How to Prepare and Pass the PMP Certification Exam

pmp exam certification

A fellow Tactical PM reader sent me question on how to best prepare for the PMP certification exam.

After having spent so many years in real life project management, I am planning to do a formal certification. Can you please provide some guidance and an approach on how I can prepare for the PMP certification exam?

I passed my PMP certification in 2001 and the types of training material have changed over the past 14 years.  My approach would still be the same but the format and training choices would be slightly different.  If I had to take the PMP exam again in 2015, I’d recommend the following:

Step 1: Have a Plan

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines 47 project management processes within 5 project management process groups and 10 knowledge areas.  I wanted to have sufficient time to prepare for a test that has a $400 testing fee!

My recommendation is to look at the calendar, set a date and build a study plan to support the testing date.

I would plan for a 12 week study plan and treat your preparation for the PMP like a class.

Step 2: Get your PMP Exam study materials ready

You’re going to need a few study materials to get you ready for the exam.  There are a lot of training options out there and I recommend the following:

Get a hard copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge

If you’re a PMI member, you can download the standard for free, but I found it helpful to have a physical copy of book for notes and future reference. After all, scrolling through a 600 page PDF file is kinda of a pain when you’re studying!  Pick up a copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge and get reading!

Get a PMP Certification Exam book

There are a lot of books on PMP test preparation.  I surveyed my fellow Tactical PMs in our Tactical PM Community of Practice Facebook group and here are a few of the recommendations.

Pick up some PMP Exam flashcards

Do you know the difference between a project PLAN and a project SCHEDULE? You’ll run into a lot of different terms, formulas and definitions.  I found flashcards helpful to learn the PMBOK definitions of the various terms in formulas.  You may be a PM with years of experience but the exam is based on PMBOK terms, so you want to be prepared.

Take a look at Rita Mulcahy’s Hot Topics Flashcards for Passing the PMP and CAPM Exams or build your own flashcards for FREE using ExamTime’s software.

ExamTime has a quick demo on how you can use their software to prepare for the PMP exam at

Immerse yourself in PMP preparation on your way to work

I love mobile learning while on the road to work. With an hour commute to the office, I’d add the PM PrepCast to the PMP preparation list.  The folks at OSP International LLC have produced several PMP exam preparation products including the free PDU podcast.  You’ll want to optimize your PMP exam preparation and adding the audio lessons will help retain that PMP preparation knowledge.

Simulate your testing experience with exam simulation software

One of the keys to my PMP exam success was simulation software.  I had a software program that offered 2 quizzes for each knowledge area and two comprehensive exams.  As I read each knowledge area and studied the PMBOK, I would take both sample quizzes.  The weekend before the actual exam, I took the comprehensive full exam simulation.  Below are two recommended exam simulators under $100.  Don’t skimp on this one. The simulation exams are excellent study tools.

Step 3: Join a study group

At my work, I was fortunate to find a study group.  One of the senior program managers was a PMP and facilitated a 10 week study group where we reviewed each knowledge area, took sample quizzes and worked through sample problems.  It was a valuable part of the PMP training experience and I quickly learned how to do a forward and backward pass across a project schedule to find the critical path!

If your employer doesn’t have a PMP study group, take a look at your local PMI group, check or join one of the LinkedIn discussions groups on PMP Preparation.  These are all communities that you can join to ask questions and find fellow colleagues looking to pass the PMP.

Step 4: Study per your training plan

Yep.  There isn’t much more to say one this one but simply put in the time to study the materials, participate in the study groups, take the practice exams and follow the plan you defined in step 1.

If you’re a full time working professional, it’s going to be a challenge balancing work deadlines, family time and your study schedule.  My recommendation is to block out the time on your calendar and treat this preparation time like a college class.  If you were taking a night class after work, you’d be gone 2-3 hours a few nights a week.  Reserve a conference room or go to a library and dedicate the time to review your materials.

One tip that I would recommend for note taking is to use a mind mapping tool.  Mind mapping is a powerful note taking and retention technique to build visual branches of ideas that will help you retain knowledge.  I mentioned ExamTime previously as they support mind mapping but you can also use tools like MindGenius, Mindjet or Xmind.

Step 5: Summarize your material the weekend before Test Day

The weekend before your test, you want to summarize your notes, formulas and create a 1 page study sheet.  If you’re using a mind map, you may want to create a summary view in a mind map formula.  I simply took a single sheet of paper and summarized the key terms, formulas and any area that I knew I was uncertain.

Yes…this was written in a very small font!

That weekend you also want to take your final simulation test.  With your 1 page summary sheet, a memorized list of formulas and a successful simulation test under your belt, you’re ready for test day!

Step 6: Test Day

Besides the usual sleep well before test day and eat a good breakfast suggestions, once you sit for the test, write down all the formulas you memorized. Recalling earned value calculations from memory in the middle of an exam can be a pain, so write down the important formulas before you answer a question.

Go through each question and make a note of any questions where you took a guess or had an uncertain answer.  After you’re done with the first pass, go back and revise any answers.

Click submit with confidence because you know you prepared!

Step 7: Celebrate and recognize your achievement

Congratulations!  You passed!  Recognize your 3 months of work with a dinner out and take pride in your success.  Add your PMP credential to your Outlook signature, update your LinkedIn profile and let your employer know you’ve successfully passed.

What about bootcamps?

A training alternative is to attend a bootcamp that immerses you in the PMBOK for four days to successfully prepare you for the test.  I’ve met a few PMPs who benefited from these workshops but don’t assume 4 days is enough to pass the test.  The point of obtaining the PMP is not to simply pass a test but to gain foundational knowledge that you can apply to future projects.  I don’t think you’ll get that in a 4 day class but if you want to add a bootcamp to your training program, consider it a supplemental tool.

How the heck am I going to pay for this?

Preparing and passing the PMP isn’t cheap.  You’re going to invest in preparation materials and the exam fee itself.  You could spend close to $299 – $3000 in preparation and exam fees depending on the selected training materials.  My recommendation is to get some assistance from your employer and build a business case for your PMP certification.  For a step by step plan to get your employer to pay for your PMP exam, take a look at my TechRepublic article –  How to get your employer to pay for your PMP exam

Prepare and Pass the PMP Exam

The PMP certification provided me with a common knowledge framework for managing projects in organizations with varying degrees of project management.  For professional career development, it is a useful certification that opens doors to new interviews and job opportunities.  Successfully preparing and passing the PMP certification exam is achievable if you develop a plan and execute against it.

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About Andrew Makar

My official bio is I'm an "IT Director with delivery experience across projects, programs and portfolios in Automotive, Financial and Marketing industries". I've enjoy putting project management theory into real-world practice and over the years I've published and taught my approaches to Tactical Project Management.When I'm not working, writing, or teaching, I'm hanging out with my kids and learning the occasional card trick or two.

One Response to How to Prepare and Pass the PMP Certification Exam

  1. Vikram R Singh March 16, 2015 at 12:42 am #

    Great insight!

    Thanks for sharing valuable information.


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