PMI-ACP vs CSM Certification: Which Is Better?

Agile Certification Comparison

One of the most common questions in regards to project management certification is which of the two main Agile certifications to consider. These certifications are the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) and the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM).

Although each certification offers something slightly different, there are many reasons you may choose to do one over the other. Each of these two designations have specific values and benefits, and below we outline both of them.

CSM Certification

Although not the only approach to Agile certification, Scrum is the most widely used method. In comparison, the PMI-ACP covers Agile from a more holistic approach.

The most beneficial part of attaining CSM is that there are limited amounts of people you can receive your CSM training from, which increases its value. A CSM course can only be delivered by a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST); becoming a trainer in CSM includes rigorous testing and requires considerable hands-on classroom and fieldwork experience. Attaining your CSM means you train with Scrum experts who have a deep understanding of Scrum and many years’ experience working with Agile teams.

One key benefit of CSM certification is an affiliation with the Scrum Alliance, which is an organization purely dedicated to Scrum. Scrum Alliance members understand Agile and are a leading resource relating to all things Scrum. The courses for becoming a CSM are hands-on and must be taught in a person to person format. You cannot achieve CSM certification through online courses, which is a benefit for anyone working in the project management field.

PMI-ACP Certification

PMI has long been the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management. However, one of the downsides of the PMI-ACP was that many people overlooked it because it was from PMI. Over time, their recognition has changed since they now put Agile front and center in their events and publications.

To be eligible for the PMI-ACP exam, there is an expectation that you have worked many thousands of hours as a project manager, that you have worked with Agile methods and practices, or that you have experience working with Agile project teams. It’s fair to say that eligibility for PMI-ACP certification requires extensive experience in the field. Having a PMI-ACP certification means you understand the numerous approaches to project management, you can explain the benefits of Agile, and you can determine when it is the right project approach.

You must complete 21 hours of Agile training via live classes or online training courses. The ACP education hours address concepts including Agile philosophy, principles, and techniques.

Agile Exam Differences

Here’s a brief summary of the differences in both exams:

The PMI-ACP exam process is far more concentrated than the CSM exam. The PMI-ACP is also more in-depth and requires much more training to achieve certification. More detailed information about each exam can be seen below:

CSM Exam

The CSM exam is a mixture of 35 multiple-choice questions and true/false questions. To pass, you must get 24 out of 35 correct. As far as pricing goes, there is no separate exam fee: just the price you pay for the classes. You can take the exam online and you get two attempts to pass within 90 days of finishing the training. If you don’t pass in the first two attempts, you can retake the test for an additional $25 for each attempt.


The PMI-ACP certification is earned once you have completed the comprehensive training modules, which are notoriously laborious. PMI’s testing process for PMI-ACP exam is not as tricky as the PMP certification exam but achieving a pass is still much more difficult than the CSM exam.

The application and eligibility process requires the compilation of details like project experience, contact information, and more. The PMI-ACP exam itself is a three-hour exam that consists of 120 multiple-choice questions. It must be taken at an approved exam site, and if you don’t pass you must pay a substantial fee again.

For most people, PMI certification shows that anyone who has achieved it has taken their education seriously enough to make a substantial investment of time and money for this achievement. PMI’s certification program has a long tradition and is very well-developed.

After You Are Certified

Maintaining your PMI-ACP certification necessitates 30 additional hours of Agile education within three years of passing the exam. This further education is geared toward maintaining your skills and knowledge and will unfortunately incur additional fees.

Maintaining your CSM requires merely paying a Scrum Alliance membership fee for the two years after completion. Even if you have not worked in project management or Agile after your certification, you can continue to use the designation. Because of this, the PMI-ACP holds more value over time as an accreditation than the CSM.

What’s The Best Agile Certification?

So which certification is better: CSM of PMI-ACP?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clearly defined answer to this question. Some employers prefer PMI-ACP certification and won’t settle for anything less. However, that is not to say that someone with CSM certification is any less qualified or viable for certain careers.

Depending on what your preferences are for work, your employer’s choices, and how much time and money you can invest, either accreditation might be better for you. PMI-ACP certification means that you have achieved thousands of hours of in-field experience and invested many months of training to obtain the certification. However, CSM certification can provide comparable career opportunities for a fraction of the time and money.

Ultimately, both certifications have their benefits, so it’s best to do all the research necessary before choosing the one for you.


PMI-ACP Certification Requirements

PMI-ACP Certification RequirementsThe PMI-ACP or Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner certification allows you to demonstrate your proficiency in using agile methods, practices, and tools, to certify your qualifications for positions that employ agile practices.

While not required for every project manager, the PMI-ACP certification is a must for those who want to demonstrate their versatility in a modern project management environment. The following information is meant to help you understand the PMI-ACP process and decide if the exam and certification are right for you.

What is the PMI-ACP?

The PMI-ACP or Agile Certified Practitioner Certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) certifies you as an agile project manager. Unlike competing certifications, such as CSM (or Certified ScrumMaster), which primarily focuses on Scrum, the PMI-ACP tests a very broad range of knowledge including XP, Scrum, Lean, DSDM, Crystal, FDD, and Kanban. In addition, the strict certification requirements mean that you must have enough experience to perform well in the position in order to get the certification,  making it more valuable to employers.

PMI-ACP Requirements

The PMI-ACP has several requirements in addition to passing the examination. These include:

Secondary Degree or Higher: You must have a high school degree, Associate’s Degree, Global Equivalent or higher.

General Project Management Experience: You must have earned a minimum of 2,000 hours of working on project management teams within the last 5 years and have an active PMP or PgMP certification.

Agile Project Experience: You must have a minimum of 1,500 hours of working experience with agile teams or agile methodologies, all earned within the last 3 years. These are in addition to (not including) a total of 3,500 hours of general project management experience.

Training in Agile Practices: You must have a minimum of 21 contact hours of training in agile practices from approved or certified sources.

You will also have to pass the PMI-ACP exam in order to earn the certification.


The PMI ACP Exam is updated every few years to remain current with respect to methodologies and practices. For that reason, content will change frequently and you should verify that any study books or prep courses you choose to take are up-to-date. Please note that the exam is being updated in July-October 2015! A new domain has been added to the delineation (Agile Principles and Mindset). The exam is divided into two broad areas: 50% of the exam tests information related to tools and techniques, and 50% tests your knowledge and skills, although each general area contains several subdomains.

The test consists of 120 multiple-choice questions. Only 100 of the questions are scored, but it is nearly impossible to distinguish scored from unscored questions, because these are spaced at random throughout the exam. After passing the exam, you are required to continue your formal education by earning a minimum of 30 professional development units (PDUs) in agile topics every three years.

How Hard is the PMI-ACP Exam?

The PMI-ACP exam is not as difficult as the PMP exam, however, it does require a broad range of knowledge, a familiarity with the topics, and an ability to answer questions quickly. Because the exam mostly relies on a broad level of knowledge, it is important to read through the PMI-ACP Handbook, study practice questions, and consider taking a PMI-ACP Exam prep course if you aren’t satisfied with your performance on practice tests.

Preparation strategies include signing up for a commercial prep course, using quality study materials, and getting help from qualified instructors, to increase your chances of success on the exam. If you fail the exam, you can take it again, up to three times within one year, after which you will have to wait a year before re-applying and paying the entrance fee again.

PMI-ACP Exam Sections

The PMI-ACP exam is divided into two main sections with multiple subdivisions. Previously, half of the test concerned Knowledge and Skills, and the other half addressed Tools and Techniques. On the revised PMI-ACP exam, specifications will be based on domains and tasks, with secondary reference to the supporting techniques and/or knowledge and skills.

Knowledge and Skills

There are now 7 Domains on the PMI-ACP exam. 62 tasks are validated in the context of the seven domains of practice. Domains and Tasks include:

  • Agile Principles and Mindset (New in Summer 2015) (16% of exam)
  • Value-driven Delivery (20% of exam)
  • Stakeholder Engagement (17% of exam)
  • Team Performance (16% of exam)
  • Adaptive Planning (12% of exam)
  • Problem Detection and Resolution (10% of exam)
  • Continuous Improvement (9% of exam)

Tools and Techniques

Tools and Techniques include 10 knowledge sections, as follows:

  • Communications – Information Radiator, Team Space, Agile Tooling, Osmotic Communications
  • Planning, Monitoring, & Adapting – Retrospectives, Timeboxing, Iteration, etc.
  • Agile Estimation – Relative Sizing/Storypoints, Wide Band Delphi/Planning Poker, Estimating
  • Agile Analysis & Design – Product Roadmap, Wireframes, Chartering, Agile Modeling
  • Product Quality – Frequent Verification & Validation, Test Based Development, etc.
  • Soft Skills Negotiation – Emotional Intelligence, Collaboration, Adaptive Leadership, etc.
  • Value Based Prioritization – ROI, Net Present Value, IRR, Compliance, MMF, Prioritization
  • Risk Management – Risk Adjusted Backlog, Risk Burndown Graphs, Risk Based Spike
  • Metrics – Velocity Cycle Time, Earned Value Management, Escaped Defects, Etc.
  • Value Stream Analysis – Value Stream Mapping, Etc.

PMI-ACP Exam Length

The PMI-ACP Exam is held over a 3-hour period, giving test-takers an average of 1.5 minutes to answer each question. Answering short questions more quickly will give you additional time to solve longer, more complex questions. Note that there are fewer long questions on the PMI-ACP than on the PMP exam.

Scheduling the PMI-ACP Exam

Scheduling the PMI-ACP exam is straightforward and can be done online. You will have to submit proof of your work and education experience, as well as your PMP or PgMP certification in order to register. Schedule the exam online by visiting, or you can make a telephone call to schedule the exam, which is typically administered at Prometric CBT centers around the world.

The first part of the exam application includes an assessment, which must be completed in order to receive the PMI-ACP Eligibility ID that is used to schedule your specific exam date. Special accommodations can be arranged by calling the Special Conditions Department in advance. The exam may be canceled without charge 30 days before the exam. If you cancel within 30 days and reschedule, it will cost $70. Rescheduling within 2 days of the exam date, will result in forfeiting the initial exam fee.

PMI-ACP Test Day

20 days before your scheduled examination, you will receive a PMI Identification Code. You should bring this, along with your initial confirmation notice and your official government identification (or an acceptable form of identification in English). You should arrive a minimum of 30 minutes before the exam, preferably sooner in case there is a line. You must present a picture ID (i.e. photo ID) or you may not be admitted to the exam, although you may be able to provide significant secondary proof of identification.

You may not bring drinks, wallets, food, coats, calculators, phones, or a variety of other items into the testing area, so it is important to review the instructions, plan ahead, and bring a bag for storing your personal items while taking the test. Although you may wear a sweater into the testing area, you cannot take it off. You will have to take a break in order to remove clothing if it is too hot, or to get a drink.

You will have to sign in and out for each break, and the time clock of your exam will not be stopped while you are away, so it is best to minimize the number of breaks you take. The 3-hour exam is preceded by 15 minutes of optional surveys. Scratch paper or a marker board as well as a built-in calculator are provided. You may also raise your hand to request a hand-held calculator at any time.

PMI-ACP Exam Scoring

The PMI-ACP Exam features 120 questions, of which only 100 are scored. Because there is no way to determine which questions are scored, you should do your best to answer each question correctly. PMI does not publish a specific score that is required to pass the exam, because (as with the PMP exam) the grading system is based on the difficulty of the questions that are answered correctly. This means that it is more important to answer difficult questions correctly. You should answer every question on the test because unanswered questions are automatically graded as incorrect.


PMI-ACP fees vary depending on whether you are a PMI member or not, and whether you register for the paper or computer-based test. The paper test costs $385 for PMI members and $445 for non-members. It is only available under certain conditions (please see the PMI website for details). The more common computer-based test costs $435 for PMI members and $495 for non-members. An annual PMI membership costs $129. You should also factor in the costs of handbooks, guides, and a prep course, if you choose to take advantage of these options to prepare you for the exam.

PMI-ACP Benefits

PMI-ACP certification is granted by a globally recognized company that is considered to be the standard in project management certification. The certification requires having a certain number of hours of experience as well as passing the test, so it is one of the few programs that actually certifies experience as well as testing content knowledge and skills. As such, this certification is valuable to employers and will make candidates more marketable.

Best PMI-ACP Careers

The PMI-ACP certificate will allow you to move up in the field of agile project management, especially if you work for a company that values agile practices or plans to move into this field. The following career paths and jobs may benefit significantly from PMI-ACP certification:

Senior Project Manager

Salary Range $88,000-$120,000. Senior Project Managers oversee large teams or multiple teams, typically with multiple project managers working underneath them, facilitate agile methodologies and approaches, and work with budgeting, planning, and long-term strategy.

Scrum Manager

Salary Range $58,000-$120,000. Scrum managers lead project teams, facilitate an agile approach within teams, arrange meetings and demonstrations, guide entry-level engineers, guide and shape team behavior, validate programming code and products, document and communicate expectations, etc.

Agile IT Project Manager

Salary Range $54,000-$120,000: These professionals lead technical teams in the development, management, or maintenance of technical projects or project development. They also create plans and test plans, ensure product viability, coordinate delivery and production, and ensure that quality standards are met.

Senior IT Project Manager

Salary Range $80,000-$130,000: Senior IT Project Managers develop project plans, oversee large teams, work with developers and testers, plan projects, assign duties, allocate skilled laborers, among other tasks.

Project Manager

Salary Range $65,000-$124,000. Project Managers’ tasks vary a great deal based on various projects in different industries, but the job typically includes managing short, consecutive projects, quality control, budgeting, timelines, and personnel interaction.

Global Recognition

The Project Management Institute (PMI), is recognized worldwide as a certified and accredited institution, making your PMI-ACP certification valuable and useful in many fields and job positions. PMI also requires a certain amount of real-world experience and evaluates that experience before granting certification. This, combined with continuing education requirements, means that your certification sends a message to employers that you are experienced, dedicated, and capable of doing the job.