Before I share my PMP® study plan with you, I must admit that preparing to take the PMP exam is a journey in itself. If you allow yourself, this journey will open new avenues in your understanding of Project Management body of knowledge.
This exam is not just about cramming some information and holding it long enough to clear the exam but it is an opportunity for you to become a better Project Manager.
Now, let me take you through my study plan which helped me clear the exam successfully.
Once I had collected the complete information about the exam and decided to go ahead with the application, the next step was building a S.T.A.R. study plan with the objective to clear the exam in the first attempt itself. (I have covered this topic of “How to build a S.T.A.R. study plan” in my previous blog already.)
I concentrated my efforts for building the study plan on the following aspects –
Deciding the learning resources best suited to my learning style
Keeping just enough time for exam preparation
Since I was working full time, I should be able to strike a good balance between quality family time and extensive study required for the PMP exam.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, it is very important to document you plan in order to keep yourself motivated throughout the learning journey. Here is my very brief Study plan which included objectives of the plan, deliverable details, major milestones, and was backed up by a detailed study schedule.
The detailed study schedule is as under. For your convenience, I have taken the start date as today (21st Jan 2020) and the exam date as 21st May 2020.
In this plan, I had tried to strike the optimum balance between reading through the material and practice tests to increase my ability to pass the exam. To start with I found the language of PMBOK® Guide to be very complex. Hence, I decided to start with Head First PMP® which uses a visually rich, not-so-text-heavy approach towards delivering project management content. So, it helped me to build a good foundation. After that, I studied by referring both PMBOK® Guide and Rita Mulcahy’s™ PMP® exam prep simultaneously while making self-notes alongside. The next step was the revision of my notes and the highlighted points from the reference books followed by a series of Mock tests. I had also scheduled 1 mock test after completion of reading of each book.
At the end, don’t forget the mantra: Study, Assess, Course correct, Refine, Repeat!
For the benefit of readers, I am sharing downloadable files of the Study plans down here. Feel free to download them and start customizing based on your exam date and study resources.
“Make time for planning; Wars are won in the General’s tent.” ― Stephen R. Covey
As it’s with any Project, a comprehensive plan is the most important key to success. As I said earlier, before going full throttle in execution mode, one should make sure they have a solid plan and are following a right approach towards achieving the success.
In this article, we will work together towards building a comprehensive study plan suiting to your learning style in a systematic way. In order to successfully clear the exam in the first attempt itself, your PMP study plan should be nothing less than a STAR!
To start with, one should lay thought on the following points in order to build a strong PMP study plan.
Understand what all is coved in the exam? (Know what to Study)
Understand your learning style and choose the best learning resource for you. (Choose quality study resources)
Document you plan (Think through how you plan to achieve the success)
Make sure you have kept optimum time for preparation and then back-calculate the allowable time for each section. (Prepare schedule)
As in real-world projects, keep some contingency buffer.
Keep check points to monitor if progress is on track and make course corrections. (Optimally staged mock tests)
Remember, Self notes make all the difference.
Award yourself for small successes to keep the motivation going.
Understand what to study:
One should know that the PMP® exam is based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and it forms the very basis of the course content covered in the exam. Hence, conquering PMBOK® Guide is of utmost importance. The PMBOK® Guide, maps the Project Management knowledge into a framework of 5 Process groups and 10 Knowledge areas. The 49 sub-processes of these knowledge areas are defined by their Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs (ITTOs).
Project Management Process Groups
Project Monitoring and Controlling
Project Management Knowledge Areas
Project Integration Management
Project Scope Management
Project Schedule Management
Project Cost Management
Project Quality Management
Project Resource Management
Project Communications Management
Project Risk Management
Project Procurement Management
Project Stakeholders Management
Choose quality study resources to aid your preparation:
While the PMBOK® Guide forms the basis and foundation for the exam, one should not take it as a template to pass the exam and should look beyond the PMBOK® Guide as well for a complete and comprehensive understanding of the subject. There are some brilliant knowledge resources which have taken the high-level content knowledge presented in PMBOK® Guide and have further elaborated them in-depth with real life examples.
Thus, in order to develop a holistic understanding of the principles and practices of Project Management for the PMP exam, I recommend studying a variety of study resources apart from PMBOK® Guide. However, before using any supplementary knowledge resource, you should ensure that it is the latest edition and is in alignment with the latest edition of PMBOK® Guide and PMP® exam content outline.
I am listing down some very good knowledge resources that follow straight forward approach towards simplifying complex material presented in PMBOK® Guide and offer proven study techniques amalgamated with quality practice questions to help you ace the exam.
Rita Mulcahy’s™ PMP® exam prep – 9th edition: Rita Mulcahy’s™ PMP® exam prep is one of the most coveted books for PMP exam preparation. This bestselling book is recognized worldwide by Project Managers for its simple yet rich project language.
Head First PMP® – 4th edition: I would recommend this book as the starting resource for beginners who find the PMBOK® Guide content very complex to start with. This book uses a visually rich, not-so-text-heavy approach towards delivering project management content.
If your learning appetite leans towards online study resources, there are some very good paid and free online resources available on internet. (We at pmpgurukul.com are also working on building topic based study notes which will help you understand the concept in a simple and brain-friendly way. Keep watching this space!).
You can also take part in the PMP preparation workshops arranged regularly by your local PMI chapter.
Build your study plan (and Schedule!):
While we are already in process of building our study plan, I want you to document your study plan to make sure that you stay committed towards to your goal. (Remember the difference between a plan and a schedule!).
Your Study plan should include minimum of the following details:
Knowledge Resources to be referred
Time commitment required
High level milestones and detailed study schedule
# Develop the study schedule:
Break down the goal into actionable set of activities, including the target milestone dates for mock tests.
Work backwards from the target date allotting most optimum time to each activity.
Estimate efforts required (Hours per weekday and over weekends) based on the available time duration in days.
Monitor progress regularly and re-baseline your plan based on the progress.
In my opinion, a period of 4 months is sufficient if you are able to dedicate at least 1-1.5 hours on weekdays and at least 3 hours on weekends for the exam preparation.
My recommendation for a generic 4-month study plan would like this:
Four months before the exam –
Try and read one chapter per week including chapter-wise practice exams.
Spend at least 3 additional hours over weekends to review study material.
One month before the exam –
By this time you should have given at least 2 full mock tests to access your progress.
If you have consistently scored above 80% in the mock tests, you are good to proceed. If not, assess your confidence level and weak areas. You might consider rescheduling the exam date. (IMPORTANT: You can reschedule your exam up to 1 month before the exam date at no additional cost, if you reschedule the exam within 30 days you will have to pay extra.)
Pick up the pace to catch up on any chapters you missed reading.
Work upon your weak areas & revisit the PMBOK guide and/or your selected study resource to brush up your knowledge on these areas.
Two weeks before the exam –
Take as many as practice exams possible.
Review questions answered wrongly in practice exams & correct your logic.
Keep working on your weak areas.
A day before the exam –
Disengage. Do not study. You have put all the efforts these 4 months, take a break and relax. This will help you regroup all those efforts.
The exam day –
Don’t Panic. You have done all the hard work; Back your skills.
After finishing the exam the results will be out immediately. Celebrate!
Follow this link for the Blog 4 of this series for a detailed 4-months plan which I followed to prepare for my PMP® exam.
Don’t underestimate your study notes:
I have been a big fan of writing down my own study notes referring multiple knowledge resources throughout my academic years and it has helped a lot be it my Engineering days or PMP preparation. I would also advise you to also make your study notes to refer for revision during last 15 days of exam preparation. It will help you build a mind map of many things as self-written points are easy to remember. These notes can be in form of bullet points, key definitions, Flashcards etc. Even the simple act of highlighting key points helps you retain and recall the information better.
Track progress with Online Mock Tests:
Online Mock tests are a good mean to test your current level of preparation. They test you with questions that follow the same format and pattern as that of actual PMP® exam. These tests aim to replicate the exam environment so that you become comfortable with the timing and the pressure situation.
Try out various PMP exam simulators available on internet to test yourself in real exam like scenarios. You can also give offline tests given in good PMP prep books like RITA and Head First. As per my experience, giving at least 4-5 full length Mock tests before the exam is very important to increase your ability to pass the exam. Remember, PMP® exam doesn’t cover straight-forward “typical” questions but scenario based questions which test your ability to apply the Project management framework to real-world project situations. Hence, choose a good PMP exam simulator which has more stress on scenario-based questions rather just definition based questions. Few good exam simulators available over internet are –
As you know by now that there are no scheduled breaks during the PMP exam and if you take a break during the exam, your exam clock continues to count down. Hence, it is important to prepare yourself for it. It certainly is a physically daunting and mentally straining experience. Most importantly, it is imperative that you keep you focus maintained all through these 4 hours. In fact, that why the full length mocks are very important as they condition your mind and body for the exam experience.
Another important aspect is to plan how will spend those 4 hours in the exam hall in the most optimum way possible. If you have a strategy, you will conquer this race against time like a pro! Here’s my suggestion; go through the questions in a number of passes.
Claim the “Low hanging fruits”. Quickly run through all the questions and keep answering questions which are short and you are 100% sure about the answers.
Go for the lengthy question and questions including calculations, application of understanding.
Go through all the flagged / unanswered questions in this pass. The focus is that no question remains unanswered. Since PMP exam has no negative marking. Some calculated guessing might be applied in this round.
IMPORTANT:One very important trick which I used during the exam is not to keep any question unanswered before proceeding further. Even if you are 50% sure, select the answer you feel is the closest and mark the question as flagged. This will help avoiding any question being unanswered if unfortunately you run out of time. If you manage your time well, go back to these questions in third pass and give some time to solve the questions. (However remember, don’t spend much time here in first pass. Else this strategy will backfire!)
Some quick tricks:
Use Brain Dump: Brain dump is nothing but some important information like formulas (EVM, Project selection etc.) and some important Terminologies which you just need to memorize and immediately put on the rough sheet as soon as your exam starts.
Use Flash cards to help you memorize key concepts and terminologies.
Use Mobile Apps to learn on the go.
Play some specifically designed games for ITTOs etc. to create a mind map of the interdependencies.
Finally, remember the mantra: Assess, course correct, refine, repeat!
The next blog of this series shares with you a detailed 4-months plan which I followed to prepare for my PMP exam.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Always begin with the end in the mind.” ― Stephen Covey
I think the above two quotes summarize the crux of this article very beautifully. Before pressing the pedal for accelerated learning towards passing the PMP exam, one should have clear vision about how he or she is going to reach there. Before going full throttle in execution mode, one should make sure they have a solid plan and are following a right approach towards achieving the success.
To begin with, let me share some general tips to be considered while building your study plan.
Understand what the PMP exam is like?
Assess how ready are you for the PMP exam?
Keep optimum time for preparation but not too much.
Understand your learning style and choose the best learning resource for you.
Survey: Gather information about how others achieved success in this journey and learn from their experiences.
What the PMP® exam is like?
The Project Management Professional (PMP) exam is tougher than most of the exams and require extensive preparation to pass it in the first attempt itself. You cannot simply cram a lot of information into your brain and try to retain it just long enough to get through the four-hour testing period. Instead, you have to truly understand the concepts and process of Project Management and how their application would help you in real life scenarios at your work.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, the exam doesn’t test you only on the information provided in the PMBOK® Guide, nor you can rely only on your real life on-job project management experience. Thus experience and formal training in Project Management aligned with the PMBOK® Guide is critical to success in this exam.
Some important points to note regarding the exam –
The exam comprises of 200 multiple-choice questions with allotted time to complete the exam as 4 hours.
Out of the 200 questions, 25 are considered as pretest (Unscored) questions which are used to check the accuracy and validity of future exam questions. Hence, you will be scored only on 175 questions. The 25 pretest questions are randomly placed in the exam paper.
The exam is a closed book, so no reference material is allowed.
There are no scheduled breaks during the exam, although you are allowed to take a break if needed. If you take a break during the exam, your exam clock continues to count down.
Please note the PMP® Exam is changing w.e.f. 2nd Jan 2021. Schedule your exam before it changes!
The exam tests across all the project management process groups. Please refer following table for the number of questions being asked on the exam from each section.
From time to time, PMI makes some changes in some aspects of the exam including qualification requirements, exam process, passing score, and the exam pattern. For latest information, please regularly visit pmi.org. While we ensure bringing the latest information to you, any difference in information between what is covered here and what is communication by PMI should be resolved in favor of PMI’s information.
How ready are you for the PMP® exam?
Half of the people who fail the exam do so since they do not have sufficient real-world experience of managing large projects while the other half fail because they had not had structured Project Management Training that used PMI concepts and terminologies. Having 10 years of Project Management experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you will successfully pass the exam. At the same time, just cramming some study material from some PMP Exam Prep course is also not enough. In order to succeed, you should possess both; a structured PMBOK® based training program and real-life hands on Project experience.
Remember, PMP is not an exam for a beginner project manager nor it is for someone who hopes to become a project manager. For passing the exam, it is important to answer the questions from the prospective of an experienced project manager coupled with the tools and techniques as prescribed in the PMBOK.
Hence, do assess your depth of knowledge and understanding of Project Management based on above parameters before proceeding further. It’s always a good idea to give a sample mock exam to understand the current level. If you feel the gap is too wide, it is advised to get a good classroom/ online foundation training on Project Management first.
Keep optimum time for preparation (Start neither too early nor too late).
Provide yourself with a reasonable and just sufficient time for preparing for the exam. You should avoid giving yourself some unrealistic timeframe (let’s say 2-3 weeks) and burn yourself out in the process. At the same time, you should not give yourself a luxury of too much time. There is a high possibility of losing focus and getting side tracked if the timeline is too relaxed.
Generally, a period of 3-4 months is sufficient if you are able to dedicate at least 1-1.5 hours on weekdays and at least 3 hours on weekends for the exam preparation.
So, figure out your optimum time for preparation and plan accordingly.
Understand your learning style and choose the best learning resource for you.
There is no single “best” medium of learning for the exam. Every individual’s learning style and speed are different. Ask yourself can you study on your own or do you need a classroom training to keep you motivated throughout? Are you more comfortable with books or find engaging video sessions more helpful?
Needless to say, classroom and online sessions are generally costlier than Books and other study material. So, if it a constraint, your planned budget is also a factor to be considered.
While I will share my detailed study plan along with the details of all the study resources used in the next blog, I found this online course by Sandra M Michelle very helpful for beginners. Completing this course available on LinkedIn Learning will also provide you with 35 PDUs (education requirement) necessary to qualify for the exam.
Survey: Gather information, read reviews, learn from successful exam candidates.
Researching and gathering information is very important while zeroing down the study materials which suit your learning style and provide you with quality information.
Reading lessons learned by successful exam candidates is also an important tool which helps you avoid general mistakes which people commit while preparing for the exam.
The Basic premise of this blog is, in fact, to providing you all the information needed pertaining to PMP certification on a single platform. And I hope we are on track to provide you with the same!
In the next blog of the series, we will talk in depth about how to make a detailed Study Plan customized to your learning style. I will also be sharing the my study plan which helped me in passing the exam successfully in the first attempt itself.
In this publication, through a series of blog posts, I will take you through the complete process of getting the PMP® certification right from understanding the PMP® to taking you through the application process, to helping your optimize your efforts and increase your ability to pass the exam.
As for any other competitive exam, PMP® too requires tremendous effort, time, planning and unmatched dedication. PMP®, being one of the most sought after certification, is a beast of an exam and required extensive preparation to pass it successfully in first attempt. Yet it is no rocket science. With meticulous planning and correct guidance one can master the exam like a Pro. To help you in this journey of getting PMP® certified, I am here to offer you a systematic approach towards successfully earning the certification in your first attempt itself!
With a view to not overwhelm the readers with a flood of information and knowledge resources, I have divided the full preparation strategy into a number of blog posts which you can refer step-by-step.
So come along, let’s decode the PMP®!
Why get PMP® Certification?
The PMP® Certification is being offered by Project Management Institute (PMI) and is recognized by the industry as the Gold Standard for practicing Project Managers. It is distinguished by its global development and application, which makes it transferable across industries and geographic borders. The strength of PMP® certifications is that it is not tied to any single method, standard, or organization and hence can be applied across various industries and domains.
The PMP® Certification validates that the Project Manager has solid knowledge, skills and field experience of managing projects successfully and delivering value. Earning the PMP certification is a way to set yourself apart.
The PMP certification is developed by practitioners for practitioners. A whole lot of practitioners has learned over the years and put together their wisdom into refining the PMBOK® Guide to pass on the solutions to you.
Above all, preparing for PMP exam is a journey in itself. This journey can help you expand your abilities and take your Project Management knowledge to the next level.
To summarize, one should get a PMP certification due to following reasons –
Increased demand of PMP certified Project Managers in the job market.
Increased earning potential.
And the most rewarding thing; preparing for the exam will give you an opportunity to become a better Project Manager.
Having said that, like a good project manager would do, one should evaluate the Pros and Cons of PMP certification before taking the next step. I have summarized this for you.
Pre-requisites for the exam
To be eligible for taking the PMP exam, one should meet certain educational and professional experience requirements as outlined by PMI. The current requirements as summarized as under –
Exam Application Process
Once you meet the eligibility criteria, it’s time to start the application. I have summarized the PMP application steps and timeline for you here.
In the next blog of the series, we will talk in depth about –
General Tips for making your Exam Preparation Strategy
Criteria for zeroing down the Study resources for reference and links to some good resources which I used during my exam preparation.