Blog Agile and Scrum ULTIMATE GUIDE for Preparing PMI-ACP Certification Exam

ULTIMATE GUIDE for Preparing PMI-ACP Certification Exam [Don’t Miss It!!]

PMI-ACP certification is one of the fastest growing certification from Project Management Institute (PMI). The growth rate is greater than their Key PMP certification. The exam is conducted throughout the year via Prometric testing centers and there is a specific application process you need to follow to take this exam. It is different from other exams since it requires knowledge on agile values, principles and your skills with agile tools and techniques.

How to prepare for PMI-ACP certification exam?

It covers many approaches to agile like Scrum, Extreme Programming(XP), Kanban, Test-Driven Development(TDD), Crystal, Feature-Driven development(FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Method(DSDM) and Lean Product Development. The spread is more and hence you would be armed with various option to handle the projects in the best possible way by achieving this certification. There is no short-cut to success and no ready-made dump available to pass the exam. You need to acquire the relevant skills in agile approaches and have the right agile mindset to achieve success in this exam.

Eligibility to apply for PMI-ACP Certification

You must meet the following requirements as outlined by PMI to apply for this exam.

PMI-ACP Exam Eligibility

PMI-ACP Eligibility Infographics

*Note: PMP / PgMP credential holders will be accepted as fulfilling the general project experience requirements.

 PMI-ACP Certification Process

  • Submit your application online or via mail to PMI. PMI’s response time is faster for electronic submission. You have 90 days to complete the application once you started it.
  • PMI takes 5 business days to complete the application completeness review after you submit your application online.
  • You need to complete the payment of credential fees for computer-based testing ($435 for PMI members and $495 for non-member).
  • If your application is selected for audit process you have 90 days to send your audit materials. PMI processes the audit material in 5-7 days.
  • You receive your authorization to schedule the exam in any prometric testing centers within one year from the date of the application approval. You can take the exam up to 3 times during this 1 year. You need to pay your re-examination fees to the second and third attempts to pass the examination. (($335 for PMI members and $395 for non-member).
  • You need to acquire 30 PDUs within 3 years to maintain the credential acquired failing which your credential is suspended for 1 year. If you are not acquiring the PDUs before that, your credential expires. If you wish to hold the credential again, you need to reapply.

The PMI-ACP exam consists of 120 objective questions with four options and you have 3 hours to complete the exam. 20 out of the 120 questions are pre-release questions and not counted for scoring your exam. PMI does not disclose the pass score for the exam and the passing score is determined by psychometric analysis.

PMI-ACP Exam Information

Why take the PMI-ACP certification?

In this dynamic world, almost all the knowledge work projects are moving to the agile approach to make sure they have the flexibility to manage the projects and to meet the customer demand effectively. Every organization is training their key resources in the agile approach to build the agile competency to get more business opportunities. The demand for the certified person in this area is huge and there are many certifications available in the market.

The differentiating factor of PMI-ACP certifications is that it requires you to have the experience in agile practices and tools, contact hours and the requirement to pass the exam which is of high standard. Earning the PMI-ACP certification will give you an edge over your competitor and organization are valuing these people like an asset.  You are also demonstrating that you have competency in many agile approach like Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean Product Development, Test-Driven Development(TDD), Crystal, Feature-Driven development(FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Method(DSDM).

PMI-ACP Online Course

What are the resources available for the PMI-ACP certification?

  • Agile Certified Practitioner Training to acquire the 21 hours of contact hours’ requirement online /classroom sessions.
  • PMI-ACP exam preparation book.
  • PMI-ACP exam simulation software to practice mock exams.
  • Objective question bank for PMI-ACP exam to practice test in each of the agile domains.

Note: The PMI-ACP exam content is taken from various reference books and reading all the reference books in not necessary to pass the exam.

SWOT Analysis for the candidates planning for the PMI-ACP certification

Before applying for the PMI-ACP exam, the candidates must analyse the expertise they have in Agile practices and tools. The preparation technique is different for different skilled person and an analyse of your strength, weakness, opportunities and treats would help to plan the right strategy to achieve success in this examination.

Take a mock test of around 20 questions on each domain area of Agile approach and see where you stand. This will help you to identify your strong and weak knowledge areas in agile practices. The strength and weakness of candidates is based on their previous experience in agile projects and training in agile tools and techniques. So, you need to plan your preparation accordingly.

You may have the skill in one approach of agile like scrum but this exam requires you to have a good command over multiple agile approaches and hence don’t overestimate yourself, even if you have extensive experience in one agile approach.

How to prepare for the PMI-ACP certification?

The exam content of the PMI-ACP certification is slightly complicated and you need to read more than 10 references books to cover the syllabus. Only portion of the books from each references book are required to read to prepare for the exam. Hence, acquiring all the books is not the right strategy and it is not the cost and time effective approach to clear this exam.

Candidates need to have the training in the PMI-ACP exam, experience in the agile practices, techniques and tools and good knowledge about the various agile approaches to achieve this certification.

If you don’t have the agile practices training so far, I recommend you to attend either online training or class room training from a reputed institute which will guide you in the right path for your PMI-ACP certification process.

Plan to acquire a book which covers the content required for the PMI-ACP certification which is the combination of the reading from various topics in the reference books. This save enormous amount of time and you can position your preparation based on the single quality book.  To get the best out of any book, plan to read the book thrice and you do not need to memorizing anything in the process. This will help you to acquire the required agile mindset which is critical to pass the exam.

Most of the candidates have experience in the traditional approach to project management and with limited exposure to agile approaches. You might have built your career based on the traditional approach. Hence the challenge is having the agile mindset. You always think from a traditional approach perspective. But agile concepts are entirely opposite to the traditional concepts and understanding both the processes is critical for you to get the agile mindset. If your experiences are only in agile approaches, then it is easy for you to get the agile mindset.

While reading each domain, you can realise that whatever processes we are following in the waterfall or iterative approach to project management is entirely different in the agile world. So, consolidation of the agile knowledge and understand the relationship between each domain in the agile practices is important.

Another important aspect is that both traditional as well as agile approach to project management complements each other and are not going to replace one another. Different types of projects require different approaches and agile is well suitable for the knowledge work projects where frequency of changes is more.

You can relate your real-time experience in agile practices and understand all the process. You may not have experience in all these processes and various approaches in agile and hence deeply analyse those processes where you don’t have experience. Then you can evaluate yourself with practice test based on each domain and identify the processes where you are not comfortable. Revisit those processes to bridge the gap in your knowledge.

You need to plan for group discussion with other colleagues who are also appearing for the PMI-ACP exam at regular intervals during your preparation. This would help to understand the concepts from different perspective.

Finally, minimum 15 days before the exam date, take one mock exam from any PMI-ACP exam simulation software. If you cross 80% in that exam, then it is an indication that you are on track. Analysis of your result of the mock exam would help to identify the gaps in your knowledge and you can work on your skill gaps before the next mock exam which you can plan after a week. You can repeat the process and take the final mock exam and complete this process before two days of the actual exam date.  The last two days can be used to relax your mind and give time to process all your learning. Relax yourself but do some activity related to the exam.

Attend the actual exam and pass the exam.    

PMI-ACP Free Test

Study plan and implementation strategy

This exam requires excellent usage of your time and money which will help you to pass the exam. Identify your best possible time to appear for the exam and plan your exam date accordingly.

A normal candidate with agile practitioner training and experience in agile tools and techniques requires around 20 hrs per week for 2 to 3 months of time to pass this exam. In addition to the time, you also plan to invest around              Rs 75,000 which includes the exam fees to pass this exam.

Consistency is the key and you need to allocate minimum of 2 hrs per day during week days and around 5 hrs during the week end for preparation. Don’t even miss your preparation for a single day. If the continuity is missing, it would impact the preparation process and you need to again re-plan your activity which is waste of time.

Your study plan should cover the following points:

  • Online / Classroom training in the PMI-ACP certification
  • Prepare a standard book on PMI-ACP exam preparation
  • Group discussion with peers on each topic
  • Practice tests based on each domain in agile
  • 3 Mock exams using PMI-ACP exam simulation software

Follow a schedule of your choice and make sure you have discussion on each agile practice, work on your weak areas to overcome the gap in your knowledge and pass the exam successfully. Allocate sufficient buffer time and money and plan for the exam date accordingly. This will help to manage for any unplanned deviation in your study plan.

 Types of questions in the PMI-ACP exam

The following are the different types of questions you can see in the PMI-ACP exam

  • Situation based questions. Only candidates with good experience and knowledge in agile practice can choose the right answers.
  • Questions with two or more possible right answers.
  • Questions which test agile mindset, values and principles.
  • Question which test the basic knowledge about various agile approach.
  • Questions related to tools and techniques & knowledge and skills of agile practices.
  • Questions related to PMI-ACP maths.

How to prepare for the situation based questions?

These questions require you to have real-time agile experience and agile mindset.

Sample Question:

The deliverables committed as part of the sprint was not delivered by the team. During the retrospective meeting, what will happen?

  1. The scrum master directed the team to find the actual reason for the slippage in the delivery
  2. Team decided to do the backlog work as part of the next sprint
  3. Team collect the required data for the slippage and identify the root cause of the issue
  4. The scrum master provides the solution to the delivery slippage

The correct answer is option C.

In a scrum approach, only the team can decide about the root cause of any issue and the scrum master can facilitate for that discussion. The idea behind that is the team needs to be self-organizing and they need to be accountable for all the decision. Hence option A, C are not correct. In a retrospective meeting the team needs to identify the reason for the missing deliverables first and the missed deliverable may not part of the next sprint and it depends on the prioritization of the user stories for the next sprint. Hence option B is not correct and the right option is C.

These kind of questions needs to be handled based on your real-time experience in agile world and choose the best option for that situation. You need to practise lot of questions to prepare your agile mindset to answer these questions correctly.

How to prepare for the questions for which more than two possible right answers?

You need to have good agile experience and knowledge over different agile approach to handle these questions.

Sample Question:

The best approach to estimating the user stories in a project is

  1. Estimate the user stories based on ideal days
  2. Estimate the user stories based on story points
  3. Estimate the stories based on your intuition
  4. Provide the rough order of estimation for the user stories

The correct answer is option B.

Most of the time, estimation of user stories is done by either ideal days or story points. Hence you can eliminate option C and D.  Both option A and B appears to be the right answer. One person ideal day is not the same as the ideal day of others and hence this approach is not the best one to adopt. Story point estimation is based on relative sizing and hence the correct answer is option B.

To weed out the less experience and limited knowledge candidates these questions appear in the exam. For them, almost two to three options, sometimes all the options appear to be right due to their limited knowledge and experience. Best agile practitioners handle these questions effectively. Have good agile practitioner training and acquiring good experience in the agile world is the key to handle these questions.

How to prepare for the questions which test agile mindset, values and principles?

Once you have acquired the agile mindset these questions are relatively each to handle. You need to master the agile values and principles to choose the correct answer.

Sample Question:

Agile practitioner give most value to which of the things above contract negotiation?

  1. Individuals and Interactions
  2. Customer collaboration
  3. Working software
  4. Responding to change

The correct answer is option B.

This is a straight forward question from agile values and you can see some questions in these fashions. If you have the knowledge about the agile values, you can answer that easily.

Sample Question:

Which of the following is correct regarding documentation in agile projects?

  1. There is no need to do any documentation at all
  2. Working software is important and you can neglect the documentation part
  3. A bare minimum documentation is required to satisfy your manager
  4. Precedence to the working software over documentation but not eliminated the documentation needs of the project

 

The correct answer is option D

Again, here the agile values are tested but given in a slightly different way.

How to prepare for the questions which test the basic knowledge about various agile approaches?

There is specific term you use, when you are following a specific agile approach. For example, sprint, scrum master, sprint retrospective, product owner etc., when you are using the agile scrum approach. Similarly, when you are following extreme programming, you can use key words like coach, customer, iteration planning, pair programming, continuous integration. Learn all the keys words associated with all the agile approaches. This will help you to answer well in the exam.

Sample Question:

Which of the following is the responsibility of the scrum master?

  1. Facilitate the team to deliver the incremental product committed for the sprint
  2. Assign the various use stories to all the resources to complete the required task
  3. Provide the prioritized activity list to get the best out of the team
  4. Conduct frequent meeting with the team to prevent them from deviation from the committed delivery

The correct answer is option A.

Here a good knowledge of the scrum processes would help the candidate to choose the correct answer. Rest of the options are not part of scrum activities.

How to prepare for the questions which are related to tools and techniques and knowledge and skills of agile practices?

Candidates need to focus on the different tools and techniques used in all the agile domain. Also, they need to have the grip over the knowledge and skills associated with a domain. For example, team performance domain, some of the important tools are burndown charts, osmatic communication, velocity. Some of the important knowledge and skills are team motivation, building agile teams, physical and virtual co-location. A comprehensive list is provided in the examination content outline document from PMI. Don’t memorize and understand each tools and techniques & knowledge and skills to answer well in these areas.

Sample Questions:

The tool use to know whether the new process implemented in the project is stable or not

  1. Flowchart
  2. Fishbone diagram
  3. Control chart
  4. Histogram

The correct answer is C.

Control chart is a tool which help us to know whether the implemented process is in control or not. Knowledge about this would help you to answer this question.

The team is formed newly and the what is the best leadership approach to use in this situation?

  1. Coaching
  2. Delegating
  3. Directing
  4. Supporting

The correct answer is C.

Adaptive leadership is one of the tools and technique you can use in agile projects which uses different leadership approaches for different situation. This question is based on adaptive leadership technique.

How to prepare for questions related to PMI-ACP maths?

Most of the maths applicable to the traditional approach also holds good for the project handled with agile approach. We have few more concepts added in the agile project to handle the dynamic nature of the projects. The questions in this sections are very easy to answer and you can score with less preparation.

The following areas you need to focus to get the grip over this section. Memorize the formulas for these lists.

Cost-Benefit ratio, payback period, PV, NPV, IRR, opportunity cost, sunk cost, Return on Sales, Return on Assets, Return on Investment, make-or-buy analysis, lease-or-buy analysis

expected monetary value, decision tree analysis, project cost estimation, critical path analysis, float, crashing, communication channels, PERT, standard deviation, variance

cost variance, cost performance index, schedule variance, schedule performance index, estimation to complete, estimation at completion, budget at completion and variance at completion

beta distribution, triangular distribution, bell distribution, uniform distribution, control chats, bar charts, histograms, Pareto charts, fishbone diagram, run charts, scatter diagrams, flow charts and inspections

Sample Question:

The earned value analysis of a project gives CPI as 1.5. What is the performance of the given project?

  1. Since CPI value is > 1, the project is under budget
  2. Since CPI value is > 1, the project is over budget
  3. Since CPI value is > 1, the project is on budget
  4. None of the above

The correct answer is option A.

CPI value is calculated by using the formula

Cost Performance Index (CPI) = Earned Value(EV) / Actual Cost(AC)

If CPI is > 1, you are getting more value with minimum effort and hence option A is the right answer.

Common mistakes by the PMI-ACP candidates

PMI-ACP candidates do the following mistakes during their preparation journey.

  • Most of the candidates are good in one agile approach and take this exam lightly. Since this exam is a combination of different agile approaches, you need to have solid preparation to pass the exam.
  • Attend the exam without achieving the agile mindset. Practice well to reach that level. Otherwise it is disaster for you in the exam. Many talented project managers failed in the exam due to lack of agile mindset.
  • Reschedule the exam date many times. Unless it is mandatory to reschedule the exam due to an emergency, don’t reschedule the exam. Stick to the exam date. You will not follow your study plan properly if you are not sticking to a committed date.
  • Not utilizing all the important sources for the exam. I have seen most of the candidates have the desire for this certification but not interested or willing to invest in all the tools required to prepare yourself well for the exam. The resources required to prepare for the exam differ for each candidate, but whatever you planned, needs to be used to succeed in this exam.
  • Not allocating sufficient time to prepare for the exam.
  • Lack of consistency in following your plan. If you don’t have a plan in place, then it is difficult to pass this exam.

Importance of taking tests on each agile domain

To understand the gaps in your agile knowledge, you need to do lot of practice test which would help to work on your weak areas related to the various domains.  Note down the areas where you are struggling and refresh those concepts again. This process will help you to remember the mistakes you have committed in your practice test.

Again, go for the practice test and see where you stand. Repeat the process till you get confidence in that domain and move to the practice test on new domain. Make sure you are taking practice test on new set of questions every time to see the real improvement in your knowledge in that area. If you want to practice well, acquire any question banks on the various domains on agile

Importance of taking mock exams before the actual exam

PMI-ACP exam simulation software usually has questions of high quality and help you to analyse where you stand at that time. Taking an exam for 3 hours require physical and mental strength and techniques to keep yourself focused. Mock exam help us to practice this and you will understand how to go about the exam with more clarity.

You can plan your exam in the right way based on these experiences. The questions are from all the domains of agile and practising these tests help to handle the questions effectively. Instead of understanding the difficulties in the exam site, realize these problems during the mock exam. This would help to plan for these problems and if you encounter the problem again in the exam, you can handle that easily.

How to conduct yourself during the exam?

I recommend you to take leave for two days before the exam date. You need to give time for your mind to process all the learning you have till that time. Relax yourself but do some activity related to the exam. Visit the exam site before the exam date and understand how much time it takes for you to reach your venue.

On the Exam Day:

  • You must bring your authorization letter from PMI as well as ID with the same name as per your authorization letter.
  • If you struggle to remember any concepts, write those concepts in the scratch paper given to you. This will help to relax your mind before the exam.
  • You will see one question at a time and all those 120 questions are selected immediately you started the exam and not based on your answers to a question.
  • You have the option to mark the question for review later and can move back and forth.
  • If you are reading the question multiple times, you are stressed and use breathing technique to relax yourself.
  • Focus on the question and answer. If you are thinking about the 10th question when you answering 60th question, you have not focused well for nearly 50 questions and the result should be a disaster for you.
  • Answer each question from PMI perspective and agile values and principles.
  • Follow the elimination strategy to eliminate the options which are not correct. This will help to answer more questions correctly.
  • Utilize all your 3 hours in the exam and don’t leave the exam hall before that. Approach the exam based on your plan and control the exam. Never allow the exam to control you.

Conclusion

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) is a difficult certification to achieve compare to the similar agile certifications from other providers in the market. You need to earn this certification by your hard work and experience and every employer in this world know about that. Most of the customers are mandating their vendors to switch to the agile approach to management of the projects. The demand in the market is so high and you can create a space for yourself in your dream company. It differentiates yourself from your peers and it is a passport for your journey all over the world.

All the best for your preparation for this PMI-ACP exam!!!

References

Please refer to the following link for the PMI-ACP candidate handbook and exam content outline from PMI

About Dharmalingam N

Dharmalingam.N holds a master degree in Business Administration and writes on a wide range of topics ranging from technology to business analysis. He has a background in Relationship Management. Some of the topics he has written about and that have been published include; project management, business analysis and customer engagement.
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