The PMP exam is quite tough, usually requiring extensive preparation over the course of many weeks, or even months, with a lot of material to cover. As a PMP aspirant, you will need to be able to master the practical applications of the information you’re going to absorb. Therefore, in order to successfully acquire your certificate, you must allocate the right combination of time, dedication, and diligence.
Robert Herjavec, in his book The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding stated: “A goal without a timeline is just a dream”. Applying this to studying for the Project Management Professional certification exam means that you should set up a thoroughly detailed timeline of when and how you’re going to carry out your preparation plan in order to reach your final goal. Starting with the end in mind allows you to treat your study plan like a project, allocating the needed resources, implementing a step-by-step action plan, and time-framing the whole process.
In this guide, I am going to show you how to create your very own study plan. We’re beginning with the main factors that you should take into consideration before setting up the plan, and then we’re moving on to my own personal experience of how I prepared and passed my PMP exam, along with some final tips.
Before going into details, it is very important to understand that a study plan that may have worked for someone else may not work for you. No two people have the same experiences or expertise, nor does everyone learn in the same manner. Some candidates would prefer a more relaxed preparation pace whereas others set strict deadlines and stringent studying plans. This ultimately depends on each person’s learning pattern and style.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Creating your study plan
When developing your study plan, start with two main factors in mind: Budget, and Time.
How much you’re intending to invest in your PMP preparation is an important component of your overall study plan. Deciding on how much you are prepared to invest for the exam preparation will help you determine how much material you’re going to tackle.
Setting a specific budget for resources, training, courses, PMP simulators, etc. will help you create an accurate schedule of the material you’re going through for your preparation. Start with setting up a specific budget, and then do your research on the best resources you can rely on for your studying.
Now that you have decided on your budget, and before ordering any studying materials or enrolling in courses, you should create your preparation plan. Deciding to pass the PMP exam doesn’t just happen overnight or out of the blue. You must have taken time to consider this decision and finally make it. Usually, you have an approximate date in mind of when you wish to pass the exam. Depending on how much time you decided to dedicate to your preparation, and after setting up an approximate schedule to when you’ll be ready to take the exam, you can then book the exam date. I recommend that you decide on a date that is not too far in the future, but not impossibly near to give yourself enough time to prepare.
Setting a specific date will make you more motivated to stick to your schedule, and will prevent any postponing or slacking. Login to your profile on pmi.org and under the PMP certification section, you will see the “schedule PMP exam” options. You can reschedule your PMP certification exam appointment in case you still don’t feel prepared enough, but you’ll have to pay $70 as a rescheduling fee if you change the date 30 days prior to the initially booked date, and if you reschedule within two days of the booked date, you’ll have to pay the exam fee again.
PMP preparation materials
There is a misconception that the PMP exam is totally based on the PMBOK Guide. It is not! PMI, the organization behind PMP, does not endorse specific review courses, resources, references, or any other material for certification preparation. However, they do reference a list of ten resources, including the PMBOK and the Agile practice guide, which can be used for the PMP exam preparation.
The PMP exam is based on the exam content outline. It describes the domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills that are tested in the PMP exam. It is like the syllabus for the certification exam. Although many of the domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills outlined in the PMP exam content outline are also covered in the PMBOK guide, there are some that are unique to the PMP Exam Content Outline.
You can rely on five main sources for your PMP preparation: The PMBOK Guide, the Agile practice guide, preparation books, onsite or online courses, exam simulators or mock tests.
- Candidates studying for PMP certainly want to refer to the latest edition of the PMBOK guide. The current version is the Sixth Edition, and PMI announced that the Seventh Edition will be available on August 1st, 2021. But, the PMP exam will continue to use the PMBOK® Guide Sixth Edition and will not be affected or changed by the PMBOK® Guide Seventh Edition release. PMI recommends that candidates should refer to the current Exam Content Outline for accurate information about the PMP certification.
- Along with the PMBOK, the PMI included 10 different resources in their PMP Exam Reference List. With the new exam updates, Agile is being emphasized more than ever. Consequently, the Agile Practice Guide should take part as a key source for your preparation too. You might also want to refer to other materials included in the PMI list such as Essential Scrum by Kenneth S. Rubin.
- PMP training and preparation workshops are also a good choice if you prefer a classroom setting or need more one-on-one interaction. Several PMP exam preparation courses are also available online. These online training courses tend to be less expensive than in-person workshops. The most commonly known online course is PMP Exam Prep Seminar by Joseph Phillips. This particular course offers an additional advantage as it fulfills the 35 contact hours required for the PMP exam application.
- A good PMP textbook can be a plus for your preparation. Top authors of PMP preparation books include Rita Mulcahy and Andy Crowe. Good preparation material will help you ease your PMP exam study
- Your PMP preparation plan must include practice exams. You can either use a PMP exam simulator or PMP mock tests. PMP simulators aim to replicate the exam environment so you become comfortable with the timing and the pressure. A common choice would be going for the PrepCast or, you can search on Udemy for instance, to find numerous online courses offering mock tests. You can also get my PMP mock tests book to evaluate your readiness, go over your mistakes, and identify your knowledge gaps.
If you still have a hard time finding good resources for where to look up some obscure information, simply try Googling whatever you’re having trouble understanding. There are also a lot of good videos on Youtube explaining complex concepts in simple terms. I highly recommend watching Ricardo Vargas’ video in which he tackles the processes of PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition.
PMP preparation approach
After doing some research and deciding on what you’re going to use for preparation, your plan should be based on three phases:
- Getting familiar with the material
- Mastering the material
- Practicing and testing your knowledge
The goal of the first phase is to familiarize yourself with the PMBOK guide content, as well as the Agile Practice guide, to help you understand how you can implement better project management practices in an uncertain environment where things keep changing. During this phase, you can read preparatory books like Jennifer Greene and Andrew Stellman’s Head First PMP, or Andrew Ramdayal’s PMP Exam Prep Simplified.
You should identify your phase end criteria, for example, you can set the score you want to get in lessons’ end quizzes. You can use quizzes from any book or study material available to you. How long this part of your study plan will take depends on how much project management knowledge and experience you already acquire.
After getting familiar with your material content, now it’s time to master the fundamental concepts. Don’t leave anything to chance, dig deeper if something is not clear. Make sure you have a good grasp of the Agile approach, its characteristics and how it’s applied. Try to fully comprehend the processes of managing scope, budget and schedule in a predictive environment.
You want to cover the tools and techniques of risks, quality, procurements, resources, and stakeholders management. Since a good part of the project is about people, you should pay more attention to leadership styles, problem solving techniques, and communication.
Now, it’s time for practicing and testing your knowledge. The goal of this third phase is to identify any knowledge gaps. Pick some reliable and good questions resources and practice 3 to 4 full-length exams. It is very important to practice as many questions as possible but what is more important here is what you learn from each question. Scoring 70% or higher in exam simulations is recommended as this phase end criteria. I recommend my 2021 PMP mock practice tests as the questions are assorted by domain and project life cycle, allowing you to identify and focus on your weakness points.
PMP preparation schedule
The time you’ll need to prepare for the PMP exam fully depends on the number of hours you can dedicate to studying every day. It’s not the same for someone who decided to take preparation as a full-time mission as it’s for someone who’s an active professional.
For instance, let’s assume that you have a full-time job, so on weekdays, you can dedicate 2 hours every day for preparation. And, on the weekends you can devote 10 hours on both days for studying. This would translate into 20 hours of study every week which means you can tackle your PMP preparation in 2 months. Of course, for someone who’s going to dedicate all their time to studying it will be easier to clear the exam in a shorter period.
Try to develop specific milestones and a realistic schedule when implementing your study plan and identify what you will study, when, and for how long. Also, when creating your study schedule, take into consideration that it may be affected by unforeseen events that will require adjusting your schedule. Life happens, so it is better to alter your study schedule or even reschedule your exam date than to rush your studying and show up for the exam ill-prepared and risk not passing.
How I did it
To give you a look at a more tangible PMP study plan, I’m going to use my own experience as an example. I booked to have the exam on the 30th of October and started studying on the 1st of September, which is a 2 months period of preparation. At the time, I was a full-time working professional so I was able to dedicate at most 20 hours per week.
Since I already had a somehow good knowledge of project management, and upon some research, I decided to start with Joseph Phillips PMP Exam Prep Seminar – Pass the PMP on Your First Attempt Udemy course to earn the required 35 PDUs to pass the exam. I went through the project management knowledge areas, taking the included assignments, exercises, and quizzes. It took me around 2 weeks to memorize all the information in the memory sheet and complete the whole course.
Then, I moved on to Rita Mulchay’s “PMP Exam Preparation Guide” book. I didn’t read it word by word though. I did however find the included tests in each section helpful. It took me another 2 weeks to go through the book and take the tests more than once.
Now that I still had one month for preparation, I took some mock tests from the PMP Fast Track and I used the PMBOK to verify any wrong answers. In the last week, and since I performed well in the mock exams (mostly scoring above 75%), I decided to take it slow. I wrapped up my preparation by going through my personal notes, formulas, and memory sheets.
Please take into consideration that when I took the exam the Agile approach wasn’t quite emphasised as it’s now. So, make sure that your study materials include enough resources about adaptive life cycles, and more importantly, that any resource you’re relying on for your preparation is aligned with the latest exam updates.
My study plan worked efficiently for me as I succeeded on the first try. When creating the studying schedule, I took into consideration the resources I was going to use and how much time I can realistically dedicate to studying without exhausting myself, and I tried to commit to the pre-booked exam date.
Now that you know how to pick your studying resources, how to go through the material, and how to create a convenient plan for your own requirements and needs, I have some final tips:
- Take your own notes: your PMP studying notes really make a difference. Take notes of important facts, concepts, and formulas to make it easier for you to retain and recall information.
- Don’t neglect PMP vocabulary: a lack of understanding of the PMBOK guide vocabulary is one of the most common causes of candidates not passing the exam on their first attempt. Therefore, it is so important that you thoroughly study, understand, and retain all new vocabulary.
- DO not memorize without understanding: Getting your PMP certification is based on your ability to think and respond as a project manager, not how well you memorized project management information. It is more important to understand the how’s, why’s, and logical relationships than it is to attempt to memorize them. A majority of the PMP exam questions are situational descriptions of a problem. They contain enough information for you to arrive at the best answer, but they also include irrelevant information to deliberately test your understanding.
- Participate in study groups and discussion forums: Study groups and discussion forums can greatly help you prepare for your PMP exam. As an active participant in study groups and discussion forums, you can get your concerns addressed and queries answered, learn more about several useful resources, and thus significantly reduce the time required to prepare for the exam.
- Go easy on yourself: Break up your study sessions into smaller chunks with short breaks in between where you disengage from studying. This will make the whole process easier and less stressful.
Now you have a complete picture of how creating a PMP study plan takes place. A detailed PMP study plan is critical for your success in the exam. But, committing to the schedule is the real key to successfully getting certified on your first try.
I hope this guide covered all the questions you have about creating a study plan, and I hope it’ll help you set up an efficient map to ultimately achieve your goal. Don’t hesitate to reach out through my contact channels if you still have any inquiries to address. I am more than happy to offer advice and answer questions to help you with anything concerning the PMP exam.
Images credit: Slidesgo and Freepik.