Deconstructing the CAPM vs PMP Argument

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a global non-profit governing body that serves as the official world-wide standard for the project, portfolio and program management profession. PMI offers seven certifications:

  1. CAPM: Certified Associate in Project Management
  2. PMP: Project Management Professional
  3. PgMP: Program Management Professional
  4. PfMP: Portfolio Management Professional
  5. PMI-ACP: PMI Agile Certified Practitioner
  6. PMI-RMP: PMI Risk Management Professional
  7. PMI-SP: PMI Scheduling Professional

Each of these certifications is different in its own way but the common query among those planning to take these tests is this: What are the fundamental differences between the CAPM and the PMP certifications? I would be happy to answer this question and will also highlight the major differences in the exam format between the two.

Basic Definition

The CAPM is a good entry-level qualification to pursue which does not necessarily require years of experience. The individuals that decide to pursue this certification are either involved in projects at a low level i.e. they do not require years of project management experience or they have none whatsoever and are still not sure of what their career path may be. The PMP on the other hand is the most relevant and important credential to have if you want to be a project manager. It is the most widely accepted and reputed of all of PMI’s certifications and a typical applicant must have at least 3-4 years of real-world experiences where they have lead project teams. This vital difference is also highlighted later in the format of the exam.


CAPM applicants must have a high school degree, associate degree or the global equivalent whereas PMP applicants would benefit highly from an added bachelor’s degree to boot. CAPM applicants also need to typically have 1500 hours of experience in being part of a project team; PMP candidates will have to do much better with 4500 (for candidate with a bachelor degree) to 7500 hours (for candidate with only a high school degree) of leading a project team. Finally, applicants will need to complete 23 hours of mandatory online coursework to sit for the CAPM exam as opposed to 35 hours needed for the PMP exam.

The Exam

The main difference between the two exams is the way they test you on the information. CAPM exams will focus on the basic processes and knowledge areas available in the PMBOK 5 guide and the questions are fairly direct. There are 150 multiple choice questions to be answered over 3 hours. PMP exams will have a more complex set of question which depict more real-world scenarios because they will expect the applicant to have been in these scenarios in his/her years of experience as project manager.  There are 200 multiple choice questions to be answered over 4 hours and it is a more rigorous exam.

CAPM is almost 100% based out of the PMBOK 5 guide and should be fairly straightforward to prepare for whereas the PMP requires a higher number of resources to fill in the information gaps as PMBOK do not sufficiently equip you for all the questions. I would strongly recommend Rita Mulcahy’s prep book and Head first PMP by Stellman and Greene to complement the base knowledge achieved by PMBOK.

Author : Lisa Findlay

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Lisa Findlay