Whether you’ve had some experience with project management or are looking to enter the profession for the first time, it will be critical for you to take and pass the PMP (Project Management Professional) Exam.
As a project manager, the PMP Certification will prepare you to lead projects in nearly every methodology, and will also increase your salary and earning potential. Potential employers value the knowledge that is represented in successfully passing this exam, and it will significantly add to any knowledge that comes from training and experience.
The PMP exam is not one you can cram for with an all-nighter and spit out the information the next day. It demands preparation and planning. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the 9 preparation tips that will help you to successfully take and pass the PMP exam and move forward in your career.
Tip #1: Know How You Learn
Before you do anything else, you want to make sure you know how you best learn in order to plan accordingly. Everyone is different, and while some study best on their own, others do well in a class environment.
Look back on your experiences in school and ask yourself what learning methods best suited you and helped you succeed in your classes.
If solo-learning is a good method for you, you’ll still want to take the time to map out a study schedule and ensure that you will stick to it. This may mean setting alarms for yourself, setting up a reward system (i.e. No going out on Friday unless X gets done!), and asking friends or family to partner with you by holding you accountable.
If you are more likely to succeed in a classroom environment, look into PMP preparation courses and boot camps. PMP prep courses aren’t free, but what you get in return for taking them is worth the extra cost. PMTI’s four-day boot camp will not only provide you with all of the training and materials you need to prepare, but will also earn you 45 PDU’s, which is required for recertification for three more years.
Tip #2: Join PMI and Schedule Your Exam
- A four-year degree with three years of project management experience, 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects, and 35 hours of project management education.
- A secondary degree, five years of project management experience, 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects, and 35 hours of project management education.
If you meet the requirements and are ready to pursue your PMP certification, you can register for the exam and get it on the calendar. Joining PMI is part of the deal. It’s a way to gain access to the PMBOK Guide®, which you’ll need in order to study, and it’s how you are able to sign up for the exam. The membership fee for joining is $129 for individuals (plus a $10 application fee) and $32 for full-time students.
After you’ve joined, the renewal cost is $129, with no additional application fee, and remains at $32 for students. Retired members can renew their membership at a discounted rate of $65.
How long should you allow yourself to study for the exam? This will depend on your situation in life. For the average person looking to take the PMP exam, there are factors such as current career and family/social life to consider. Thus, three to four months is a reasonable amount of time to allow, assuming your studies will be added into the margins of your life (i.e. nights and weekends).
Three to four months allows 1-1 ½ weeks per knowledge area in the PMBOK® Guide.
If you are planning to take a class, which may significantly reduce the length of time you need to devote to studying, you can sign up for the exam once you’ve finished the course and feel confident you’re prepared to take it.
Tip #3: Make a Plan and Stick to It
If you plan to study for the exam on your own, once you’ve got that exam date on the calendar, it’s time to make a study plan. It’s important to be realistic, and not expect more of yourself than is reasonable.
Look at your regular weekly schedule. When do you have free time? What are some things you’ll need to give up while preparing for the exam (i.e. hobbies or leisure time)? Could you give up your lunch hour and study while you eat at your desk?
On the other hand, there may be some important things you aren’t willing to give up. If you already work full time and have a family, you automatically need to work around these things. Make changes in your schedule where it’s needed. A typical plan will probably include 1-2 hours every day during the week, and a lengthier study period (4-6 hours) on the weekends.
If you’re a morning person, get up early and study in the mornings before work. More of a night owl? Sit down after dinner and get your study time in. Either way, make a plan that makes sense for you and then most importantly, STICK TO IT!
Tip #4: Understand the Exam
The PMP exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions. 175 of these count toward your score, while 25 are pre-test questions and won’t count toward your final score. These are randomly placed throughout the exam for research purposes.
The questions are randomly ordered and do not follow the order of materials in the PMBOK® Guide. You’ll have four hours to complete the exam. No breaks are provided, so you must manage your time wisely.
A small part of the exam will include knowing PMP vocabulary terms, so it will be crucial to make sure you know and understand these terms in order to pass the exam. A glossary of these terms can be found in the PMBOK® Guide. Part of your studying should include making sure you have familiarity with all of these terms.
Tip #5: Use Supplementary Materials
The PMBOK® Guide is going to be your primary source for everything you need to know for the exam. However, there are other books and guides out there that can be very useful in helping you prepare for the exam.
The best way to get access to excellent supplementary materials is to take an online or in-person class. You’ll get the benefit of instruction, as well as study guides and aides that will enable you to prepare for the exam.
For those who want take a shorter, more intense approach, this four-day boot camp (available either in person or online) provides expert training, the exam edition of the PMBOK® Guide, and a PMP Certification prep guide. It also includes over 1000 practice questions (more on the importance of mock exams below!).
For those pursuing self-study, this online course offers all of the extra instruction and help you need to study at your own pace. This is ideal for those looking to fit study time and preparation into the margins of their lives.
Tip #6: Take Notes
As you study each section of the guides and books, take plenty of notes. This helps in several ways.
- First, it ensures that you are focusing on the material in front of you, and prevents you from skimming and skipping over important materials.
- Second, it can actually help to get that information into your brain. For many, the act of writing information down will increase the likelihood that it is retained in the memory.
- Third, you can later use those notes to study. It’s often the case that it’s easier to study from your own notes, outlines, and summaries than it is to study from the guides and books.
Tip #7: Take Plenty of Practice Exams
Whether you take an online or in-person class, or just study on your own, practice exams are a must. Study materials will have mock exams at the end of each chapter, and you’ll want to test your knowledge before moving forward.
Aside from chapter by chapter exams, you can also take practice exams that will test your overall knowledge, and give you a sense of what kinds of questions you will be asked when you sit down to take the actual exam.
As you take the practice exam(s), you’ll get a feel for what you know well and what’s still a struggle, which will show you what you need to go back and study more, and where you have mastery already.
Tip #8: Learn From Your Mistakes
Once you’ve taken some practice exams, you will have a good handle what you need to study further. With your completed practice exam in hand, we recommend the following:
- Go through your answers and mark each one you’ve gotten wrong.
- Group the wrong answers into like categories, which will give you an idea of what areas need further study.
- Study those areas, and make sure you have a firm understanding of the correct answers to those questions you got wrong initially.
To keep from being too overwhelmed, go over your practice exams at the end of each chapter, then go over that chapter before moving on. However, it would be wise to go through all of your practice exams near the end of your studies and make sure you’ve mastered the areas that initially gave you trouble.
Tip #9: Try Not to Cram
In the days leading up to the exam, you will have the impulse to try and cram everything into your brain. Try and resist this impulse. In actuality, if you’ve made the effort to study – whether at your own pace or in a class – and to stay on track with your schedule, then the information is there, and the best thing you can do is rest, and trust that you know your material.
An adverse effect of trying to cram things into your mind last minute is that it can actually make it harder to focus on all that you’ve studied during the exam, because you’ve been crowding your mind with new information. Better to go into the exam with a clear head, a good night’s sleep, and confidence that you’ve worked hard and you’ll succeed.
These 9 tips should ensure that you do everything in your power to be ready and able to successfully take the PMP Certification exam. It does take hard work and planning, but in the end, it will be worth it when you move forward in your career, more qualified and ready to do your job to the best of your ability.
Know your learning style, schedule the exam, make a plan, study, practice, and learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be ready to go!
Yada is not just the leader of the Project Management Training Institute (PMTI). He helped to write significant portions of the project management standards worldwide. He is helping PMI right now in reviewing, directing, and leading the development of the 7th edition of the PMBOK(r) Guide to incorporate the most monumental changes to project management standards in 35 years. He shares his wisdom with readers via the PMTI blog.