Time To Study For Your PMP – Don't Panic!

You’ve received the green light from PMI to schedule your test and you’re ready to go! Just one small thing — you have got no idea how much time you should give yourself or what you should spend your study time on.
There’s so much information out there, especially boot camp advertisements with “pass guarantees.” There are tests you can purchase, books you can buy and a fair amount of fear mongering on project management websites, as well.
I wanted to share my method because it was cheap and, for me, it worked. The test is either pass or fail; you don’t receive a percentage, but you do get a breakdown of how you did in each of the five areas: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing. You’re rated as either proficient, moderately proficient or below proficient. I was proficient in four areas and moderately proficient in one. I hope this gives you the confidence to believe me when I say: You do not need to drop $1,000+ on a project management boot camp!
Ok, so what should you do? First, my suggestion is to give yourself four weeks to study. If you give yourself more time you might get in the habit of thinking you don’t need to buckle down because you have more than enough time. You could possibly do this in less time but I spent about 1-2 hours a day over four weeks. If you want to put in more time you can condense this down to about two weeks. If you read my first post you know I suggest signing up for PMI membership, and if you did this you got access to the latest electronic version of the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK). This book is the Bible for project management. Now don’t hate me when I tell you this (remember I just saved you $1,000), but you’re going to need to read this. It’s dry; there are no anecdotes and no cartoons, just facts. But read it once, and then you’re done with it other than as a reference material. I promise.
Now that you have a general concept of the project phases, knowledge areas and processes, you need to memorize them. All of them. The five phases and 10 knowledge areas shouldn’t be too hard.
I used “Integrating Scope and Time Costs Quality Human Resources to Communicate with a Risk of Procuring Stakeholders” as my little reminder for the knowledge areas.
I know, it’s not super catchy; but, it’s not terrible either.
The best way to then memorize the 47 processes, from my point of view, is to memorize how many are in each column (2, 24, 8, 11, 2 across the top) and then also in each row (7 – Time, 6 – Scope, 4 – cost, HR, Procurement, Stakeholder, 3 – Quality and Communications). I stared at the processes chart and then tried writing it out from memory daily. By the start of week 3 of studying you should have this down, but continue writing it out anyways. Disclaimer: I absolutely believe in the power of rote memorization.
The next thing I suggest memorizing cold are project management formulas, I also wrote these out daily. Here’s my list:
CPI*: EV/AC (Considered the most important earned value metric)
EAC: AC + Bottom Up Estimate
Communication Channels: N (n-1)/2
PERT: (P+4M+O)/6
Activity Variance ((P+4M+O)/6) ^2
Future Value: Present value/ (1+r) ^n
Present Value: Future Value (1+r)^n
Internal Rate of Return (Benefit-Cost)/Cost
There are a few more you could memorize, but this is what I did. There’s only so much data you can get down cold and you’ll have to pick and choose.
These two chunks of data are what I included in my brain dump prior to starting the exam. This means that I spent a portion of the testing demo writing this out before taking the test – this way I didn’t cut into the time I had to take the actual test.
As far as ITTOs (Inputs, Tools and Techniques, Outputs), I did not memorize these. I worked on understanding them and being able to recognize the most common. Make sure you have a firm grasp on what constitutes an Enterprise Environmental Factor (an organization’s culture, governance and structure) and what constitutes an Organizational Process Asset (processes, procedures, and knowledge base).
There are some things you’ll need to know about project management that the PMBOK does not cover – remember this exam isn’t just about studying a book, you’re proving that you know and live project management daily. So do yourself a favor and look up these names: Deming, Fielder, Shewart, Ouchi, Juran, Douglas McGregor, Kaizen, Frederick Herzberg, Maslow, McClelland, Vroom and Crosby. These are all theorists in either quality management or behavior management and their theories have an impact on project management processes.
The other half of studying is testing what you’re retaining. There are a ton of practice exams online and a lot ask you to pay. I don’t think you need to. I really hope you got that PMI membership because they have a link on their website to something called Books24x7. It’s access to a ton of relevant reading material. Right now a book called PMP Exam Prep: Questions, Answers & Explanations, 2013 Edition by Christopher Scordo is up there. I took every test in that book and reviewed every answer, both those I got right and what I got wrong. Anything I repeatedly got wrong went on a note sheet to be reviewed daily until I did get it and anything that I didn’t recognize went on a sheet to be Googled later. After finishing this book I moved to ExamCentral.net. This site has full length exams with 200 questions, and gives you the option of reviewing all questions and their answers afterwards. They also track your progress and show your scores in a nifty little bar chart and also even break down your score by project phase area (just like the real exam!). By the time I sat for the exam I’d racked up another eight exams. I would usually do one a night, with a complete review and then look at the notes I’d taken from questions I missed on past exams. I was scoring between 69% and 88% once I moved on to ExamCentral.net after completing all of Christopher Scordo’s exams.
The night before my test, I took one last practice exam, reviewed the answers and looked at my notes. Then I went to bed early (Don’t skip this part, please; it’s easy).
The day of the test I had breakfast, read my notes one last time and then arrived at the testing center 30 minutes early. All centers are different but I believe the majority recommend coming early as you’ll need to check in (you may need two forms of identification) and put your items in a locker.
Once you’re in the testing center, remember these steps: do your brain dump first, breeze through the testing demo and then focus! I wish you the best of luck on the exam!