Top 7 Tips for PMP® Exam Preparation

We all know that studying for an exam requires tremendous effort, time and diligence. The Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam is tougher than most, requiring extensive preparation over the course of many months to pass. There is a lot of material to absorb, and you will need to be able to master the practical application of that information. If you are among those who are already well established in your career, it may have been years since you last studied for an exam, so your study skills may be a little rusty.

Related Read: Benefits of PMP® Certifications

In addition, as one of the fastest growing certifications worldwide (there are now more than 762,000 holders), the number of PMP exam-takers is on the rise, which means more competition for you!

Worry not! You can still master the entire PMP syllabus with the right combination of effort, dedication and guidance. And to help you with this, we've prepared a systematic approach to tackle the PMP certification exam. Read on for more!

A Few Suggestions to Get You Started

Survey: Before beginning your study session, survey the material that you plan 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. Gaining 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 brushing up. This method also makes it easy for you to arrange information in a systematic and sensible order in your mind.

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 end of the day.

Research: Before you begin your day’s learning, make a list of questions that you want answered and learn. 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 tendency to your advantage and break up your study sessions into smaller 'chunks.' For example, if your study session is planned for three hours, break it down into six 30-minute sessions, scheduling short breaks in between. Disengaging from studies makes it easier to recall what you previously studied.

Top PMP Exam Tips

1. Conquer the PMBOK® Guide

The PMP exam is largely based on the PMBOK® Guide. Use this to your advantage and make the Guide the 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 on to other study material. This will help you improve your understanding of each topic since other study guides will often rehash the content and present the same topic from a different angle.

Further, break down the knowledge areas of the PMBOK® Guide so you study one process each day. Doing this will help you prepare a clear plan for daily and weekly study milestones.

It is not enough to just memorize everything. Put in the effort to understand concepts well, and study 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. They contain enough information to arrive at the best answer, but they also include irrelevant information to deliberately throw you off course.

After you finish a section of the PMBOK® Guide, take a break before rereading it twice, or even three times. You will begin to understand it better with each read. By the third time, it will become easier to absorb as the concepts are already registered in your mind, while the ones you found hard will become more easily understandable.
Be sure to use the latest version of the PMBOK® Guide that is released by PMI® (current version 5) to understand all the knowledge areas, processes, concepts and formulas of PMP.

You will also need to stay current with project management concepts and changes that have changed since the previous version (PMBOK® Guide version 4). Appendix X1 in the PMBOK® Guide version 5, has a detailed list of changes made from the PMBOK® Guide version 4. Some of these changes include an increase in the number of knowledge areas from 9 to 10 (including the addition of a new knowledge area called Project Stakeholder Management) and an increase in the number of processes from 42 to 47.

2. Use a Good PMP® Prep Book

A good PMP® textbook is a must. Top authors for PMP® aspirants are Rita Mulcahy and Andy Crowe. The PMP® certification is loaded with difficult question and answers (Here is the list of Q & As), which test your knowledge and your ability to apply your learning in difficult real-life scenarios. Studying for the exam could take up a significant amount of your time and requires a great deal of commitment. Good preparation material will help you know what and how to study for the exam.

For instance, one of the challenges that you will face is dealing with inputs, tools and techniques and outputs (ITTOs) of each process. Many study materials recommend that PMP aspirants work on the basics (such as why a process is used, what is the process all about and when the process is 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 them better. You need not memorize the ITTOs, which will reduce the time required to prepare for these topics.

3. Try PMP Exam Prep Workshops

PMP® Exam Prep workshops are a good choice if you prefer the classroom setting or need more one-on-one interaction. Apart from the PMI membership, these are also a great way to network with other 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. Try Online PMP Exam Prep Workshops

Several PMP exam preparation courses are also available online. These online training courses tend to be less expensive than the in-person workshops. Choose the option that best suits your study style. Do plenty of comparison shopping and read testimonials before you commit to one.

5. Take Advantage of Online PMP Exam Simulators

PMP simulators are practice PMP exams hosted online. They test the applicant with questions that follow the same standards as the actual PMP exam. They also aim to replicate the exam environment so you become comfortable with the timing and the pressure. They are a great way to gauge your level of preparation.

6. Remember Flash Cards

Paper or electronic flash cards are a cost effective, portable and a tried and true way of studying for the PMP exam. Downloadable flash-cards can be flipped through on the computer or smartphone, or they can be printed. Creating flash cards on your own can be immensely helpful during your preparation.

7. Participate in Study Groups and Discussion Forums

Study groups and discussion forums can help greatly as you prepare for your PMP exam. As 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 significantly reduce the time required to prepare for the exam.

What to expect from the questions asked

Once you are done studying the PMBOK® Guide, your next most important activity will be the practice questions. The 200 multiple choice question paper will include different question types such as 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 and get the most out of each question. 

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

Formula based questions are not only about solving a median or calculating an earned value. There are about 50 PMP formulas that you will have to know, ranging from simple averages to probabilities and depreciations. The formulas and calculations need 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 where processes belong in the knowledge area, or on which processes the Inputs, techniques and tools or outputs will go. At times you may be asked to identify a graph or an example chart, such as 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 such as 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, it is prudent 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 on your first attempt, then you can consider yourself ready for the real exam.

However, do not stop studying until the final day!



Passing the PMP exam isn’t easy, but the right effort, study guides and motivation will help get you across the finish line. Use the tried and true best practices that got your through high 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 so you can be pushed to study harder. Focus on the trouble spots, spend time on them and be sure to revise your studies at least five or six times.

Remember: Once you have passed, the PMP® credential will need to be renewed. 

Get a taste of our PMP® certification course. Here's 40 minutes of our Project Management Exam Tips and Tricks video or simply download this Ebook (Click Here) to learn PMP® in 45 Days. 

PMP, PMI and PMBOK are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

About the Author

Avantika MonnappaAvantika Monnappa

A project management and digital marketing knowledge manager, Avantika’s area of interest is project design and analysis for digital marketing, data science, and analytics companies.

View More
  • Disclaimer
  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.