ultimately what I hoped to get out of the experience.

About the PMI-ACP

PMI is best known for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. With over 750,000 certified PMP holders around the world, the PMP is easily PMI’s most popular and most widely recognized certification.

As more companies of all sizes adopt agile methodologies, the ACP was created to educate project managers, scrum masters, and other project delivery professionals with key concepts, values, and techniques to run an agile project.

The ACP launched in 2011 and isn’t as well known as the PMP but has become the fastest growing certification in PMI’s portfolio and has the second largest number of certifications issues.  

Similar to its other certifications, PMI has minimum experience thresholds around work history and professional education before allowing candidates to sit for the exam.

Before taking the exam, I considered myself proficient with the scrum framework, but didn’t know much about other agile methodologies.  I found this makes the test considerably more difficult than the PSM I given the wide range of knowledge about other methodologies from xP to Kanban and the Crystal Clear family.

Why the ACP?

I recently transitioned to a project manager role at work. The company I work for is undergoing a large scale agile transformation and I wanted a formal credential to show my understanding of core agile values and methodologies. I’m a big believer in professional certifications as a way of demonstrating a standardized level of  knowledge and PMI has a strong reputation with their PMP certification.

Since I already have a certification geared towards scrum masters and another in the software testing discipline, the ACP appealed to me as a good entry into project management certifications without jumping into the deep end with the PMP.

After an application is approved by PMI, the applicant has 12 months to sit for the test. The exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions and must be completed within 3 hours. PMI doesn’t issue passing scores and simply shows Pass/Fail with a sliding scale that shows where the candidate end up on a range from Needs Improvement to Above Target.

How I Approached The Exam

The first thing I did after my application was approved was to begin studying the test format. Much like a table of contents outlines the structure of a book, PMI provides the exam structure around each of the 6 domains tested against in the ACP. From there, I bought this course on Udemy which satisfies the minimum PDU requirements and did a decent job walking through the entire exam curriculum end to end. Unlike the PMP, PMI doesn’t have a body of knowledge (BOK) book that covers the exam. In its place, they recommend 11 books totaling more than 3,000 pages. Although each of these recommendations are good reads, it’s not the most effective study strategy.

After completing the instructor led video course, I used Anki spaced repetition flashcards to drill down new terms, formulas, and concepts. Spaced repetition is an extremely effective memorization technique and light years ahead of “drilling” which is an inefficient use of study time. If you’re studying for the ACP or considering it, feel free to use the deck I create which is free and publicly shared here.

Finally, I tried two exam prep simulators: Grey Campus and PM Simulator. Grey Campus was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. As if that wasn’t bad enough, several of the questions on their exam simulator were dead wrong and contradicted information readily found in the official recommended prep materials.

Fortunately the PM Simulator service was fantastic and I credit that to achieving Above Target in every domain for the actual exam. They sell different products and I went with the exam simulator service. For about $100, I gained access to 4 full length timed quizzes and unlimited timed or learning quizzes. The questions were of comparable difficulty to the actual test and gave great explanations for any incorrect answers.

Between the video course, Anki flash cards, and exam simulator, I spent around 40 hours and $250 on prep related resources. Going into the test, I felt confident and had virtually no test anxiety about a successful outcome.

The Prometric Test Center Experience

PMI uses Prometric Testing as the proctor. On the day of the test, I went to the local Prometric service and signed in. If you’ve ever taken a proctored test, you’re probably familiar with the experience.

Sign in, put all electronics and personal items in  a locker, review the specifics of the testing rules, and get started. The ACP is 3 hours and it took me about 2 hours to complete and review all 120 questions.

After submitting the test, PMI will give you immediate pass/fail results and outline performance on a scale of Needs improvement to Above Target overall and in each of the six domains being tested.

What’s Next

I don’t know.

Overall, I had a great experience with the PMI-ACP. I’m fortunate that my employer reimbursed the cost of the $495 exam and think it’s a great value with the new knowledge and concepts learned throughout the experience.

Eventually I’ll end up sitting for the PMP as it’s another great certification to have but for now, I’m not sure what I’ll focus on next. I try and earn 1-2 certifications every year and have been looking at the Six Sigma or ITIL certifications as possible candidates.

All things considered, if you’re a project manager, interested in learning more about a variety of agile methodologies and frameworks, or somewhere in between, the ACP is a great certification and over time, I think will one of PMI’s strongest offerings. You can learn more about the PMI-ACP here.