In my view, there are really three ways in which you can prepare for the PMP exam:
- Deeply – going this way means you would allocate about 6-12 months prep time, utilize 4-8 reference sources (books, CD-ROMS, websites, etc.), and make sure you fully understand the PMBOK at and beyond the fundamental level and know where and how to apply this knowledge to various situations and problems, based on your past project management experience.
- Cramming – cram for the exam in a 3-6 week time frame, use 1 PMP prep resource (the most popular of this is rita mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep” which I will review in another post) and the PMBOK (if this is even read at all), and attend an expensive PMP Boot Camp that uses intense cram sessions, clever mnemonic memory schemes, and drilling of test simulation questions 1 week before the exam.
- Medium – this technique should typically take 3-6 months, and would try to adopt the best of both techniques in a timely manner and based on one’s learning abilities. For example, in months 1-3 you would read the PMBOK first to get an overview, then carefully read 2-3 prep books (or other resources) to ensure you understand the materials at a fundamental level and to make sure you look at more than 1 prep resource to cover an deficiencies it may have. In months 2-5, you would start to take intense notes, re-read the PMBOK to see how much better you understand it and make sure you have synthesized the material enough to be confident you will pass in a month or two. In the last month or couple weeks before the test, is where you would start focusing on how to pass the test specifically and utilize the techniques from the cram method.
In my view, the “medium” method is the best for most PMP candidates. It ensures you allow yourself adequate time to fully absorb and understand the fundamentals of what the PMBOK is trying to convey, as well as why knowing this would be important to pass the exam, which is almost everyone’s goal. Then close to the exam, use all the cram tricks from the “cram” school of thought to tie up any loose ends and to get you mind set up and ready for the PMP exam that will be coming up.
Not only will doing it this way ensure you pass the exam, but will allow you to actually understand, retain and apply your hard earned knowledge to your daily professional project management career.
More PMP Prep Tips
The following are tips from a PMP prep class I taught in Fall of 2007 for PMI-LA, and I’m reprinting them here slightly modified and is valid as of 2007:
1. The exam is neither real hard, nor easy. Remember you only need 61% to pass, but it is definitely not a walk in the park to obtain that score. In general, it is better to over prepare, then under prepare but don’t stress about so much that you burn yourself out!
2. The PMBOK is boring as heck to read, but from my research and own experience, I agree with the common consensus that you should read this at least 2-3 times. I would read it once to get a good overview, then read the study books recommended below and when you read it again, it will make more sense.
3. If there is one thing I would recommend above all else, is to really understand the 5 processes, 9 knowledge areas and the 44 individual processes that comprise it and know it inside out. But I DO NOT recommend memorizing these, but rather to have a deep understanding of how they work, inter-relate and drive a project from initiation to closing. The PMBOK as well as most of the test prep books and courses follow the knowledge area in this regard, but I would look at these from the perspective of the 5 processes of Initiation, Planning, Execution, Controlling/Monitoring, and Closing. This is because it, in my opinion, follows how a real project actually functions and makes it easier to understand, study and relate to.
4. Definitely do some practice exams. There are good online test sites that are quite affordable and have good test simulations. A good site is the PMP Exam Simulator with a free 3 day trial. In addition, I took a class through PMI-LA and they used a book called “Achieve PMP” that came with a test bank CD that was more than sufficient. Don’t waste too much money on these, for example, many people I know who I took the class with in Spring that also purchased the Rita FastTrack CD, felt it was a waste. Taking 4 full exams is sufficient, and any more may burn you out, stress you out, or confuse you. The Achieve CD is all I used and I passed quite comfortably. But if you need more, there are some good online resources both free and for pay that is more reasonable then Rita’s $300 CD.
5. One good way of understanding the ITTOs (Input–>Tools and Techniques–>Output) is to write them out on flash cards, since 1) writing them out is an active way to study them as well as reinforcing the understanding process, and 2) is great at forcing you to see how I/Os are usually things like plans, change requests, corrective actions, etc., and tools and techniques are the analysis, methods, skills and systems used to feed inputs into outputs.
In Part 3, I will list books I read to prepare and reviews of each.