My CAPM Certification Journey

When updating its certification exams, PMI seeks feedback from a variety of users, hiring managers and educators. In the latest CAPM update, however, we received feedback from an unusual source: our very own Sierra Hampton-Simmons. In this post, Sierra recounts her personal experience taking the CAPM exam and reflects on the value the CAPM delivers for rising practitioners.

Written by Sierra Hampton-Simmons • 27 July 2023


Today I want to share a personal accomplishment: I recently took the new Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® exam and passed! I am really proud to have earned this certification, which Entrepreneur magazine lists as the number one certification to earn. If you’ve ever considered getting certified and wondered about the CAPM certification, I want to share my journey with you. And as a busy professional, I want to share my perspective on the value of the certification.

The CAPM, of course, is the certification many people use to gain entry to the project management profession. The largest percentage of certification holders are early career project professionals who want a firmer footing in the profession. They typically have under three years of experience and are trying to stand out among their peers. Other CAPM holders are individuals who work on project teams and want to become savvier about project management. Still others are people transitioning into new jobs who want to add project management to their skill set.

As the Vice President of Certification and Product Architecture, I’m usually not eligible to take PMI certifications – given that I have a hand in the developing the exams. However, the new CAPM exam was under development while I was on leave. So, when the team needed volunteers to trouble shoot the new test’s functionality, I immediately raised my hand. It was an opportunity to do more than a quality check; it would give me a bird’s eye view into the real-world challenges of taking an exam and earning a certification.

I was particularly interested in testing some new CAPM content and features. When PMI began planning the update, we had heard from certification holders, hiring managers, and educators that we needed to expand the topics covered in the test – to ensure that the certification was seen as more valuable in the job market.

CAPM holders told us they wanted the certification to be more of a stepping-stone to career advancement. And hiring managers said they wanted greater assurance that certification holders were qualified to lead projects or parts of projects – that holders understood not only the vocabulary of project management but also the business requirements that underpin projects.

So, the new exam content expands users’ foundational knowledge of project management through a sharper focus on business analytics and more agile content. In addition, the test includes new features like animation-based scenarios, comic strips, and media-rich test questions. I was curious how these new features would affect the test-taking experience, and I really wanted to assess whether the new content would support credential holders in their career journey.

So, let’s dive into my experience taking the new CAPM exam.


The first stop on my journey was getting prepared. At the time I began, however, PMI had not yet released new CAPM training, so I had to improvise. I took PMI’s Project Management Basics course designed to help users prepare for the old CAPM exam. I also downloaded the Business Analysis and Agile practice guides from PMI. Together, this fulfilled the 23 hours of training needed for eligibility.

I should note here that PMI has since released a new instructor-led course, “The Authorized CAPM Preparation Course,” exclusively through our network of Authorized Training Partners (ATPs). And a self-paced version of the course is slated for launch in the fall – as well as new tools to amplify your certification and professional profile. We’ve also partnered with Pearson to produce a certification guide that makes the exam content extremely approachable and affordable.


As a PMI employee, I was required to go through an audit as part of the application process. This mainly involved verifying that I had completed all 23 hours of training. Under normal circumstances, candidates applying for the CAPM exam are exempt from this audit if they take authorized training from PMI either from our authorized training partner network or on-demand.

The application itself was easy to fill out. And once my audit was complete, I received an email confirming that I was eligible. I paid for the test on the PMI website and, shortly after, was notified that I was approved to register for the exam.

At this point, I had a decision to make: Would I take the exam at home or at a test center? I really wanted to take the exam at a test center to avoid having to prepare my home for testing – which involves removing certain prohibited items like background art from the test area and shutting down certain technical processes on my personal laptop. After contemplating both, I decided on the online proctored testing option to gain the digital experience from the angle of our customers. I set up an appointment and was registered to begin within the hour.


Once I had cleared my test area, I clicked a button on my screen to begin the check-in process. This included taking pictures of my driver’s license and the room I was in, as well as running a system check. Then the Pearson VUE greeter asked me to move my monitor off my desk as well as other items like my pen. “Really?” I thought. I had hoped to have a pen in case I had to work through questions or solve equations. But the greeter reminded me that there was a white board included in the software that would serve this purpose. While I know these security measures protect the integrity of the exam and certification, I confess that I was starting to get a bit nervous! I began to better understand some of the user feedback we receive from exam-takers.

The exam itself was three hours long and included 150 questions. It covered four principal domains:

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

I found the embedded scenario animations and comic strips stimulating. They tended to pop up just when I had tired of answering multiple choice questions. More importantly, they illustrated real-world scenarios that practitioners might encounter on the job. So, they tested not only my technical knowledge but my ability to use power skills – to empathize with co-workers and to communicate effectively. Oh, and there was a 10-minute break, so I was able to recharge my batteries.


The moment of truth had arrived. I had finished the exam and sat for a few minutes reflecting on my journey and thinking how embarrassing it would be if I didn’t pass. I finally got up enough courage to hit the “Enter” key, and I immediately got a message saying “Congratulations!"

I had passed. I felt an immediate rush of relief…and exhilaration. Not only had I passed, but I had also experienced what our exam-takers experience – the initial decisions (and indecisions), the studying, the administrative hurdles, the occasional curve ball, and all the anxiety that comes with test taking.

But I received much in return:

  • A valuable certification: The CAPM not only enhances your project management knowledge, but it also signals to employers that you’re committed to continuous improvement and personal growth.
  • A solid foundation for growth: The CAPM curriculum covers essential business analysis and project management principles and equips you with a wider range of tools and techniques to handle projects with confidence.
  • Personal and professional transformation: Obtaining the CAPM isn’t just about the destination; it’s also about the journey. As you navigate the coursework, you experience personal growth and gain valuable knowledge that’s applicable not only in your professional life but in your personal life as well. And there are now more tools than ever to help you on the journey.
  • Opening doors to opportunities: The CAPM serves as a passport to new industries, job roles, and organizations. The certification can propel your career forward and broaden your horizons in ways you never imagined.
  • Networking and collaboration: Engaging with like-minded professionals through events, forums and virtual platforms offers opportunities to learn, share experiences, and gain insight from diverse perspectives. It can be critical in your professional development.
  • Empowering long-term success: Certification is not a one-time achievement but a stepping- stone to advanced certifications like the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. As you gain real-world experience, the CAPM will continue to bolster your professional profile, positioning you for greater leadership roles and opportunities.

Having taken the CAPM certification journey, I can personally attest to its transformative power. The journey is not without its challenges, but the personal and professional rewards make every step worthwhile. So, my final advice is simply this: Embrace the value, seize the opportunity, and let the CAPM certification empower you to unlock your true potential in the world of project management.

And if you do decide to pursue the CAPM, please share your experience with me. I’d welcome your feedback as we work to continuously improve the CAPM exam from both a content and a features perspective.

Sierra Hampton-Simmons headshot

Sierra Hampton-Simmons
Vice President, Products & Certifications | PMI

Sierra Hampton-Simmons joined PMI in the fall of 2013 to manage PMI’s Certification programs and currently serves as the VP, Products. She has over two decades of experience as an expert in digital product development and management with a track record for transforming and developing lucrative brands to include relevant performance-based testing and training. At PMI, Sierra is responsible for the entire portfolio of products including certifications, online learning, and standards and publications. She led innovations that included the evolving the PMP, PMI Study Hall, and the addition of the new Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects (PMI-CP) certification program.

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