A while back, I took and passed the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) exam. Since then, I’ve had a quite a few people ask me what it’s like and what advice I have. I’ve consolidated and summarized my experience in the article below.
Is the APICS CSCP Exam Right for Me?
Which Certification Should I Pursue?
The first thing you need to do is determine whether the CSCP exam is the right certification for you. Certification is definitely a plus in the supply chain profession. There are quite a few different options, most of which are summarized in this excellent chart on Wikipedia. To begin my journey, I spent a lot of time looking at these different options.
For me, it really came down to which organization I wanted my certification from. In my opinion, the two strongest options are APICS and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).
APICS offers two certifications. The CSCP is an overall look at supply chain management. The CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management) is more focused on inventory and production at a detailed level. ISM offers one main certification, the Certified Purchasing Manager (CPM). The CPM is primarily geared toward procurement.
Certification Job Search
Next, I began searching Monster.com and other job sites to see what types of opportunities these certifications might unlock. I was quickly surprised how many jobs said “APICS certification preferred” or “CSCP preferred” – especially jobs that appealed to me. From this, I decided to go for the CSCP. If I were more interested in just buying, then ISM’s Certified Purchasing Manager (CPM) would make sense.
Is Certification Worth It?
The cost of the study materials and test made me pause for a moment. Some employers are happy to help out with the $1,000 to $2,000 total cost. Mine wasn’t, but the investment made sense. I was also looking at business school programs at this time, and I was surprised to learn how strongly some MBA programs promote this same certification, sometimes even for their current students. While I didn’t want to take on extra studying as a MBA student, the fact that the schools were recommending these certifications sealed the deal for me.
What Materials Should I Use to Study?
Only two roads made sense to me if you’re serious about earning your CSCP: self-study or a class.
About the APICS CSCP Learning System (and How to Get It for Less)
The APICS CSCP Learning System is definitely the way to go for self-study. While they can’t claim that the system teaches everything that’s on the test – it gets pretty darn close. Unfortunately, it has a steep price tag of $1275. To reduce that, purchase an APICS membership. Student memberships are free, and professional memberships are $200 per year. Being a member gives you an instant $330 discount on the Learning System. If you have friends who also want to study, you can get a discount when you purchase more than one set at the same time. For instance, I saved $100 by purchasing my study materials at the same time as a friend. Search online forums and try to find someone to go in together with – it could save you a few hundred dollars.
Buy A Used APICS CSCP Learning System
Another option is to buy a used CSCP Learning System. A friend of mine has a network of people looking to sell their used CSCP Learning System sets for half the cost of a new set. You can contact her for more information through the inquiry form on this page: Used APICS CSCP Learning Systems For Sale.
Local or Online Class
The other option is to prepare for the test through a class that essentially walks you through the APICS Learning System as a group. Local APICS chapters will sporadically offer certification classes for a variety of prices. If you can, find one that doesn’t charge more than the books. Classes are very helpful for people that need an outside motivator that will help them study the materials. If you know you won’t be able to read 1,000 pages of text without having to attend a weekly class – then this is the route you should go. In addition, you’ll meet others studying the same material – so if you’re a social learner, this may be the key to your success.
Getting Through the Material
The textbooks are incredibly dry (at least the 2013 versions were). They just spit out facts with no stories and hardly any diagrams. At first, this was very frustrating and horribly boring. However, after a few hundred pages, I began to appreciate this style. The books cover a vast amount of materials in close to 1,000 pages. If they had more fluff, then that number would obvious increase dramatically.
Applying the concepts to my current job also helped. Whether it’s writing in the margins or discussing the concepts with your team, applying what you learn is the best way to really remember it. I help make quite a few changes in our department while studying the CSCP concepts.
For the most part, I had to sit down and force myself to read an entire textbook section in one sitting. Otherwise, I found it very difficult to find the motivation to come back to the section. Luckily, the textbook is broken up into fairly short sections. Each section has an online review quiz. This is where the Learning System really shines.
The online portion of the APICS Learning System is what saved me. The quizzes help me remember the key points from the chapter. I was often frustrated by the quiz questions – some are very poorly written and the correct answers are often debatable. They hopefully fixed those questions, but be warned that some may still be ambiguous. I was very worried that the test questions would be just as ambiguous. Don’t worry though – I thought all the test questions were very straightforward.
The online tools are accessible by smartphone, tablet, or desktop. However, I found that my smartphone was the least frustrating method of taking the tests. The tests seem to be much slower and harder to navigate on my desktop. So even when my laptop was available, I usually used my phone instead.
As great as the online quizzes are, the absolute best help are the flashcards. So much of the test depends on whether you know the vocabulary. I printed out flashcards and used them regularly. A friend of mine stumbled on another method if you find paper flashcards less motivating:
While it’s not quite as awesome as Call of Duty or Little Big Planet, it’s a more fun way to learn the vocabulary quickly.
How Long Does Studying for the APICS CSCP Exam Take?
It took me three months to complete the APICS Learning System. Now to be fair, my first child was born during this time, so that slowed me down a bit. However, if you read for an average of an hour each day, you can finish in three months or less.
Looking back, I probably studied a bit too much. If you can pass all the online quizzes with 80% or more, then I would feel pretty confident that you’ll pass the exam. I actually thought the real test was a bit easier than the review quizzes in the CSCP Learning System.
I’ve heard rumors that most of the people that fail the exam do not speak English as their primary language. So if you are not a native English speaker, you may want to study a bit more and understand all the words in all the online quizzes.
What was Your Method of Studying for the APICS CSCP Exam?
This was my detailed routine of study for the exam:
- Take the pretest to see what the questions would be like
- Read one section (1A or 1B for example)
- Take the quiz for that section (Quiz 1A)
- If I didn’t get over 80% on the quiz, then I retook the quiz and read up on the questions I missed
- Once I got over 80% and understood the questions I had missed, I’d move onto the next section
- After I finished all the sections in the three modules, I’d take the test for the entire module. I’d review the questions I missed until I felt comfortable moving on.
- Once a week, I’d run through all the flashcards – even if I hadn’t reached those words in the book yet. After a few weeks, I knew all the words very well.
- After finishing all three modules, I took the post-test
- Right before the test, I took a day off work and reviewed all of the books again. This was probably overkill, but I really didn’t want to shell out the extra money to retake the test.
I had a friend studying at the same time, so we would compare notes every few days. Mostly, having someone else kept me on track – and complaining about poorly written quiz questions together made it more fun. I brought the current book I was reading with me everywhere and sometimes had my wife read the text aloud to me when we had a few extra minutes (like waiting at the doctor’s office). I’m happy to report that I didn’t study at all in the hospital when my daughter was born.
What’s the APICS CSCP Test Like?
Save the Date
The test itself is straightforward. It’s given in the same facility as GMAT and other standardized tests. Since the CSCP exam isn’t a wildly popular test, scheduling is often quite limited in some locations. I scheduled my test about two months in advance. This was good because the deadline motivated me to push through the texts. My friend didn’t schedule the test for some time and ended up dragging out her study period to eight months. If this might be a possibility, I recommend reserving early in your study process.
My advice is to just stay cool on test day. Honestly, if you’ve read all the text, know the flashcards, and have received an 80% on the post-test, then you’ll pass. Don’t overthink the questions – there weren’t any trick questions that I remember. Eat a good breakfast, go to the testing center, and take care of business. You’ll do just fine.
Still have questions? Check out my article on Frequently Asked Questions about the APICS CSCP Exam to find more information about the exam process.