The Complete Guide to PMP® 35 Contact Hours of Project Management Education
Those contact hours that Project Management Institute (PMI)® demands before you can even apply for your PMP® exam cause a lot of confusion. First, there are a lot of them! You need to rack up 35. Second, what does 'contact hour' even mean? Many students opt for online project management education these days and don't have any face-to-face 'contact' with their tutors.
Then you have to work out whether your course counts as 'formal' education, which training company to choose and that's before you've even started to work out how to record it all in a way that meets the PMI® standards…
Don't worry! This article will tell you everything you need to know about the contact hours requirement for the PMP® exam. We'll debunk some myths, define it all clearly and give you the tools you need to complete your application confidently.
So let's get started. First, let's look at what PMI® actually require from you.
- Chapter 1You need 35 contact hours of formal project management education
- Chapter 2Contact hours never expire (hurrah!)
- Chapter 3What else doesn't count?
- Chapter 4Can I count PDUs?
- Chapter 5The documentation you need
- Chapter 6Help! I need more contact hours!
- Chapter 7How to get 35 contact hours for PMP free
- Chapter 8Paid-for PMP training options
- Chapter 9How can I get the 35 contact hours online?
- Chapter 10PMP Online Training or Classroom? Which is better?
- Chapter 11Make sure your course is structured
- Chapter 12How do I receive the hours after online PMP learning?
- Chapter 13Summary
You need 35 contact hours of formal project management education
The Project Management Professional Handbook, which you can get online from PMI, specifies what you need (it's on page 8 if you want to check it out). In summary, the pre-requisite training must be:
- At least 35 hours long
- Measured in 'hours of specific instruction'
- About project management (just in case you weren't clear on this point!).
Let's break that down a bit further.
A misconception about the educational hours requirement is that you have to take one course that counts for all the hours. That's wrong. You can do several courses that in total equal the 35 hours you need.
It might seem unnecessary to define an hour, but as I've been asked this question lots of times I'll do it here.
One contact hour is equivalent to one actual hour (that's 60 minutes) of training or instruction received. That's what it says in the PMP handbook. So, if you attend a course that runs from 9 am to 5 pm for one day and there is an hour for lunch in the middle, that's seven hours that you can claim as formal project management education.
Online courses and project management podcasts also count, even if you don't ever meet your tutor in person. They follow the same rules: one hour of instruction equals one contact hour.
Formal project management education means classes and training, online, virtual or face-to-face, that are run by a reputable vendor. That could be a community college, university, national training provider, a local firm or a training business operating entirely online. If you don't know whether your chosen provider is reputable, ask around or read some reviews. It's important because if you are audited you'll need their support in the form of a certificate of attendance or similar.
That means you can't just study A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) yourself, or even as a group. Self-study, however good and structured you make it, isn't adequate to meet PMI's requirements.
The project management education they offer must cover – unsurprisingly – project management topics. Check that your course covers these areas:
- Project quality
- Project scope
- Project schedule
- Project budget
- Project communications
- Project risk
- Project procurement
- Project integration management.
As a project manager you might find other courses interesting and relevant to your job, but a course on general leadership skills, for example, won't count towards your PMP® training hours.
The important thing, whatever type of project management education you do, is to be able to provide a complete and authoritative documentation of what you have studied. This includes certificates, tests (and your results), the course syllabus, course descriptions, and transcripts to fully support your application.
This paperwork is essential to be able to prove to PMI that you meet the requirements for the PMP® exam.
Before you research any more training, just stop for a second. Think back across your career. What training have you already done? That's relevant because…
Contact hours never expire (hurrah!)
The great news is that project management education hours do not expire. You don't have to have completed your training in the last few years or anything like that. Even if you are nearing retirement right now, the studies you undertook at college still count (assuming you can prove what you did and they are relevant to the PMP).
The only thing to bear in mind is that you have to document your 35 hours of contact for PMP applications, so you have to have completed the training before you apply. You can't state on your application form that you are intending to do training in the future. That won't count, and PMI will reject your application.
What else doesn't count?
Myth: PMI led-sessions always count towards your instructional hours. This simply isn't true. You can't count PMI Chapter dinner meetings, for example, or any Chapter meeting unless it is spent conducting a learning activity.
There are other things that don't count towards your instructional hours requirement. Self-study, as we saw above, doesn't count, so however much time you spend pouring over the PMBOK® Guide you can't gain credit for that.
Degree programs such as MBAs will not count in their entirety. You cannot tell PMI that you have an MBA and expect that to pass the credential application process for the contact hours, although you can document each relevant and applicable class you took within the program and receive credit for those.
If you have completed a university or college course on project management that met for three hours per week for 15 weeks, you would record 45 hours. If only a portion of a course dealt with project management, only the hours spent on project management can be applied toward the total.
Can I count PDUs?
No. If you are not yet a PMP you will not have PDUs. PDUs are not the same as contact hours, even though you might have seen the terms used interchangeably online. Let's clear up this problem now.
If you haven't come across the term before, PDUs are Professional Development Units (PDUs). They are credits given for continuous professional development after you are certified. These can be earned in a number of ways including volunteering, self-study and also formal project management education.
- Contact Hours
- The GOOD News!
- If you attended a PDU training before you passed your PMP exam, then these PDUs will simply count as 'hours of contact' for you. This is because all valid project management training you receive before your PMP exam falls under 'contact hours' - no matter what the certificate you received says.
Contact hours are hours earned before becoming certified. They can only be earned through traditional, formal education time (such as classroom training, online training and distance learning programs like my own product, the Project Management PrepCast) that focus on project management.
You do not have to collect PDUs until after you are certified and many people only work out the difference between the two at this point. Now you know!
The documentation you need
During your application you'll need to prove to PMI that in total, all your courses (if you took more than one) add up to the required number of educational hours and are formal and cover the appropriate topics. Documentation, while tedious to pull together, is a fail-safe way to do this, and it covers you in case you are audited during your application process.
The easiest way to prove that you attended the course and that it was relevant is to use a certificate of attendance from your training provider. This needs to show:
- That you attended a course (in other words, your name is on it)
- How many hours of project management training the course covered
- The training company's details
- Whether you passed or failed if there was an exam component.
If you have any doubts about whether the project management training course you have signed up for is going to meet the requirements, then check it out with PMI. They are the final authority and everything you need to know is documented in the official Project Management Professional (PMP) Handbook, which can be found on their website. Contact PMI directly with any questions or concerns.
When you've been through all your past project management learning experiences and documented it all, there are two likely outcomes:
- You can prove you have 35 hours
- You can't!
If you can't prove you have already gained the necessary formal project management education then you need to look at ways to get more training before you can submit your application.
Help! I need more contact hours!
You've got plenty of choices about how to earn more instructional hours. Let's get specific about how you can get them. Here are a few ways:
- University education e.g. relevant courses that made up your MBA or MSc (note that not all your courses or modules would be relevant – you can only count the ones that majored on project management and that map logically to the knowledge areas). You can also opt to just take one module at university-level: you don't need a whole Master's degree if you would prefer only to sit one course. If you think this option would work for you, search for courses on the GMAT website.
- Continuing education/higher education courses
- Classroom courses
- Online courses
- Distance-learning courses, whether led by a 'live' instructor or online
- Multimedia training
- Formal training courses offered by your local PMI Chapter.
It is strongly recommended that you choose to attend training that is given by a Registered Education Provider (REPs). REPs are training providers who have been evaluated and reviewed by PMI. You can have confidence that the content is appropriate and relevant. You'll also know that the training has been officially approved by PMI.
There are REPs all around the world and they offer courses both through face-to-face and distance/online modes, so however you prefer to study, you can find your PMP 35 hours in a convenient and cost-effective way.
How to get 35 contact hours for PMP free
Did I say cost-effective? How about free? You can even build up your hours at no cost to you. First, check again to see if you can dredge up any more certificates for courses you have done in the past. That investment has already been spent so you may as well get credit for it if you can. A tip is to go through your past performance appraisals as your training for the year is often recorded in there. It's amazing how much you can forget from one year to the next!
If you can't use previous training as a way to boost your free PMP contact hours then here are two other ways that you can achieve your training hours for free if you don't already have enough formal project management education.
1. Employer programs: As long as the content can be logically mapped to the project management knowledge areas then you can count courses, seminars and workshops put on by your company. As you attend these as part of your day job they are free.
2. PMI Component programs: PMI Chapters, Communities of Practice and PMI itself offer training sessions that can count towards your PMP contact hours for free.
Both of these options can give you formal project management education to record for your PMP application – and you don't have to pay for them!
Paid-for PMP training options
Free is good, but you may not be able to fulfill all the requirements with free hours. The only other choice available to you is to pay for online or classroom training.
You already have experience of classroom training, even if you have to remember way back to your school days, so I'll talk a bit more about online learning as this is a newer learning option. It's also one that is growing incredibly fast. Researchers expect the market for corporate online learning to grow 13% per year, and with 77% of companies offering online learning to their staff it's highly likely that you will take an online course at some point in your career.
How can I get the 35 contact hours online?
There are a number of online and distance learning providers who can offer you the PMP 35 hours online complete courses or courses that will contribute to your training requirement.
Look for courses that:
- Provide a complete PMP course so that you don't have to worry about making up the hours with other training
- Are available to download immediately so you can get started straight away
- Provide video lessons, as this is a convenient and easy format for learning
- Provide audio lessons, as this offers a great alternative to videos when watching a screen isn't convenient, such as when you are driving or preparing a meal
- Allow you to download the video and audio lessons to your phone, tablet and computer, so that you can play them whenever and wherever you are
- Offers workbooks so that you can make your own notes as you go
- Gives you sample exam questions because taking the PMP exam is the reason you are doing this course, so you need to practice for the exam as well as learn the concepts!
- Are offered by a PMI R.E.P as this ensures that they have been quality checked and meet PMI's requirements.
PMP Online Training or Classroom? Which is better?
This is a really difficult question to answer because there is no single answer that is applicable for everyone. Let's consider the pros and cons of PMP online training and classroom training.
- Very flexible, meaning you can study at any time, making use of your commute, for example.
- You can access them from anywhere on any device as they are very portable.
- Normally cheaper (sometimes a lot cheaper!) than classroom courses.
- You have to be self-motivated.
- You have to find your own support network as you aren't in the classroom with others.
These are often called PMP 'boot camps'.
- The trainer is right there to ask if you have problems.
- The class environment can help to keep you motivated.
- They normally happen in a compressed period of time e.g. a week so you complete the course quickly.
- Classroom courses only happen on a fixed schedule so they are less flexible.
- Normally more expensive than online courses as the training company has to pay the venue and the trainer.
- You need to take time away from work to complete the course.
It's impossible to say which option will be personally better for your PMP formal education. If you prefer the social buzz of being in a group and the networking that collective learning offers, then you'll know a classroom environment will suit you better. However, we are seeing a greater and greater number of people choosing online training for their PMP. The reasons they give is that it's hard to get time off work for training, and they prefer a cheaper, flexible option that allows them to study when it's convenient.
You'll have to make your own mind up about what would give you the best chance of success when it comes to learning the project management knowledge areas.
Make sure your course is structured
Whatever option you go for, make sure that the formal project management education you choose is structured. That means that there are a number of modules or lessons to work through and that it is organized in a logical way. You will be able to take in the concepts and absorb the ideas more effectively if your course material lends itself to structured learning.
For example, in the Project Management PrepCast, we offer 10 structured lessons on applied PMP concepts. We've taken feedback from students into account and prepared lessons with experts to explain the theoretical concepts in easy-to-understand English and in terms of everyday project management situations.
Those 10 lessons are just part of the 140 structured lessons that make up the whole course. I'd recommend that you opt for a course that is broken down like this so that the lessons are easy to digest and short enough to listen to or watch in a single study session. And as they are part of an integrated, structured course, they all fit together to give you a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know to pass the exam.
Another benefit of structured learning is that it's faster. Really. As each concept builds on the next you learn how to put the PMBOK® Guide ideas together in a way that makes sense in the real world. You aren't jumping around in topics so everything makes sense more quickly – resulting in a shorter study time overall and less requirement on your part to go over the materials again and again or invest in other books.
The PM PrepCast covers all the concepts, tools and techniques you need to be familiar with to take the PMP® Certification exam. Our students know that the course covers the material from the most current PMBOK® Guide. And what's even better? As a PMI Registered Education Provider you can have confidence in the quality.
How do I receive the hours after online PMP learning?
In a classroom situation, the tutor hands you a certificate on your way out, maybe after you have completed a test. Professional online PMP training works in exactly the same way.
The PM PrepCast, for example, ends with a final exam. This project management test demonstrates that you have understood the key concepts. As a PMI R.E.P we have to provide an assessment. It acts as an assurance that you have successfully completed the course. As a further assurance, and also to give you time to adequately prepare for the test, you cannot take the exam immediately after purchasing the course. There is a two week period where you can review and study the materials. After two weeks has passed, you can log into the PM PrepCast website and take the exam.
Once you have successfully taken the exam and passed, you can print your certificate. The certificate clearly states that you are entitled to claim your full amount of 35 hours required for the PMP exam. It's all the evidence you need for your application.
If that all sounds tricky, don't worry – it's not! The student workbook that accompanies the course includes a detailed section on how to do this. There's even a step-by-step guide to what to put on your PMP application form.
This complete guide to the PMP contact hours requirement has hopefully explained everything you ever wanted to know about the pre-requisite for formal project management education. In summary:
- You need 35 hours of formal project management education before you apply for the PMP exam
- You can get credit for project management training you have done in the past if you have the documentation to prove it
- You can earn your hours with online or classroom training
- There are advantages and disadvantages of both models: you'll have to decide what suits your learning style best.
- Online learning from a R.E.P. comes with all the guarantees and certificates you would expect from a reputable face-to-face provider so it is a valid (and common) learning choice.
Now you have the complete picture about the instructional hours required for your PMP application. Why not check out some of these other articles to help you prepare for the rest of your PMP application?
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