PMI-ACP® vs CSM® Certification: Which One is Right for Me?

Earning a project management certification is a smart way to set yourself apart from your peers and increase your earning potential, but which one is better? PMI-ACP vs CSM certifications – both have their pros and cons. Today, the Agile Methodology is being used worldwide to streamline projects in countless industries. In fact, according to the Project Management Institute, Agile organizations complete a higher percentage of projects – 75 percent versus 56 percent – than their non-Agile counterparts. 

Ultimate Guide to PMI-ACP Certification

Download the Ultimate Guide to learning about the PMI-ACP Certification.

Two common Agile-related certifications for project managers are the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® and the Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® certifications. Find out more about becoming an PMI-ACP® certification holder or a CSM Scrum Master, and learn which option is right for you.

PMI-ACP vs CSM: The Difference Between Certifications

Before you decide which career path to pursue – PMI-ACP or CSM certification – you first need to know more about these two approaches and why they are different. Before we compare, let’s define. 

  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Certification – This certification is sponsored by the Project Management Institute and helps project managers to demonstrate that they have mastered the fundamentals of the Agile Methodology. With this certification, you can increase your earning potential, and you can take your career in a number of different directions, from being a project manager to a Scrum master to a consultant and more. 
  • CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) Certification – The CSM is administered by the Scrum Alliance and demonstrates that you are an expert in all things Scrum. This certification is solely focused on Scrum and managing Scrum-based projects.

How are these two certifications different? Though they both deal with Agile-based subject matter, earning your CSM places total focus on the Scrum approach to Agile. As you likely already know, there is a wide range of ways to implement Agile, though Scrum is one of the best-known options. While a PMI-ACP certification can be applied to any number of Agile projects, like Scrum or Kanban, the CSM certification is only applicable to Scrum.

In many ways, the focus of the CSM on Scrum can be a disadvantage. It limits you to this one Agile approach. On the other hand, it can work in your favor if you’re participating exclusively in Scrum projects. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to both the PMI-ACP and the CSM certifications. In addition to the goals of both certifications, they differ in both requirements for taking the exams, and the structure of the exams, as well. The specifics of each exam could also play a role in which path you decide to pursue.

Certification Prerequisites: Do You Qualify?

Before you can take either the PMI-ACP or CSM exams, you need to meet a few certification requirements

PMI-ACP Certification Eligibility Requirements

  • 2,000 hours of general project experience working on teams. (If you have a current Project Management Professional (PMP)® or Program Management Professional (PgMP)® credential it will satisfy this requirement. However, neither of these certifications are required for you to take the PMI-ACP exam.)
  • 1,500 hours working on Agile project teams or with Agile methodologies. (These hours are required in addition to the 2,000 hours of general project experience.)
  • 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices.

CSM Certification Eligibility Requirements

  • Completion of an in-person, 16-hour (two-day) course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer.

As you can see, the prerequisites for the CSM exam require far less time and work than meeting the PMI-ACP exam requirements. This is another factor to consider. If you are at the beginning of your career or you don’t have enough time to meet the PMI-ACP requirements, pursuing your CSM certification could be the better option for your future.

PMI-ACP vs CSM: What are the Exams Like?

Now, let’s take a closer look at the exams themselves. 


  • 200 multiple-choice questions (25 of the 200 questions are sample items used for research purposes. These are not counted toward the final score.)
  • A Four-hour time limit for completion
  • No reference materials allowed
  • Cost: $405 for PMI members, $555 for PMI non-members

The PMI-ACP exam covers all of the essentials of the Agile Methodology, with a specific focus on five process areas: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.

CSM Exam

  • 50 questions (You must answer 37 out of the 50 questions correctly.)
  • 60-minute time limit
  • Cost: The cost of the exam is included in the cost of training, which can vary based on course. Expect to pay upwards of $1,000. 

Once you pass the CSM test, you will need to accept the CSM License Agreement and complete your Scrum Alliance membership profile. The exam will cover the following topics:

  • Scrum and Agile
  • Scrum Theory
  • Scrum Values
  • Scrum Team
  • Scrum Master
  • Scrum Events
  • Scrum Artifacts

PMI-ACP vs CSM Certification: Which Should You Pursue?

Earning a professional certification is a great way to improve your career trajectory. Both options can be beneficial for your future as an Agile project manager. However, because they are major time and money investments, you should think carefully about which option you decide to pursue. 

Because the CSM requires little effort to qualify for the exam, this could be a good option if you want to earn a certification quickly. You simply have to complete (and pay for) a two-day course and pass the following exam. However, you need to remember that the CSM certification is focused only on the Scrum approach to Agile. This certification is more limited in terms of application to your project management career.

The PMI-ACP certification, on the other hand, can be applied to a broad range of career paths. You become an expert in the Agile Methodology, which can be applied to a wide range of Agile implementation. While it’s more work to qualify and prepare for the certification exam, it is still a wise option for project management professionals. Also, the level of work required to qualify makes the certification even more valuable to employers. 

To ensure your efforts to earn the PMI-ACP certification are successful, learn more about the Agile Methodology in this comprehensive guide.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO