What Is CAPM Certification? Benefits and How to Get It

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A CAPM certification is issued by the Project Management Institute to entry-level project managers to certify that they have the knowledge and skills the field demands.
  • CAPM serves as a precursor for project professionals who want to eventually apply for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
  • A CAPM certification is earned by taking the CAPM exam after completing the eligibility requirements.

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What Is CAPM Certification?

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is a certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) for early-career project managers and professionals who are interested in firming up and proving their skills in project management fundamentals. As someone who has led small-scale projects and written about project management for several years now, I often have wondered what is CAPM certification and if this certification path would be a good move for my own career. 

I decided to explore this area of interest and have since learned a lot about what the CAPM certification path entails, how it can benefit project professionals at different stages of their careers, and what it takes to achieve this milestone. This guide details what I’ve learned about this certification, in hopes that it will help other budding project managers and leaders forge a successful path forward.

Overview of CAPM Certification

The CAPM certification is a beginner-level project management certification for junior project managers, associates on project management teams, and other project professionals who want to refine and certify the skills they’ve developed in following project processes, standards, and best practices. It is most often pursued by individuals who are early in their project management career, whether they’ve just graduated from secondary education or college or have decided to make a career shift later in life. Offered by the Project Management Institute, the CAPM is often used as a precursor for project professionals who are interested in eventually earning the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

What does a CAPM certification cover?

A CAPM certification focuses primarily on project management fundamentals and core concepts, with the exam material emphasizing project lifecycles and processes, project management planning, project roles and responsibilities, following and executing planned strategies and frameworks, and problem-solving tools and techniques.

With updates made to the exam in July 2023, the CAPM certification also covers these core project management concepts and skills in greater detail than before:

  • Agile project management, with a focus on Agile frameworks and methodologies: This section of the certification exam focuses on when to use an adaptive approach, planning project iterations, the documentation of project controls for an adaptive project, components of an adaptive plan, and preparing and executing task management steps.
  • Business analysis frameworks: In this section of the certification exam, project professionals will be tested on their understanding of business analysis roles and responsibilities, how to effectively conduct stakeholder communication, requirements gathering, product roadmaps, how project methodologies influence business analysis processes, and requirements validation through product delivery. 
  • Predictive, plan-based methodologies: This additional section in the CAPM exam focuses on when to use a predictive or plan-based methodology, what goes into a project management plan schedule, and the documentation of project controls.

What are the eligibility requirements? 

To sit for the CAPM examination and receive a CAPM certification, the following must be true:

Completed secondary education

Only individuals who have completed secondary education requirements are eligible to take the CAPM certification exam. These requirements may be met through a traditional high school diploma or general education development (GED) requirements. In non-U.S. settings, other global educational equivalents may be accepted.

Project management–specific education

Takers of the CAPM certification exam must prove they have completed at least 23 hours of project management–focused education before sitting for the exam. In addition to PMI’s exam prep course materials, project professionals can earn their educational hours through the following avenues:

  • Resources provided by PMI Authorized Training Partners (ATPs)
  • PMI chapters and chapter meetings where at least one hour is spent on a relevant educational or learning activity
  • Employer and company-sponsored learning programs
  • Training companies or consultants
  • Distance-learning companies and their assessments
  • College, university, and continuing education learning programs focused on project management education

What should one expect in the CAPM exam?

The CAPM exam consists of 150 total exam questions, with 135 scored questions and 15 pretest questions that remain unscored. The test can be administered in English, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Portuguese, German, or Japanese. Depending on location and timing, test takers may have the option to take the test onsite or online. Regardless of the format they choose, test takers will have three hours to complete the certification exam with a 10-minute break after the first 75 questions. 

The exam is broken down into four topical categories of project management. Here is what percentage of the exam is dedicated to each of those topical areas:

  • Project Management Fundamentals and Core Concepts: 36%
  • Business Analysis Frameworks: 27%
  • Agile Frameworks/Methodologies: 20%
  • Predictive, Plan-Based Methodologies: 17%

As far as format goes, the exam mostly poses questions in a multiple-choice format, though the questions themselves often include charts, visual scenarios, and other multimedia elements. The main question types are point-and-click questions, enhanced matching, animation videos with multiple-choice questions, and comic strips with multiple-choice questions. I found it particularly helpful that this exam is so focused on specific scenarios and visual examples, as these speak to what I’ve encountered in project work at this point in my career.

How much does CAPM cost?

The CAPM certification exam costs $300 to take. Members of PMI can get a substantial discount, taking the exam for only $225. PMI membership costs $159 per year and includes savings on any other certifications you choose to complete, access to learning events, community networking opportunities, career resources, and more. 

For me, the non-membership cost makes the most sense, as I’m not planning to earn any additional certifications or tap into these networking resources. However, membership is often the best option for people who hope to earn additional certifications or grow their career prospects more quickly.

5 Steps to Getting Your CAPM Certification 

1. Complete eligibility requirements

If you haven’t already completed the necessary education requirements to sit for the CAPM certification, you’ll want to complete these before you apply so you can appropriately document all of your hours. If you’re having trouble earning those last few credit hours, there’s likely an available Authorized Training Partner near you who can help. Some online courses, like Coursera’s Google Project Management: Professional Certificate, can also help you get the rest of the way there.

2. Apply to take the CAPM exam

Prospective exam takers will now need to apply to take the exam. The online application will require users to fill in their contact information as well as their educational background, domain experience related to the projects and programs they’ve worked on, and domain education related to the qualifying training hours they completed in relevant project management programs. Users can take their time with this process, as the application remains open for 90 days after you’ve started it.

Once you’ve submitted your application, it will be reviewed by PMI to see if you qualify to take the exam. In most cases, this review and approval process takes between 5 and 10 days. Whether you are approved or not, the next steps and instructions will be sent to your email by PMI.

3. Study for the exam

Even before you’ve scheduled your exam, it’s a good idea to begin studying CAPM learning materials. PMI offers its own learning resources that can be incredibly helpful. Users may also benefit from third-party learning resources such as Coursera, which offers practice exam for CAPM certification.

4. Pay for, schedule, and take the exam

Once you’ve officially received approval to take the CAPM exam, it’s time to pay for and schedule your exam. Exams can be scheduled online or over the phone, but regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to have your eligibility code handy so you’re approved to sign up. You can sign up for either an in-person or an online version of the exam.

5. Maintain CAPM certification with PDUs

Many test takers think there are no more steps once they’ve taken and passed the exam, but this isn’t true, if they hope to maintain their CAPM certification status. Every three years, project management professionals who want to keep their certification must participate in PMI’s Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) program and also earn at least 15 professional development units (PDUs). A PDU is a one-hour time block that certified professionals use to continue their learning or to teach and volunteer in relevant ways.

CAPM vs PMP Certification

The CAPM and Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications are both offered by PMI, but they’re designed for professionals with different levels of project management experience. While CAPM is typically considered a beginner-level project management certification, PMP is made for project professionals with at least three years of project management experience.

While pursuers of a CAPM certification only need to have completed their secondary education and 23 hours of project management education, PMP hopefuls must demonstrate that they have either passed the CAPM already or have 35 hours of project management training. They must also have at least 36 months (three years) of experience as a project leader with a four-year college degree, or 60 months (five years) of experience as a project leader with completed secondary education. 

Compared to the CAPM certification, the PMP exam is slightly longer and almost twice as expensive. The earning potential for those with a PMP certification is also greater.

8 Reasons Why You Should Consider Getting a CAPM Certification

The CAPM can support project professionals in improving their existing skills and developing new ones. The following are just a handful of the ways that this certification can improve a project professional’s career prospects:

Development of advanced problem-solving skills

An entire subsection of the CAPM certification exam quizzes professionals on their knowledge of different problem-solving tools and techniques. While studying for this exam, project professionals will get the chance to brush up on any problem-solving skills and experience they already have while also learning about other techniques that may help them make greater strides in their project work. Advanced problem-solving skills are always an asset when managing either internal or external projects, as all kinds of different variables and conflicts can arise at any time.

Entry-level training for project management leadership

The typical taker of the CAPM certification exam is a newly minted working professional or someone who has recently moved into the project management field from another field of work. In other words, they don’t have much relevant experience and may not have the opportunity to gain as much experience as they want on the job.

If they realize that the CAPM can be a first step toward a career in project management leadership, they can begin the process of learning and training on project management skills both in their current role and through self-study. The education requirement of CAPM alone will ensure that workers put in the hours necessary to focus on learning and growing their project management skills.

Industry-recognized certification program

CAPM is one of several project management certifications offered through the Project Management Institute. PMI is considered a global authority in project management methodologies and best practices; it is recognized as a leader across global regions and industries. With a certification from this highly reputed organization, project management professionals can elevate their own reputation and improve their chances of getting hired or promoted into the roles they want.

Increased trust with clients

Project professionals who can share proven credentials with their clients will have an easier time earning their trust and confidence. While the CAPM certification is not as widely recognized as PMP, it is a great stepping stone and shows clients you’re serious about following project management best practices that will give them the best possible outcomes.

Preparation for PMP

Many aspiring project managers choose to complete the CAPM certification because it directly prepares them for the more advanced PMP certification. One of the eligibility routes for PMP includes earning the CAPM certification beforehand, whereas professionals who forgo the CAPM step must complete 35 hours of relevant project management education before taking the PMP exam. The CAPM exam satisfies all of these educational requirements and may speed up the process of earning the PMP certification.

Greater earning potential

While it is certainly possible to land project management leadership roles without a certification, many professionals see their salaries increase after earning a certification like CAPM. According to 2024 data from Payscale, the average Certified Associate in Project Management earns a $73,000 annual salary. Given that most takers of the CAPM certification exam are early in their project management careers, let’s compare this salary to earnings for different entry- to mid-level project professional positions:

  • Project coordinator: $43,000 to $75,000, with average annual earnings of $57,208
  • IT project coordinator: $45,000 to $81,000, with average annual earnings of $59,663
  • Assistant project manager: $50,000 to $81,000, with average annual earnings of $64,138

When compared to each of these roles and their potential earnings, a holder of a CAPM certification earns much more than the average professionals in these roles; in fact, a Certified Associate in Project Management tends to earn at the highest end of the range for each of these roles.

Global reputation and relevance

PMI is a global project management organization, and its certifications intend to test professionals on skills that are relevant to project management in all global regions. The test is also available in multiple global languages. So whether you’re working in a country outside of the United States or hope to partner with clients in another country, CAPM is a great certification to earn and establish your global presence.

Access to the CCR Program

Upon completion of the CAPM certification, all CAPM holders are enrolled in the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) program, where they must do work to update their credentials every three years. This program offers project management professionals a wide range of learning and upskilling resources, which help them to stay aware of relevant trends and changes in the industry while also maintaining a strong network of like-minded project professionals.


Also read: 27+ Essential Project Management Skills for Success


Bottom Line: Is Getting a CAPM Certification Worth It?

A CAPM certification is absolutely worth it if you are early in your project professional career and want to establish and prove your skills in this field. However, if you’re already an experienced project manager or leader, it may be more appropriate to start with the PMP right away and skip CAPM entirely. 

CAPM is primarily designed for professionals who need to show their mastery of the basics, but for certain roles and responsibilities, much more will be required. Ultimately, it’s important to understand your current skill levels, what your organization will support, and what your client expects. For my particular background and level of experience, the CAPM is the perfect place to start.

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