Passing the APMP CP (Practitioner) Exam
I cleared the APMP Certified Practitioner test on Saturday, the 5th of June, 2021. I would not be stretching it if I told you that it was one of the toughest exams I've written. In this post, I'd like to let you know my experience with APMP's Practitioner test, and give you some great ideas on how you can prepare for it.
First of all, I would like to address the unfortunate article I read on LinkedIn about the APMP Certification being unnecessary. You can read it here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-do-need-apmp-terence-mcguire/ .There is no doubt that you can be a great proposal manager / proposal specialist even without the APMP certification. The APMP does not state anywhere that it is the "only way" to prove that you're an excellent proposal manager.
That being said, I'd like to break down this article into five parts
Part 1: Why get an APMP membership and certify yourself?
Howard Schultz never got a degree in marketing. Bill Gates never finished college.
But let's face reality. A majority of us are neither Howard Schultz nor Bill Gates. Just because they never wrote exams does not mean that you and I do not have to.
The APMP membership and certifications help you look in the mirror. To pass an exam, you need to study the APMP BOK. If you study it as seriously as I did, it helps you identify what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong and what you can do better. For me that was in the areas of scheduling, planning for contingencies, risk management and kickoff meetings.
For someone who has less than 15-20 years of experience in the field of proposal management, it is an excellent reality check. The BOK does not just tell you what to do, but tells you why you should do it. And in that, I find a lot of substance. If I were interviewing someone and know that they have cleared the CP APMP test, I can be sure that they at-least know what to do, whether or not they do it.
Part 2: What is the APMP Practitioner exam like?
The practitioner exam tests you on how well you can put theory into practice. It will be unlike most exams you've taken. Every question you answer is based on a case study. You should read the case study, understand it, internalize it and then answer the questions. Every time you answer a question, you're responding to a scenario. Just like in the real world, every time you answer a question, you are making a decision. And just like in the real world, you're always short on time.
The CP APMP tests you therefore in three areas:
Your knowledge of best practices and how well you can put them into practice
Your ability to make decisions based on your experiential knowledge and knowledge of best practices
Your ability to manage time while you juggle between decisions.
I sense that this is modelled after the case-study method- a preferred mode of education opted by some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge. I think the exam is simply awesome. Although I was stressed out by the end of it, it felt fantastic.
Some of the topics I encountered in the test included
End to End Process, Gate Decisions and Reviews
Customer focus and competitive intelligence
Bidder comparison matrix
Proposal Strategy and Opportunity/ Capture Strategy
Proposal team roles and responsibilities
Proposal Management Planning and Scheduling
Managing risk, exigencies and planning for contingencies
Value Propositions, Hot Buttons and Discriminators
Graphics and Theme Statements
Please read all the chapters. It is likely that you will not get the same questions I did.
Part 3: How should you prepare?
Since it's so tough. You need plenty of preparation. Don't be in a hurry. Take your time to study the BOK and understand it.
I am currently doing my PhD in the field of Proposal Management (I know. Don't judge the nerd in me!). So I wanted to be really thorough with the industry's most widely recognized and accepted book of knowledge in the field of Proposal Management (The APMP BOK). I labored with it, I dined with it. I put it on my Kindle, read it multiple times, and did not skip any chapters.
I also took a lot of assistance and got training from my mentors from Shipley Associates. I am sure they can help you too. Do reach out to them.
In the process of reading it many times, I felt there was a problem with the BOK. I felt that there was some redundant content, and some repetitive content. I felt that knowledge was scattered and could be slightly better organized. So I started working on this pet project of mine. I wanted to remove all the jazz and stick to just the essentials.
And this, dear reader, is probably my biggest contribution to myself and you. Please note that the contents of this "project" are in no way a replacement of content in the BOK. It is only something you can use as an accompaniment to assess what you remember well and what you don't. Access it here: https://www.martinchekuri.com/project .
Please note that this document is live, and will always be a work in progress where I will add content based on best practices in the field of proposal strategy and proposal management.
I also used spaced repetition software since I do not trust my memory to retain the things I study. So I built this set of flash cards that you can use. Spaced repetition is a technique that the folks at Harvard swear by. As someone who struggles to remember large chunks of information, I swear by it too. You can access the flash cards I built for myself here on Brainscape
If you think there's more we can do to make the project and flashcards better, please drop a note to me on my mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or contact me on LinkedIn.
Part 4: Logistics: Manage time and have a stable internet
Reading and taking notes from the case study will take about 30 minutes. You will take two breaks worth a total of 10 minutes. You will also need time with some tough questions. Since there are 80 questions and about 200 minutes, think about the maximum amount of time you will allow yourself to spend with a question. A great way to save time is to simply note what the obvious wrong options are. Getting yourself familiar with the BOK allows you to save massive amounts of time since you won't be searching for stuff during the test. You will rely on memory and experience.
Midway through the test, my faithful internet proved to be quite a cheater. My internet dropped for a whopping 5 minutes. And although I was able to resume my test and complete it, there's no guarantees as to what would happen with you. Make sure you plan for contingencies well :)
Part 5: What I think APMP can do better
The APMP did a fantastic job with the Practitioner Exam. However, there are two things I feel APMP can do better.
a. Reduce and streamline the BOK content:
And for this, I'd take a page from the PMI. They are reducing any content that repeats itself in their PMBOK. In doing so, the seventh version of the BOK they're publishing will be removing 33% of repetitive and redundant content. I feel that the longest chapters (End to End process, Gate Decisions and Review Management) have a lot of repetitive content. We should probably shorten them up by making one chapter for each phase of the BD life cycle.
b. Provide post-exam guidance
Although we know our scores at the end of the test, it would be great if we could have something modelled after IELTS' interpretation of scores. Without the interpretation, the score is just a data point. Having interpretation would help exam takers reflect upon finishing their test on what they should focus on. It would tell them what they should get better at.