Many project managers’ thoughts are turning to career development at this time of year, and the goals they want to set for themselves over the coming months. Is becoming a PMP® on your list of goals for 2015? If so, follow this guide to start the process off well and increase your chances of exam success.
Step 1: Get your application right
First, you have to apply. All the information is on the PMI website, so take a look (or view ESI’s handy guide). The most important thing is to ensure you meet all the pre-requisites. There is no point in applying if your application will get rejected at the first hurdle as you don’t meet the criteria.
Don’t get disheartened if you don’t meet the criteria. Check out the requirements for the CAPM credential instead – you may be eligible to apply for and sit that one. If you don’t fancy that, make 2015 the year you hit all the requirements by ensuring you’ve got your study hours and practical project management experience.
If you are eligible, complete the paperwork. You can do this online. It takes a while, so gather what you need before starting your application, especially details of references (you should check with them that they are happy to support your application prior to providing their details). It’s easier to gather all your project experience in a separate file too so you can simply copy and paste as necessary. Then send it off with the fee.
Finally, set a date. Go on, get out your calendar and fix one now. You don’t need more than six months (and I’ve known people study and pass in six weeks) so pick a date that’s a reasonable time in the future and stick to it. In fact, put your money down on that date now. As soon as you have approval for your application, call the test and book your exam place.
You’ll be more motivated knowing you have already scheduled your exam. It’s your very own fixed date project!
Step 2: Create a study schedule
Work backwards from your chosen exam date to today. That will give you an indication of how long you have in weeks to study for the exam. Consider:
- Time off from study for holidays
- Time off from study for family commitments
- Time off from study for work commitments.
What’s left is how long you’ve realistically got to cover all the materials and content required. Even if you have been using the concepts at work for some time and feel you know the material well it is still worth putting study time aside to ensure you are clear on the ‘book answers’. Remember, the exam tests adherence to the processes in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – PMBOK® Guide – Fifth Edition, not what you would do in real life.
Treat your exam study planning like a project. Breakdown the content into manageable chunks and schedule revision time on each available day to review them. You’ll quickly be able to see how much effort you have to put in each week to get through the material. Aim for blocks of around an hour: too much time at your books without a break and you’ll get overloaded. Too little and you won’t get through it in time.
Make sure that the week before your exam you have put in time for exam practice and final revision on the areas that you need to review.
You may feel, having reviewed your schedule, that you can cover the material adequately alone. If that’s the case, great. However, many project managers find it useful to take a prep course, not least because it helps reinforce the ‘book answers’, gives you access to a like-minded group of study buddies (more on that in a moment) and increases your training hours so it can help meet the requirements for your application.
There are lots of PMP exam prep courses available. Research what is running in your local area and read some student reviews before signing up for one. Oh, and check if your employer will pay for it!
Step 4: Find a study buddy
Taking a course lets you meet other people who are also studying for the exam. You might hit it off with someone and want to continue your study relationship after the course ends. I think this is a great way of working – you can keep each other motivated and review difficult subjects together. You are unlikely to find someone with exactly the same strengths and weaknesses as yourself so you can support each other through the topics that you each find tricky.
I like the idea of meeting up in person on a weekly basis but I know that isn’t practical for many people with families or work commitments. You could also:
- Start a Facebook group.
- Email each other with your progress and to ask questions.
- Swap phone numbers so you can call and text.
- Use another private social network where you can chat about your study plans and keep each other motivated.
Step 5: Get the right materials
There is a huge variety of study materials available on the market. Start with the ones recommended to you during your prep course or that your study buddy says are a good investment. A word of mouth endorsement is always better than choosing something at random off the internet.
In broad terms, your options (outside of a classroom-based prep course) are:
- Study books
- Online self-paced training materials
- Flashcards that you make yourself or buy (you can also get electronic flashcards for use on mobile phones or tablets for studying on the go)
- Podcasts and videos
- Formulae crib sheets (you may get one of these as a handout in your prep course, or you can buy them, or you can make your own)
- Exam simulators (software that mimics the computer system in the exam and lets you experience what sitting there for 4 hours is like).
You might be able to find other study materials and the important thing is to select a few that suit your style of revision. For example, if you want to do most of your revision on your commute, you should look for tools that let you drive and study at the same time (like podcasts) or work on your smartphone on the train (like flashcards or videos).
There is no prescribed set of study materials. Some people manage to pass successfully with only the PMBOK® Guide and their prep course notes. If that works for you, great, but remember that the exam will test your ability in other areas as well such as the Code of Ethics.
Finally, you’ll want to practise test taking skills. This goes beyond taking practice exam papers and working your way through a stack of sample questions, although that will be a very useful exercise.
Look at how you will structure your time in the exam. Working out what you will do in the exam room takes away some of the stress of the event and means you don’t have to think about your decisions when you arrive as you already know what you are going to do. Plan the answers to these questions:
- Will you do all the easy ones first and then go back to the beginning, or take each question as it comes?
- How long will you work on difficult questions before you move on?
- What strategies will you use for difficult questions? (It is always better to guess if you don’t know the answer as there is no negative marking)
- How much time will you leave at the end for reviewing your answers?
- What will your tactics be for skipping questions?
- Will you take a break? For how long?
- Will you take the tutorial? (I advise that you do)
- How will you deal with distractions in the exam room?
Learning how to act in the exam is almost as important as knowing the material. I have known good project managers freeze in exam situations and fail, not because they don’t know their stuff but because they’ve been so panicked by being under exam conditions that the pressure got to them and they couldn’t answer anything.
Prepare yourself for the exam by reviewing the types of questions you will be asked and understand the balance of topics that you are likely to be faced with. Currently the split is:
- Initiation: 13% of questions will be on Initiation topics
- Planning: 24%
- Executing: 30%
- Monitoring and Controlling: 25%
- Closing: 8%
It’s good to know that if Closing is your strongest area in the project management life cycle you’ve got some work to do to bring those other areas up to scratch. You can’t rely on there being a lot of Closing questions to see you through.
Proactive planning and a solid study regime will help you achieve PMP success in 2015. It’s just like planning any other project, and you should be good at that! Make sure that you get the foundations right and you’ll find that exam success comes to you. Good luck!