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TOPIC: PMP Study Approach

PMP Study Approach 3 years 2 months ago #3646

  • Todd Shevlin
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Below is a combination of a study approach and lessons learned. I attached the file, but if it doesn't load correctly I also pasted in the text from Word file. Everyone has their own process, and your experience may differ, but I found this worked well for me, and I hope you get some value out of it. Good luck!

PMP Preparation – V 1.0

There are many ways to prepare for the PMP certification. It really boils down to your preference in how to prepare, the amount of time and money you’re willing to dedicate to the cause, and finding the most effective mix of training where you can prepare enough, but not too much. But before you can even register for the exam, there are certain criteria you must meet:

1) If you hold a college degree, you need to be able to document 4,500 hours of project management experience. If you do not hold a degree, then you must document 7,500 hours. It would behoove you to begin gathering this information, checking with those employers/verifiers that they agree with your numbers, and making sure you are eligible.
2) You must have a minimum of 35 contact hours of education. This loosely means “classroom” education, but there are various ways to achieve this requirement, and at many different price points. This will be discussed in detail later.
3) While not required, it’s highly recommended you sign up as a member of PMI (The Project Management Institute). It’s about $140 to sign up, but you will receive a discount on your exam roughly equal to the membership cost. You will also receive a free digital copy of the PMBOK, and access to forums, templates, etc.

I will now discuss some of the training options, what I used, and the relative value of each item. At minimum you should sign up for a service that will provide you the minimum contact hours, obtain a copy of the PMBOK, pick up a study guide, and take a lot of practice quizzes and exams. Here are some options:

PMBOK: This is the bible of Project Management. Although very dry and repetitive, this book contains the majority of the information you will need for the exam. It should be read at least once, but don’t do this right away! I will later explain why you should hold off on the PMBOK at first. If you’re not a member of PMI I think this will cost you about $30.

Study Guides: As previously mentioned, you should pick up at least one study guide, if not two. These will explain the PMBOK material, provide exercises, practice questions, etc. Here are some options:

RMC/Rita Mulcahy – RMC offers a variety of packages, but it comes at a price. She is world-renowned as one of the leaders in PM Prep materials and services. I used her most recent edition of her study guide, which can be picked up for about $60, possibly less if you get it used. Make sure you use the most recent one, or you’ll be studying the wrong material. If you want to purchase the whole package, it will cost you around $800. There are plenty of good options at lower price points.

Head First - This is a very good book, especially if you are a visual learner. It provides many pictures, real world examples, and helps to explain the concepts and interrelationships between activities. It provides many exercises and practice questions, including a full 200-question exam at the end, that can also be done online. For about $30-$35, this is a great option for people on a tight budget.

Andy Crowe – While I didn’t actually use his book, I have seen many good recommendations for it. You should do some research and decide if this book is for you. He provides many good examples to help explain the concepts.

Classroom Study: As previously mentioned, 35 contact hours are required in order to sit for the exam. While there is no retroactive limit for this (i.e. – you may have had PM training 10 years ago), I highly recommend you take a course that covers new material and the 4th edition of the PMBOK.

PM – PrepCast – This is a podcast video presentation that covers all main topics needed, and then some. At $130, I found this was a great value. There are over 100 videos, interviews with PMPs, and and powerpoint slides to keep things interesting (certainly more-so than the PMBOK). The host, Cornelius Fichtner, does a good job of explaining the topics to help you get your head around the framework. This course will also cover the entire 35 contact hour requirement, and all you need to do is pass a 20-25 question quiz at the end to achieve the certificate for the hours. Also, these videos are downloaded to a portable device such as an iPod or iPhone, and there is no expiration or device limit on their usage.

RMC – as previously mentioned, you can spend a lot of money on the RMC course, but there are cheaper and arguably better ways to learn the material. If you want the “Cadillac” of PMP Training and have the budget, then this may be an option for you. As a side note, she has an “in your face” approach which at times can be arrogant and demeaning. If you’re okay with this (and as a PM I’m sure you’ve faced this before), then go for it. If you don’t want to be belittled and don’t have thick skin, then her approach is probably not best.

Andy Crowe – The Andy Crowe online course (Velociteach) is very good, has a lot of informative videos, documents, practice questions, etc. It also comes at “potentially” a great price (about $70), but with one drawback. The price and access to the course is directly correlated. This is a good approach if you have a relatively short timeline to your exam. For $70 you get one week of access, but you must make sure you have ample time available in that week. For one month the price rises to $189. Any more time than that and the value begins to drop off as there are more inexpensive options. This can be used as somewhat of a crash course, and requires dedication of time and effort. If you have some time off from work, or can dedicate 4-5 hours a day to study, then this is a great option.

Crash Courses – There are many of these available. Most of them are 2-5 days, are very intense, and cover a lot of information. Their costs can vary greatly. If this type of training works for you and you want to cram, go for it. The two situations where I would recommend these is if you had previously trained for the PMP, but didn’t take the exam, and just want to refresh and learn the material before your exam, or if you have a deadline for your job where you MUST pass it by a certain date. It did take one of these through Villanova about 6 years ago, and never took the exam, but I decided to go full force to retrain myself this time around.

Practice Exams: There are many quizzes and exams available, some are free, some are paid, and the quality and difficulty vary greatly. Fortunately, I took about 2,500 practice questions, so I have a lot of experience in this area.

Free Exams: I would not take any exams until you have at least skimmed over all of the material first. Whether this is going through your study guide, completing your course, or reading the PMBOK. The reason? You don’t want to lose confidence, and scoring 50% on questions with only 4 possible answers may deflate your confidence and your motivation. A lot of this training is self-study, so you need to “feel good” about your efforts.

ExamCentral – you can sign up for this online. It provides a good amount of options and questions for a free service. However, many of the questions are not especially good. It’s clear that many of them were written by people with subpar English writing skills. But it’s a good place to start, and the price is right.

HeadFirst – they have a free full online exam, and if you use their study guide they have practice questions at the end of each chapter. I would make this one of the LAST exams you take prior to the actual exam, as it’s a pretty good proxy to test for readiness.

RMC – If you use her study guide, there’s a VERY abridged quiz on her CD Rom. It’s about 25 questions in total, but they’re good questions, and you should take the quiz.

Oliver Lehmann – Oliver provides a 75 question quiz, and a 175 question exam. This is good for “building muscle”, and is generally regarded as more difficult than the actual exam. If you take both of these exams and score fairly well on them (75%-80%), then there is a good chance you are ready for the real one.

Paid Exams: These can vary in price and quality as well, and it’s ultimately up to you how much practice you need before you take the real exam. In hindsight, I probably overdid it. But I would recommend at least 1,500 practice questions in total, and at least 4-5 full-length exams. Do not underestimate the difference between answering 50 questions 4 times, and 200 questions all at once. Your stamina, test strategy, etc., will be tested on the full-length tests.

PMPerfect – In terms of value per question, this is one of the best deals out there. There are about 25 quizzes, most are either 10 questions or 50 questions. A 3 month subscription will cost about $60. The question quality is very suspect, and I had many disagreements regarding their interpretation of the PMBOK in their justifications, but if you’re just looking for quick quizzes and practice, this is a pretty good option. You can also take these as you study, because there are practice quizzes for each knowledge area. So I would sign up for this early, and do them as you go. It also has good diagnostics to show how you are performing. Just try not to get frustrated when you get a wrong answer, as many times you may actually be correct.

PMStudy – These are probably the best proxy to the actual exam. Overall, the questions are very well-written and I had many fewer disagreements with their answers than on PMPerfect. They have four full-length exams. You can take the first one for free. I did not include this in the free section, as I recommend getting the subscription to all four of them. They are $25 a piece, or you can get the subscription for 12 days for $60. I would take these as you are approaching your exam (around 1-2 weeks before your schedule date). The fourth exam is probably the most difficult, and I would say is closest to the exam that I took.

RMC – While I’m sure these are very good questions, I believe the price point is too high. It is about $300 for full access, and it’s my understanding that the exams lose effectiveness after 2-4 times due to questions being repeated. For that price, I would want a larger question pool and at least 6 exams with full effectiveness. Once again, if you want the Cadillac plan, this may be a good option for you. I found I did not need this.

PM-Exam Simulator – this is offered by Cornelius from PM-PrepCast. I did not use this option, though there is a 3-day trial. My understanding is that it’s pretty good, and much better than their previous version. It’s a relatively new product, but is likely to continue improving and should be a good option in the near future.

Additional Items: There are some additional items and supplemental training tools you can utilize. These are completely at your discretion, and depend on your situation. Below are a couple options:

Flashcards – These are available from multiple vendors. The prices vary, but not creatly. About $30-$50 is a good midpoint for these. They are useful if you want to study in small increments, want to learn definitions, and to test your understanding. They can typically be either physical or on a mobile device.

Mobile Applications – there are a few of these available, some are free, others are a nominal fee of a couple dollars. I used “The ITTO Game” to help me with Inputs/Tools/Techniques/Outputs, and the PMStudy app for quick checks on definitions.

Now that I’ve covered the main types of training, I would like to propose a general study/training strategy, with a rough timeline and my preferred order of studying. This is my personal opinion, and you are welcome to prepare any way you feel works for you.

Before you start studying:
1) Make sure you sign up for PMI and get the PMBOK. Also download other materials from their site like the PMP handbook, code of ethics, etc.
2) Check for Prometric test sites near you, and their availability. I made the mistake of waiting too long and had to go to a different facility. Also use this time to decide when you want to schedule your exam, if you will need a hotel the night before, etc. If you have your contact hours and want to schedule your exam so you have a deadline to work against, go ahead and do it. Although I may recommend waiting to schedule until you’ve at least had time to go through the material. You don’t want to rush into the exam without proper preparation. But you also don’t want to wait too long or you may lose interest or “over-study”.
3) If possible, find a study group, spouse, or someone else who can help you study and/or be your champion. I made my wife help me study, and now she’s studying for the exam herself!
4) Create a PM Plan for your studies. It doesn’t have to be as thorough as what PMI recommends, but a checklist, tentative completion date, target goals, “earned value”, etc., will help keep you motivated and on track.

On to the study plan:
I previously mentioned NOT reading the PMBOK first. If you want to skim through it to get a feel for what you need to learn, be my guest, but I wouldn’t read it cover to cover. There are many terms used in the PMBOK, which may not mean much to you in the early stages, and it’s very dry and repetitive. You’ll get much more value out of it after you understand the framework and how everything fits together.

Total Time Frame: 2-3 months. Unless you’re very astute at PMP information, or very un-motivated, this should be a good time frame for preparation. I would not try to learn all of this information in under a month, nor would I drag it out to 6 months. I dragged it out 6 years ago, and never got around to it. Feel free to adjust based on your personal situation, but I feel this is a good pace at which to proceed.

#1 – Class
Time Frame – 1 week to 4 weeks.

This should be your first area of focus. You want to get your contact hours so you can schedule your exam, and you also want to learn the concepts in a manner that’s relatively painless. Find a class that suits you, and get started.

#2 – Study Guide
Time Frame – 4-6 weeks

This should also be started early, but I would recommend with a short lag in relation to the class. This way you can learn the material in the class, then essentially follow it up with the information in the book to reinforce it as you learn new material in the class. This will help it stick better and you won’t forget as much. Also take the practice quizzes at the end of each chapter as you go.

#3 – Read The PMBOK
Time Frame – 1-2 weeks

Now that you understand most of the main concepts, ITTOs, interrelationships, diagrams, etc., as you read the PMBOK it will make more sense to you from the beginning than if you had read it early on. Make sure you jot down anything that is still confusing, or areas that tend to be difficult such as risk, quality, and procurement. This will vary from one person to the next. I found quality relatively easy since I had previous Six Sigma training. Depending on your background, you’ll find difficulty in areas that others do not.

#4 – Take practice quizzes/tests.
Time Frame – 2-4 weeks

You can begin these as you read through the PMBOK. You should know enough about project management at this point to feel fairly comfortable taking at least 50-question quizzes. Once you finish the PMBOK, and shore up any knowledge areas that are deficient, begin the 200 question tests. At this time, review the ones you get wrong, and begin to decide what your test-day strategy will be. Will you fly through the easy ones, and go back and review the difficult ones? Will you skip all of the math questions until the end of the exam? Will you take one 10-minute break, two 5-minute breaks? As you muddle through the 200 questions, it should become apparent to you how you want to handle the exam.

Test Day – Make sure you wear comfortable clothes, get some sleep, and if possible get a hotel room the night before. Don’t do any studying the day before other than some light review if desired. Practice your “brain dump” sheet so you can write it down at the beginning of the exam (brain dump = math formulas, ITTOs, process interactions, whatever you don’t want to remember in the middle of the exam).

That’s about it. I followed this approach and passed the exam proficient in all areas. I hope you see similar results. - Todd Shevlin, PMP
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