PMP Exam Prep: How to Pass the PMP Certification Exam

A fellow Tactical PM reader asked me how to best prepare for the PMP certification exam. I passed my PMP certification in 2001, and the types of training material have changed over the past 23 years.  My PMP Exam Prep would remain the same, but the format and training choices would differ slightly.

After having spent so many years in real life project management, I am planning to do a formal certification. Can you please provide some guidance and an approach on how I can prepare for the PMP certification exam?

PMP Exam Prep Step 1: Have a Plan

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines 47 project management processes within 5 project management process groups and 10 knowledge areas.  I wanted to have sufficient time to prepare for a test that has a $400 testing fee!

I recommend looking at the calendar, setting a date, and building a study plan to support the testing date.

I would plan for a 12-week study plan and treat your PMP Exam Prep like a class.

Since you are a project manager, developing a project schedule for your PMP Exam Prep should be easy!

PMP Exam Prep Step 2: Get your PMP Exam study materials ready

You’re going to need a few study materials to get you prepared for the exam.  There are a lot of training options out there, and I recommend the following:

Get a hard copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge

If you’re a PMI member, you can download the standard for free, but I found it helpful to have a physical copy of the book for notes and future reference. After all, scrolling through a 600-page PDF file is kind of a pain when you’re studying!

Annotate the pages in the margins, and feel free to highlight and mark the relevant pages.

Pick up a copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge and get reading!

Get a PMP Certification Exam book

There are a lot of books on PMP test preparation.  I surveyed my fellow Tactical PMs in our Tactical PM Community of Practice Facebook group, and here are a few recommendations.

PMP Master Prep Training ManualPMP Exam Prep, Eighth Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP ExamPMP Exam Prep Questions, Answers, & Explanations: 1000+ PMP Practice Questions with Detailed Solutions

Pick up some PMP Exam Prep flashcards

Do you know the difference between a project plan and a project schedule? You’ll run into many different terms, formulas, and definitions. I found flashcards helpful for learning the PMBOK definitions of the various terms in formulas. You may be a PM with years of experience, but the exam is based on PMBOK terms, so you must be prepared.

Take a look at Rita Mulcahy’s Hot Topics Flashcards for Passing the PMP and CAPM Exams, or use ExamTime’s software to build your own flashcards for FREE.

Immerse yourself in PMP Exam preparation on your way to work

I love mobile learning while on the road to work. With an hour commute to the office, I’d add the PM PrepCast to the PMP preparation list.  The folks at OSP International LLC have produced several PMP exam preparation products including the free PDU podcast.  You’ll want to optimize your PMP exam preparation and adding the audio lessons will help retain that PMP preparation knowledge.

Simulate your testing experience with PMP exam simulator software

One of the keys to my PMP exam success was using a PMP Exam simulator.  I had a software program that offered 2 quizzes for each knowledge area and two comprehensive exams.  I would take both sample quizzes as I read each knowledge area and studied the PMBOK.  I took the comprehensive, complete exam simulation the weekend before the actual exam.

PMP Exam Simulator Options

If you are looking for some online PMP exam simulator options, consider the following tools:

FeaturePremium PMP Exam SimulatorFree PMP Exam SimulatorPMP Exam SimulatorPMP Super Simulator
Access Duration90 Days7 DaysUnlimitedUnlimited
# of Questions1600201400Row
# of Exams8115Row
Detailed Explanations
Earned Value Calculator   
PM Process Quick Reference  
Available  on PC, Tablet or Phone
Unlimited Repeats
 Access the Premium PMP Exam SimulatorTry the FREE PMP Exam SimulatorTry the PMP Exam SimulatorTry the PMP Super Simulator

PM Master Prep Presents: How to Ensure You Pass the PMP

PMP Exam Prep Step 3: Join a study group

At my work, I was fortunate to find a study group.  One of the senior program managers was a PMP and facilitated a 10 week study group where we reviewed each knowledge area, took sample quizzes and worked through sample problems.  It was a valuable part of the PMP training experience and I quickly learned how to do a forward and backward pass across a project schedule to find the critical path!

If your employer doesn’t have a PMP study group, check your local PMI group, check, or join one of the LinkedIn discussion groups on PMP Preparation. These are all communities where you can ask questions and find fellow colleagues looking to pass the PMP.

PMP Exam Prep Step 4: Study per your training plan

Yep. There isn’t much more to say about this, but simply put in the time to study the materials, participate in the study groups, take the practice exams, and follow the plan you defined in step 1.

If you’re a full-time working professional, it’s going to be a challenge balancing work deadlines, family time, and your study schedule. My recommendation is to block out the time on your calendar and treat this preparation time like a college class. If you were taking a night class after work, you’d be gone 2-3 hours a few nights a week. Reserve a conference room or go to a library and dedicate the time to reviewing your materials.

One tip I would recommend for note-taking is using a mind-mapping tool.  Mind mapping is a powerful note-taking and retention technique that helps you build visual branches of ideas that will help you retain knowledge.  I mentioned ExamTime previously as they support mind mapping but you can also use tools like MindGenius, Mindjet or Xmind.

PMP Exam Prep Step 5: Summarize your material the weekend before Test Day

The weekend before your test, you should summarize your notes and formulas and create a one-page study sheet. If you’re using a mind map, you may want to create a summary view in a mind map formula. I simply took a single sheet of paper and summarized the key terms, formulas, and any areas that I knew I was uncertain about.

Yes…this was written in a tiny font!

That weekend, you also want to take your final simulation test. With your one-page summary sheet, a memorized list of formulas, and a successful simulation test under your belt, you’re ready for test day!

PMP Exam Prep Step 6: Test Day

Besides the usual sleep well before test day and eat good breakfast suggestions, once you sit for the test, write down all the formulas you memorized. Recalling earned value calculations from memory during an exam can be a pain, so write down the important formulas before you answer a question.

Go through each question and note any questions where you took a guess or had an uncertain answer. After you’re done with the first pass, go back and revise any answers.

Click submit with confidence because you know you are prepared!

PMP Exam Prep Step 7: Celebrate and recognize your achievement

Congratulations!  You passed!  Recognize your 3 months of work with a dinner out and take pride in your success.  Add your PMP credential to your Outlook signature, update your LinkedIn profile, and let your employer know you’ve passed.

I would let Human Resources and your immediate manager know you have successfully achieved PMP certification!

What about Boot Camps?

A training alternative is to attend a boot camp that immerses you in the PMBOK for four days to prepare you for the test successfully.  I’ve met a few PMPs who benefited from these workshops, but don’t assume 4 days is enough to pass the test.  The point of obtaining the PMP is not simply to pass a test but to gain foundational knowledge to apply to future projects.  I don’t think you’ll get that in a 4-day class, but consider it a supplemental tool if you want to add a boot camp to your training program.

If you are considering additional PMP certification resources, consider a PMP Certification Training provider with a track record of successful PMP students!

How the heck am I going to pay for this?

PMP Exam prep and passing the PMP aren’t cheap. You’ll invest in preparation materials and the exam fee itself. Depending on the selected training materials, you could spend close to $299 – $3000 in preparation and exam fees. I recommend getting some assistance from your employer and building a business case for your PMP certification.

Prepare and Pass the PMP Exam

The PMP certification provided me with a shared knowledge framework for managing projects in organizations with varying project management degrees.  For professional career development, it is a valuable certification that opens doors to new project management interviews and job opportunities.  Successfully preparing and passing the PMP certification exam is achievable if you develop a plan and execute it.

I hope you found the PMP Exam Prep Steps helpful!


Andrew Makar

Andrew Makar, DMIT, PMP, CSM is an IT director with delivery experience across projects, programs and portfolios in Digital Marketing, Automotive, Software and Financial Management industries. He is an enthusiastic leader who effectively translates project management theory into practical application. His area of interest and practice is in implementing Agile processes and SCRUM techniques to deliver better software to his customers. Find out more about Andrew on and please reach out and connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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