[PMI-ACP Exam Lessons Learned] Taking the Exam to Demonstrate Depth & Breadth in Agile

PMP Exam Experience Sharing

Below is the PMI-ACP® Exam lesson learned from a recent PMI-ACP® Certification holder, Theresa Ponce Rankin who is so kind to share the experience from PMI-ACP® exam journey in 2019:

Thanks for your note and thanks again for your awesome website. Your site is so comprehensive, I have little to add, but I can make these personal observations regarding PMI-ACP® prep (thanks for asking):

–BOOKS. I used two books for content review, both available from my public library: Head First Agile (Stellman/Greene) and The PMI-ACP® Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try (Crowe). Both books are very easy reads, not overly technical, and contain short and long practice tests that explain the reasoning behind the answers. The only book I purchased was PMtraining’s PMI-ACP® Exam Prep Questions, Answers & Explanations which has no content other than many mock exams and a short appendix of quite helpful exam-taking tips (my library didn’t stock it, otherwise I would have borrowed it!). I read the first two leisurely; I read them both twice, and they make a lot more sense upon the second readings. I used the third one to practice speedy exam question responses during the month prior to exam day.

–MY OWN “BOOK.” I took as many online practice tests as I could (the free ones you suggested on your website- thanks again!) to expose my knowledge gaps. Whenever I encountered a term or concept I didn’t know, I jotted it down in my own notebook (I also made an Excel spreadsheet glossary). Learning theorists claim that this drives new knowledge deeper into your brain (vs. just reading it). I kept a running log of useful websites so I could go back and refresh the unfamiliar concepts. I like visuals, so I cut and pasted my favourite graphics into the Excel tabs of the glossary spreadsheet and linked them to the terminology entry. By the end, my Excel tabs were: Glossary, Domain-Tasks-Traps (inspired by your chart and the Crowe book), Financial-Metrics (also based on your helpful guidance), Manifesto-and-PMI, Dec-interdep-APM, Agile-Roles-LC-PMI, XP-Practices, Methods-Graphs, Agile-Contracts, Situational-Leadership, PMI-Pain-Points+Tailoring, Retro-Activities (from the Derby/Larsen free download https://agile.2ia.net/Agile%20Retrospectives.pdf), Dreyfus-Competence, and Kano-Model. I would have included a tab on Scrum but I know that material fairly well. On my exam, I did see a number of questions regarding story points, velocity, and event sequencing where knowing Scrum was important.

–PLANNING. Your site was very helpful in creating an end-to-end plan. I made sure to have all my supporting real-world work experience project details ready, in case I was audited, BEFORE applying (including asking permission from the project Sponsors and warning them they might be contacted). I did not get audited, but it was good to know I could survive one if needed. I paced my studying gradually over about 5 months. This included taking the PSPO and PSM exams from Scrum.org first, then clearing my head from some of the “pure Scrum” principles (which do differ in places from PMI’s perspective). I found that taking PSPO and PSM was great prep for the PMI-ACP® in the areas of Scrum mechanics. I relied heavily on https://mlapshin.com/index.php/scrum-quizzes/ and scored over 90 on both PSPO I and PSM I on the first try. Like you, Mikhail Lapshin has a passion for sharing his learning and creating a supportive community of exam preparers and experts. Scrum.org does not require enrolment in any formal prep courses, which is a big plus if you are on a budget. When I finally felt very ready to take the PMI-ACP® test, I chose a test day that was 3 weeks later, giving me a deadline for studying.

–PMI MEMBERSHIP. Austin TX has a huge active PMI chapter, full of certified experts and training affiliates who are interested in sharing their own experiences. If the exam-taker lives in a region like this, I would recommend getting plugged into the local chapter if they are not already. At a minimum, I agree with you that we should keep our PMI memberships current, rather than view PMI as merely “that certifying body for my PMI-ACP®/PMP.”

–FORMAL TRAINING. I was fortunate to be a TAA recipient so the US Federal Government paid for my Agile Management certificate program (Villanova University distance learning program, https://www.villanovau.com/programs/certificates/agile-management/certificate-in-agile-management/). This is a program designed for working adults, spread out over six months with weekly instructor-led lectures and its own certificate (“PCAS”). This program can be taken in three modules, and each counts for a whopping 50 PDUs toward the formal education requirement. The program is expensive, however, and while some of my cohorts were paying out of pocket for the tuition, most of us had employers or government funding picking up the costs. The program is certainly comprehensive and useful (especially if you are working in the real world), but I believe I could have passed PMI-ACP® without it because your site, the books mentioned above, and doing Scrum.org certifications beforehand (using mlapshin.com) were really the most relevant foundation elements of my PMI-ACP® exam prep.

–EXAM WEEK/DAY. In the final week prior to test day, believe test-takers should not be trying to learn new things, just spot-reviewing, especially in test-taking efficiency tactics. This is where my own notebook and terminology spreadsheet were helpful. I visited the test centre and timed the commute a few days prior to test day. Some test centres offer free “test drive” sessions (note: my test centre in Austin TX required test drive reservations more than 1 week in advance!). I suggest planning on spending the entire 3 hours in the proctored exam room on test day, so don’t show up hungry/thirsty. In my particular exam, I would say 80% of the questions relied on more depth-learning vs. 20% “memorise obscure facts” type questions. I over-prepared for those fact-based questions and saw few of them—so this meant more of the time-consuming scenario-analysis questions, which for me took up the entire exam time with no breaks. Like you, I saw no EV questions, but that doesn’t mean they are not in the question bank! I chose not to use precious exam time “data dumping” onto my scratch paper- turns out this would have been time wasted (again, maybe not for other versions of the test, of course).

–LAST COMMENT AND THANKS. Ultimately, we undertake the PMI-ACP® to demonstrate we have depth and breadth in Agile, *not* to prove we are good test-takers. Learning the material (or reviewing, if you are a seasoned expert already) should be an investment in yourself, with or without the exam. I believe the studying leading up to the exam has greatly improved my Agile knowledge in general, which in turn will make me more effective in the real world. Even after ten years working as a software program manager in a somewhat-Agile environment, I was humbled by what I *thought* I knew but actually did not.

Thanks again for your website, Edward. It really was my blueprint for PMI-ACP® exam prep success and a wonderful source of knowledge and encouragement.

Thanks Theresa for sharing his PMI-ACP® lessons learned!

Wish you PMI-ACP® success!

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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3 Responses

  1. MARINA MIGALE says:

    Hi Edward, yesterday, May 24 2021, I took the PMI_ACP at the first attempt.
    I would like to thank you for sharing your notes and also the tips/suggestion on how the exam questions.
    thank you a lot

  2. Sam says:

    Hi Edward and Theresa, Thanks for your detailed article. I am working to get my certification. I was wondering if Theresa is kind enough to share her Excel Notes. I am preparing myself using Lynda.com, google and youtube and due to financial crunch, can’t buy any books and so truly appreciate all the agilist, who are freely sharing their knowledge and experience. Our public library carries few books on Agile PM but unfortunately, we don’t know if and when we will get those books as they are booked months in advance and it may even take an year to get your turn.