Can I Self-Study for the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam?

  • 08 September, 2020

The Project Management Professional (PMP) exam is considered to be one of the most challenging certification exams. With the proper preparation, organization, and dedication, however, you can pass this exam and reap the benefits that come with holding a globally recognized certification.


Why is the exam so difficult?

Three facets contribute to the difficulty of the PMP exam:

  1. An extensive volume of information
  2. Vocabulary that may be unfamiliar
  3. Challenging exam questions and a lengthy exam

These three facets have a direct impact on the need for proper preparation to be successful on the PMP. Preparing for the exam may involve taking an exam preparation course, self-studying, or a combination of both. There are pros and cons of all options, and it really is up to you to determine what makes the most sense in your particular situation.

Not studying is not a legitimate option, no matter how good you are at passing exams! This is not a test that you can "logic" your way through.

The self-study option of preparation

For some project managers, self-studying to prepare for the exam may be a legitimate option. Self-studying may eliminate the cost of an exam preparation course, but it will most likely increase your time commitment required.

If you decide to self-study, there are some serious considerations for your preparation approach: the pace of your study plan, the source of your material, and the alignment of your learning with the current version of the exam.

Study plan pace

There is a delicate balance between going too fast and going too slow to prepare for the exam. Attempting to "cram" or study quickly in a short amount of time will leave you feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and, most likely, poorly prepared. While the content is not necessarily difficult, there is a lot to learn! And regardless of how experienced you are as a project manager, it is more than likely that there will be many new topics and vocabulary terms to learn.

On the flip side, it is essential to stay on-task and focused when learning the content. If you take too long to learn the material, especially without the proper reinforcement, you may find yourself forgetting the concepts you learned earlier in your preparation.

Source of the material

There is a lot of PMP exam preparation materials on the market. Quantity, however, does not equal quality. I encourage you to be incredibly diligent when purchasing any exam preparation material. Keep in mind that each book is written from that author's perspective of the exam, and as such, each author may describe the context differently. Validate that the author is exceptionally well-versed in preparing project managers for the PMI (Project Management Institute) exams, not just simply someone who holds the PMP themself. Passing the test is one thing. Having the capability to teach others how to pass is another skill set altogether.

Alignment with the current version of the exam

PMI updates the PMP exam regularly, and some of these updates can be very significant. Verify that any and all study materials that you are using are in alignment with the current version of the exam. For further benefit, it is incredibly vital that the materials you are using include access to exams, preferably online exams, to replicate the actual exam experience as closely as possible.

Self-studying is a viable option for individuals that:

  1. Have the time for a set studying and preparation schedule
  2. Have access to top-of-the-line preparation materials
  3. Are disciplined with their studies
  4. Can develop a strong understanding of complex topics
  5. Can stay on-task, on-point, and disciplined with their learning

While self-study may not be the best option for everyone, with time, dedication, and discipline, it can be done.

Project Management Professional (PMP) and "PMP" are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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