The AICP certification exam is held twice a year and tests planners critical thinking skills and ability to foresee consequences and mitigate issues in the context of planning throughout the United States. The test covers five topics areas, including Fundamental Planning Knowledge; Plan Making and Implementation; Areas of Practice; Leadership, Administration, and Management; and AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Read on for tips from Planning and Urban Design Practice Director Asha Bleier on how to pass the AICP certification exam.
Work Smarter Not Harder
Study. Of course, the most important tip is to study thoroughly. But don’t try to cram in the weeks before the test or just peruse an assortment of sources. Rather, study smart by creating a study plan. We recommend planning for at least 100 hours of study time spread out over the months ahead of the test. One hundred hours of solo study time may seem daunting, but you don’t have to go it alone.
Buddy Up. Studying with others can help motivate you and better manage time. Your local APA section is a great resource to pair up with a study partner or join a group. Coordinating a study group can be tough due to conflicting schedules, but virtual meeting tools like Zoom can be an option to ease coordination for busy schedules or expand your pool of available study partners beyond your geography. If possible, try to team with people that are in a different field or background. 30% of the test covers areas of planning practice, so if you’re an environmental planner, studying with a transportation planner can bring a valuable perspective and help ensure you don’t have tunnel vision and overlook critical topics.
Finetune Your Focus. While the AICP certification exam won’t test you on planning policies of the 1800s, neither is the exam updated every year, so focus on reading materials published within the past 3-5 years. You should pay particular attention to themes and topics discussed at recent national APA conferences. You may glean valuable insights from state conferences, but the exam tests your knowledge of planning nationwide, so prioritize memorization of details applicable at the national level.
Memorize. At the end of the day, memorization is the name of the game. Use flash cards with color-coding or categorization if that helps. Shuffle your cards when practicing so you don’t get stuck in a loop of associating certain facts with a specific sequence. However, when first starting out, consider organizing your cards in chronological order to solidify the historical timeline in your memory.
Connect. After memorizing all the facts, make sure you take a step back and connect the dots. The AICP exam will include many situational questions where you may need to connect certain facts from different eras. Understanding the timeline and circumstances of events can help you bridge the gap between cause and effect. This is another instance in which you should take your state-centric planner cap off and ask yourself, “what would national APA want me to do?” Reading the national APA policy papers will help you broaden your perspective and make connections beyond your state.
Go Through the Motions ahead of the AICP Certification Exam
Practice. Once you’ve got some facts memorized, ensure test-day success by taking several practice exams. Taking practice exams early helps guide your studying, as you can see what topics you’ve mastered and which you’re less solid on, allowing you to spend your valuable study time improving in your weaker areas.
Additionally, practice exams help simulate the exam environment to ensure you’re prepared for the physical rigors of the day. Block out uninterrupted time; set up your workspace with only the allowed essentials; and go through the motions. After your practice test, you may find you got thirsty halfway through, that jeans were uncomfortable for such a long period of sitting, and that your eyes dried out from staring at a screen with contact lenses for so long. These are all valuable insights to learn and tweak ahead of taking the actual exam so you can stay focused on test day.
Prepare. Finally, alleviate any last-minute jitters by eliminating what-ifs? Go to the test location in advance if you can so you know the route, how long it takes to get there, and, if traveling by car, what the parking situation is. If possible, walk into the testing center so you know exactly where it is and how long it takes to walk from your car or public transportation.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be well prepared to pass the AICP exam!
Asha Bleier (AH-sha BLY-er; she/her) leads Dudek’s Planning and Urban Design practice. She currently serves as the professional development AICP Exam coordinator for the California state chapter of the American Planning Association, and is an active member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion subcommittee. Asha has more than 15 years’ experience managing complex planning and development projects. Her multidisciplinary expertise includes a full range of planning efforts such as regional and general plans, community plans, corridor/transit-oriented development, resilience planning, and design guidelines.