By Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, AICP and Chris Steins, M. Pl.
The comprehensive planning examination for acceptance into the American Institute of Certified Planners is the only certification exam for practicing urban planners. The exam is given at over 300 testing sites in the U.S. and Canada, and offered twice a year in two testing windows for two weeks in both May and November. The testing period for this Fall is November 9-23.
How, When To Register?
Beginning with the 2005 exam cycle, AICP has introduced a new application that combines the application and registration steps into one form and one fee. This eliminates the previous two
forms and separate fee payments, and makes the process easier for applicants. Education and
employment verifications for each degree and job listed in the application will continue
to be required in order for your application to be considered complete for review. Fees are $485 for
new applicants and $425 for returning applicants.
Do You Qualify?
In order to take the exam, applicants must meet the following requirements:
1. Be a current member of APA
2. Be engaged in professional planning
3. Have completed a requisite number of years of education and professional planning experience (Most commonly, 2 years of experience with a graduate degree in planning, 3 years with a bachelor’s
degree in planning, but other combinations are possible: )
Preparing for the Exam
There are a variety of ways to prepare for the exam:
There are a variety of possible preparation techniques. Many APA Chapters have professional development officers that provide or arrange for day-long seminars that introduce the exam and some of the topics. Contact your Chapter’s Professional Development Officer for more information.
CPC Study Manual for the AICP Exam
A good place to start is the APA’s Chapter Presidents Council’s CPC Study Manual. The purpose of this self-study manual is to help review basic planning concepts and to practice skills that are necessary for taking a multiple-choice test.
If you’d like to start your studying early, and interact with students from around the US, consider an online course to guide your studying. The Planetizen AICP Exam Online Preparation Course, for example, is organized into a series of eight topics with a total of about 50 lessons. E ach lesson is
about 20-30 minutes to complete, enabling you to fit in a little studying whenever you have time — during a lunch break, before work, or after you put the kids to bed. More than 10 hours of video presentations are also included, offering students a visual way to prepare. The course also provides over 450 sample questions, including a pretest exam and two sample exams. The course also includes five discussion forums to interact with other students and course staff , and ask any questions you might have as you prepare for the exam. Click here for more information about Planetizen’s AICP Exam Online Preparation Course.
If you live in an urban area, there are likely to be many others who will also be taking the exam. Using your Section’s PDO or individual networking to create a study group of 4-6 people. Take turns preparing sample questions and “study sheets” on specific topics to share with the other members of the group. Study groups can be a great way to keep you motivated and studying for the
exam when things get busy at work.
What’s on the Exam?
The AICP Comprehensive Planning Examination consists of 170 multiple choice questions (20 of which are pre-test and do not count toward the final score) in two main areas: Knowledge (40 percent) and Skills (60 percent). In order to pass the exam, candidates must receive a score of 55
or higher. A score of 55 means that you got approximately 75 percent of the questions correct. Your score is in no way related to the percent of questions that you got correct.
The exam is weighted as follows:
• History, theory and Law [15%]
• Plan Making and implementation [30%]
• Functional Areas of Practice [25%]
• Spatial Areas of Practice [15%]
• Public Participation and Social Justice [10%]
• AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Practice [5%]
About the Authors
Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, AICP has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners since 1999 and is an Associate Professor and Section Head of City and Regional Planning at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University. She can be contacted
Chris Steins, M.PL is co-editor of Planetizen (www.planetizen.com), and CEO of Urban Insight, a Los Angeles-based web development firm focused on providing technology services to the urban planning community. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AICP is a registered trademark of the American Planning Association (APA) and the APA’s institute. Neither APA nor AICP are affiliated with the authors of this article in any way, except as stated.