How To Get PMP Certification in 10 Easy Steps
By Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM
You’ve made the decision to get your Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. It’s a big step in your career, and it can be a time-consuming and difficult journey. However, this certification from Project Management Institute (PMI)® is definitely worth the effort.
Thousands of project managers have walked before you, gaining those extra letters after their name. Those letters demonstrate their commitment to project management as a career, their detailed knowledge of the topics in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, and their prior experience.
Employers know that hiring a PMP is a step in the direction of more successful, better managed projects.
On projects, we work with our colleagues in teams and share knowledge as freely as possible. But when it comes to getting your PMP® credential, knowledge really is power! And we have got plenty of knowledge coming up…
Let’s map out your journey to becoming a PMP in 10 easy steps. Here is your complete plan for becoming a certified project manager.
Ready? Let's jump right in!
- STEP 1Download the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Credentials Handbook
- STEP 2Create Your Personal PMP Study Plan
- STEP 3Join PMI
- STEP 4Apply for the PMP Exam
- STEP 5Download the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition PDF
- STEP 6Get Your PMP Exam Prep Training
- STEP 7Buy a Simulator for PMP Exam Questions
- STEP 8Study Hard!
- STEP 9Practice PMP Exam Questions
- STEP 10Take the Exam
- STEP 11(Bonus Step) How To Recertify as a PMP
Watch this Article as a Webinar!
The article you are about to read is also available as a free webinar:
The webinar is presented by Cornelius Fichtner, PMP. He begins the webinar with a bang by revealing the Key to Success for the exam to you. Then each of the ten steps is reviewed so you know what to do for them and why they are important. The webinar includes several recommendations for training resources, money saving tips, and advice on a free exam simulator. A 12-page webinar handout with detailed descriptions for all steps and recommendations (including links) will be emailed to the attendees at the conclusion of the webinar.
Step 1: Download the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Credentials Handbook
PMI® has published a Credentials Handbook (known simply as “the Handbook”).
The Handbook explains everything you’ll want to know about the process of taking the PMP exam and becoming a PMI® certified project manager.
Reading the Handbook takes about 20 minutes and these should be the first 20 minutes on your journey to becoming a certified PMP. The Handbook will answer most of your questions about the procedures for applying and taking the exam.
Make sure you are eligible to become a PMI certified project manager
The Handbook includes the eligibility criteria for the exam. You should check that you are eligible before you go any further with your preparation.
Do you have a high school diploma, an associate degree, or the global equivalent of these? Then you must have a minimum of five years (60 months) of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience of which at least 7,500 hours must have been spent leading and directing project tasks.
If you have a bachelor degree or its equivalent in your country then the requirements are different. Then you must have a minimum of three years (36 months) of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience of which at least 4,500 hours must have been spent leading and directing project tasks.
Your PMP eligibility also requires you to show you have had 35 contact hours of project management training.
How to get 35 contact hours of project management training
Don’t worry if you can’t instantly think of project management courses you have done. First, go back through your professional development records and see what’s there. All project management related training from your entire life counts towards your total.
For example, if you took a two-day project management class when you were fresh out of school, then you already have 16 contact hours – even if that was 20 years ago. As long as you still have a record of the course and an attendance certificate, you can count the hours.
One hour of classroom instruction equals one contact hour.
Add up the hours you can already evidence and see what the total is. If you have many years of business experience, you may already have 35 hours. If not, you can sign up for a training course that will give you the additional hours that you need.
So: you know your PMP certification eligibility. You meet the experience requirement and you meet the training requirement (or you have signed up to a course that will let you meet the training requirement)
If you meet these criteria, you are eligible to take the exam. You can move on to the next step.
What if you aren’t eligible?
Don’t worry! Many people find that they aren’t eligible to take the PMP Exam – yet. With a little more experience, you will ready soon enough.
Meanwhile, you may find that the CAPM® Exam is more suitable for you at this stage in your career. The Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM)® credential is designed for people who are working in a project environment, or would like to, but don’t yet meet the eligibility criteria for PMP. Find out more about preparing for the CAPM exam.
Step 2: Create Your Personal PMP Study Plan
Studying for the PMP exam is a serious endeavor and requires a lot of personal dedication. You need to manage your road to becoming a PMP like you would manage a project, and that involves creating a plan.
Your PMP study plan should include your overall objective (as a reminder!), your study schedule, and weekly goals. Write down how many hours you will study each day, the number of chapters you will read or review, and how many sample questions you will answer.
Set reasonable, realistic goals. Many people feel that they can spend two to three hours a day studying. This might fall into their commuting time, or be what they can commit to after work. If you aren’t currently working, you may be able to do more than this. If you have other commitments, like family responsibilities, you may need to schedule less. There is no right or wrong way to schedule your time – do what’s right for you and what fits around the rest of your life.
As a target, think about covering one chapter of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) along with the corresponding chapter in your prep book per week (we’ll come to prep books in Step 6).
You can plan more easily if you see what other people have done and what worked for them.
Take a look at the lessons learned in our student forums. You’ll see how other people approached the exam. Some of their tips might give you ideas for study techniques that would work for you as well.
When you start to work through your plan, you’ll be able to see if you are sticking to your weekly goals. If you aren’t managing to get through your work, adjust your schedule accordingly. It’s better to have the time to thoroughly prepare than simply skim through the content and hope for the best because the exam is difficult!
Sticking to your plan is easier if you have friends, colleagues and family to support you. Let everyone know what you are doing and why. It will help them understand why you are preoccupied with your tablet and headphones! Generally, people appreciate that taking on the prep for any exam is a huge undertaking, and they will support you in your goals.
However, remember to schedule in breaks. You can’t study all the time and you don’t want to burn out before you get to the exam!
This section has just touched on the benefits of a study plan as the best way to prepare for the exam. Read our complete guide to creating your own PMP study plan for even more tips.
Step 3: Join PMI
Trust us, it’s worth becoming a member of PMI during the year you plan to take the PMP exam.
It makes financial sense because as a PMI member you will receive a free PDF version of the PMBOK® Guide and a substantial discount on the PMP® exam entry fee. In fact, the discount is bigger than the membership fee! So even if you don't want to stay a PMI member for life, becoming a member in your first year will save you money.
Becoming a member of your local PMI Chapter can also make sense because most chapters offer PMP prep workshops. Again, as a member you usually receive a discount that is greater than the membership fee.
Your local chapter is also a great resource for PMP information. You can attend your chapter's dinner meetings and speak in-person with new and seasoned PMPs about the exam. They will be very happy to answer your questions and help you.
Another advantage of being a PMI member is that many chapters have study groups. These give you the opportunity to meet other people on their journey to becoming a PMP like you. Studying together is more fun and increases your chance of passing.
Step 4: Apply for the PMP Exam
"I want to become a PMP" is a good plan. But "I want to become a PMP and my exam date is in X months" is a much better plan because we all work a lot better when we have a deadline.
Once you become a PMI member, go ahead and sign up for the PMP exam. Go to www.certification.pmi.org/ to register.
On that webpage, you’ll be asked to fill in your PMP Credential Application and submit it to PMI for approval. The application process asks for basic information about you, and specific information about your eligibility for the PMP exam such as proof of your 35 contact hours and project management experience.
Once PMI has checked over your application and verified that you are eligible for the exam, they will issue you with a confirmation number.
How to Book Your PMP Exam
Once you have that confirmation number you can then schedule to take the exam on the Pearson VUE Website at www.pearsonvue.com.
This separate scheduling is necessary because PMI doesn't perform the test themselves — instead they use Pearson VUE, a testing company with testing centers around the world. Depending on where you live you may have to travel quite far to take the exam. As a result, you definitely want to schedule this well in advance.
Step 5: Download the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition PDF
The PMBOK® Guide is the primary reference used to inform the questions on the PMP exam. In other words, you really need to know the material in the PMBOK® Guide because you’ll be tested on it during the exam. Most trainers estimate that the correct answer for roughly 75 percent of the questions on the PMP Exam can be found in the PMBOK® Guide.
You need to get hold of a copy. The PMBOK® Guide is available in two formats; PDF and printed. If you are a PMI member, you can download the PMBOK® Guide 6th edition PDF for free at www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/foundational/pmbok.
If you are like many students who like to flip pages, highlight, and make notes in the margins, then you’d work best with a print copy. You can get a print copy from www.pm-prepcast.com/pmbok.
It’s so important to get hold of the PMBOK® Guide and read it thoroughly. It’s a hugely valuable resource and the key to feeling confident about passing the exam.
Step 6: Get Your PMP Exam Prep Training
You have the PMBOK® Guide and a study plan in place. By now, you’ve probably realized that the PMBOK® Guide isn’t written to be read straight through and understood. In fact, many students tell us that the book is difficult to understand. Training guides in other formats help you understand the material in the PMBOK® Guide and how you can apply it in your day job to be a better project manager.
There are lots of different ways that you can boost your learning through training including:
- Classroom courses
- Virtual instructor-led courses
- Virtual self-paced courses.
How to Decide on PMP Training Options
In the past, classroom or in-person PMP certification training bootcamps would have been the only way to build your knowledge around project management and get you ready to pass the exam. That isn’t the case any longer.
There are pros and cons to all kinds of training. Ultimately, you need to decide yourself which is the best training approach for you based on how you like to learn and how much time and money you have to invest.
|Classroom courses||There are no other distractions once you are in the classroom All the materials are covered in a short period of time Good for people who learn best in groups or who need the energy of a classroom for motivation.||Often expensive Requires time away from work or family If you don’t understand something, there may not be enough time to cover it again during the course.|
|Online, instructor-led courses||You can log in to the course from home or work You have an instructor to speak to if you have questions.||Instructor-led courses often require you to log in at a particular time to network with other students and the instructor.|
|Online, self-paced courses||You can log into the course from home or work You can study when it suits you The course provider and community is available to provide support at any time You can revise the material as often as you like Highly cost-effective.||You need to be disciplined to work through the material.|
|Self-study||Virtually free||You need to be motivated to do the work It can be lonely to study without any support You have to find all the relevant materials yourself and be confident that the people you are learning from are qualified to teach.|
A trend in project management training is that more and more students are choosing to use online materials either as their main learning tool or a major part of the learning. As fewer employers pay for training, PMP aspirants are choosing cost-effective online solutions that don’t require time away from work, because they know it’s important to invest in their careers.
The PM PrepCast is one online option that you can take anywhere. The lessons make the dry language of the PMBOK® Guide come alive and can even be downloaded to your mobile device. Have a long commute? Waiting for an appointment? Have time at lunch to study? Just watch or listen to the PM PrepCast lesson that corresponds with the PMBOK® Guide chapter you are studying. Seeing or listening to lessons can help make the information “stick” for test day.
Get a PMP Exam Prep Book
Purchasing a PMP prep book is another option beyond in-person on online PMP training. A PMP exam prep book can help to clarify the contents of the PMBOK® Guide.
Using a PMP Prep Book can help you gain the knowledge you need to pass the PMP exam by exploring the topics within the PMBOK® Guide from a different perspective.
Look for a PMP prep book that corresponds with the current PMBOK® Guide and exam version – choose one that has been published recently and contains up-to-date content. While older books can still be useful to generally explain project management concepts, if you want to pass the exam, you’ll maximize your study potential if you are using the most recent versions.
For more tips about the essential PMP exam study materials you'll need, watch this short video:
Step 7: Buy a Simulator for PMP Exam Questions
Getting the PMBOK® Guide, taking an online or in-person training course, and investing in a good PMP prep book will all help you on your path to PMP exam success.
But to truly test your knowledge, you need to get an online PMP exam simulator.
What is a PMP Exam Simulator?
The PMP exam is a complex exam. The exam is multiple hours long and it’s not often these days that we need to concentrate in an exam setting for that long. In fact, when was the last time you took an exam? Often, our most recent experience of exams was at school or college. It’s easy to feel out of the habit of operating in an exam setting.
That’s where a simulator comes in. An exam simulator gives you access to PMP exam questions – lots of them. Typically, a simulator comes with access to a number of PMP practice exams. These are tests that mimic the questions and formatting you’ll see in the real exam.
With the PMP exam getting increasingly more complex a simulator is practically a must in order to be as prepared as possible on exam day.
Look for simulators that offer several full-length exams and that can replicate the online environment that you will be in on exam day. Make sure that you check that the PMP questions are written to PMP standards – some online question banks have simple questions designed to test your understanding of what you have learned in a particular section of a training course. These aren’t PMP question; they are review questions. Questions in a PMP exam simulator should have been written by a PMP.
There are free exam simulators on the market. But when it comes to free, you get what you pay for. Questions in free simulators may not accurately reflect the complexity and type of question you will be asked on exam day – but those in a reputable online PMP exam simulator will give you the "real" experience.
A good quality exam simulator will provide you with the realistic experience of a 4-hour exam, and the option to take several exams.
As with the PMP prep book, make sure the simulator you select corresponds with the current PMBOK® Guide and exam version. One quality option can be found at www.pm-exam-simulator.com.
Step 8: Study Hard!
You have your plan in place and the materials you need. Now is the time to start the process of studying hard for your PMP exam success. Here are some study tips.
- Find a quiet place to read the PMBOK® Guide. You should expect to read the PMBOK® Guide at least twice. Remember, approximately 75% of the questions on the PMP exam come from the PMBOK® Guide. You have to know it in detail.
- Split your study between independent study and group study. You will work differently and cover different things when you study with another person.
- Use a variety of study aids to help you. Mixing it up keeps it interesting.
- Take notes. Even if you do most of your learning through online courses, you’ll retain more information if you make your own notes as well.
- Test yourself regularly using the questions in your PMP exam prep book and an online exam simulator.
Work Through Your Study Plan
All you have to do – although it is a big ‘all’ – is to work through your study plan. It won’t all be easy. Be prepared for ups and downs during your studies.
Some sections of the PMBOK® Guide will feel straightforward for you and you’ll feel great about them. Then there will be those sections that are more difficult because you don't have the corresponding experience. Don't despair. Don't think that you are never going to understand this. Thousands of people have passed the exam before you and you can pass it too! Stay positive at all times. You will achieve your goal of becoming a PMP.
If you suffer a study set back, simply look at your plan, work out what you can do to get back on track and start again. This is exactly what you would do on a real project, and planning your PMP studies is no different. Use the project management skills you already have to motivate yourself, revise your plans and get going again!
Step 9: Practice PMP Exam Questions
You can practice sample PMP exam questions a few different ways. It’s a good thing to approach PMP questions in as many ways as possible. It’s all good practice!
Work through exam questions by topic, for example, answering a set of questions on risk management. This will test your knowledge of a particular area of project management.
It’s also important to take full exams. These will give you the experience of answering a lot of questions over a sustained period, on all topics. You’ll be surprised at how much confidence you’ll gain from having worked through a number of test exams. When you face the real thing, it will feel a lot more familiar, and will help you manage nerves on the day.
How to Find PMP Questions
One tip, as we saw above, is to answer questions that you find in your study guides. Your PMP prep book will likely contain some practice questions and you may even be able to find a book of practice questions at your local bookstore. Questions in books are often arranged by knowledge area, so they are good for testing your understanding of certain topics.
However, book-based questions won’t give you the same experience as taking the exam. They can test your knowledge, but they won’t prepare you for the online experience of answering questions on a computer.
Another way to practice sample PMP exam questions is to locate free sample questions. As you make your way through all the free samples you find online two things will happen:
- First, you will get used to answering exam questions, which is good; and
- Second, you will begin to disagree with some of the suggested answers, which is even better.
The reason for this is that free questions are often poor quality, and perhaps are phrased badly. By disagreeing and then opening up your study materials to review what you think the answer should be, you will learn even more. Even the worst exam sample question you find can help you in its unique way to pass the exam. It's all a matter of your personal attitude and knowing that even a bad question can take you further.
Finally, use the simulator you bought in Step 7. The simulator will provide you with the full test experience by utilizing similar type questions as those on the real exam and by limiting you to four hours to complete the exam. Block out the time to do a complete exam. Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed, and that will increase the realistic nature of using a simulator. It’s excellent preparation for what you will face on exam day.
How to Know When You Are Ready
One last but important thing about sample questions: keep track of your score. As time goes by you will notice you are more and more able to answer questions correctly.
Keeping track of your score will let you track your progress and compare your test exam results over time. You can see where you are in your preparation and get a feel for how much more preparation you need to do.
Here is rule of thumb for you: if you consistently answer 85 percent of the questions correctly the first time you answer them, then you are ready to take the exam.
Step 10: Take the Exam
After all that hard work, taking the exam almost sounds like the easy part. But there are a few things to consider that will help you to make this a positive and successful experience.
Try and get a good night's sleep the night before the exam. Being refreshed and having slept enough is important. There is no need for you to stay up until 3am to study the night before the exam. You have studied long and hard and you are now ready for this — so get some sleep. A lot of people choose to take the day of the actual exam off from work. You can sleep in, eat a good breakfast, go for a walk, and relax. That way you won’t be too nervous when you get to the testing center.
It is a good idea to take a test drive to the testing center a week beforehand so that you know where it is. You may also want to try and arrive one hour early just in case you miss the bus or have car problems.
Here is what you should bring with you to the testing center:
- Two forms of official identification with a photo
- Water and some snacks
- A sweater or light jacket in case the room is cold
- Foam earplugs because it could be noisy.
Before the exam starts there is a short tutorial that explains how to use the computer and software. Don't skip it. There is important information in the tutorial. If you take the tutorial, then you can be sure that you understand everything and don't make any mistakes because you made assumptions.
A Note on Notes
You will be given scratch paper/note boards when you enter the testing room. These are for you to use to make notes during the exam. However, you cannot start writing anything before you click ‘Start’.
You are not allowed to make any notes or write out your ‘brain dump’ during the 15-minute tutorial period.
Take the tutorial, and when the exam clock has started ticking, write out anything you wish to have to hand.
You’ve started your exam. Good luck!
Congratulations! You have achieved your goal of becoming a certified project manager! You've got that PMP behind your name as soon as you pass the exam. There is no waiting period. As soon as you see "Congratulations" on the screen you hold the PMP certification. Go home and send an email to all your friends and colleagues and tell them that you are now a PMP. Celebrate!
Step 11: (Bonus Step) How to Recertify as a PMP
Every three years you will need to collect and claim Professional Development Units (PDUs) to keep your certification active. This shows your commitment to professional development and continuous learning. It’s a way of demonstrating that you are still active in the project management world and you keep your skills fresh. After all, would you want to hire someone who passed their PMP exam 20 years ago but hasn’t managed any projects since? Recertification demonstrates to employers and colleagues that you continue to be committed to your project management career.
You will need 60 PDUs every three years to recertify. All the details are explained in PMI's Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Handbook. You log your PDUs in the Continuing Certification Requirements System, which also has a handy tracker to show you how many PDUs you still need to collect and your deadlines for achieving them.
How to Earn PDUs
You can earn PDUs by attending local PMI Chapter dinner meetings, by volunteering for PMI, or by attending seminars offered by a trusted and experienced education provider. There are lots of ways to earn PDUs so you are bound to find something that you can do.
The good news is that there are many ways to earn free PDUs.
Our favorite way is podcasts! And among podcasts there is no better than The Project Management Podcast which will give you a total of 60 Free PDUs.
Another way to earn PDUs is to start preparing for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® exam which is becoming a natural next step for any PMP. To learn how to both prepare for the PMI-ACP exam and earn PDUs towards your PMP certification check out www.agileprepcast.com/pdu.
This complete guide to becoming a PMP® has covered the 10 essential steps for planning your journey to passing the PMP exam. Hopefully it has explained everything you needed to know to take your next step. In summary:
- Download the credential handbook and check your eligibility
- Create a study plan that works for you
- Join PMI to make use of the discounts on offer
- Apply for the exam on a date that fits with your study plan
- Download the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition as a PDF – this will be the document you refer to the most during your training
- Choose exam prep training
- Invest in a PMP exam simulator
- Study hard, regularly and in line with your plan
- Revise practice questions and take full practice exams too, until you feel ready to tackle the real thing
- Take the exam… and hopefully you’ll see the letters ‘PMP’ on the screen once you’ve completed it.
You now have a complete roadmap to passing the PMP laid out for you. What’s your first step going to be?
© 2020 OSP International LLC. All rights reserved. This copyrighted article may not be reproduced without express written consent of OSP International LLC.
About the author: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted PMP expert. He has helped over 35,000 students prepare for the PMP Exam with The Project Management PrepCast at http://www.pm-prepcast.com/pmprepcast and The PMP Exam Simulator at http://www.pm-prepcast.com/simulator.