One of the most common questions when studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam is “Can I study for the PMP on my own?”
Like so many things in project management, the answer is… it depends!
The main choice is really group study vs self-study, and which of those options is right for you. It depends on a few factors including what you are studying, your experience, and more.
This article will break down the pros of PMP self-study in comparison to learning in a classroom or in a group, so you can determine which method is the best for you. Are you ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
First, let’s look at some of the major considerations for your PMP education and how they differ depending on whether you go the self-study vs classroom study route. The table below shows the things to think about as you make your choice.
|Time required||Study at your own pace, but expect to spend at least 35 hours on the materials||Classroom courses or ‘bootcamps’ are often 5 days long|
|Flexibility||Study on your own schedule||Study at a time that the group meets|
|Materials||You have to source your own materials||Study materials supplied by the training provide|
|Resources available||You have to source your own additional resources||Resources e.g. in-classroom exam simulator may be supplied by the training provider|
|Course options||Many options available||Many options available|
|Retention||Interactive, engaging self-study materials aid engagement but it is up to you to drive your learning||An experienced instructor can make the experience engaging to help you retain information|
|Classmates/colleagues||None unless you create a self-study group||Your instructor and people in the class|
|Online options||Plenty of online options||Plenty of online group classes|
Now, let’s review those considerations in more detail so you can start to see what impact your choices will have on your learning plans.
The price of your PMP study materials is important, and probably one of the things that most students think of first. Your employer may be paying for your training, in which case perhaps you have a budget to work to. However, if you are self-funding your professional development, then you will probably be more budget-conscious.
Typically, self-study tends to be cheaper than a classroom course, but if you do not keep track of your spending, you can soon see your budget spiralling. Just one more course book? One more set of flashcards? Decide how much you have to spend on your training and then work out how much your desired resources will cost. Then stick to your budget!
One of the challenges of self-study is that you have no particular deadline by which to complete your training. Some people may see this as a pro: there is no hard deadline to meet, and you can work until you feel confident. However, others may see it as a con because some people prefer to have a deadline.
You can create your own deadline by booking your exam once you have created your PMP study plan, and then use that as your end date if you know you will have trouble keeping to your revision schedule. Consider how to plan self-study time for your learning and stick to your plan.
A major pro of self-study is that it is so flexible. You can revise as and when you have time, whether that’s while you are up at 2am feeding the baby, on the train while commuting or listening to podcasts at the gym. Or if you prefer, carve out the time in your work calendar and book practice sessions during your normal working hours.
This way of learning is incredibly flexible and that’s why many people choose this route. If you’re wondering how it works out in real life, read our PMP self-study tips from five project managers who shared their experiences of getting ready for the test.
A potential downside of PMP self-study is that you have to find your own materials. You’ll have to do the work to source an appropriate class, exam simulator, PMP books and more, depending on what you need.
This could be an advantage as you know your preferences and can make the best choice for your learning style. For example, you may already know that you prefer video training taught by a real instructor over learning from a book. You can buy what you need in a format that suits you.
There is a wide range of PMP study materials suitable for self-directed learning. You can get everything from books to courses, apps and more including our best-selling PMP practice exam and prep course which have helped students from around the world prepare for their exams.
There are many, many options available for self-study. In our experience, most students choose online courses with self-paced learning materials in the form of video lessons. However, take a look around and read reviews of products before you make your choice.
One of the challenges of self-study is making sure you retain the information. Many people find it difficult to keep their level of focus during learning periods and might find their mind wandering. However, that all comes down to how you plan your revision time. Make sure you have short breaks included in your schedule and adapt your plans as you go to keep sharp!
Research shared by the New York Times shows that online learning can result in students performing better than those who studied with traditional classroom courses, so that could make the self-study option a major pro!
A disadvantage of studying alone is that you don’t have a community around you. Many students report preferring to learn with others because that gives you people to talk to, people to share ideas with and a sense of being in it together.
As someone who chooses to work independently, you’ll have to find that community yourself. There are online forums, or you could set up your own group. However, the onus is on you to find or create a group if you want one, because you won’t automatically be with others.
You really are spoiled for choice when it comes to self-studying options for the PMP exam. While you could choose paper-based learning and rely on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and a prep book, most students seem to go for blended learning that includes an online class as well. There are plenty to choose from so you’ll be able to find one with an instructor and course outline that suits your learning style.
Those are the advantages and disadvantages of solo studying for the test. Now let’s look at the pros and cons of group study.
You might assume classroom courses are a more expensive choice, but it’s important to take into consideration what you get for the price. You will have access to an instructor which is a huge asset. They’ll be able to answer your questions and help you understand the concepts. The course provider may also give you additional learning materials included in the package, like access to a PMP exam questions book, copies of the slides, mock exam papers and so on. Whether or not you value those extras will depend on you, but at least they are offered. When you do a cost comparison, be sure to include the bonuses and benefits in your analysis.
Group study is managed on the timetable of the group. Whether you are doing a bootcamp style five-day course or turning up to weekly lessons run by your PMI Chapter, you have to make yourself available at the required time. The advantage here is that timetable creates the study plan for your learning and you simply have to show up. When the class is complete, you will have covered all the material and will be ready to sit the test.
If you need external motivation, then group learning options will help structure your time so you get everything done in a methodical way. There’s no risk of taking too long to cover the materials as you’ll be on the class timetable. Book your exam for when the course finishes and you’ll be done!
A major con of group study is that it isn’t flexible. While there are benefits to having your timetable mapped out by the group leader, you don’t have the luxury of being able to complete coursework whenever you want. If there’s a lecture, you should be there.
That can cause problems for people who have a busy project workload or who cannot guarantee to be available at the same time each week for lessons.
An advantage of group classes is that the supplier will typically give you the materials. What you need will be included in your course package. There may also be a list of recommended materials such as further reading topics or resources like the PMBOK® Guide which you may have to source yourself.
If you are short of time and don’t want the hassle of having to research what’s best, a group class will save you the effort because you will be told what to get.
If the class doesn’t offer materials in a way that suits your learning preferences, there are a lot of other options available. However, you may be reluctant to invest in those after having paid out for a training course. Group classes ultimately provide less choice in the resources you can use as it’s important that every member of the class has access to the same information and resources.
Just like for self-study, there are many, many options available for group learning. From in-person classroom courses, to PMI Chapter prep classes and online group sessions with a live instructor, you will be sure to find an option that suits you.
A classroom course, especially a bootcamp-style intensive learning experience, can feel like a huge dump of knowledge for some people. That can impede your ability to retain the information. If you can’t remember it, you will have difficulty preparing for the test.
However, some people learn better when they are with others. For example, you might remember a mindmap shared by the instructor, or a question that a fellow delegate asked. You might recall a discussion over coffee break that really helped you understand a topic. As everyone learns differently, consider your personal preferences before you make your choice. The group environment might be perfect for you!
If you love the buzz of working with others, then you’ll love the fact that a group class - whether it’s online or in-person - will give you that sense of community. Studying with others can lift you and help you learn better.
However, if you are the kind of person who prefers to avoid groups, then a classroom course might be a challenging environment for you. Consider what would work best for you when making your choice.
Group study used to mean classroom courses only, which meant you were limited to locations locally as you would have to travel there. However, today’s technology has changed all of that. You can join a group course from the US while you live and work in Europe, for example, because that might mean you can work a full day and then log into the classroom in the evening where you are free from the distractions of your job.
If you aren’t able to travel, for example for health reasons or for your caring responsibilities, you can still take part in online learning. There are so many flexible options that give you the chance to work with a live instructor and cohort of fellow students online from the comfort of your home.
Those are the PMP advantages and disadvantages of group-based studying for the test. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the pros and cons of each option available and are ready to make your decision. Group study vs self-study: which will you choose?
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