10 Secret Tips to Study Smart and Pass PMP Exam


To pass PMP exam, one has to sit for four hours and answer 200 questions. Naturally there will  be some anxiety around your preparation for the PMP exam. With so much study materials available, deciding on what to study, how to study could be challenge. Unless you get that right, you will end up spending a lot of time and money, yet not achieve the desired result.

Here are some crucial tips based on the experience from my preparation to attend the PMP exam.

1. A Plan is Key to Pass PMP Exam

This is the critical step to your success in the PMP exam. Before you start preparing for the exam you should have three questions answered and they should be in your study plan. WHAT, HOW and HOW LONG?

Plan for PMP Exam

What to Study for the PMP Exam?

Here you decide your study activities. Normally this includes the following:

  • Reading the PMBOK Guide.
  • Reading one ( you don’t need more!) PMP exam preparation book.
  • Using your 35 Contact Hour Training aids to clear your understanding of processes, knowledge areas and  ITTOs.
  • Taking practice exams. Practice Exams are extremely important. Go through this article: How to get the best out of PMP Practice Exams to get more insight on this topic.
  • Preparing notes with formula, ITTOs and other mind maps.
  • Re visiting weak areas to get a better understanding.

How and How Long to Study?

These two go hand in hand. Since how long depends on how, address them together.

How you study is up to you. But there are certain things that have proven to help thousands of PMP candidates.


2. Run Through Study > Test > Evaluate > Clarify Cycle.

This is very powerful.This takes an iterative approach to your PMP exam preparation. The iteration contains four steps. You repeat the cycle until you achieve the desired result. This is the basic concept. But what you do in each step could vary from iteration to iteration. We will discuss that in later sections.

PMP Exam Preparation Cycle
PMP Exam Preparation Cycle

Cycle Phase 1: Study For the PMP Exam:

This is the phase where you go through the study materials and try to understand the concepts. Some of the activities in this phase include:

  • Reading PMBOK guide
  • Reading any other PMP preparation book
  • Watching the PMP training videos
  • Listening to the PMP preparation audios
  • Learning formulas and calculations
  • Practicing diagrams and mind maps

Cycle Phase 2: Test What You Studied:

This is the point where you are checking out what you studied. Don’t wait to take tests until all your studies are complete. Taking these tests will help you focus on weak areas and improve.

Some of the activities in this phase include:

  • Taking practice tests
  • Taking timed, simulated exams
  • Writing down all the formulas
  • Listing ITTOs

Cycle Phase 3: Evaluate Your Understanding

This is the reality check! Now that you have taken some tests, evaluate them and see where you stand. This step involves verifying your practice exam answers and cross checking the formula or ITTOs you have written down. The results will identify your strong and weak areas.

Cycle Phase 4: Clarify Things You Don’t Know

During the evaluation you have identified your mistakes and weak areas. It is time to clarify them and get a better understanding of those topics. Revisit those topics, and get a better understanding of them.


 3. PMBOK Guide is a Necessary Evil: Don’t Ignore It

I have heard a lot of complaints that PMBOK Guide is dry and boring, hard to read and understand etc. But, keep in mind, that is what you will be tested on. So, don’t skip it. Start with the PMBOK Guide first. Read the guide in its entirety even if some of the concepts don’t make much sense to you. When you read other books and study materials you will get better understanding of these concepts.


4. Take  Breadth First Approach

Be it PMBOK Guide or any other PMP exam preparation book, they all cover the same concept. Only difference is in the presentation and narration. Project Management Body Of Knowledge is a collection of complex, detailed concepts. So, no matter which book you pick, don’t expect to understand everything. In the first iteration of the study cycle, focus on touching on all the topics and get an idea of what is included in the subject. In later iterations you will be able to more effectively dive deep in to each topic.


5. Know What you Don’t Know

As you read through the books or listen to the audio resources, keep a note of topics you didn’t quite follow. Don’t go back and forth on the same topic trying to grasp it. It doesn’t help. Instead create a list of those areas and pay more attention to them in your next study cycle iteration.

Unless you keep track of your weak areas you many never go back and study them again. So, as you move on keep a running list of such topics and strike off the ones you are clear about.

The same list can be appended with the weak areas you identified during evaluation too. If, in a practice exam your score in a specific knowledge area is low, note it down and make sure you pay extra attention to that area next time.


6. Create Mind Maps

PMBOK Guide presents a lot of inter-related information that are intricately connected together. Hence it is very useful to create a pictorial representation of how knowledge areas, process groups and ITTOs are interconnected. That image is the mind map of the PMBOK structure. Once that image firmly stamps on the brain, it will be very easy to understand the questions and choose the best answer. The mind map approach works much better than just memorizing plain words or statements.


7. Study Consistently & Stick to Your Books

Success in PMP exam requires consistency in study. Be prepared to spend at least 15 hours per week for the exam preparation. Be regular in studying. Studying 20 hour one week and then taking a month long break will drastically hit your pace of study. Once you get the momentum, keep it going until the finish line.

There are many good books available to study for PMP certification. Different books have worked well for different people. There is no one or two best book to chose. Everyone’s style and preference is different.

So, don’t go hunting for the best PMP study book in the world. Instead, read reviews or borrow and check a few books and then stick to PMBOK Guide and one additional book.

Reading more books won’t necessarily help you understand the concept better. Beyond two books, you are more likely to be confused. Instead, go through the same books multiple times to strengthen your knowledge and understanding. This will help you form an image of the topics in your mind as well.

If you have access to more books, certainly try out the practice exams from them. That will help you validating your overall understanding of the PMBOK concepts. At times reading a book and immediately taking the practice exams in it may be deceiving. Reading one book and taking the exam on the same topic from another book is certainly a good idea.


8. Get the Most Out of PMP Practice Tests

Taking practice tests are the MOST critical part of your study. Take as many practice tests as you can. This will only help you do better in the exam. Once you study some book or topic or listen to an audio, it is a very good idea to test yourself on that. Take some practice exams in that area and check how you did. While there are some free practice tests available online, I highly recommend you use at-least one commercially available PMP practice exam. They are more exhaustive, flexible and come with answers and explanation to the answers as well.


9. Make Best Use of Lessons Learned

As PMP credential has become one of the most sought after certifications, there are lot of professionals becoming PMPs now. Many of them share their experience, mistake they made, tricks they used, what worked and what did not, etc in the form of PMP Lessons Learned. Make best use of them and they will give a good guidance for your PMP exam preparation.


10. Check Your Readiness

One of the commonly asked questions is that when will one know that he or she is ready to take the exam. While there is no definite answer, practice exam result could help. If you consistently score about 80-85% in three different timed, full length, simulated practice exams that should give you a good confidence level to take the real PMP exam.

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