PMP Exam: Study Plan, Tips, & Tricks

  • 10 November, 2020

Studying for the PMP exam requires both a strategy and a plan, so I'll share some ideas and suggestions for how to create ones that are customized to your specific needs.

Armed with this information, you should be able to come up with a solid strategy and plan that will help you effectively use the time you have available to study. Best of luck to you, and happy studies!

1. Understand the Exam Content:

First and foremost, it is important to understand what information will be on the exam-for this, you should locate the updated 2021 Exam Content Outline (ECO) found on PMI's website.

Please be aware that the exam content is changing as of 2 January 2021, so it is important to understand this to ensure that you're studying for the correct version of the exam. The advice I'm giving here is based on the assumption that you'll be taking the new exam content.

Carefully reading and fully understanding the ECO is considered the first step because if you are unaware of what the content of the exam is or will be, then it's difficult to know where to focus your studies. I'm certain that you wouldn't want to put in months of work only to discover that you studied the wrong thing, so knowing what to expect is the first thing to take into consideration when creating a study strategy.

2. Set a Deadline to Take the Exam:

Now that you understand the exam content, the next step would be to set a deadline to complete your studying, and you can do this by selecting a date to take the exam (not more than one year out) and scheduling it.

By scheduling the exam, you're giving yourself a finite deadline and ensuring that you have enough time to study. Plus, you'll need to plug this information into the upcoming step of creating your study plan.

3. Create A Study Timeline:

So now that you know what content the exam covers, and you've picked a date that you will take the exam - you're ready to create your timeline.

It is important to know how long you have to study for the exam when creating the study plan so that you know how best to break down your outline, and how long you'll have to spend on each section.

In addition, this is where you'll want to decide if you will take a PMP Exam preparation course; it's important to note that if you do take a course, there will still be a lot of self-paced studying, so you'll have to be disciplined, accountable, focused, and motivated.

Some questions to consider about PMP exam prep courses:

  • Will it be self-paced (on demand) or led by an instructor?
  • How long will the course last?
  • How will I ask questions?

PMP Exam: Study Plan

4. Create A Study Plan:

Now you're ready to create your study plan.

The first thing you want to think about when creating your study plan is your learning style. You probably utilize a combination of multiple styles; knowing this information will help you create your strategy and plan, so you will know which strengths to capitalize on to best focus and maximize your studies.

Some examples of learning styles:
    1. Visual/spatial learners tend to learn best by utilizing graphs, tables, charts, colors, and diagrams
      1. Use color-coded highlighters, pens, markers
      2. Illustrate notes and unknown words
      3. Use flash cards
    2. Aural/auditory learners typically retain information better when it is spoken
      1. Use mnemonics, rhymes, auditory repetition (See #1 in "General Study Tips & Tricks" section below)
      2. Try to study in quiet areas where distractions will be minimized
      3. Read content aloud or have someone read it to you
      4. Play videos that audibly explain concepts
    3. Verbal/linguistic learners tend to learn best by utilizing both written and spoken words
      1. Use mnemonics and acronyms whenever possible
      2. Write down concepts/ideas that you've just learned about, and try to explain them in your own words
      3. Read content out loud, or listen to it being read (audiobooks, for example)
      4. Writing or creating your questions based on the content you have just learned is a great way to ensure understanding (can also be done in collaboration with others)

You'll now want to use all of the information you have gathered to create a study plan outline. Once you have an outline, you will have a better idea of how long each section will take you to complete. Please keep in mind that you may need to revise your study plan as you progress.

When creating your study plan outline, here are some elements to take into consideration:

  1. Break your study guide into sections by chapter within the PMBOK Guide, 6th edition
  2. Think about the timing as well as the content
    1. For example, I chose to spend one hour per day during the week, and two to three hours on the weekend studying
    2. You should proceed at whatever pace works for you; this may require some trial and error
  3. Tailor your study sessions around the '320B' principle
    1. This means you want to study 3 topics in 20 minutes, and then take a break
    2. This is a strategy used to account for the duration of our attention span, and studies have shown that this approach can be effective when learning this type of content
  4. Incorporate ways to learn relevant vocabulary
    1. Create your flash cards to help build vocabulary
    2. Please refer to the 'Vocabulary Tips & Tricks' section below for more tips & tricks
  5. Build in time to review what you have previously learned
    1. Practice creating/completing a brain dump
      1. This is a twofold exercise because it can be used while studying and also when you take the exam
      2. Time it so you have the information you'll need during the first 15 minutes of the preparation time available before starting the exam (more on this in a future blog).
    2. Another review strategy is to build 10-15 practice questions into your study guide that cover the content you previously studied.
  6. Build in goals & rewards
    1. Make them realistic and manageable
    2. Try to incorporate weekly and/or monthly goals, or goals by chapter or concept. Do whatever works for you to help you stay motivated!

5. General Study Tips & Tricks

  1. Create your acronyms or mnemonics
    1. Examples include the order of operations in mathematics: PEMDAS ('Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally' which stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction)
    2. Another example is the mnemonic used to remember the planets in the solar system: My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas (which stands for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)
  2. Find a study/accountability partner
    1. Is there someone else at your company, or in your network, who is also studying for their PMP exam? Team up! Help each other out.
  3. Make sure that you take time to rest-give your brain at least one day per week to rest and have a break from studying
  4. Stay hydrated and fuel your brain with food that can help increase your energy
  5. Familiarize yourself with PMI's Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct
    1. This is available via download from PMI's website and is not specifically referenced as part of the PMBOK Guide, 6th edition. However, you will likely see questions related to this topic on the exam.
  6. Crunched for time and can't make your flash cards?
    1. You can purchase some instead or use PMP exam study apps - there are some free ones, but some of the better ones require you to pay for them. This can be helpful to have access to practice questions and/or vocabulary on the go.
  7. Join or create a PMP exam study group on LinkedIn
  8. YouTube videos can be particularly useful learning tools.
  9. Are you a member of PMI? If so, it's a good idea to be part of the local PMI chapter as well.
    1. This is a great way to network, meet other Project Managers, and find others who are studying for the PMP exam with whom you can buddy up
  10. If you purchase supplemental materials (for example, the study guides created by Rita Mulcahy, Crosswind Learning, or O'Reilly's "Head First PMP"):
    1. Find out if they also have an app or online content available to accompany the book/study guide
    2. What other materials are available to you if you purchase their content? For example, do you get access to practice questions and/or flash cards?

General Study Tips and Tricks

6. Vocabulary Tips & Tricks

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Glossary & Index of the PMBOK Guide, 6th edition
    1. Familiarize yourself with all definitions in the PMBOK Guide as you'll need to know them for the PMP exam
  2. Create your flash cards (or you can purchase them if you have the means to do so)
  3. Try to learn at least three new vocabulary words per week
    1. Explaining what the word means out loud to someone else can help solidify your understanding
    2. Practice using the new words you've learned in a sentence whenever possible; try to explain what concepts mean in your own words.

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