Ten Tips For Passing the AICP Exam
1. Study for at Least 100 Hours
In order to pass the AICP exam, you need to study. How much to study is always the question. It is strongly recommended to put in at least 100 hours stretched over a number of months. Ideally, studying a little bit each day or every other day will prove successful. Creating a study calendar 4 or 5 months before the exam with blocks of study time scheduled each week is helpful in keeping you on track!
2. Sign Up for an AICP Prep Workshop
APATX offers multiple AICP prep workshops throughout each exam cycle (May and November). These workshops provide invaluable insight into how to prepare for the exam, what to focus your studies on, and can connect you with others who are also preparing to take the exam. The pass rate for Texas planners who have attended a workshop is 80% compared to 60% for all Texas planners.
3. Consider Prep Courses / Products
While it is possible to successfully pass the AICP exam from self-directed study of the material, many planners opt for prep courses and products. The APA offers AICP Exam Prep 3.0 as a comprehensive study. Though not specifically endorsed by APATX, there are other products offered by Planetizen and Mometrix. Some of the older products, still useful, may be found in a well-stocked Planning Department library!
4. Practice, practice, practice!
If it is your first time taking the AICP exam, you likely want to know where your current strengths and weaknesses are to get a baseline. While you can find practice questions on Study Stack as well the aforementioned courses and products, many AICP exam preparers have benefited from structured practices tests offered by Planning Prep and the Certified Planner quizzes offered by Planning Peeps. These resources are are helpful for prospective examinees to demonstrate their progress.
5. Pay Attention to the Reading List
To pass the AICP exam, you need to study the right materials. The APA has a reading list as a reference, but by no means are you expected to read all the items on that list. The books that you will want to read, which again should be found in a well-stocked Planning Department library, are Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice (a.k.a. the "Green Bible", the latest edition is yellow/green) and Planning and Urban Design Standards. Use the books to brush up on concepts that you are not very familiar with.
6. Know the Format of the Exam
The AICP exam has 170 questions, 20 of which are test questions and are not graded. You need to get a score of 55 which equates to roughly 75% of the questions correct. The exam covers five major topic areas, each encompassing several categories. It includes questions from all five topics, but may not necessarily include questions from each category. The 'weights' are shown in the exam outline.
7. Answer Like a Planner
There will be a number of questions on the exam that are situational. Don't spend too much time knowing specific dates, but instead you need to know concepts that will assist you in determining the most correct answer. Like real-world planning, you will need to assess the information given and select the most correct answer with that information and knowledge of the concepts.
8. Join or Form a Study Group
While taking the AICP exam is an individual activity, joining or forming a study group is recommended. A study group will be a great resource for preparation, but perhaps most importantly, they will keep each other focused and motivated to pass the AICP. You might know others in your area getting ready to take the AICP, but if not, you can contact the APATX Professional Development Officer who can be a great resource in connecting your with other examinees.
9. Trust What You Know
About 60% of the exam is skill with the other 40% being knowledge. If you are a professional planner, then you have the skill. The rest you can study for, but pay attention to the weighting of the exam. Planning law is part of the "Fundamental Planning Knowledge" category, amongst eight other important concepts comprising 25% of the exam. While planning law is important, the specifics are only as important as you use it. Being able to see the connection between the concepts on the exam is your goal instead of regurgitating dates and names.
10. Get Rest Before Exam
Do not study right up until the date of your exam, it is not a good strategy. By this time, if you have taken all other nine tips to heart, you should be confident that you are ready to take the exam and do well. At this point you have put in at least 100 hours toward your preparation. Take a day or two to do something totally unrelated. See a movie, go fishing, anything relaxing that will calm you down before you show the AICP what you know!