AICP Exams

Dear Management Doctor:

Besides the study guide from APA, what do you suggest as other helpful study tools?

Jim Narey
Maumelle, AR

Dear Jim,

I was grandfathered into AICP and have not taken the exam, so I don't know. However, I hope our readers will help to answer your question.

Your question does provide me an opportunity to say something about AICP and the exam.

Too many planners seem to feel that passing the exam is the key part of becoming an AICP member. My view is that it is only a small part, and maybe even the least important part. There are many parts to being an AICP member, including:

  • Your broad education and experience.
  • The exam — I really think that extensive reading and studying for the exam may be more important than the exam itself.
  • Professional ethics — we need to do much more in this area and challenge more planners and the communities they work for in relation to ethics.
  • Continuing education — when will we have the sense to elect an AICP Board with the guts to get us started on mandatory continuing education? This is a national disgrace, but it appears to no longer be on the agenda.

Jim, good luck in passing the exam and I will welcome you to AICP. But just remember, I want to welcome you to all of AICP.

The Management Doctor (aka Paul Zucker, FAICP)

Reader Responses

Shame on us (while I was serving on the AICP Commission) and on the leadership as a whole for failing to require continuing education. As a profession, continuing education should be a minimum requirement. What I learned 28 years ago and was tested on 25 years ago is not an indication (and should not be an indication) of my professional competence.
Thank you Paul, Mike, and Nancy for your comments on this topic.

V. Gail Easley, FAICP
The Gail Easley Company

When I took the test in 1992, I found the APA study guide to be very helpful. I would also recommend looking at past study guides. (Our local APA section had collected some from previous years.) The emphasis is on broad and practical experience. Bone up on those areas of planning that you have little or no exposure to.

Bruce Kistler, AICP
City of Lakeland, FL

Hooray for your comments about AICP membership. I couldn't agree more with the comment about too many AICP members believing that they are done when they pass the exam. It's just the beginning of a continuing journey of living by an ethics code, keeping on top of the profession and providing the best service possible to your clients (private or public) by being continually educated on changes in theory, practice and technology. As a past AICP Commissioner and nine-year member of the Exam Committee, I was constantly disappointed in the fixation by prospective AICP members on the exam as the final, and only, task that they had to complete.

As to the specific question posed, statistically those candidates who prepared for the exam as part of a study group were more likely to successfully pass the exam than any other group of candidates. A review of the topics on which the exam is based is extremely important as it helps candidates focus on those areas where they may be weak. The reading list prepared by the Exam Committee is a good place to identify material that will assist a candidate in strengthening weak areas of knowledge. The ICMA Green Book on local planning practices is a good, overview of the material on which the exam will likely cover. Prep courses can be valuable in assisting candidates with the type of exam that is used and being exposed to techniques that will assist in efficiently utilizing the time available to complete the exam. A strong caution that prep course practice exams DO NOT have questions that will be on the exam (you would be amazed on the number of candidates who annually complain that no practice exam questions appeared on the actual exam); practice exams are not a short-cut to studying. One final note, the exam is nationally oriented; candidates who rely on local practices when evaluating the answer to questions will be potentially missing the correct answer.

Mike Harper
Washoe County, NV

In response to the AICP Exam question I offer the following:

It is a computerized test. I did not find it that difficult. As to the questions themselves, I found most to be very difficult. I don't believe that the quality of the questions changed that much from the paper version to the computerized version. If you are used to using a computer, then it should be no problem at all in terms of taking the test on the computer. To be honest, I liked it better.

Was there any emphasis on some topic in particular? This is a hard question to answer. Each test is different. There is a pool of many questions and each computerized test takes questions from this pool. Thus if you are sitting next to someone at the test site, their test will be different than yours. With regards to the breakdown, it seemed to follow fairly closely to the percentages listed on the APA site. The AICP Comprehensive Planning Written Examination consists of 150 multiple-choice questions in two main areas: Knowledge (40%) and Skills (60%).

The items listed below under each of the major areas are intended to be representative and not inclusive of all subject matter known to the planning profession.

Candidates should note that exam questions do not precisely follow the order listed below. Questions are randonly distributed in the examination to provide an even distribution of questions with respect to degrees of difficulty relative to an individual candidate's education and experience.

The specifications are:

I. History, Theory and Law [15%]
A. History of planning, including legal decisions
B. Theory of planning
C. Patterns of human settlement

II. Emerging Issues and Trends [10%]
A. Impacts of social, economic, demograhic, and technological changes
B. Current topics (i.e., smart growth, neo-traditional, sustainable development)

III. Plan Making (Methods, Strategies, and Techniques) [20%]
A. Strategic planning/visioning
B. Research methods and techniques.
C. Techniques for organizing information.
D. Analysis of information (quantitative and qualitative).
E. Demographics
F. Information systems (GIS, MIS)
G. Fiscal impact analysis.

IV. Functional Topics [20%]
A. Natural resources and environmental quality
B. Land use
C. Infrastructure (e.g., water, sewer, power, telecommunications)
D. Energy
E. Public services (e.g., public safety, education, human services)
F. Transportation
G. Recreation
H. Economic development and revitalization plans
I. Historic preservation
J. Urban design
K. Housing
L. Neighborhood issues
M. Rural and small town planning
N. Application of legal principles (e.g., takings, aesthetics, etc.)
O. Environmental impact and analysis
P. Growth management techniques
Q. Budgets (including capital improvement programs and financing programs)
R. Development project review (including maps, site plans, and design review)
S. Program evaluation
T. Communications skills, including public presentations
U. Intergovernmental relations
V. Project and program management

VI. Code of Ethics, Public Interest, and Social Justice [15%]
A. AICP Code of Ethics
B. Public participation

I would suggest that you find as much study material that you can. To start with, make sure you have a copy of The Practice of Local Government Planning or the greenbook. It is the most concise publication available to cover a majority of the material. I would also suggest that you look on the APA website ( and look under AICP information to get the current info on the exam. They have a good suggested reading list. I did not read all the books on the list. So don't worry about that.

The one subject that is key is ethics. I did find that there were a several ethics questions and I think that they weighed heavier than other questions on the exam. It also seems that many of the questions had an ethics elements though not directly an ethics question. I would strongly suggest that you get the book, Everyday Ethics for the Practicing Planner by Carol Barrett. It gives a lot of good examples of the types of questions that appear on the exam.

Finally, I would suggest that you join a study group. I don't know if there is one in your area. In addition, contact your PDO (Professional Development Officer) for your State chapter. They will have a wealth of information.

Mark Stivers
Lancaster, PA

Continuing education is no longer on the agenda for AICP because I’m no longer there. That’s an exaggeration, of course, because many fine people worked very hard to try to convince the AICP Commission to require continuing education during my tenure and after. With new AICP leadership, I hope that the commissioners will undertake the challenge. We were so close five years ago — one vote away. We did get a watered-down pilot project, but no results were ever shared with the members that I’ve heard.

If I ever have time to run again, I hope to continue to push to require continuing education for AICP membership. The arguments against it don’t hold water and the disgrace of not requiring it, as you said, is significant. I continue to hear, “Oh, you don’t require continuing education? I thought everybody did these days. What do people have to do to keep their AICP membership?” Pay, is my answer.

Count me in for requiring continuing education. If anyone’s interested in seeing the proposal made to the Commission, please let me know.

Nancy Benziger Brown
Nancy.Brown@ws .edu