Certified Associate in Project Management is an entry-level certification by a globally recognized authority, Project Management Institute (PMI).
Will it help with your career, and how to prepare for the CAPM exam?
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- The benefits and costs of getting the CAPM certification
- How the exam changed in 2023
- How to study for CAPM to successfully pass it
- Alternatives to CAPM and the next steps after obtaining the certification
Is getting the CAPM certification worth it?
PMI is the issuer of Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, the most recognized PM credential worldwide.
Getting a PMI credential enhances your professional profile. If you’re starting a career in project management, the Certified Project Management Professional certification will be a great addition to your resume.
But, most importantly, the knowledge and skills you obtain during your studies have great value and will help you on the job.
I have a dedicated article on why obtaining the PMP certification is worth it. Many of the points also apply to CAPM.
PMP vs. CAPM: what are the main differences?
Both PMP and CAPM used to be about traditional, process-based project management approaches.
In 2021, PMP had a major shift towards Agile. CAPM remained unchanged but caught up in early 2023. CAPM and PMP exams are different in terms of difficulty and cost, but the subject areas are similar now.
The main difference between PMP and CAPM certifications is the required work experience.
To be eligible for PMP, you need 36 months of verifiable experience leading projects. CAPM doesn’t have work experience requirements.
Certified Associate in Project Management certification prerequisites
There are two conditions you need to meet to apply for CAPM:
- Having a high school diploma.
- Having completed at least 23 hours of project management education (contact hours).
If you’re randomly selected for audit by PMI, you’ll have to present proof of your education and contact hours. See more about passing the PMI audit.
How to get 23 contact hours for CAPM
Any kind of formal education dedicated to project management would count towards contact hours: for example, a PM course you took at the university. But you do need to have proof of completion.
To fulfill the contact hours requirement, almost everyone takes an online course before the exam. For example, this exam preparation course on Udemy is an affordable option that provides a lot of value.
A course would also help with refreshing your knowledge and getting ready for the test.
How much does CAPM cost?
The price you’ll pay for obtaining CAPM consists of the exam fee itself and the preparation costs.
CAPM certification fee
In early 2023, PMI diversified the fees for their membership, certifications, and other services. The price now depends on the region you’re from.
Visit the CAPM certification page – the website will check your IP and render the fee for your country.
The difference between the CAPM exam price for PMI members and non-members is less than the price of membership.
So, if you get the membership, even with a lower exam price you’ll end up paying more overall than if you just get the non-member version. (Unlike PMP, where the member-only exam fee plus the cost of yearly membership almost exactly equals the exam fee that non-members pay).
But membership does give you benefits, including a free download of the latest PMBOK version, access to various materials, and more networking opportunities.
Costs of preparing for the CAPM exam
To prepare for the exam, you’ll definitely need to purchase the following:
- A course that would give you 23 contact hours to fulfill the certification prerequisites.
- An exam simulator
You’ll also need other materials to study, but the options start from free and go into hundreds of dollars.
In the exam preparation guide below, I talk about various preparation materials you could check and choose what fits your schedule and your budget.
CAPM exam details
Certified Associate in Project Management exam contains 150 questions that you need to answer in under 3 hours.
15 of them are pretest, unscored questions. Pretest questions are newly written or modified questions that might be added to the exam in the future. Based on how the test takers fare, it’s determined whether the questions should be added to the main exam pool.
After question #75, you could take an optional 10-minute break. It doesn’t count toward your allotted exam time.
Is the CAPM exam hard?
Since 10% of the questions are pretest, only 135 questions count towards your score. But, since there’s no way of telling which questions are unscored, you need to give your best answer to each one.
So, with 150 questions in 180 minutes, that gives you a little over a minute per question.
PMI only provides a couple of sample questions, but we could see that they test information retention – so, if you’re well-prepared, you’ll answer most of the questions in under 20 seconds.
In contrast, the PMP exam mostly consists of scenario-based questions. You’ll need to interpret the situation and choose the best option from a list where two or more answers sometimes seem correct.
The CAPM Exam Content Outline does mention situational questions, but the answers must be more straightforward.
But official sample questions might not give the full picture, as I learned the hard way during my IIBA-CPOA exam. Be sure to use an exam simulator to be confident that you could answer most of the questions correctly.
Is CAPM open book or proctored?
The exam is proctored. You could pass it online via Pearson VUE or in person at a local test center.
Related: Should I take my certification exam online or in a testing center?
How did the CAPM exam change?
In early 2021, the PMP exam changed to put more emphasis on Agile concepts and soft skills.
CAPM, however, remained rooted in traditional methodologies. But a new version was announced in 2022 and released in early 2023.
What are the CAPM certification exam topics?
Here are the four CAPM exam domains and the percentages of questions they take on the test:
- Project Management Fundamentals and Core Concepts (36%)
- Predictive Plan-Based Methodologies (17%)
- Agile Frameworks/Methodologies (20%)
- Business Analysis Frameworks (27%)
Refer to the CAPM exam content outline (PDF) by PMI to see how the domains break down into tasks and what knowledge each task will require.
Do I need to study PMBOK to prepare for CAPM?
Prior to 2023, the CAPM exam was fully based on the 6th edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge guide (2017).
That version was the first PMBOK guide to include agile practices. But it still was based on 10 classic PM knowledge areas: Project Integration, Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resource, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholder Management.
The 7th version of the PMBOK guide, released in 2021, contained major modifications. It included more agile practices and replaced the 10 knowledge areas with 12 principles.
PMBOK 7 defines 12 principles of project management: Stewardship, Team, Stakeholders, Value, Systems Thinking, Leadership, Tailoring, Quality, Complexity, Risk, Adaptability and Resiliency, and Change.
Do they sound vague? It probably feels easier to answer questions about specific processes, techniques, and tools after reading about them in a book – especially if you’re new to project management and rely on study materials to get your first certification.
PMBOK 7 shifts from process-based project management that focuses on outputs to value-based, human-centric management that focuses on outcomes.
PMBOK is still a very valuable resource for preparing for the CAPM exam. But now, it’s not enough to memorize the concepts. As a modern project manager, you need to get into an Agile mindset of a strategist and a leader.
Read my guide to developing an Agile mindset for tips.
How to successfully pass the CAPM certification exam
First of all, review the general principles of efficient exam preparation. You’ll need to apply those principles as you work through the materials listed below.
Joining or organizing a study group might also help with keeping pace and processing new information.
Related: How to start an online study group.
CAPM study courses: get the 23 contact hours and prepare for the exam
PMI offers an official course for CAPM preparation. It costs $245 for PMI members and $280 for non-members The course is still based on PMBOK 6 and the contents are most likely aligned with the pre-2023 version of the exam.
There are also third-party options. Udemy has a few courses for CAPM preparation, but the one I’d recommend is the PMP exam prep course by Andrew Ramdayal. It’s a go-to course for thousands of PMP exam takers, and the contents align with the current CAPM iteration as well.
Besides an in-depth explanation of traditional PM processes, techniques, and formulas, the course dedicates around ten hours to Agile and Hybrid approaches.
The full price of the course is $95 but Udemy runs regular promotions, so the course would cost under $25 with a discount.
Related: How to choose the best online course for you.
CAPM exam simulators
PMI doesn’t have an official CAPM exam simulator, but there are offers from various third-party providers.
This CAPM exam simulator on Udemy is based on PMBOK 7 and the Agile Practice Guide and is updated for the 2023 version of the exam.
In my exam preparation tips, there’s a section on how to make the most out of exam simulators.
Rita Mulcahy preparation materials for CAPM
PMP exam prep book by Rita Mulcahy is a study resource that was used for more than two decades by PMP test takers, to great results.
While reading this book isn’t strictly necessary for CAPM exam preparation, it gives a tremendous amount of insight. I strongly recommend reading it for your own professional growth as a project manager.
The book also contains exam-like questions that would be a great challenge.
Related: Best Product Management books for beginners.
Renewing CAPM: costs and requirements
To maintain your CAPM certification, you need to submit 15 Professional Development Units (PDU) within a three-year period and pay a renewal fee.
CAPM renewal fee used to be $60 for PMI members and $150 for non-members. Now, the CAPM recertification cost is also subject to regional pricing rules.
How to get PDU for CAPM renewal
You could earn PDUs by taking study courses, participating in events, volunteering, and various other ways.
There’s no limit on education PDUs and self-paced studying is allowed. So, theoretically, you could earn all 15 PDUs for free by watching webinars and reading articles provided by PMI.
Related: 12 free Agile and Leadership webinars.
Are there alternatives to CAPM? And which certifications should I obtain next?
The obvious next step after CAPM is PMP, but it might take you a while to gain the work experience required.
Related: PMP exam preparation guide.
CAPM vs. PMI-ACP: which one to get with some work experience?
Agile Certified Practitioner is an advanced professional certification by PMI.
If you have 8 months of experience working on Agile projects or 12 months of general project management experience, you could add this high-level certification to your professional profile.
However, since PMI-ACP is an advanced and specialized certification, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The PMI-ACP certification exam fee is twice higher than the CAPM exam fee.
- The exam itself is more complex.
- If you’re planning to work in an organization that is firmly rooted in traditional, Waterfall methodologies, having an Agile-specific credential on your resume might be less relevant than a more general CAPM certification.
CAPM vs. PSM and PSPO: Agile certifications that don’t require work experience
Another well-recognized Agile certification that doesn’t require work experience is Professional Scrum Master (PSM) by Scrum.org. They also have a certification for Product Owners, PSPO.
Advantages of PSM and PSPO:
- Affordable pricing: the first level costs $150, the second-level exam is $250, and you could go straight for the second level if you’re up for it.
- Scrum.org credentials are good for life, so you don’t have to worry about expiration and maintenance.
- As you prepare for PSM or PSPO, the things you learn will also help tremendously with developing an Agile mindset and earning other professional certifications in project management and business analysis – including CAPM.
So, you might opt for getting PSM or PSPO first and then confidently going after CAPM or PMI-ACP.
Check out my PSM I preparation guide and PSPO exam prep guide for more details.
PRINCE2 Practitioner certification: next step after CAPM?
PRINCE2 Practitioner is another famous project management certification, especially popular in the UK and Europe.
It doesn’t have work experience prerequisites, but to apply for the advanced PRINCE2 Practitioner certification, one needs to obtain an entry-level credential first.
Besides PRINCE2 Foundation, there are a few certifications that satisfy the requirement, and CAPM is one of them.
If you work or plan to work in an organization that applies Waterfall methodologies, earning PRINCE2 Practitioner would give a nice boost to your professional profile. Read more about PRINCE2 exam preparation.
Related: PMP vs. PRINCE2 certifications comparison.