PMI-ACP Exam Explained – Tips and Experiences Taking the Agile Certified Practitioner Test

It was FREEZING in this Test Center

I just completed the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) exam at a local test taking facility.

Facts about my test taking experience:

  • I was initially accepted into the PMI-ACP exam pilot in June, 2011.
  • I received countless emails about my need to take the exam soon.
  • I ignored them all until the last possible minute.
  • I paid my dues and signed up for the exam on Monday, November 28th, 2011 at 9:03PM.
  • I took the test on the last possible day, 2 days later on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 12:45PM.
  • The test took me 2 hours, 10 minutes (approx).
  • I completed my first pass of the test within 45 minutes.
  • I completed my first review of my answers within 35 minutes (because I like to be thorough).
  • I completed my 3rd and final review of my answers in about 30 minutes (because I wanted to have material to blog about for this post).

Tips on what to know (because you already know it anyway):

  • Fully understand the principles and practices around Agile (including estimation, prioritization, and team dynamics) ~50 Questions
  • Fully understand the Scrum roles (ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Team) ~25 Questions
  • Fully understand basic Scrum ceremonies and artifacts (Sprint Planning, Release Planning, Retrospective, Reviews, Burndowns, wallboards, backlog management) ~25 Questions
  • Understand the foundational elements of XP (Extreme Programming) ~10 Questions
  • Understand Agile Value Stream Mapping stuff ~5-10 Questions
  • Understand Agile Portfolio Management ~5-10 Questions
  • Understand Agile Risk Management ~5-10 Questions
  • Understand some Lean Software Development stuff ~5 Questions

What not to worry about:

  • Buying all 12 of the books on the PMI reading list. If you’ve been doing Agile, you probably own a couple of these anyway (Full disclosure, I own 8-9 of them).
  • Crystal, FDD, DSDM – Not in the test.
  • Scenario questions – They are easy. Use your noggin… or noodle.
  • Doing super complicated formula stuff. I seriously expected to have to solve some Earned Value Management questions like utilizing formulas: PV=(FPV)/((1+IR)^N) and NPV= -COST+(Income)/((1+DI)^N)… and so forth. I guess it’s just the engineer in me.
  • Also, I seriously thought that we’d be jumping into some deep analysis of Agile methods… don’t know why I thought this…
  • I did think there was going to be more … how do you say… engineering ideas and practices in there (devOps anyone?). But don’t worry. There isn’t.

What I didn’t like:

  • First off – These questions were based off of like 12 different books. There isn’t a succinct alignment to some of the questions. Meaning, I could actually move from question to question like I was taking snippets from a book to another book. It was really odd to me. *Personal issue*
  • Some of the questions were worded really weird.  “Uh, what the heck are you asking me with this question?” – It’s not cool to have to re-read a question over and over, sound it out, and then say it out loud to make any sense of it. There were a couple of questions that were like this. I really hope PMI irons this out.
  • Some of the questions were vague because over time different Agile Coaches grow, form their own opinions, and execute Agile differently. Therefore some textbook definitions might be too rigid for those who have been doing it for a while.
  • A lot of questions talked about the “Agile Project Manager” (which is a new title dubbed from the PMI). In my experience, I don’t interact with a lot of “Agile Project Managers”… … 🙂
  • Not enough considerations around Agile Coaches. I would have thought there would be more on the role of an Agile Coach… but I guess not. And why would that be? Because the 12 books don’t talk a lot about Agile Coaches.
  • WTF is up with Monte Carlo Method. Stop it. Just stop it. Why the hell is that even in this exam?!?

How I would prepare (If I had to do it again):

  • To be completely honest, I wouldn’t.
  • If you truly have experience in Agile projects and programs, then most all of it would be something you could answer just due to experience and exposure. Some questions come from exposure at the enterprise level, doing metrics, portfolio stuff, and value management. I wouldn’t expect everyone to be here.

Why I (somewhat) like this test:

I like this test because it is darn near close to revealing (to me) that I know what Agile is all about. Remember, I pretty much just signed up, and took the test. For me, I believe I scored very well because I’ve actually been doing this for a number of years now, as a developer, consultant, coach, and project leader.

Yes. You can study for this. You can memorize ideas, sayings, quotes, and general facts about Agile. This exam will test a lot of that, and you might just pass it… *see my BOTTOM LINE below*

I felt at ease taking this test. For me that was a big reason why I was comfortable taking it just in time (JIT). I enjoyed taking the test because I was confident in my knowledge and experience. That is a good place to be.

The bottom line = EXPERIENCE + EXPOSURE to Agile is proof that you know it:

  1. You applied to take this exam, meaning you honestly said you’ve been doing Agile for 2-5 years or so.
  2. Meaning, you actually have been implementing, coaching, or consulting on Agile for 2-5 years.
  3. Meaning, that you’ve actually been heavily involved in Agile practices and execution for 2-5 years.
  4. Meaning, you weren’t a peripheral player in an “Agile environment” and have put that on your resume as “Agile experience.”
  5. Therefore, you should score very well on this exam because you’ve been exposed to almost all of the ideas/questions on the exam for 2-5 years.
  6. If you’ve been really doing Agile for 2-5 years, you could take this exam. You’ll do just fine…
  7. No, you don’t need online prep classes. They do a disservice to you by getting you into the minutiae of text-book nonsense and vernacular that we don’t even use in the real world (OR THIS EXAM). Go out and experience Agile. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
  8. The market demand (in many ways) should determine if you should do it… guess what? Nobody is asking for this certification… so I wouldn’t get it.
  9. If you DO want to get it… well, consider this: Get certifications to help you get to where you want to be. If you want to join a process intensive, bureaucratic, and frustrating organization… get a PMP (I’m a recovering PMP)!… If you want to join true agile companies… go for the certification that promotes that ideal.

There is no perfect test. It is just a test after all. So let me end with this:

“If you have to study, then you don’t know what you should know for this test.”

19 Replies to “PMI-ACP Exam Explained – Tips and Experiences Taking the Agile Certified Practitioner Test”

  1. Peter,

    Welcome fellow test survivor. Great write up, I keep meaning to do a write up of my experience as well, but maybe I’ll just point them your way.

    I’m not an expert as you are in core agile, but I’ve been doing project management for many many years. I did study and did use the Agile Exams practice questions. Could I have done it without that, probably but I found the study experience to be very helpful in introducing me to parts of agile I didn’t use often.

    On the subject of engineering level questions. Remember this certification is designed for project managers using agile. As a result it focuses more on process, team stuff and not on the technical doing stuff.

    Joel BC

  2. Peter, I really enjoyed taking the exam. I agree that Scrum/XP Practitioners should have no problems passing. Those trying to pass, based solely on reading the books, will find it more challenging. Those who pay for the Agile Exams tests will probably feel betrayed, if they are hoping it will help them pass this exam. I went through one of the Agile Exams practice tests. The answers are technically accurate but are pretty much irrelevant in respect to the exam. If you want to expand your knowledge of Agile, practice it. If you want to expand your textbook knowledge of Agile, buy a few books.

    In response to your question “What would you say is the % of questions from the online study prep that were applicable to the actual test?”

    I would say NONE…maybe 1 out of 10.

    1. +1 to your analogy.
      If you want to expand your experience/knowledge of agile. … DO IT.
      If you want to memorize cool stuff, just read about it.
      But there is no value until you DO it.

      I unfortunately agree with you here Derek… in that the online exams were not useful for the test. They, in my opinion are sort of a disservice, or even maybe snake oil.
      I can see how memorizing 500+ answers to questions is a daunting task. I wouldn’t want to go that route.

      My bottom line? If you get certified… then get a job… and you just know textbook info… you will not be successful in implementing Agile. That is a travesty.

  3. Okay, a quick caveat, then 2 counter points.

    Caveat: You’re like the greatest agile journalist out there. Awesome detail & photos.

    First, the PMI-ACP program is designed for JUNIOR level agile practitioners. With only 1500 hours of agile experience required, the program merely asserts that you’ve had a just-barely-sufficient exposure to Agile concepts, in order to effectively participate on a small agile project of 1-2 teams. That’s not in the official literature anywhere, but that is what we were shooting for on the committee. If you have 5 years of agile experience, with 2 of those years as a coach, that is a bit more senior that what the PMI-ACP program is designed for.

    Second, you said

    >> I don’t interact with a lot of “Agile Project Managers”…

    Umm…I happen to be one of them there peoples. Are you a project leader? Do you use Agile? Guest what…that’s an Agile Project Manager. The title doesn’t mean anything, unless you think it does.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Jesse, and for the compliment.
      I do it for the people man!

      In regards to the 2-5 years… 1500 hours… my assumption was spread over a couple of years… unless you’ve done all 1500 at one job… makes sense?
      Eh. My interpretation.

      As for “Agile PMs” it was somewhat tongue in cheek. My humor is so epic.

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  7. I am planning to take PMI-ACP soon. I am pondering to read only this book: PMI-ACP Exam Prep, Premier Edition: A Course in a Book for Passing the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Exam Paperback
    by Mike Griffiths PMI-ACP PMP CSM (Author) , Laurie Diethelm (Editor)

    Is this book good enough?

    fyi: I have worked on agile projects for more than 7 years.


  8. pmi is good in making things complicated. this is based from my judgment with the pmp.

    based from my experience, scrum on project management side + xp on technical side is the best combo, simple yet very effective. pmi could be loading unnecessary stuffs again.

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