Top 10 Mistakes When Prepping for the GPC

Top 10 Mistakes When Prepping for the GPC #EarnGPC

The the fundraising industry has the CFRE, the legal profession has the bar, and in the grants-world, the Grant Professional Certified, GPC, is the premier credential for grant professionals. Having those 3 initials behind your name adds another level of credibility to your work as a grant professional and helps you stand out among peers and to employers.

Sitting for the GPC, like any professional credential exam is no small feat. We wanted to know what the potential pitfalls or mistakes someone preparing for the GPC exam might encounter so we spoke to GPCs across the country, tapped into their experiences while studying for the exam and created this roundup list. We also created a roadmap to help you navigate your own journey to the GPC because let’s face it, it sure is easier to get started when you know where you’re going!

Without further ado, we present the Top 10 Mistakes When Prepping for the GPC Letterman-style:

#10: Fear of the Unknown

What should I study? Am I eligible to take the test? How hard is the test? How many people fail the tests? What happens if I fail one or both parts of the test? How soon do I need to take the test before my eligibility expires? How can I get a scholarship to help pay for my testing? Do I have to be a member of the GPA? Where does the testing take place? How can I use the GPC to advance my career?

There are so many questions that come up when studying for any certification exam so the fear of the unknown can be a big barrier to earning the GPC. But it doesn’t have to be. To help simplify the process, we created a handy dandy roadmap that walks you through the path to earning your GPC. Click on the link below to grab your copy. Also, the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, the certifying body for the GPC, has information on it’s website about all aspects of the exam.

#9: Getting Overwhelmed

There are 9 competencies and 65 skills that are validated through the application and testing process. The exam covers a broad spectrum of grant types, from family foundation grants to large federal grants, and evaluates the applicant’s expertise as a grants generalist. When you begin to consider earning the GPC, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with questions about studying, eligibility, testing, and certification.

The first step to managing the overwhelm is understanding what topics are covered on the exam. The Grant Professionals Certification Institute has a list of the competencies and skills tested on the GPC and reviewing this document is a useful place to begin your planning.

#8: Cramming!

You fill out your application packet and are nearing your testing window expiration date so what do you do? If you are like a lot of people, you cram as much information as you can into the last few weeks or even the weekend before you take your test. Oops. Not the best plan.

We know it is hard to build studying into your work week – especially in a career run by deadlines. We give our time to jobs, families, and volunteering, so investing time into figuring out what to study and making the time to study can be a huge challenge. This is where setting up a game plan is vital. Some people set aside their lunch time as their review time. Others dedicate 1 hour for studying after the kids are in bed. It doesn’t really matter when you do it, the key is consistency and beginning early enough.

EXAM TIP: When we asked GPCs how long they studied for the GPC exam answers ranged from 3 months to an entire year. To read the complete Storify of our chat, click here.

#7: Missing Your Testing Window!

All of that effort – the eligibility test, eligibility packet, testing preparation, applying for your Exam Voucher, paying your Exam Fee, and …oh no! Now, you have to apply for the next Eligibility Window and pay another exam fee. Don’t let this happen to you.

EXAM TIP: Once you submit your eligibility packet, the clock starts ticking. You must take the exam within 6 months of your eligibility packet approval or the process starts over and you have to apply for the next Eligibility Window (and pay another exam fee).

# 6: Not Having a Game Plan for the Writing Prompt!

The GPC exam consists of two portions: 1) 150-160 question multiple choice section and 2) 2-hour timed grant writing assignment.

The purpose of the writing assignment is to assess the candidate’s ability to respond appropriately to a grant-related writing prompt. You are given a scenario and told to write a grant proposal. So since you’re not going to know the scenario, is there any way to prepare for the writing prompt? Yes!

It helps to go into the exam having memorized a template you can use to structure your response to the writing prompt. There are many possible formats, but here’s one we like to use:

  1. The Draw – Give the reader a reason to want to read more (ie compelling example or surprising fact)
  2. The Need and Solution – Explain the need and connect it to your solution
  3. The Closing – Wrap everything up by repeating key ideas and reminding the reader why your application is the best choice

Another helpful point to know how the writing sample will be evaluated so you can spend the most time on the areas weighted the highest:

  • Make a Persuasive Argument (34%)
  • Organize Ideas Appropriately (22%)
  • Convey Ideas Clearly (18%)
  • Use Information Provided (12%)
  • Use Conventional Standard English (10%)
  • Follow Formatting Requirements (4%)

#5: Thinking You Know It All!

You wouldn’t consider taking the GPC exam unless you are an experienced grant professional with years of grant development work under your belt. Of course you know your organization, your funders, and your grants. Do you know other areas of grants? If you usually work with local foundations, do you have expertise in federal grants? If you work in higher education, do you have experience with local family foundations?

Because the GPC exam is a generalist exam, covering a wide area of subject matter, prior grant experience alone is likely not enough preparation for the exam. As one current GPC candidate eloquently explained, “I know that for a test that extensive, it would be foolish to try to put your grant suit on and march right on down there and try to take the test.”

#4: Picking an Answer that is Right, But Not the BEST Answer!

The multiple choice section of the exam is known for being tricky because at first blush several answers may appear to be correct. We even heard one successful exam taker complain that she could have argued either way for many of answers, especially in areas where she wasn’t an expert and didn’t understand the nuances of the question and answers

So how do you narrow down the choices and find the BEST answer? Balancing years of experience and a broad knowledge-base will lead you to the best answer. The key is to take your time, practice reading test questions, and re-reading each potential answer.

#3: Not Having Enough Professional Development Hours for Your Application Packet!

Professional development that is clearly related to the grants profession can be hard to come by, especially if grants are not your only focus at your job. The good news is that there are a lot of options for you including participation in GrantChat, providing training to others on grants, contributing to professional publications, and participating in a GPC focused professional development program.

#2 Studying the Wrong Things!

As we mentioned before, the GPC exam is a big exam and there’s potentially a lot of ground that could be tested so how do you make sure you’re focusing on the right things?

EXAM TIP: When we asked GPCs to give us their best advice for those preparing for the GPC exam, they overwhelming stressed the importance of taking time to review the competencies and reading up on the areas of the least experience. Click here to read the complete Storify.

#1: No Access to a GPC Mentor and a Peer Group

And the number 1 mistake people make when preparing for the GPC is…not having a GPC mentor and peer group to study with.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to ask questions and get feedback from someone who has taken and successfully passed the GPC? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be part of a group of peers all studying and preparing for the GPC at the same time?

You can have that support. There are grant professionals across the country preparing for the GPC that would welcome the opportunity to network and form study groups.One of the best places to find these grant pro peers is at your local Grant Professional Association chapter. To find a chapter near you, click here.


Now that know the top 10 mistakes people make when preparing for the GPC, let’s get you started on your own journey towards earning your GPC. Download your “Earn the GPC roadmap” today and move one step closer to adding those 3 letters after your name.

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Jo helps do-gooders do good great. She is the Managing Director / Founder of SmartEGrants and CEO/Principal at J. Miller & Associates, Inc. - Grants, Strategy, and Social Media for nonprofits and the public sector. She hosts #Grantchat, a weekly Twitter Chat, and All Things Grants, a weekly show on Blab. She loves cross-country road trips, exploring national parks with her son, the San Juan Islands, and walking her rescue miniature schnauzer. She is a hugger.

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