How to Answer Ethics Questions on the AICP Exam

The Ethics questions on the AICP tend to be a section that trips people up. Why? It's likely because while most of the comprehensive exam is factual and rote memorization (this person did this thing in this year) where variables do not change, and ethics questions feel too abstract in contrast. 

Or are they?

The APA test-writers don't like to play too much in abstract hypotheticals, which is why Ethics only constitutes 10% of the exam. So don't worry too much, you can spend 10% of your study time focusing on these types of questions

The first step is to read through the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Familiarize yourself with the sections and with the type of planner the APA strives to have. As you read through, we found it useful to personify that ideal planner. Give them a name. Paul the Perfect Planner, if you will. 

Paul has a special concern for the long-range consequences of present actions. 

Paul avoids a conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest in accepting assignments from clients or employers.
Paul educates the public about planning issues and their relevance to our everyday lives.

Paul does not engage in private discussions with decision-makers in the planning process in any manner prohibited by law or by agency rules, procedures, or customs.

When answering Ethics questions, just remember the most appropriate answer is based on the Code of Ethics, not personal opinion. Some questions will take information directly from the Code and other questions will have you apply the Code to hypothetical scenarios. 

The answer is always rooted in the Code of Ethics. So ask yourself, what would Paul do?

Don't worry about what you would do. And don't get bogged down into the details and needing more context. Because of course as human beings, there's more dynamics to manage than a test can present in a few sentences. 


For Example . . .

In the APA's AICP Exam Illustrative Questions practice test (which we suggest you print out and take!), they offer the following question:

"As the senior planner in the town's planning department, James argued successfully against any further nonresidential development within the town's recharge areas to its public wellfields. Five years later, as a consultant to a national shopping mall developer, James is aggressively pursuing a rezoning of 1,000 acres of land within the town's public water supply recharge areas."

Does this violate the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct? 

Even though you may not imagine ever switching positions on a topic so drastically, could Paul the Perfect Planner do so and still be perfect? 

Take yourself out of the question. Don't worry about what you would do. Worry about Paul. 

If Paul can do it, then it doesn't violate the Code of Ethics. 

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