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PMP Exam Prep: Top 6 tips for success

Candidates often reach the end of their PMP Exam Prep and realize there was a better way to prepare.  To help you achieve the most out of your PMP Exam Prep, this article outlines the top 6 tips you’ll need to succeed. 

We talked to PMP Exam candidates, just like you, about their PMP Exam Prep and Exam experience. 

As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.   Successfully starting your PMP Exam Prep is no different.

Read on to learn the 6 things that will help you achieve success with your PMP Exam Prep. 

Tip #1 – Don’t take the PMP Exam Prep lightly

As a professional, you probably have many achievements under your belt that highlight your skills and capabilities.  These form the basis of your career trajectory, giving you the confidence to move forward. 

But don’t let this confidence overshadow the need to prepare extensively for the PMP Exam.

You may be the best Project Manager in the world, closing projects on time and keeping to budget, but the PMP Exam is testing you on your theoretical knowledge of Project Management.

Not only that, but the PMP Exam is unlike any exam you will have taken. 

What most of us are used to is that an exam tests your ability to repeat back what is taught in a class.  You sit the exam, regurgitate what has been taught, and voila, you have passed a specific course. 

Bad news.  This is not the case with the PMP Exam. 

The Project Management Institute (PMI) rigorously protects the PMP certification.  The PMP Exam weeds out aspiring Project Managers who just aren’t up to snuff.  

Which makes sense, right?  The PMP certification is likely the most important designation you will achieve in your Project Management career, and you want it to carry a high reputation that demonstrates you are a highly capable and skilled Project Manager.

So, as a PMP candidate, you also want to ensure that this PMP certification you pursue is held to high standards.

This is where most candidates fall over.  They fail to prepare. 

Repeat after me: “Who passes the PMP Exam?  It is not the best Project Manager, is it is the most PREPARED candidate.”

Preparation is key to successful PMP certification.

PMP Exam Prep, top 6 secrets to passing the PMP Exam the first time
PMP Exam Prep, your style at your pace

Tip #2 – Know thyself

6:00am – wakeup, shower. 

Start the hour-long commute to the city

Spend the morning answering emails, fighting fires, and dealing with that one client!

Run to the sushi counter for lunch, on route to the team meeting.

Spend the afternoon designing a new inventory system, while trying to get out the door to get to daycare before they charge $20 per minute(!)

Take the turnpike to avoid congestion, get dinner sorted, put the kids to bed.

Spend one hour watching game of thrones.

Sleep.

Repeat

Sound familiar?

They key to success is knowing what you are dealing with.  It is also the same formula that for makes for successful Project Management. 

If you know what your parameters are, then you know what you can work with.

Many PMP candidates fail because they underestimate what they can realistically manage. 

Do you fall into any of these situations?

  • You’d like to write the exam in 3 weeks (for that big promotion!), but you will be out-of-town on a project for the next month.
  • You want to study 3 hours per day, but you only have 1 hour to spare.
  • You are confident you know the material, but you haven’t actually read the PMBOK.
  • It’s been 10 years since you sat an exam.

If you want successful results, before starting any studying, make a list of what in your life right now you can realistically handle.

  • Are you willing to study on the weekends?
  • Are your evenings full of activities?
  • Do you have a supportive partner who can help with childcare, household chores, etc.?
  • If you are a single-parent, do you have a support network (parents, siblings, friends, etc.) who can help watch the children so you can study?

Time is the number one factor that makes or breaks a successful PMP Exam certification. 

Some people can set aside 6 months to study, once a week.  Others can set aside 6 times a week for one month.  Whatever you can manage, this is where you start from.

Be kind to yourself and know your limitations.  Don’t pressure yourself into achieving something at the expense of yourself or your family.

Because truthfully, if studying leaves you feeling guilty, it is not an effective use of your time.

Tip #3 – the 35-hour course is not just mandatory, it is fundamental.

Too often, we think of something that is mandatory as just something to “get through” and finish.

Try not to do this with the 35-hour course.  The instructors have taken the PMP Exam many times, and can point where you need to focus to pass the PMP Exam.

The course will cover everything you need to know, but it is up to you to supplement the course and practice what you learn.

Understand what your preferred learning style is.

I like things at my own pace, in my own time:

Perhaps you learn best by getting a bit of information, then you going off to learn more about that concept.  Once you are happy with the concept, you move to the next concept.

If this sounds like you, then you will do best with an online at-your-own-pace course.  You can pause and play, and absorb the information at your own pace.

I want to get through it quickly, when and where I choose:

However, you may prefer to blast through information in big chunks at times with the flexibility of learning from anywhere at any time. 

If this is you, then you will do best with an at-your-own-pace course, but going through several modules in sequence.

I have set aside big chunks of time to have an instructor lead me through this:

Lastly, you may prefer to just have someone leading you through, live, being able to ask questions when something is not clear.

Then you will be the perfect candidate for an online instructor-led course, where you can ask questions and clarify anything that doesn’t make sense.

Whichever of the three categories you fall into, you will find there is a course customised for your learning style.

The course will set you up with the fundamentals needed to successfully pass the PMP Exam.

Tip #4 – the PMBOK is your new favourite read. 

Have you heard of the latest book, flying off newsstand shelves nationwide?  Voted best read, will change your life; you just gotta have this book? 

Oh yeah.  This is the level of excitement anyone would ideally have reading through the PMBOK.

It is your new best friend. Your therapist. Your nighttime fairy tale, and your morning news.

Don’t underestimate the PMBOK.  It is loaded with information – Yes. It is a lot to digest. Yes, again.  But it is also the single best source of information that will get you PMP certified. Yes, yes, and yes!

So, what is the best way to use the PMBOK?

As a supplement to your PMP course and training.  Use it to refine concepts and enrich your knowledge.

First, open the PMBOK to the table of contents.  There you will find a clearly laid-out quick guide.

What?

Yes.  Read through the table of contents, first.  It clearly lays out what the most important subjects are and how many pages are dedicated to each subject.

It is not a good strategy to dive into reading the PMBOK cover to cover without first understanding where you are headed.

Why?  Because this will lead to mental exhaustion.  Your brain won’t know where it is headed, and why you are reading what you are reading.  Reading through the table of contents lets it understand the game plan:  where to begin, and what lies ahead.

The Table of contents does exactly this.

Then move on and read through the PMP Exam content outline document, provided by the PMI

This document is crucial and will align your PMP Exam Prep to the most important concepts covered in the PMBOK.     

Although by the end of your PMP Exam Prep, you want to have read everything in the PMBOK, you don’t need to approach reading the PMBOK from the first page to the last page, cover to cover in sequence.

Rather, it is more useful to use the PMBOK to reference concepts when you need to understand them further, or to gain a different perspective on them.

You don’t want to exhaust your brain completely, so first familiarise yourself with the concepts of the PMBOK first. 

That way, when you need to reference a concept, you know where to efficiently find it.

Treat the PMBOK like the drivers’ handbook for your road-test.  It enriches what you practice and shows you the best and proper methods to deal with any situation you will encounter in your Project Management career.

Download the PMBOK to your mobile device, or obtain a physical copy.  Either way, carry the PMBOK around with you wherever you go, and whenever you have a few minutes, flip it open and start reading.

Tip #5:  Take lots and lots of practice tests. 

Would you deliver a big presentation without having practised delivering it?  Probably not. 

Your PMP Exam Prep is no different.  The more you practice, and familiarise yourself with the PMP Exam structure, the more prepared you will feel.

Why?

Especially for those who are well established in your career and have not taken a test in years, your examination skills may be a little rusty.

Not to mention taking an exam can be a source of stress and anxiety! 

Everything is unfamiliar.  Worse yet if the last time you took at test it was pencil and paper!

The PMP Exam is electronic.  By taking practice tests, your brain becomes comfortable in this environment, and that is one hurdle to get over.

What is the PMP Exam environment like?

For starters, it can be much noisier than you imagine.  Other people, in a large room, shuffling, clicking a mouse/keyboard, coughing, fidgeting.  It can be distracting.

A great idea is to take your practise tests somewhere with people around.

It can be a local coffee shop, in a public library, or in a shopping mall.  Try and find somewhere with sufficient background noise.

But, I won’t be able to focus!  Well, exactly.  This is the point.  In the real test situation, you can’t control the noise level in the room. 

So, the sooner you become accustomed to a bit of background noise, the better your brain will work to block out the background noise and focus instead on the material and questions being asked.

Aim to take at least one full practice exam in an place with distractions.

Tip #6 – Time yourself

As a Project management professional, the element of timing should be no surprise.  Projects launch or fail on good or bad timing.

Likewise, with your PMP Exam Prep.  When taking a practise test, time yourself. 

In the real PMP Exam, you have limited time:  4 hours to answer 200 questions.

That might sound like a lot, but it can quickly run away from you. 

4 hours to answer 200 questions works out to 72 seconds per question.

Don’t panic!

If you have a good time strategy, 72 seconds is loads of time.  Plus, you will get through some questions much quicker than others, which donates time to the harder questions.

But if you find you are spending longer than 72 seconds per question, you need to move to the next question. 

For every full practice exam, make the situation as realistic as possible.  By timing yourself, you can flag your weak areas and where you are spending too much time. 

Focus on those questions that are taking too long, and go back to the PMBOK to refresh your understanding.

During the real PMP Exam, you can “mark” questions to come back to.  Many test takers who fail find that they marked several questions, and then spend the entire four hours answering questions, and had no time to come back to the marked questions.

Ensure that if you do mark questions, you allocate a minute to come back to each marked question.

However, you may also encounter some convoluted questions on the PMP Exam that seem unlike your practise questions.  Unfortunately, this does happen.

A good strategy here is to take your best guess.  If you really have no idea, just take a guess and move.

How to make it easier?

There you have it folks, the top 6 tips to your PMP Exam Prep.

Studying for an exam requires tremendous effort, time and diligence.

Particularly the PMP Exam.  It is tougher than most exams, and requires extensive preparation. 

There is a lot of material to absorb, and you need to master the application of that information.

Why not make it easier?  Sign-up for 200 free questions.

Good luck!

Do you want to pass your PMP Certification in the next 6 weeks? Sign up for a free class to learn how!

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