What comes to mind when you think of self-studying for the PMP exam? Long nights hunched over your laptop? Trying to watch video lessons on your commute, surrounded by the noise of other passengers and constantly worried you will miss your stop? Many people worry about the feasibility of self-paced learning but we’re here to tell you that with the right tools, resources, and methods it is possible to pass your PMP certification exam without ever setting foot in a classroom.
In fact, for many students, it’s the most effective way to learn. Ready to find out why? Perhaps we can convince you that the benefits of self-study are so great that this is a learning approach definitely worth considering before you invest in an expensive classroom bootcamp course.
OK, how long have you got? There are loads of benefits of self-study, so we’ve picked out the ones that are most relevant to your project management learning - but honestly, these days you can study pretty much anything by yourself with the right materials.
These are the nine top advantages of self-paced learning for project managers looking to earn PMI credentials.
Let’s take a look at each of those in turn, because as you can see, there really are a ton of positives about self-learning!
The ability to learn flexibly and on your own schedule is one of the main reasons why students choose PMP self-study options. You can manage your own timetable and find time around your existing commitments. Whether you have caring responsibilities, a full or part-time job, hobbies or other activities that end up reducing your amount of available time, you can still fit learning into your calendar.
Don’t believe us? Think critically about how much time you spend on leisure activities like scrolling through social media or watching TV that could be switched out (temporarily, at least) for study time. Use something like Open University time planner to help you identify where you might be able to find pockets of time that could be put to use helping you study flexibly.
Classroom courses have a particular teaching schedule to stick to, and that might not suit you. Some people thrive in a bootcamp style training program; others find that they need a different pace - faster or slower than what is on offer from a ‘live’ trainer. If you find yourself with more time one day, for example, you can watch another PMP exam prep video, or review your notes. On days where your boss books yet another meeting, you can dial back your studies and pick them up again in the morning.
Being able to control the pace of your learning is helpful with going through the topics too. There are a lot of diverse topics covered by the PMP Exam Content Outline and it’s important that you have a good overview of all of them. However, given that you already have some experience as a project manager, it’s likely that you feel confident in some of those topics already. Working at your own pace means you can quickly recap concepts that you are comfortable with and spend more time on ideas that are new to you.
Put together a PMP self-study plan that focuses on the areas you need to revise in more detail and skim over topics you are already familiar with. You can always change up your plan as you go, testing yourself in different areas and gaining confidence in the whole of the syllabus.
What’s your preferred learning style? Perhaps you prefer to read materials and take your own notes? Perhaps you learn best from video? Or do you find knowledge sticks better once you’ve had a chance to put it into practice and have a go yourself? Everyone has preferences about how they feel they learn best, and your own experience will help you identify that for yourself.
It’s also important to recognize that different topics benefit from being taught in different ways. While you might learn leadership theory by reading about it or project management leadership training, working through earned value management formulas is going to stick better if you practice the calculations yourself.
There is no right or wrong way to learn, so test out a few methods and see which one feels right to you. You’ll soon identify what feels easy and natural - and you might be surprised!
In our experience, students tend to retain more information when they study individually, normally because they have structured their schedule to get the most out of their time and also because they are using learning methods that absolutely fit their preferences, as we saw above.
There’s also evidence that shows spaced out learning helps retention. In other words, being able to work flexibly and have shorter, regular study periods helps students embed that knowledge deeply in their brain and retain it for when it is needed. This is a different approach to what you might get in some classroom courses where everything is crammed in a short period of time and there is very little opportunity for distributed practice. When you control your own learning, you can boost your chances of retaining information by spreading out your studies over a longer period.
Why not give it a go and then test yourself, seeing how much your ability to retain concepts for the exam has improved with time and repeated practice?
The hustle and bustle of a formal classroom course will definitely suit some personalities, but doesn’t often leave much time for reflection. If you are the kind of person who benefits from a pause to consider what you’ve studied and how that can be put into practice, then reflection time is definitely something to build into your study schedule.
Self-paced learning makes this easy because you can simply timetable yourself for a reflection hour on a weekly basis. Use this time to go over concepts from last week and see how much you can recall. Use a PMP exam simulator to test yourself so your confidence grows. Reflect on whether your learning methods were appropriate and what you could do to become a more effective student. Then put those learnings into practice going forward with your study time. Perhaps that’s starting 10 minutes earlier, or the realization that flash cards were really helpful. Anything you pick up on can shape your future studies for the better.
We know that students learn best when they are interested in the material and are able to dive into topics that they enjoy. In some of our corporate training courses we’ve had great ‘side conversations’ about topics that are relevant to students but don’t necessarily fit on the curriculum. That’s fine: it’s all learning and often diving deep into a related topic helps make the concept at hand easier to understand.
When you choose the PMP certification self-study route, you can develop your own interests and go where your curiosity takes you. Do some extra reading on a topic, or dig into the reference material provided so you gain a deep and rounded understanding of project management concepts. You’ll have a great theoretical knowledge, make more connections and be able to put your skills into practice in more ways as you will have understood how to apply them in a larger context.
Most of our students who choose self-study have a job. That means there is a constant juggle to maintain a work/life balance. Along with flexibility, being able to keep your job is one of the top reasons people choose to learn independently because it does not require them to take time off. And we all know how hard that can be in a project environment!
Work/life balance means having time to fulfil your home obligations and get some fun in your day as well as meeting your work commitments. In reality, that might mean it takes you longer to get through your PMP exam prep materials, but you’ll be able to do so in a way that does not disrupt your normal life.
Let’s face it: studying for professional exams is stressful. Not only have you got to keep on top of your workload (because you aren’t using vacation time for your studying, are you?) but you’ve also got to cram a whole load of new knowledge and sit an exam. And when was the last time you did one of those? For many students, exams were stressful back in school and there is no reason to approach them differently as an adult.
However, that’s where the benefit of self-study comes in. You can create a PMP study plan and consider your stress levels as you complete it. For example, take a break over the year-end holiday period or during the summer if you have children off school. You may want to factor in a slower study time during busy points at work so you don’t get overwhelmed with everything. You’re in control, so build a study plan that fits what you are capable of achieving without adding extra stress to your life.
No one is going to give you a career on a golden plate, so if you want to get that promotion, earn a pay rise or move to a different city for work, then certification is often the way to boost your resume and help you achieve those goals. When you take ownership of your professional development you are invested in the outcome and you can hold yourself accountable. That can be hugely motivating for some people.
Write your goal on a sticky note and stick it on your computer monitor or in your workspace so you can always see what you are striving for. Little motivational actions like that can make all the difference to helping you get to where you want to be!
We’ve talked about nine benefits to controlling your own learning and choosing to go it alone. Hopefully you can see that self-studying is definitely a viable option that has many advantages. If you are considering that route for your PMP exam prep, then you are in good company! Many thousands of students have taken responsibility for their own learning and been confident going into the exam.
Are you ready to learn this way? The next thing to do is check out our PMP self-study tips for some practical next steps of how to get started. It’s easier than you think!
Everyone has different learning methods and we must do what we can to achieve our goal— getting certified! How you get there is up to you, and self-study might just be the route to earning those letters after your name.
Copyright © 2008 - 2023 OSP International LLC.
The PM Exam Simulator is a mark of OSP International LLC. PMI, PMBOK, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CAPM, PMI-SP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP, and PMI-PBA are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.