Extra Edge Needed for AICP Exam

Dear Management Doctor:

I took the AICP exam twice last year without receiving a passing grade. What techniques or books do you highly recommend. I work for HNTB Corporation, not in the municipal sector, and it would be great if you could recommend something to help me out.

I have done:

  • OSU website / Planetizen
  • Planning the Built Environment
  • Everyday Ethics
  • PLANNING magazine
  • APA study guide / cdrom
My scores were 49 and 47 respectively out of 55. What can I do to get that extra edge?

Extra Edge Needed

Dear Getting That Extra Edge,

Unfortunately I am not an expert on the AICP exam but some of our emailers are and I hope they will respond with additional ideas. I would assume that the APA study guide would be key.

Many of the APA Chapters have training sessions for the exam, so I would start by checking that out for your State. I am not certain if my ABZs of Planning Management, Second Edition is directly related to the exam, but I do know that a few Chapters are recommending it for study purposes. I know a number of planners who join together to study for the exam. You might also try to talk with another planner who recently passed the exam and compare notes.

Your question gives me the opportunity to give my opinion about AICP. First of all, I think AICP is very important and I encourage you to keep trying the exam. But, keep in mind, AICP is much more than the exam. It includes ethics, certification of planning schools, experience, and finally, continuation education. A planner who passes the exam is not necessarily a better planner than one who does not. However, the exam is just one small and essential part of the profession.

The bottom line is that you need to pass the exam to become AICP so that is important. However, I think studying for the exam may be more important than the exam itself. Even though that may sound like an indirect plug for you to read my book (it is) I think the more background you get in planning by reading a wide variety of information is useful.

The third time should be the charm!

The Management Doctor (aka Paul Zucker, FAICP)

Reader Responses

The most important thing I did to study for the AICP exam was to attend my Michigan APA Chapter study course. The practice questions and tips about what I would be likely to see were nice, but most importantly I found out exactly where my weaknesses were. That allowed me to target my limited study time to those areas.

Rodney C. Nanney, AICP
Ypsilanti, Michigan

It was a surprise that Extra Edge did not list the "The Practice of Local Government Planning" (the famous "Green Book"). I found it helpful for filling the gaps of my planning knowledge. Also, the conference training sessions on taking the AICP Exam were very helpful.

Glen R. Boise, AICP
Kokomo - Howard County Plan Commission

Excellent advice in your response! I would urge "Extra Edge Needed" to join a study group if one is available. When I chaired the Exam Committee, statistics showed that those who studied for the exam with a study group had a higher rate of success than those who studied alone. Also, since this person has already taken the exam twice and should have received some feedback on the areas where the scores were low, I would recommend that this person focus on those areas when studying, again, for the exam.

A couple pointers that I always provided to prospective exam takers:

  1. remember, it's a national exam; so don't get in the habit of looking at the questions from the perspective of what would I do in my jurisdiction, but what would be the best response at a national level;
  2. do not rely upon practice exams as a short-cut to studying - they are there to provide a sense of how questions are posed and the rhythm of the exam.
(BTW: "Extra Edge Needed" is to be commended for utilizing a broad source of study materials). Because the writer works for a private firm, it might be useful for this person to visit with an AICP member who works in the public sector to get a perspective on how a public sector planner might view some of the issues with which the writer might be encountering.

Best of all were your last comments, Paul. Passing the exam is the beginning of a life-long professional commitment to a code of ethics, professional standards and continuing education. My wishes, also, that the 3rd time is the charm!

Michael A. Harper, FAICP
Washoe County Community Development Department

In regards to the recent Management Doctor post on taking the AICP exam, I would add the following. Here in Pennsylvania, we always encourage the exam applicants to join a study group. Quite often, being able to study in a group helps to broaden your perspective on the different topics.

In addition I would add reading the "Green" books. That is 'The Practice of Local Government Planning' . I found it to be invaluable in preparing for the exam.

I would also suggest that you check out the AICP study notes and materials on the Pennsylvania Planning Association's web site (planningpa.org) for additional resources.

Mark E. Stivers, AICP
East Hempfield Township, PA

When I took the AICP exam in 2001 (13 years after receiving my planning masters degree) I purchased study materials recommended by my local chapter (Louisiana APA). I spent at least $100 on the materials which were produced by a private consultant and geared specifically to the AICP exam. Check out the AICP exam preparation sessions offered at national and state conferences. Also think back to what questions left you thinking "what the?" or "never heard of it." I've heard the exam has changed a lot since I took it but some areas should still apply.

The advice I was given was to make sure to nail the areas that are "gimmes" (facts that can be memorized):

  • Law cases (Kelo, Nolan, Euclid v. Amber, a host of others)
  • Types of law cases and terms (inverse condemnation, police power, nuisance law, eminent domain, "arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious," reasonable nexus, etc.)
  • Planning theory
  • Planning history
  • Basic planning terms and math (e.g. townships/ranges/sectors, buffers, setbacks, GIS) (note: I spent way too much time calculating slope from a topo map but I was determined to get it!)
Many of the landmark legal decisions came out after I graduated and new ones keep appearing all the time! I set aside at least 2 or 3 nights a week to study at the library and I made flash cards for law, theory, and history. These questions may not make up the bulk of the test, but memorization gives you a base of correct answers. The "softer" fields like ethics, public interaction, job dynamics, etc. are harder to study for but you may get info from the exam prep sessions.

Study on and good luck!

Kathryn Perry, AICP

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