The Top PMP Exam Prep Books Every Exam Taker Needs

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The PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam is not based on a single text. What you are tested on is drawn from an integrated set of skills and knowledge covering a wide range of best practices and experiences. Simply put, it means that there is no single best PMP exam prep book that will tell you what you need to know to pass.

Smart students use a variety of books and resources to ensure their studies cover the topics in the exam outline. Then they test what they’ve learned using sample questions either from those books or for a more robust test experience, a PMP exam simulator.

PMI does not endorse any specific reference material (beyond their own publications) for the purposes of certification. However, they do list 10 books on their website as possible references for students, saying they are one element of a broad set of educational resources you can use to prepare for the exam. We feel their choices are good reads for anyone preparing for the exam, especially when used in conjunction with other resources like mock tests in a simulated environment to help you with time management prep. You’ll find the list of books below.

How Can Books and Reading Materials Help Me Prepare for the PMP Exam?

Between flash cards, making notes, using an exam simulator, watching videos and live training, do you really need to add reading into your list of study techniques? Yes, you do! Not only is it important to read the PMBOK® Guide, reading other PMP books will help you prepare for the exam. Here’s why:

  • Reading aloud helps you recall key facts
  • Reading improves your vocabulary
  • Reading helps you focus
  • Reading keeps your brain active

Reading aloud helps you recall key facts

Research shows that reading aloud impacts recall, and in the exam you’re going to want to be able to recall facts!

What we found most interesting about the research on reading that we looked at is that your brain remembers differences more than similarities. The tip for your studies is to read key facts out loud. Because you’re reading them in a different way to the rest of your study materials, your brain should find it easier to recall.

Make sure you’re in a place where you can read aloud without being distracted or distracting others before you try this technique!

Reading improves your vocabulary

Books provide the context for new words. A long paragraph, or a case study, gives you more background than simply looking up the definition of a word in the glossary or on a flash card.

The more you read about a subject, the more familiar you’ll get with it, in your own time, at your own pace. The terms become second-nature and you’ll be able to use them with ease. When you see different PMP exam question types in the exam, and the jargon that goes with them, you’ll know exactly what is being asked and how to interpret the situation.

Reading helps you focus

Reading ‘real’ books can help you focus more than reading e-books. Several studies have shown that people learn better when reading on paper.

Flipping pages takes very little brain power, leaving your brain to focus on interpreting and remembering what you are reading. There are fewer distractions than online reading, such as not having to reset your eyes as the words scroll on a page. Plus, you’re less likely to see the ping of a social media notification or email if you’re looking at the pages of a real book.

Reading keeps your brain active

We’ve long known that keeping your brain active, like playing music or doing puzzles, can help combat cognitive decline as you age. Learning new things is a way to keep your brain cells active.

Make new connections between those synapses and boost your mental agility! Every little helps on exam day!

How to Choose the Best PMP Exam Prep Book

A quick search on Amazon will show you dozens of PMP exam prep books, so what should you be looking for before clicking the buy button? Here are some things to consider before you spend any money.

  • Topics covered
  • Content freshness
  • Author credentials
  • Writing style
  • Price
  • Ease of availability
  • Format

Topics covered

Check what topics the book covers. There is so much to review for the PMP certification exam that no book can promise to give you everything. Make sure that together, all your PMP study materials extend across the full exam content outline.

You might find there is some overlap between books so check out what’s included so you maximize your study budget by getting resources that serve different purposes without too much repetition.

Content freshness

Check the date when the book was published or last updated. The PMP exam is updated regularly, and the content is refreshed in line with current best practice and what the role of a project manager includes.

It’s worth checking that any PMP exam study guide you buy is the latest edition and reflects the current version of the exam, especially if you are buying books second-hand.

Author credentials

Look at who wrote the book by checking out their author bio. Do you feel the person has the experience and credentials to knowledgeably explain the exam topics? The best PMP study guide for you is going to be one written by someone you consider to be a trusted source.

Writing style

If you can, take a peek inside the book to investigate the writing style. Texts aimed at beginners will be easy to read. Other books will be written with a more academic style, with footnotes and references. Both options (and anything in between) can be good - it depends on your personal preference and your past experience with the topic.

Our advice is that if a book looks like it will be hard going, you are less likely to turn to it. Sometimes the simpler, more accessible texts can be a good choice as you can pick them up and get straight into the subject.

Price

Let’s not overlook price! The PMP exam fee, a training course, an exam simulator… the costs start to mount up, so you need to invest your book budget wisely. Check out the list below. Ask your colleagues if they already have copies you could borrow, or see what is available via your local library. You can also get many of these PMP prep books second-hand but make sure they are the latest version.

Ease of availability

Take shipping times and fees into account when making your choice. Some books might be in stock at your local bookshop; others may need to be posted from abroad. If you are on a tight study schedule, make sure you will get your books in time for them to be useful.

Format

While there are benefits to reading paper books as we saw above, e-books are convenient, and often cheaper because you won’t have to pay (or wait for) shipping. Some texts are even available as audio books.

Think about how you like to read and go with that. There are benefits to both ‘real’ and e-book options, so look at what options are available for your chosen book and go for what you prefer.

Top PMP Exam Prep Books for Supplementary Reading

Are you ready to get reading? Here’s our list of the top PMP certification books to help you ace the exam.

  • Agile Practice Guide
  • A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 6th Edition
  • Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling
  • Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme, Hybrid
  • Fundamentals of Technology Project Management
  • Project Manager’s Portable Handbook
  • Information Technology Project Management
  • Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process
  • Project Management: The Managerial Process
  • The Project Management Tool Kit: 100 Tips and Techniques for Getting the Job Done Right

Agile Practice Guide

Project Management Institute, 2017

The Agile Practice Guide is one of the core texts from PMI. The questions for PMP certification are evenly split between iterative and predictive methodologies, so this is a must-read as it covers all aspects of agile project management. Written in collaboration with the Agile Alliance, it also talks about hybrid approaches.

Logged in PMI members can download a free electronic version of this book, but if you want a paper version you’ll need to buy one.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 6th Edition

Project Management Institute, 2017

This is a must-read book as part of your PMP exam prep. For years the PMBOK® Guide has been the main reference for test takers, considered ‘the’ PMP book, and today it’s no different. While we recommend reading widely and using other resources to enhance your studies, the PMBOK® Guide remains the staple text if you want to understand the PMI way of managing projects.

PMI members can download a free electronic version of this book from the PMI website (you need to be logged in first).

“I read the PMBOK® Guide as well as the Agile Guide twice. In addition to reading both books, I created detailed flashcards. I would review these daily; play games with them by having somebody mix them up, and then I would put them back in order.”

Akash Rattan, PMP

Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 12th Edition

Harold Kerzner, 2017

Now in its 12th edition, this truly is a workhorse of a book. Aimed at students and professionals, this text is a proven guide to what it takes to manage a project. It covers emerging topics and trends as well as the basics, so expect this one to become your go to desk reference!

“Buy it, read it, love it. Takes you beyond just what is necessary to pass the exam. Don't use it as your sole source but rather use it to expand on what other material may not cover as deeply as you'd wish.”

Erik Rudd, PMP

Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme, Hybrid, 8th Edition

Robert K. Wysocki, 2019

Effective Project Management is also on the PMI-ACP recommended reading list, so if you think you might be taking that exam in the future, this book serves double duty. It comes with a companion website packed with case studies, exercises and more to help you review and revise the contents.

It covers a variety of different agile approaches including Kanban, Scrumban, and extreme project management, and more traditional approaches are included to, making it a very comprehensive guide to managing projects.

Fundamentals of Technology Project Management, 2nd Edition

Colleen Garton with Erika McCulloch, 2012

This book is aimed at software engineers, students and IT professionals, so it is going to be best suited for people working in a technical environment. It’s a practical handbook to managing projects in the IT arena, written with a gentle sense of humour and aligned to the PMBOK® Guide in many ways.

There are examples, case studies, sample documents and templates to give you a head start in leading your own projects, as well as plenty of information on modern challenges like virtual work and social media use.

Project Manager’s Portable Handbook, 3rd Edition

David Cleland and Lewis Ireland, 2010

This book is designed to be a practical, hands-on guide to managing projects, packed with the concepts and practices you need to be successful. The authors come with expert credentials and their book is a compact yet detailed overview of the project management process.

It’s easy to use, with plenty of visual references like tables, charts and models to help you understand the key concepts.

Information Technology Project Management, 9th Edition

Kathy Schwalbe, 2018

Another book that focuses on providing a strong understanding of project management in an IT environment, this is a guide to the latest tools and techniques in the field.

Fully aligned to the PMP and CAPM exams and reflective of the latest version of the PMBOK® Guide, this book provides additional context for core concepts. There are case studies, examples and templates available to help you put your learning into practice.

Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process

Kenneth S. Rubin, 2012

Scrum is only one of the many Agile approaches, but it’s one of the most popular. As the PMP exam draws from agile methods, you’ll need a rounded understanding of how Scrum works. Plus, this book serves as a practical guide to putting Scrum to use in the workplace too. There are lots of ways to implement Scrum and this book will help you choose an approach that works for you.

It’s an accessible and easy to read book with plenty of illustrations to help you understand Scrum’s roles, activities and artifacts.

“[I] went through (skimmed to topics that are relevant based on exam outline) the references recommended by PMI (highly recommend - Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process by Kenneth S. Rubin if you are not familiar with agile scrum practices - I have experience working in this environment so it really helped me answering the questions on the exam day).”

Yuvi

Project Management: The Managerial Process, 8th Edition

Erik Larson and Clifford Gray, 2020

What we like about this book is that it covers the human aspects of managing projects: how to create a culture of delivery. There is also all the information you need on the tools and methods for leading successful projects, as well as detail on the skills to work collaboratively. There’s also a focus on why these concepts and skills work, which will help you remember and adapt them for use in your workplace.

It’s industry-agnostic, which means it’s applicable to wherever you work, making it a good all-round addition to your reading list.

“This book provides a lot of detail and helping with the project formulas.”

Missy Lipinski

The Project Management Tool Kit: 100 Tips and Techniques for Getting the Job Done Right, 3rd Edition

Tom Kendrick, 2013

The Project Management Tool Kit is a book of solutions. There are 100 tips and techniques for dealing with the obstacles project managers face on a daily basis. Packed with step-by-step guidance, the book aims to help you out of tricky situations so you can get back to managing the project.

All areas of project management are covered, from cost estimating and scope planning to stakeholder engagement and risk monitoring. It’s aligned to the PMBOK® Guide too. Charts, checklists and examples mean you’ll find this an easy read and a good reference for the more challenging situations you might find yourself in!

Next steps

Studying for the PMP exam is a major undertaking, so anything that helps you understand the concepts and practice for the test is going to boost your confidence. We recommend that you definitely read the PMBOK® Guide and the Agile Practice Guide from PMI, along with a couple of other texts that will fill in other areas and support your chosen training course.

Once you’ve gained a foundational knowledge from your studies, you’ll be ready to put those skills into practice and test yourself with an exam simulator. Read the explanations that go along with each answer in the simulator and use the references as a source of further reading to deepen your understanding of each topic.

Good luck with your studies!

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