Updated December 9, 2021

The AICP Certification Examination:

  • Tests a planner's ability to succeed at the levels of education and experience required by AICP certification — to think critically, anticipate consequences, and mitigate problems;
  • Recognizes that all planners achieving AICP certification must share a fundamental knowledge of core elements and competencies that form the foundation of our profession;
  • Is written by AICP members who are practitioners or educators working in the public and private sectors;
  • Relates to what planners should know today, including innovative practices, emerging issues, trends, and best practices;
  • Reflects that planning occurs at the intersection of many disciplines, and that planners frequently work as conveners and facilitators within communities and with experts in other fields;
  • Reflects the planner's responsibility to seek social justice, incorporate equity principles into our plans, and overcome historical impediments to racial and social equity;
  • Emphasizes that the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is fundamental to being an AICP-certified planner and is the foundation for much of what planners do; and
  • Tests knowledge of planning as practiced throughout the United States, and not in any particular region, state, or place.

The exam consists of 170 multiple choice questions (20 of which are unidentified questions-in-development that do not count toward the final score). It includes scenario questions where 3 to 5 questions relate to one scenario. This outline offers candidates preparing to take the exam insight into its subject matter.

AICP Certification Examination Major Topic Areas

The exam covers nine major topic areas, each encompassing several categories. It includes questions from all nine topics, but may not necessarily include questions from each sub-area. Examples are provided for most categories, but questions are not confined to those examples. The percentage of exam questions pertaining to each major topic area is indicated.

Research and Assessment Methods (11%)

  • Conducting research and acquiring knowledge (e.g., qualitative and quantitative research, experiential, oral histories, research methods, precedents and examples, best practices, analysis and reporting, surveying, sources of data, metadata, recognizing implicit bias)
  • Data and source interpretation and evaluation (e.g., relevance, validity, reliability, data quality, implicit bias)
  • Spatial analysis (e.g., GIS, mapping, interpretation, 3D visualization, modeling)
  • Community involvement and engagement to develop a sound understanding of a community
  • Data collection strategies appropriate to identify planning issues (e.g., passive, active, community involvement) while acknowledging privacy and confidentiality concerns

Fundamental Planning Knowledge (15%)

  • History of planning, planning movements, and influences on contemporary planning (e.g., European traditions, eastern traditions, pre-colonial indigenous planning, diverse influencers)
  • Patterns of human settlement (e.g., growth and development of places over time, role of transportation, climate, effects of discrimination, cultural influences, and location of places in shaping urban form)
  • Foundational legal principles and statutory basis of planning (e.g., federal, state, housing law, property rights, eminent domain, police power)
  • Planning Theory (e.g., public interest theory, incrementalism vs comprehensiveness, equity, advocacy planning, rational planning)
  • The general terminology, practices, and principles of related professions (e.g., public health, architecture, law, engineering, real estate, environmental restoration, public finance)
  • Natural, social, and economic systems (e.g., political context, demographics, social trends, social infrastructure, sustainability, resiliency, ecology, water, health, climate, finance)
  • Core values of planning (e.g., equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice, public interest, sustainability, resiliency, healthy and prosperous communities, democratic engagement, and transparency)
  • How technology can be used to advance planning (e.g., automated vehicles/connected automated vehicles, smart devices, smart cities, civil infrastructure)
  • Information technology tools (e.g., visualization, spatial software, big data analytics, modeling)

Communication and Interaction (13%)

  • Communication (e.g., clear, concise, and understandable, visual, written, and spoken concepts, relationship building, conducting meetings, media relations, appropriate language(s))
  • Strategies and techniques to provide non-discriminatory electronic media free of obstacles and/or barriers to accessibility. (e.g., provide equal access and opportunity for users with a disability through the use of assistive technology or keyboard-only access)
  • Listening, comprehension, and reflection of needs and ideas (e.g., accurate compilation and integration into the planning process)
  • Leadership (e.g., influencing decision making in the public interest, strategic decision making)
  • Social justice (e.g., interacting with and planning for and with diverse or underserved communities including renters, social empowerment, economic development)
  • Culturally appropriate and respectful communication sensitive to cultural history and social movements
  • The processes and techniques involved in working towards consensus for decision making
  • Understanding the role of organizational structures and functions (e.g., government agencies, non-profit entities, and for-profit businesses)
  • Outreach strategies and techniques for various communities, particularly that best suit engagement needs of the disenfranchised or marginalized community
  • Evaluation of how well the planned outreach strategy actually engaged targeted communities/populations (e.g., recognizing implicit bias, achieving optimal benefits)
  • Evidence-based argument formulation and articulation (e.g., use of research skills, use of factual data, identify and examine evidence, and critical thinking & reasoning to support a plan, program, policy or action)
  • Sensitive or complex political situation management (e.g., practical understanding of the role of a planner and the role of elected officials, relationship building, role of the media including social media)

Plan and Policy Development (15%)

  • Preparing to plan (e.g., scoping, goal setting, visioning, key issue/opportunity identification, statutory/regulatory/physical/economic/social/cultural context)
  • Planning as characterized by sequential steps and multi-variate analyses
  • Familiarity with states' and federal laws (e.g., preemption, national precedence, tribal sovereignty, APA policy guides)
  • Formulating and drafting policies (e.g., policy analysis, equity, economic and environmental implications)
  • Vision, goal, objective, policy, and priority statement creation and their interrelationships
  • Objectives and actions to address identified needs and priorities within an equity framework
  • Stakeholder and community inclusion in scoping a plan, policy, and project
  • Mediation, negotiation, facilitation, or arbitration in order to address conflicting interests and demands (e.g., special interests vs established policy)
  • Applying innovations and best practices appropriate to place and context
  • Identifying and evaluating consequences (e.g., physical, social, natural, environment, economic, fiscal, resilience, concurrency, public facilities)
  • Funding and financing considerations, demands, and strategies (e.g., grant resources, budgeting, return on investment, municipal and real estate financing sources)
  • Community character and form (e.g., context sensitive design, historic, urban design, evolution and dynamics, form-based codes, multicultural sensitivity, equity)
  • Identifying, quantifying, and addressing incidence and burden, past and future, that results from systems that foster and perpetuate inequities and discrimination
  • Conversance with related disciplines (e.g., terminology, practices, and principles in engineering, environmental science, architecture, etc)

Plan Implementation (12%)

  • Develop and interpret rules, regulations, policies, and programs (e.g., codes and regulations, budgeting and finance, decision making, capital improvement)
  • Aligning and activating funding and financing options (e.g., grants, state, federal)
  • Proposal or project assessment for consistency with adopted programs and plans, laws, regulation, and policy
  • Developing strategic partnerships to facilitate plan implementation (e.g., support, mitigate opposition)
  • Identifying and mitigating challenges and obstacles for plan implementation (e.g., strive towards a win-win outcome)
  • Drafting action steps and assigning responsibility including managing, facilitating, and/or coordinating the implementation of programs or projects according to a schedule
  • Monitoring, evaluating, and updating adopted plans and policies in order to achieve the greatest benefits with no or minimal adverse impact (e.g., cost/benefit, qualitative and quantitative measures and criteria, transparency)
  • Integrating multiple projects to achieve efficiency, effectiveness, and synergy (e.g., identifying a mix of projects based on geographic area, constituency, infrastructure, etc.)

Administration and Management (6%)

  • Project or program management (e.g., RFPs, RFQs, grants, budget preparation, managing contracts, scheduling, staff allocation)
  • Internal organizational management (e.g., team building and staff training, planning office culture, strategic planning, organizational budgeting and financial management)
  • Management of external relationships (e.g., customer service, client interaction, partner organizations, decision makers, and boards and commissions) in a manner considering transparency, freedom of information, confidentiality, privacy, etc.
  • Mentoring and motivating staff to develop their skills optimally, and to ensure timeliness, accuracy, and clarity of work produced
  • Results oriented management and accountability (e.g., creating benchmarks, measures, continuity, testing for statistically significant variations, quality control and quality assurance)

Leadership (6%)

  • Leadership in support of plan making, participation, recognition of needs, and commitment action (e.g., open information, building of partnerships, advocacy in diverse settings)
  • Ethical aspects of advocacy
  • Best practices and their potential applications
  • Accountability to the profession, ethical principles and the public interest
  • Institutional structures, including accountability, transparency expectations, and roles and responsibilities
  • A planner's comprehensive approach to complex problem solving and decision-making (e.g., interrelatedness and inter-dependence, ability to help a community prioritize)
  • The ethics of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in practice (e.g., asking for feedback, setting clear expectations and good communication, and consideration of people and ideas representing diverse life experiences)
  • Coaching and mentoring (e.g., serving as a mentor in the workplace or professional organization; be a positive role model)
  • Discerning and promoting the public interest related to a proposed action
  • Professional development expectations and standards and sharing opportunities
  • Discerning and promoting the value of planning to others, including students, coworkers, decision makers, and the public
  • Opportunities to promote and volunteer in professional planning organizations and planning related services in the community

Areas of Practice (12%)

  • Comprehensive and long-range planning (e.g., community values assessment, multidisciplinary assessment, socio-economic analysis, growth scenario development, visioning, physical planning, capital budgeting, policy planning)
  • Geographically-focused, subarea planning (e.g., district, community, corridor, and neighborhood planning)
  • Current planning (e.g., legal procedural applications, equity, codes and regulations, zoning administration, plan review, impact analysis, design review, site planning)
  • Sustainability and resilience planning (e.g., Harmony with Nature, Livable Built Environment, Interwoven Equity, Resilient Economy, Healthy Community, Responsible Regionalism) including adaptability and life-cycle analysis
  • Transportation mobility and access planning (e.g., integration of transportation modes, land use and mobility demand, goods movement/logistics, access equity for all, environmental and energy impacts)
  • Infrastructure and service planning (e.g., concurrency, essential public and community facilities, service delivery, energy) including adaptability and life-cycle analysis
  • Hazard mitigation and resiliency planning (e.g., risk assessment, flooding, earthquake, wildfires, spills, brownfields, anti-terrorism, disaster preparedness, environmental justice planning, public health crisis, adaptation)
  • Natural resources planning (e.g., environmental assessment, climate impact and change, environmental impact analysis, environmental justice and impact to indigenous communities, adaptability, proactive climate protection)
  • Economic development (e.g., community revitalization, fiscal and economic analysis and forecasting, incentives, funding and financing, workforce development, business development, sustainability and diversification, micro and macro considerations)
  • Urban design (e.g., placemaking, public realm, design guidelines, community form and mix of uses, density and intensity, performance standards)
  • Housing planning (e.g., demand and market analysis, funding, financing, affordability and accessibility, policy, equity, cultural considerations, unhoused populations and social services)
  • Parks, recreation, and open space (e.g., health, wellness, livability, variety, programing, access to and provision of natural and built spaces; natural systems viability, safety, informal spaces, allowance of cultural practice, conservation vs preservation)
  • Historic and cultural resource planning (e.g., identification, provision, protection, adaptability, viability, and preservation of cultural and heritage spaces and places, cultural and racial awareness, legacy and sensitivity)
  • Facility and services planning (e.g., state and federal facilities, local community facilities and institutional uses, needs, gaps, equity considerations, siting, programs, shared-use, and implementation)
  • Food planning (e.g., security, access and justice, production, urban agriculture, economies, management of food waste, governance, industrialization, delivery systems, sustainability and resilience, labor)
  • Health planning (e.g., environmental justice, service distribution, integration of services, locational suitability, mobility of service, technology, affordability, promoting healthy lifestyles through design, health impact assessment)
  • Rural and small-town planning (e.g., rural economic development, natural and agricultural resources protection, multi-jurisdictional relations, character, scale, land use, density transfer of development rights, farming conflicts, sustainable growth management practices and policies)
  • Equity and advocacy planning (e.g., as applicable to place making, mobility, housing, economic opportunity, access to facilities and services, repairing legacies of harm)
  • Regional and multijurisdictional planning (e.g., watershed, transportation systems, regional infrastructure, jurisdictional conflicts and collaboration, border issues, housing and resiliency considerations)

AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (10%)*

  • Overall Responsibility to the Public (serving the public interest, allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest formulated through continuous and open debate, achieving high standards of professional integrity, proficiency, and knowledge)
  • Responsibility to Clients and Employers (diligent, creative, and competent performance of work in pursuit of a client or employer's interest)
  • Responsibility to the Planning Profession and Colleagues (development of, and respect for, the planning profession by improving knowledge and techniques, making work relevant to solutions of community problems, increasing public understanding of planning activities, and increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups to become professional planners)
  • Responsibility of the planner to uphold the AICP rules of conduct, compliance, and administration (e.g., conflicts of interest)

*All ethics questions are based on the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct adopted in 2022.