6 study tips for acing the PMP® exam

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The Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification can be a great career booster, leading to new opportunities and higher salary while leaving you better prepared to manage projects of all shapes and sizes. Here are six tips that can make your PMP® journey easier and help ensure you pass with flying colors.


1. Commit to a schedule (and be consistent!)

Almost everyone studying for the PMP® will encounter many subjects for the first time, and preparing for the exam requires a substantial time commitment. You must accrue at least 35 hours of project management training from sources like Pluralsight's PMP® learning path or other approved sources before applying for the exam. Additionally, you should expect to spend time reviewing the PMBOK® Guide (the official framework the PMP® exam is based on), as well as taking practice tests.

It's possible to prepare for the PMP® in a few months if you have all the necessary experience, and commit yourself to a rigorous study schedule. Many students study for over a year before taking the test, and that's okay, too! What's important is to be consistent with your study routine. Much like exercising, making the commitment to study regularly is half the battle; if you put in solid effort for a week and then step away for a month or two, you're unlikely to remember what you learned.


2. Combine your resources

On its own, no single source can totally prepare you for the PMP® exam. Along with the PMBOK® Guide, you'll need to meet the required training hours; this two-front approach can help ensure you understand the test's fundamentals at both a technical and conceptual level. Regularly attempting practice problems can also help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. PMI.org is another great resource; members receive a discount on the exam equal to the first year's membership fee and receive a free digital copy of the PMBOK® Guide. The site also has a wealth of study tools, sample documents and training videos that can help strengthen your project management knowledge.


3. Join a study group

Another benefit of PMI® membership is access to your local PMI® chapter. Many chapters hold study groups for new members, and provide access to local experts who may be able to help you in your studies. Joining a study group, whether in person or online, can help keep you accountable for regular studying, and the opportunity to share skills you're learning with others is one of the most effective ways to cement your new knowledge.


4. Compile your experience

Early in your PMP® studies, it's worth taking the time to outline the work experience you intend to include on your exam application. Applicants with a four-year degree need 4,500 hours and three years of project management experience, while those with a lesser degree must accrue 7,500 hours and five years of experience before applying. Outlining your experience can also help you remember important things while studying, making it easier for you to connect exam concepts back to real world experience. By comparing actions you've taken with the concepts outlined in your studies, you can learn where you did well and where you could have improved your technique.


5. Know where each process fits

I would almost never recommend simply memorizing something by rote, however, there's one chart I recommend memorizing during your studies for the PMP® exam: the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping Table (found in chapter three of the PMBOK® Guide). This table indicates which process group and which knowledge area is associated with each of the 43 project management processes covered in the exam. Having this information can help answer many questions on the exam, and can provide useful context clues if you're having trouble remembering precisely what each process is meant to accomplish.


6. Simulate the testing environment

Don't rely on paper sample tests alone when tackling practice problems. Instead, make time for a few full-length, computer-based tests during your study process. At 200 questions in length, one of the biggest challenges the PMP® exam poses is its duration. You may knock practice questions out of the park in batches of 50, but find yourself swamped at the prospect of answering four times as many questions in one sitting.

Build up your test-taking stamina by simulating your testing environment. Take your practice tests at the same time of day as your exam appointment if possible, and do your best to recreate the testing atmosphere. Use a quiet location, without access to study aids. Time yourself, only taking breaks for the restroom or to hydrate, just as you will on the test day. Think of the PMP® exam as a marathon; you wouldn't be ready after running just a mile every day, so don't assume that doing well on small batches of practice problems will be the same as facing several hundred in one sitting!

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Casey Ayers

Casey Ayers is an independent project manager and strategic consultant, with experience leading projects in many fields, including healthcare, digital media, mobile app development, consumer product design, education, and event management. He has a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, and earned an MBA from the Crummer School of Business at Rollins College. Prior to that, he received a Bachelor's of Business Administration degree majoring in Economics and Investment Finance from the University of North Florida.