How the CAPM exam is changing in 2023: What you need to know

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The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® exam is changing in 2023.

This will bring it in line with the latest PMBOK® Guide – 7th edition and generally more modern ways of thinking about project management.

So what do you need to know? In this article, I’ll outline what’s currently announced about the changes and how you can prepare.

Woah, the exam is changing? I didn’t know. How did that happen?

Every so often PMI carry out an assessment of what people in project management jobs do all day. This helps them check that the certification exam still tests the project management skills required for someone who typically holds this certification. This exercise included market research and also a job tasks analysis, as well as identifying trends. The output of the analysis informed the changes.

The point is to make sure the CAPM exam reflects current practice and to make any tweaks appropriate to keep it still relevant for both professionals and the organizations that hire them.

The implication right now is that the old version of the exam doesn’t include enough about agile and hybrid to reflect the ways of working that are current practice in many businesses. Therefore, the exam gets updated to make sure candidates have a decent working knowledge of predictive (waterfall), adaptive (agile) and hybrid project management approaches.

When is the CAPM® exam changing?

At the time of writing, PMI had not yet announced the new date from which all candidates would be taking the new exam.

However, they are going through a pilot period to test the new exam and the exam content outline.

Given that the exercise for piloting the new exam is well underway, I would assume that the exam will change in early 2023.

Normally, PMI provides enough notice to candidates so they can finish up studying with their existing training materials and get their exam booked before it changes. That also gives training providers time to update their courses.

What is changing with the latest update?

The current CAPM exam was very much a memorization exercise from what was in the PMBOK® Guide – Sixth edition. If you knew the contents of the book, and could manage your time in the exam, you’d be OK.

The new exam will have the same approach in that it will still test the fundamentals, common practices, terminology, processes, but it will draw from a wider pool of professional practice. You should expect to be tested on agile, hybrid and different delivery approaches and ways of working as well.

In other words – to me, at least – it feels like the exam is going to get harder because it will cover more concepts.

If you work in an agile environment then you might actually find the exam tests more of your real experience and it gets easier!

What domains will be tested?

The new CAPM exam will test 4 different domain areas. These are:

  • Project management fundamentals and core concepts
  • Predictive plan-based methodologies
  • Agile frameworks/methodologies
  • Business analysis frameworks.

How questions are split on the new exam

Questions across the domains are split like this:

DomainPercentage of test questions on the domain
Project management fundamentals and core concepts36%
Predictive, plan-based methodologies17%
Agile frameworks/methodologies20%
Business analysis frameworks27%

Yikes, more questions on agile and business analysis than on predictive projects? I think that tells you something about the way waterfall is going…

Let’s break down these domains a bit.

Project management fundamentals and core concepts

This domain is all about understanding the different lifecycles and basics like the need to plan, and execute, solve problems and identify roles and responsibilities.

Predictive plan-based methodologies

This domain is about recognizing when predictive methods are appropriate and common scheduling and planning techniques like using critical path methods and creating a work breakdown structure. It also covers project controls.

Agile frameworks/methodologies

In this domain you’ll evidence that you understand when it’s appropriate to use an adaptive approach, how to plan iterations and explain the agile different methodologies. The domain also covers document control and artifact creation as well as how to ‘execute task management steps’ i.e. doing the work.

Business analysis frameworks

This domain is the most controversial for me, if you hadn’t picked that up already! The domain tests your understanding of the Business Analysis role and responsibilities, talks about stakeholder communication (isn’t this important for project managers too?), requirements gathering (don’t BAs call this requirements elicitation?), product roadmaps and validating requirements through delivery which is about traceability.

It also tests your knowledge of how project methodologies influence business analysis processes, which seems to be about how you would work on a predictive or agile/adaptive team as a BA and what the role would do in those different environments.

It is certainly a different syllabus to before.

What are the reference texts?

Previously, the only reference text you needed was the PMBOK® Guide. Now, it’s recommended that you read more widely.

The reference texts are:

  • PMBOK® Guide – 7th edition (PMI)
  • PMIStandards+ (which is effectively a searchable, digital version of the PMBOK® Guide – 6th edition)
  • Agile Practice Guide (PMI)
  • Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide (PMI)
  • Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme, Hybrid (Robert K. Wysocki and a personal favorite read of mine)
  • Project Management Answer Book, 2nd Edition (written by my friend Jeff Furman – excuse the name dropping!)
  • The PMI Guide to Business Analysis (PMI).

The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is also mentioned in the exam content outline, so you’ll need to read that too (it’s short; don’t worry).

What you’ll notice is there are two business analysis books on the pilot reference list. I’m not sure whether that will be the case in the full exam, as the role of a CAPM® certified professional is not necessarily to do business analysis. PM and BA are two distinct, albeit complimentary, professions.

I think the apparent focus on BA skills might muddy the water somewhat for students, but let’s see how it evolves.

Will the exam experience change?

Yes.

Although not by much.

The current and new exams are 150 multiple-choice questions over 3 hours, either taken at a test center or via the online proctoring system (of which I have mainly heard bad things, to be honest).

The difference in the exam experience is that there will be a 10-minute break added to the exam, after you’ve completed 75 questions.

Do you need agile experience to take the exam?

Not technically, no. The exam eligibility requirements are not changing.

But I expect you’ll find the agile and hybrid questions a lot easier if you have experience working on agile projects.

What do I need to do?

First, don’t panic!

If you’re reading this and the exam hasn’t changed yet, book your exam, get your CAPM training course and just take the test before the change.

If you’re reading this and you’ll be taking the new exam, then don’t worry. Get a PMI membership and gain free access to the PMBOK® Guide, PMIStandards+ and the Agile Practice Guide and save on your examination costs.

If you are clear about the concepts described in those, you have covered a lot of the material. If you can afford to, get the other reference texts and read those, but a good (updated) exam prep course will cover what you need anyway.

Next, get yourself a copy of the exam outline. This is the document that outlines exactly what is going to be in the exam. If you are comfortable with the topics in here, then you’ll be fine with the questions.

Get a CAPM prep course, like the PM PrepCast or Brain Sensei, and start learning how to pass the exam right now!

Remember: If you are scheduling your exam after the change, make sure the training provider has updated their training material to align with the new exam content outline.

Meanwhile, practicing with an exam simulator is still my preferred option for getting exam ready.

Should I be worried about the CAPM exam changes?

No!

People have been studying for and passing this exam for years. 2023 and beyond might bring a few tweaks, but ultimately if you study, use good exam prep materials (like this course or this one), take practice exams and feel ready, you’ll be fine.

The changes might feel like a big change at the moment, but hopefully in time they will feel like a natural evolution of the requirements of the job. Take some practice exams to build your confidence and then go for it! Good luck!

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