How To Study & Prepare For The PMP Exam


Beverly, one of my blog followers, and an active and busy project manager recently wrote to me this email:

Vinai, I am a working mother, a 3 year daughter, and expecting another baby in 4 months’ time. I have been told by my company to get the PMP certification, and it is a must for all project managers to be certified by this year.

I attended a crash course, but am really overwhelmed by the amount of study material. The instructor at the PMP boot camp was not very encouraging… she mentioned that most people take the test 2-3 times before they get to a pass… there are several formula questions that could be hard to answer, and mostly situational questions that have multiple correct answers… and don’t seem easy at all. That’s quite demotivating… 🙁

Plus, with a young daughter at home, and expecting another baby soon, I really don’t have the time to study. I am too confused as to which book to read, how to study, and where to get started… really, what to do. Could you help me? I am really desperate to pass this exam and get it over with.

Such questions are quite common among people seeking the PMP certification. Almost nobody has the time to study, and most people are frustrated by formulas, long questions, and the thick PMBOK Guide, and several PMP exam preparation books…

Strategy For an Effective PMP Study Plan

Just like in executing any successful project , the solution lies in working out a great strategy, implementing it whole-heartedly, and tweaking it

How To Study & Prepare For The PMP Exam
PMP Study Plan

along the way. Do a check at regular intervals and then to make sure you are on track, and take corrective actions along the way.

You must have heard about the old adage “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.” It is really true for the PMP exam!

So what strategy should you adopt? Well, whatever works for you. You need to assess how much time you have, and what is the best way you learn? And then, based on the answers to such questions, you need to work out a strategy. It is unique to each person… after all, if it is to work, it has to be Your Strategy!

However, I will offer you some help, by sharing with you a strategy that I have created, used myself, that it has worked beautifully countless times for thousands of my students and my blog followers, who have used it to achieve success at the PMP exam. You might have to modify it slightly to suit your needs… but at least you don’t have to invent one. Just use what works, and tweak it for your use.

Basically, the strategy covers the following aspects of studying and passing the PMP exam, and attain the professional certification in project management.

What Do I Study For the PMP Exam?

PMBOK Guide: You should study the latest PMBOK Guide, published by PMI. The current print is Fifth Edition, with 10 Knowledge Areas & 5 Process Groups, covering the 47 processes. This is the official publication from PMI. It covers the basic project management fundamentals, theory, and covers all the 47 processes, with the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs. Do note that there are no PMP Exam preparation questions, or mock PMP questions in this PMBOK Guide.

So while the PMBOK Guide will tell you about the base project management theory, it won’t tell you how to apply it in PMP exam questions, or how to attempt PMP exam questions. Worst of all, the theory does not cover the entire spectrum of knowledge that is tested in the exam. That is because project management is both an art and a science, and it is impossible to cover everything is just 500 pages.

PMI wants you to have a much higher, and broader knowledge of project management principles and fundamentals… not just the basics.

PMP Exam Preparation Books: Thus, In addition to the PMBOK Guide, you must also study any of the PMP exam preparation books and general articles, books on the best practices of human psychology, project management, people management etc.

A good PMP exam preparation book usually covers extra material that is mostly not covered in the PMBOK Guide, but is routinely tested on the PMP exam. Further, PMP exam prep books also give you a heads up on the kind of questions you could expect to see on the PMP exam.

There are usually quite a few mock PMP exam questions in each book, and going through them begins to mentally prepare you for the PMP exam. One of the best PMP exam Preparation books on the market is written by Rita Mulchahy.

Check out my review of several good PMP exam preparation books before you buy one.

How To Study For The PMP Exam?

There is a huge amount of material to study. The thought of studying 47 processes, and their Inputs, Tools & Techniques, Outputs (ITTOs for short) is enough to scare the brave-hearted.

The strategy here is to break down the insurmountable into small segments, or blocks. This is often called “chunking.”

Quickly answer this:

Question: “How would you eat an elephant?

Answer: Bit by bit. One bite at a time!

Using the same analogy, you need to break down the huge study material into small segments. If you study one process each day, it seems reasonable, doable, and easy enough to get started quickly 🙂

You need to further break this down into an realistic action plan. You can use this PMP exam study plan that I wrote on my PMP Exam Tips and Tricks blog. It has helped thousands of PMP aspirants to follow a systematic, practical plan, that is achievable, and has helped them in studying for the PMP exam successfully, and attain the PMP certification in just 6-8 weeks.

How Much Time To Devote For PMP Studies?

This really varies for each person. If you can spare an hour a day, it would be perfect! If you can spare more time for your studies, you could be ready for the test much earlier. But if you are busy, and do not have the time to study, like Beverly, then you need to find time in small chunks… 15-20 minutes during the lunch break, during commute to/from work, and maybe another 30 minutes after the kids are tucked in!

And if you are really serious about the PMP exam , I’d suggest that you give up on Candy Crush, Angry Birds or whatever games you play (a.k.a. time wasting activities) on your smart phones. You’d be better off completely uninstalling them from your phone, iPads, tablets, to avoid the temptation altogether.

Here is a sample PMP exam study plan for you… Based on the amount of time you can study… This is assuming you study 1 hour per day, each day.

Sample PMP exam study plan for investing 1 hour per day for studies

How Do I Remember So Much Information?

Yes, there is a whole lot of information to remember: Formulas, PMBOK terms, ITTOs, process names, knowledge areas and even sequence of certain processes is important for Planning processes.

The problem is that when you read an article or book, everything seems to clear and you think you’d never forget it. But just a couple days later, if the same term pops up, you’d happily claim to have never seen it. Don’t believe me? Think about the times when you have lost your car or house keys in the morning. Just now they were there, and now they’re gone! God knows where I kept it. Or the amount of times you walk back to the car or door to check if you locked it, only to find it locked. You can’t seem to remember things you just did… moments ago.

This happens because our short term memory is… well “short”. So the things we are absolutely certain to remember only take a goldfish moment to forget.

The key to remember something is to transfer it to your “long term memory”… a part of your brain where it is stored permanently, for recall at any moment.

How do you do this? Well, some time back I wrote a tip about using Repetition: Repetition is the Mother of all Innovation. To remember something, you need to use memory aids, create acronyms, use visual tools like mind maps, and plain old repetition.

Practice by writing down the key concepts on a piece of paper. The act of writing down something helps to create a new connection, another synapse wiring in your brain as your put your brain to think, and get your hands to write. When you write the same thing a few times, you begin to remember it.

You only need to do this for a few of the key terms, and the rest comes easily. As you begin to remember things from these methods, you will feel much better, in control, and in a state where you will be able to remember more with much lesser effort.

How To Master Formulas, ITTOs & Situational Questions

You need to review the formulas, and remember them. However, it is not sufficient to simply memorize the formula. The important thing is to understand how to apply it to the given situation in the PMP exam question.

For some of the terms, there are several different formulas, and each can be used, depending on the situation. And if you use the wrong formula variation, you will most probably get the wrong answer. Remember, there are no half marks for the second best answer. Either you get it right, or you get it wrong. Each question has an equal ranking, and an equal mark for getting it right.

For example, for doing a three point estimate, you could do a simple average, or a weighted average. Be careful. Check what the question is implying upon.

3 Point Estimate (Triangular Distribution): ( Optimistic + Pessimistic + Most Likely ) / 3

3 Point Estimate (Beta Distribution / Weighted Average / PERT) =

( Optimistic + Pessimistic + 4 * Most Likely ) / 6

Similarly, for Estimate at Completion, there are 4 different ways to calculate it, depending on the situation. Make sure you understand the formula, and the given situation, so that you apply the right formula and get the right answer.

For ITTOs, it is not a good idea to try to memorize them for each of the 47 processes. You will most likely not be able to remember all of them, and this will counteract to reduce your confidence and increase your fear of the PMP exam.

Check out Do you need to memorize ITTOs for the PMP exam?

It is highly recommended that you try to learn the fundamentals of each process. What is the name of the process, and what exactly happens here. Once you know the process, you can then think like – “What would I need to do this process”. This would become the inputs.

What tools and techniques would you apply on the inputs to get the job done – these are the T&Ts. And the end result of this process is the outputs. Do note that it is important to understand the key inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs. There is no need to memorize about “Project Document Updates” because it appears almost all the time, as any document can be updated as a result of the processing done in the process.

For answering situational PMP Questions, it is best to think from a large perspective. A lot of the things may not be given, and may have to be assumed. Always assume that you are working on a large, mega project with hundreds of workers, and a long timeline. Always assume that you have a PMO to consult with, and which can provide you with the templates, checklists, procedures, and processes adopted by the company & lessons learnt from the successful and not so successful past projects. These can be a boon for your project, and can save you from disasters and potential pitfalls.

Another thing to always assume is that you are working in a Balanced, or Strong Matrix organization, unless the exam question specifies otherwise. This way, you know that you can’t hire or fire people based on your whims and fancy. You have to get the resources from the functional managers, who may or may not cooperate.

Lastly, you must always have the right attitude. A project manager must be in the “problem solving” mode, always looking for ways to improve processes, prevent fires, and implement actions to avoid potential pitfalls. If you go with an attitude of “It is not my problem”, or “why should I solve it”, or “I’ll make sure those who did it will be punished…” you are not going to survive the PMP exam.

You should follow the proactive attitude. I have written several posts on this topic, for your benefit. Check out the following PMP tips (10 Important Points for PMP Exam , 11 Things to Remember for the PMP Exam, 4 Tips for PMP Exam (video), How to Answer PMP Questions, 13 Great Tips for PMP Aspirants.)

You can simply join the PMP Tips Newsletter, and get new tips and newsletter sent to you automatically. No Spam. No Advertising. No Nonsense. Simply sign up at https://www.pmchamp.com/pmp-tips-newsletter/

How To Gain Confidence For The PMP Exam?

If you follow the sample PMP study plan, and go through the study material, and all the processes a couple times, you would have a good basic foundation of Project management fundamentals. Now is the time to practice as much as you can to apply the learned concepts into PMP questions.

Try to do as many mock PMP exam questions. Most PMP exam prep books contain a lot of questions. Plus, you can purchase the Rita Mulchahy’s PMP exam Prep Question Bank, which has over 1400+ questions, and is considered one of the best, and closest to the real questions on the PMP test.

There are other sources – for example the Project Management Test Drive, which has over 1800 questions in 9 full length PMP tests, and costs even less than USD100. Highly Recommended.

When To Book The PMP Exam?

It only takes a week to get your application approved by PMI. Once this is done, you are free to book any date that is available, in the next 1 year. My recommendation is to set the date quickly, but choose a date which is at least 6-8 weeks away. This will give you enough time to review the material at least a couple of times, and do a few full length PMP mock tests. By this time you should be sufficiently prepared to take the test.

Ideally, once you start getting around 85% or above in Rita’s Exam Simulation tests or the PMP Test Drive Simulator, you are almost ready. However, for most people this does not happen so quickly. So don’t just keep doing tests after tests.

You need to analyze your results of each and every Mock test you take. Make sure you go through the wrong answers, and try to see why you chose the wrong answer. What was wrong in the way you thought, and what is the correct way to answer the PMP questions.

This analysis process, and the internalization of the analysis, mistakes, and corrective actions is key to scoring high marks in the PMP exam, and securing a pass in your first attempt. Most people do not do this. They simply keep doing a large number of questions, without much analysis of the wrong answers, and then wonder why they failed when they practiced with a thousand questions.

So make it a point to do as many PMP questions as possible, but make sure you do analyze the results, and if you do not see any improvements in your scores over a period, that means a serious issue with your learning and understanding of fundamental PMP concepts.

What To Do Prior To The PMP Exam?

PMI usually approves your PMP exam applications within a week, if it is not audited. Once approved, you can make the PMP exam fee payment to PMI, and then book your exam date, time and exam center from the Prometric website. The PMP exam is conducted every day, including Saturdays and Sundays in most major cities in the world.

After you have booked your exam, you need to create a reverse calendar, counting to the exam date, and be in Exam mode. Your studies must now be accelerated, and you must be doing more and more questions to strengthen your foundation, and be exam ready.

Some of the things to do during this time is:

  • Write down the key formulas on a blank sheet of paper, each day. Even if you have to cheat, do so. The more times you write them, the better and easier the recall will be, during the exam times. Moreover, you do not have to panic or worry about forgetting a formula because you have practiced it enough.
  • Write down the important Sigma values from Quality Management knowledge area.
  • Remember the risk for the buyer and seller for each type of contract (from Procurement Management knowledge area)

What To Expect & Do During the PMP Exam?

Once you reach the Prometric center for taking your exam, take a photo ID, and a credit card or passport. They generally want a photo id for identification, and a credit card for signature verification. Arrive early, as most Prometric centers tend to be very busy and crowded. The Prometric executives will process candidates individually, and you will be finally taken to your test seat after the due verification.

You will be seated at a desktop computer, and will be given 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the PC, the mouse, forward, next buttons etc.

My suggestion is to not fiddle with the PC first thing as you sit down. You will be given 2-3 blank sheets of paper, and a couple of pencils to do calculations etc. during the test. Make use of them. If you have followed my suggestions of writing down the formulas each and every day for the past 3-4 weeks, this is going to be easy. Simply do a brain dump of all your formulas on this sheet of paper. Now you can relax and should have no fear of forgetting the formulas at the wrong moment! Cool!

Do not buy or take a calculator with you for the exam. It is not allowed inside the testing room. You will be provided with an online calculator for the test. And it will be available to you on the top right hand corner of the screen, for every question, whether you need it or not.

Once the exam has started, the reverse counter clock will start, at 3:59:59 remaining… Keep an eye on the time as you do each question.

If you come across a question for which you have no clue, simply mark it for review, and proceed to the next question. Do not dwell on it, wasting valuable time. You should not give more than a minute to each question on average. Some will take more time, and some will take less time… Keep track by the hour. By the end of the first hour, you should have done about 60 questions, and plan to complete all the 200 by the 3 hours or maximum 3 hours and 20 minutes.

The remaining 40 minutes should be spent in reviewing the marked questions, long calculation questions, and making sure all questions are marked.

Do not leave any question unanswered. Even if you have no clue, simply mark something. After all, there are no negative marks. And you might be lucky to get some of these no clue type questions correct simply by coincidence. You need to play your hands smartly.

Once the 4 hours are completed, the screen blanks out, and asks you to do a short survey on the examination process. It should take you about a minute or so to complete this survey.

And once this one minute of agony is completed, you should have your result presented to you instantaneously, on the screen.

Congratulations, you are now a certified PMP!

How To Ace The PMP Exam Quickly?

Like I said previously, you need to have a solid exam strategy, and you must follow the strategy with full commitment, determination, and courage. Do not fear the exam. After all, you have done many more complex tests, projects and survived so far. This is not an impossible test. It just need a focused, determined approach and favors the brave-hearted people, like you!

Over the years, I have coached thousands of PMP aspirant project managers to study and pass the PMP exam in their first attempt. Some have come to me after they studied on their own, but failed the test. Then they find me from my website, my YouTube PMP video tutorials, or get referred by past students and success stories on the internet.

Now I have created a step by step, methodical lesson plan, and recorded my lessons on video and audio, which has got thousands to pass the test. It is a proven method, and you are welcome to use it.

If you are interested in Online PMP coaching through videos, you can check out my PMP exam preparation coaching program at https://www.pmchamp.com and sign-up here.

Hope this helps you in preparing and studying for the PMP exam. Do post a comment below if this helps you in any way! I’d really appreciate it.

Cheers – Vinai Prakash, PMP

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