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Tips To Prepare For The PMP Exam

Avantika Monnappa
Top 7 Tips for PMP Exam Preparation
Studying for any exam requires tremendous effort, time and diligence. Not one among those with which you can have a one night study session, the PMP exam requires extensive preparation over months, to pass. If you are among those who are already well established in your career, it may be years before you have studied for an exam, your study skills may be a little bit rusty.

Worry Not!

It is still possible to master all the material given for the PMP exam by using a systematic approach while studying for the exam.

The table below shows the number of PMP holders worldwide, increasing drastically through the last six months.

The Four Step Study Process:

Survey: Before beginning your session, survey the material that you have planned to cover. Review all the charts, graphs and headings in both A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) and your prep book. Attaining familiarity with the topics that you wish to cover will give you a better understanding of where to find certain topics in the book, for your initial study and for your revision. This method also makes it easy for you to arrange information in a systematic and sensible order that can be easily retrievable from your memory.

Motivation: Find your motivation! Before beginning your day’s work, figure out what it is that you want to learn from the given material. If your preparation material has certain study goals or recap questions, then read them first so you know where you are headed and what you need to accomplish by the day.

Research: Before you begin your day’s learning, make a list of questions that you want answered and you want to learn. Doing this will transform you from a passive reader to an active researcher, which may be very helpful when you study the PMBOK Guide.

Disengage: Cognitive Psychology states that a person tends to remember the first and last elements of a study session best. Use this fact to your advantage. Break up your study sessions into smaller 'chunks'. For example, if your study session is planned for 3 hours, break it up into six, 30 minute increments, scheduling short breaks in between. Disengaging from studies, makes it easier to recall what you previously studied.

Tips to study the PMBOK Guide

The PMP exam is largely based on the PMBOK Guide. Use this to your advantage and make the Guide your roadmap of your studies.

Make a plan to study one Knowledge Area of the PMBOK Guide every week. Begin with the Guide itself and then move to the other study material that you possess. This method will increase your comprehension of the topic since other study guides will present the same topic in various different angles.

Further, break down the Knowledge Areas of the PMBOK to studying one process per day. Doing this will give you a clear plan of what you need to daily and weekly plan allowing you to follow this to an achievable rate.
It is not enough to just memorize everything. Understand concepts and read them with focus and concentration. This is critical, since the PMP exam questions will test how well you can apply these concepts, principles and ideas. Many questions are situational descriptions of a problem. These situations contain enough information to arrive at the best answer, but they also include irrelevant information to purposely throw you off course.

If the PMBOK is not studied well, you will not be able to identify the concepts that are illustrated in the questions that are going to be asked. It will become difficult to determine what is being asked and what your answer needs to be.

After your first study of the PMBOK, go back to it for the second and then the third time. You will begin to understand it better with each revision. By the third time, it gets easier to read and concepts are already registered, while the ones you found hard will become easily understandable.

Study Materials to Use

1. Refer Latest Version of PMBOK Guide

Use the latest version of the PMBOK guide that is released by PMI (current version 5) to develop a concrete understanding of all the knowledge areas, processes, concepts and formulas.

You must also stay updated and be aware of the project management concepts and changes present in the latest version of PMBOK guide (version 5) over its previous version (PMBOK guide version 4) to make a comprehensive preparation for the exam. Appendix X1 in the PMBOK guide version 5 contains a detailed list of changes made to the PMBOK guide version 4. Some of these changes include increase in the number of knowledge areas from 9 to 10 (new Knowledge Area called Project Stakeholder Management) and an increase in the number of processes from 42 to 47.

PMI has released the 5th Edition of PMBOK Guide early 2013. However, until July 31, 2013 the PMP examination will NOT be based on this new PMBOK Guide. The examination will continue to be based on the 4th Edition of PMBOK Guide, released way back in the year 2008. Starting July 31, 2013 PMI will revise the examination to align with the new PMBOK Guide 5.

2. Refer a Good PMP Prep Book

You should also refer a few of the great resources and PMP prep course materials from authors such as Rita Mulcahy and Andy Crowe. The PMP certification is loaded with difficult question and answers, which test your knowledge and ability to apply them in difficult scenarios. Studying for the exam could take up a significant amount of your time and commitment .Therefore, it is important for you to know what to study and how to study for the exam. This is where a good preparation material comes into the picture.

For instance, one of the challenges that you face while studying for the exam is dealing with inputs, tools and techniques and outputs (ITTOs) of each process. They take up a significant amount of your time while preparing for the exam. However, many preparation materials recommend PMP aspirants to work on the basics (such as why a process is used, what is the process all about and when is the process used) before preparing on the ITTOs . By working on the basics first, you will be able to see the connectivity between the processes and understand the processes better. You need not memorize the ITTOs .This reduces the time required to prepare for these topics.

3. PMP Exam Prep Workshops

The PMP Exam Prep workshops are a good option if you prefer the classroom setting or need more one on one interactions. Apart from the PMI membership, these are also a great way to network with the aspiring PMPs in your area.  Another benefit of these workshops is that they usually satisfy the 35 contact hours required to apply to take the PMP exam.

4. Online PMP Exam Prep Workshops

The PMP exam preparation courses are also available online. These online workshops tend to be less expensive than the in person workshops. Workshops today have the option of being self-paced as well. Choose the option that best suits your study style. Do lots of comparisons and read testimonials, before you commit to one.

5. Online PMP Exam Simulators

It would be wise for a PMP applicant to use an exam simulator while preparing for the exam. These are practice PMP exams hosted online. They test the applicant using the same style of questions that will be found on the actual PMP exam. They also aim to replicate the exam environment so you get used to and comfortable with the timing and the pressure. They are an excellent way of measuring your understanding and application of the PMBOK Guide.

6. Flash Cards

Paper or electronic, flash cards are cost effective, portable and a tried and tested way of studying for the PMP exam. These flash cards can be downloaded and can easily be flipped through on the computers or smartphones, or they can be printed. Creating flash cards on your own can be immensely helpful during your preparation.

7. Be a Part of Study Groups and Discussion Forums

Study groups and discussion forums can significantly help you while preparing for your PMP exam. By being an active participant of study groups and discussion forums, you can help others pass the exam, get your own concerns and queries clarified, know more about several useful resources and thus, significantly reduce the time required to prepare well for the exam.

What to expect from the Questions asked

Once you are done studying the PMBOK Guide, your next worry and most important activity will be the practice questions. The 200 multiple choice question paper will include question types like complex situation questions, short situational questions, formula based questions, knowledge based questions and interpretive questions. The practice test will help you understand how to approach each question. Knowing how to get the most out of each question is very crucial.

Situational questions:  are those that will test your ability in identifying the relevant content and ignoring the irrelevant. These tend to be lengthy questions so it is important to read the questions a couple of times, accurately identifying the actual question, leaving out the insignificant information, and then moving on to answering.

Formula based questions:  are not only about solving the median or calculating the earned value. There are a total of close to 49 PMP formulas that you will have to know, ranging from the simple averages to the probability and depreciations. The formulas along with the calculation needs to be right in order to attain the required marks.

Knowledge based questions: are those which test you on the facts, usually on the PMBOK Guide. They occasionally question on where processes belong in the Knowledge Area, or on which processes the Inputs, techniques and tools or the outputs, will go. At times you may be asked to identify a graph or an example chart, like recognizing the Pareto chart or the RACI.

Interpretational questions: are those that test your ability to deduce a condition or a situation.

Specific Technique questions: are those that contain tools or techniques like a network diagram and ask you to provide an element that's inherent in that diagram such as forward pass or backward pass.

How will you know that you are ready?

The PMI does not tell you how many questions you must answer to pass the exam. People assume it to be 62%. 

To know whether you are ready or not, try to apply the 85% rule.

​While doing your sample questions, continue to work hard until you can answer at least 85% of the questions correctly.  If you can do this at your first attempt itself, then you can probably consider yourself ready for the real exam.

​However, do not stop revising until the final day!


It is not impossible to pass the PMP exam. Just a little effort will get you across the finish line. Use the tried and tested practices that got your through your school and college as well. Carry your study materials wherever you go, so you can open them up at any opportunity. Join a PMP exam study group, where you can push and be pushed to study harder. Focus on the trouble spots and spend time on them. Revise at least 5 to 6 times.

Remember: Once you have passed, the PMP credential will not last a lifetime. You will have to keep renewing it.

Get a taste of our PMP certification course. Here is 40 minutes of our Project Management Exam Tips and Tricks video.

The PMP certification exam is loaded with tough questions, which test your knowledge and ability to apply them in difficult scenarios. Here are a couple of tips to help you prepare.

Avantika holds a degree in Journalism, & writes on such topics of interest as PMP, Digital Marketing, Six Sigma, & Big Data. She also maintains a travelogue, blogs on media issues, and volunteers at a boarding home for stray dogs. She enjoys art & travelling, & loves outdoor activities like basketball, athletics, & swimming.

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