PRINCE2 Certification: The Ultimate Exam Preparation Guide
Spoiler alert: the PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner exams themselves are relatively easy, as far as the certification exams go. You need to get a little over half of the questions right to pass, versus around 70% for PMP or 85% for PSM.
But figuring out the exam cost and actually booking it is less than straightforward…
Related: Is the project manager career a good fit for me?
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- What the PRINCE2 certification is and if it’s worth obtaining
- How to navigate your way to booking an exam
- How to prepare for your exam and pass it successfully.
History of PRINCE2 and Axelos
You probably already know that PRINCE stands for “Projects in Controlled Environments”.
But do you know why it’s the second version? Did you know that even the first version is not the original PRINCE? Does it baffle you that, while Axelos is the sole entity responsible for maintaining the certification, you can’t purchase the exam voucher anywhere on the website?
To lay a good foundation for the rest of this article, we need to understand how the PRINCE2 methodology and certification were incepted and how they evolved.
PRINCE2 and Axelos timeline
1975. In response to a requirement from the UK government, Simpact Systems Ltd develops a project management framework for IT systems, Project Resource Organisation Management Planning Technique. It contained a system development module called PROMPT II.
1989. Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), a former UK government agency (1957-2000), adopts PROMPT II as a UK Government standard for IT project management.
They gave the method a new name, PRINCE, or “PROMPT II IN the CCTA Environment”. But the name was soon changed to “Projects in Controlled Environments”.
1996. After consulting with numerous project management experts and organizations in Europe, the virtual committee agreed on the best practices.
His Majesty’s Cabinet Office publishes PRINCE2 – an updated and more versatile version of the PRINCE method that could be tailored to businesses in various industries, not only IT.
2013. HM Cabinet Office transfers the ownership of PRINCE2 to Axelos. Axelos is a joint venture set up by the UK government and Capita plc, to develop, manage and operate qualifications in best practice.
PeopleCert officially becomes the examination institute to deliver Axelos exams.
2021. PeopleCert acquires Axelos.
What’s the difference between the 5th and the 6th edition?
Since its first edition in 1996, PRINCE2 had five more iterations. They used to be released every 3-4 years, but then there was an 8-year leap between the 5th edition in 2009 and the 6th in 2017.
The 5th edition exams were discontinued in 2018, but are still available on PeopleCert in the languages that the 6th edition hasn’t been translated into yet.
Is PRINCE2 certification worth it?
Any certification is worth it by the virtue of the insights, the mental exercise, and the challenge of getting ready for the exam and learning new things.
But the exam fees are steep, so you might want to make sure getting the PRINCE2 credential brings some tangible benefits, like improving your salary or securing a new job.
While PRINCE2 is a credential known worldwide, it’s mostly popular in the UK (where it originated from), Eastern Europe, and Australia.
This is confirmed by the rankings of the PRINCE2 official preparation book, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 by Axelos – it tops the charts on Amazon UK but is buried deep in the ranks on Amazon US.
A few factors why the PRINCE2 credential could be beneficial:
- You aim to apply for a project management job in a country where Axelos certifications are more common and in demand than PMI credentials.
- You work or plan to work for a governmental, corporate, or another highly regulated organization.
- You want to obtain a higher-level project management credential (Practitioner) but don’t yet have the work experience required for PMP.
Is PRINCE2 Agile?
As the name suggests, “projects in controlled environments” is specifically a traditional, waterfall methodology.
If you’re going to work for a company that uses the Agile approaches in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, PRINCE2 Agile certification might be relevant. Introduced in 2015, it has two levels, Foundation and Professional.
You could also consider pure Agile certifications like Professional Scrum Master or Professional Scrum Product Owner.
Related: What’s the difference between PSM and CSM certifications?
Is PRINCE2 worth it for me if I already have PMP?
Learning the PRINCE2 methodology is beneficial for expanding your horizons and growing as a professional.
But if you already have PMP, paying for the exam and getting the PRINCE2 Practitioner badge is worth it only if the job you’re aiming to land explicitly requires that credential.
Related: Preparing for the PMP certification exam.
PRINCE2 Foundation vs. Practitioner: what’s the difference?
The entry-level Foundation and the advanced Practitioner exams are both based on the official PRINCE2 manual. Both have a pass mark of 55%.
Let’s see how the exams differ in various aspects.
What are the PRINCE2 exam prerequisites?
PRINCE2 Foundation doesn’t have any prepequisites.
To take the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam, you need to have either the PRINCE2 Foundation credential or another approved credential from the list:
- CAPM or PMP by PMI
- One of the levels of IPMA
- PMQ or PPQ by APM
If you don’t have any of the above yet, I recommend CAPM, on the condition that:
- PRINCE2 Practitioner is your ultimate goal
- You have the funds and motivation to attempt the Practitioner exam within months of passing the entry-level exam
- You’re ready for some intense studying
Advantages of choosing CAPM:
- The exam cost is $300 even for non-members ($255 for PMI members), versus a minimum of $500 for PRINCE2 Foundation. You do need 23 contact hours for CAPM, but they could be obtained via an online course.
- You get a certification from another well-recognized institute, PMI, so you expand your credential profile.
Related: How to prepare for the Certified Associate in Project Management exam.
Are PRINCE2 exams open book?
- PRINCE2 Foundation tests your knowledge retention, and the questions could be answered by looking up the information from the book. The exam is closed book.
- PRINCE2 Practitioner gives you situational questions and asks what the best course of action would be. This requires processing and interpretation of the book concepts. It’s an open book exam: you can look up the information in the printed PRINCE2 manual.
How many questions do PRINCE2 exams have?
- PRINCE2 Foundation has 60 questions that you need to answer in 60 minutes. To pass the exam, at least 33 have to be answered correctly (55%).
- PRINCE2 Practitioner has 68 questions to be answered in 150 minutes. If you’re taking the exam in a language that isn’t your native, the time is extended by half an hour. A minimum of 38 out of 68 questions (~55%) have to be answered correctly.
Does PRINCE2 certification expire?
- PRINCE2 Foundation doesn’t expire.
- PRINCE2 Practitioner expires in three years. You need to recertify by either retaking the exam or buying the Axelos membership and enrolling in the continuing education program. See the Recertification section below for more details.
Are PRINCE2 certification exams hard?
The exams themselves are relatively easy, as far as the certification exams go. You need to get a little over half of the questions right to pass, versus around 70% for PMP or 85% for PSM.
Related: How to prepare for the Professional Scrum Master level II exam.
Is the PRINCE2 Foundation exam hard?
With the Foundation exam, you need to demonstrate that you recall and understand the material you studied.
Keywords: describe, state, identify, and define.
If you divide the allotted time by the number of questions, there’s about a minute per question, but you’ll answer most of the questions much faster.
If you have a solid understanding of each term and concept of the book, the exam should be easy.
My definition of “understanding” is “able to clearly explain to a person who is completely unfamiliar with the subject”. Not just reciting the definition, but explaining the context and filling in the gaps to make the other person “get it”.
Is the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam hard?
With 68 questions and 150 minutes to answer them, you have over 2 minutes per question.
Keywords: explain, interpret, apply, and reason.
Based on the exam syllabus, half of the questions are multiple-choice, with only one correct answer. This is an easier type since it allows you to eliminate the most unfitting answers right away and zero in on the correct one, especially if you could quickly refer to the manual.
The other half of the questions, however, is divided into blocks of three. The block contains six possible answers, and you’re asked to match each question with a correct answer.
For example: “During which activity relating to the recommended risk management procedure should each of those three actions occur?”
The trick is that the same answer could be correct for more than one question.
But it shouldn’t be confusing if:
- You mentally break the block into 3 questions with 6 answers each and focus on each question separately.
- You have a good idea of what each role, activity, and other item entails, so you only match the questions against your knowledge, not comparing them to each other to decide which one is relatively more fitting to a specific answer.
PRINCE2 certification exam cost range
The intended model for taking the PRINCE2 exam is to take training by a certified provider and pass the exam at the end. In this case, the exam price is usually bundled with the course price.
But you could also buy an exam voucher separately.
PeopleCert, an examination institute that currently owns Axelos, is the official provider of all Axelos certification exams, and their exam prices depend on which country you’re from.
When you visit the PRINCE2 certification exam page of PeopleCert, they geolocate your country based on IP and show the relevant prices. You could also change the country in the dropdown at the top of the page.
PRINCE2 Foundation exam fee
The lowest price I’ve seen is $455. The European countries have a fee of €545 on average, the US has its approximate USD equivalent ($580).
PRINCE2 Practitioner exam fee
The Practitioner exams are around 8-12% more expensive than Foundation in any currency. The average cost for European countries is €595. For the US, the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam fee is $655.
Can I book an exam with a price meant for another country?
You might have a couple of questions:
- Can I choose another country and book an exam for cheaper?
- What if I have citizenship in one country but currently live in another country?
Regarding the first question: between the fact that your billing method is tied to a certain country and the strict exam ID policy of PeopleCert, it’s unlikely that you could keep up the ruse for long. It’s not worth risking a few hundred dollars or Euros in a bid to save a few dozen.
As for the second scenario: my guess is that the country of your billing method is considered “your” country, but if you happen to be in this situation, you might want to contact PeopleCert support to be sure.
Can I buy a PRINCE2 exam voucher from a provider other than PeopleCert?
Axelos provides a directory of Accredited Training Organizations (ATO) you could take training with, and some of them offer exam vouchers separately.
PeopleCert is the official option. If you choose to buy a separate exam voucher anywhere else, thread at your own discretion.
Related: Pros and Cons of taking a certification exam online.
How do I study for PRINCE2 Foundation and Professional exams?
I’m explaining the exam preparation strategies and tips in a separate article.
Here, I’d like to focus on the materials and techniques specific to PRINCE2.
You could check a brief overview of PRINCE2 principles, themes, processes, and other elements of the method. But your main source of study material will be the 430-page book.
The ultimate preparation guide for PRINCE2
Everything you need to know about the PRINCE2 methodology, everything the exams will ask you is contained in the official manual, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2.
Axelos gives an extremely detailed breakdown of what topics and items they’ll be asking about, along with the references pointing to the specific chapters in the Manual.
Where can I get the PRINCE2 Manual?
The official PRINCE2 preparation book, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (2017 edition), is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
If you’re serious about passing the PRINCE2 exam, you should get a print copy of the book.
Can I self-study for PRINCE2?
Training by an Accredited Training Organization is recommended but not mandatory. You can take the PRINCE2 Foundation or Professional exam without buying a training course.
You could study the materials and practice by yourself or in a study group and book the exam with PeopleCert once you feel ready.
Related: How to pick an online course that you’ll get the most from?
PRINCE2 certification exam topics and questions
For both Foundation and Practitioner, Axelos published the detailed exam syllabus and a sample exam paper with 60-68 questions and answers.
- PRINCE2 Foundation exam syllabus and a sample paper.
- PRINCE2 Practitioner exam syllabus and a sample paper.
How to emulate the exam experience using Axelos materials
The full sample versions of the Foundation and Practitioner exams that Axelos provides are a great gift. Most certification providers only give a few questions as a sample or give example questions only for the first level of their certification exam.
So, you have questions that are official and correct, but the pool is very limited. How do you make the most out of the sample exam questions for PRINCE2?
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to turn them into exam simulators.
Related: Online research strategy guide.
PRINCE2 Foundation: free exam simulator
- Get the Axelos PRINCE2 Manual.
- Download the Foundation exam syllabus, review it carefully, and keep it as a reference as you study the book.
- To master the material, explain the concepts to other people. It helps to organize a study group, online or offline.
- Download the PRINCE2 Foundation exam sample paper on Axelos. It contains two PDFs: the questions and the answers with explanations.
- Open the questions PDF and carefully scroll down to put the first question into view. Consider the options and give an answer.
- Open the answers PDF and very, very carefully scroll down to reveal the first answer. If the answer is correct, go back to #5 and move to another question.
- If you answered incorrectly, reflect on why you were wrong. Put the PDFs away and study the topic more. Do a general refresher on other topics.
- After studying for a few more hours, go back to the PDFs and start from #5.
- Repeat until you get to the end of the test.
PRINCE2 Practitioner: free exam simulator
Your DIY PRINCE2 Practitioner exam simulator using free Axelos materials:
- Do the steps from the PRINCE2 Foundation exam simulator above.
- Download the Practitioner exam syllabus and review it carefully.
- Come up with a couple of potential projects in different areas and go through various PRINCE2 processes as applied to them. Imagine 5- 10 issues that could appear throughout the project and how you’ll be dealing with them using the PRINCE2 methodology. It’s also beneficial to discuss these with peers or in your study group.
- Download the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam sample paper on Axelos.
- Open the questions PDF and perform steps 5-8 from the Foundation exam simulator until you finish the test. Treat each question in a 3-question block as a separate question.
PRINCE2 credential recertification methods and costs
PRINCE2 Foundation used to be good-for-life. But since 2023, all Axelos certifications, including the Foundation-level ones, expire in 3 years. There are a few ways of renewing it:
- Retaking the PRINCE2 Foundation or Practitioner exam once the certification expires.
- Taking a higher-level exam within the same product suite. PRINCE2 belongs to the Project, Programme & Portfolio Management Product Suite.
- Logging Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points every year and maintaining a digital badge.
PRINCE2 digital badges
That’s right: if you opt for the re-examination route, you don’t get a digital badge. Your credential could be verified by looking up your name in the Successful Candidates Register.
Subscribing to Axelos and logging CPD is mandatory if you want to receive and maintain your digital badge for any of the Axelos exams.
You could integrate the Credly digital badge with LinkedIn, Upwork, and various other platforms.
Related: Should I renew my professional certification?
Is it better to renew PRINCE2 certification with re-examination or logging CPD?
The answer seems obvious: with the subscription, the 3-year cost of recertification amounts to 150 GBP, which is comparable to the recertification cost of other project management certifications. You also get a digital badge.
But some might opt for re-examination for the following reasons:
- They don’t feel like the badge is necessary
- Earning and logging CPD is a hassle
- They’re fine with doing another round of studying and paying the full exam price again
- They feel like renewing the credential might not be necessary. For example, they would be working at a stable job three years from now, and at that point, their colleagues or superiors won’t be questioning the status of their PRINCE2 credential – and if they need to start the job hunt again, they’ll just retake the exam.
This might sound convoluted, but I’m scrambling to find reasons why anyone would prefer the re-certification route in this scenario. If you know of better reasoning, get in touch and let me know.
Subscribing to MyAxelos and logging CPD
PeopleCert also offers MyAxelos yearly membership, with a price that depends on the country.
But Axelos itself has an offer: monthly or annual subscription. A yearly subscription costs 50 GBP + VAT.
You could pick the monthly subscription if you want to get access to Axelos materials, but to maintain your digital badges, you need the yearly membership.
Based on the old MyAxelos handbook, the first year of subscription used to be given away for free to the successful exam takers, you didn’t have to log the CPD points in the first year, and the subsequent years had a lower subscription fee.
This day, you can claim a 3-month free trial of MyAxelos through your results page on the PeopleCert candidate portal. You need to log 20 CPD points starting with the year you passed your certification.
Ways of getting CPD points for PRINCE2
Out of 20 CPD points, 5 must be logged in the Professional Experience category: applying the best practices in the workplace, coaching and mentoring.
The remaining 15 could be earned by attending professional training, organizing and participating in events, reading books, contributing to discussions, and so on.
Here’s the full list of activities for getting CPD.
Passing the Practitioner exam confirms that you have a good grasp of the PRINCE2 concepts but it’s important to apply your knowledge and to keep investing your time and energy in your professional development.
Good luck with your exam!