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PMP Self Study Tips from 5 Project Managers

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If you’re ready to start working towards your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, you have a big choice to make. Do you take a PMP self study approach, or do you take a class?

For many of our students, self-study is the choice they make. Perhaps it’s too difficult to get time off work for a classroom course, their employer won’t fund classroom training, or they simply prefer to study on their own terms. Whatever the reason, self-study is definitely an option, and this article will help you create a PMP certification self-study plan.

The self-study tips we are going to share come directly from people who have already passed their exam, so you can be confident that they really work!

Before we begin, there is one thing worth mentioning: there are some limitations to what you can do by yourself. Specifically, the PMBOK® Guide is a difficult book to read, and you will want to get some supplemental materials to support your studies. Everything we recommend is tried-and-tested and very affordable!

Effective Self-Study Tips for the PMP Certification Exam

We’ve talked to hundreds of successful test takers over the last few months alone, so we’ve managed to gather the best tips for making the choice between a PMP boot camp or self study approach to your learning.

Here are the tips that will form the basis of your PMP self-study plan:

  1. Download your reading materials
  2. Choose a good self-study tool
  3. Block your calendar for study time
  4. Test yourself
  5. Book your exam

1. Download your reading materials

The first step on your self-learning journey is to make sure you have the right reading materials.

You’ll need a copy of the PMBOK® Guide and the Agile Practice Guide. PMI members get both of those for free. Mark Lester Padua, PMP, joined PMI for the free access to those Guides and also for discount on taking the test.

There are other reading materials you will want to download, and if you have chosen the self-study route it will be your responsibility to find them. You won’t get them as part of your course material.

Michael Bode, PMP, recommends downloading the standards in various topics from the PMI library too. “The best practices are often overlooked but these are vital parts of the PMBOK® Guide,” he says. “The contents of the best practice guides support various areas of the PMBOK® Guide, such as estimating, scheduling, etc., and are assumed knowledge when reading the PMBOK® Guide. That means that you have to know the best practices for the PMP certification.”

Those resources focus heavily on predictive methodologies, and you’ll also want to download agile study guides.

Duon Martin, PMP. knows the importance of reading the Scrum guide. “You can download it for free at scrum.org,” he says. That will give you a grounding in this particular agile approach - and Scrum is definitely a topic you’ll need to know for the exam.

If you feel like you’d benefit from one or more PMP exam prep books as well as the official resources, then Akshaykumar Dhande, PMP has a great tip for you.

“Get Kindle Unlimited,” he says. “It’s free for a month and I think [the] first time it’s $2 for three months. Just type ‘PMP’ and download [the] best books with high ratings.”

Tip:

Self-studying means it is your responsibility to be up-to-date with the resources you choose. Check before you download anything as studying with old resources will be a waste of time. Make sure you have the latest edition of the PMBOK® Guide, the Agile Practice Guide and the Standard for Project Management.

Actions:

  • Join PMI if you are not a member.
  • Download the PMBOK® Guide, the Agile Practice Guide, and the best practice Standards from the PMI website.
  • Download the Scrum Guide from scrum.org.
  • Find an exam prep book to act as your PMP self-study guide.

2. Choose a good self-study tool

Once you’ve got your reading material, your next step is to choose a good self-study tool.

Michael Bode, PMP, has this to say:

“Go to PM Prepcast and get the PMP Prepcast with the Exam Simulator bundle. This podcast is the best self study tool for the PMP, hands down. If you are any type of self learner, kinetic, aural, visual, the Prepcast is for you. It systematically covers all the material of the PMBOK® Guide and more through a PowerPoint-style podcast which you can either watch or just listen to from anywhere on any device. For instance, I listened to a majority of this podcast while driving across country to go on vacation and back. The exam simulator will be the cornerstone of your preparation process in the later phase. I cannot recommend this product enough.”

(Thanks, Michael! We absolutely did not pay him to say any of that!)

Just because you are studying independently doesn’t mean you won’t need any supporting materials. As we hear from students time and time again, the PMBOK® Guide isn’t enough by itself.

“Start listening to the Prepcast,” says Michael. “Work your way through some of the major sections, noting to skip the Project Integration section. Once you get through a section, break out your PMBOK® Guide and read that section. If there is an associated best practice guide for that section, read that too.”

Actions:

  • Sign up for the PM PrepCast and exam simulator bundle.

3. Block your calendar for study time

You’ve got the materials you need: the next thing to do is find the time to study. This is the major difference between classroom or bootcamp courses and self-study. When you turn up to formal lessons, the time is blocked out for you. When you self-study, there is the temptation to postpone your learning or do something else because you are tired or have other commitments.

Block out your calendar to make time and keep that time ring-fenced for your PMP studies.

“I studied for six weeks for five hours every day [from] 8.00pm to 1.00am,” says Ashwini. “I have a three-year old son so my study time was after his bedtime routine which my husband helped me with.” Ashwini passed the exam with Above Target scores so this approach obviously worked!

“Expect to listen to the Prepcast for at least two weeks if you listen to it at least three hours a day,” says Michael. “I recommend listening a little at a time over a long period, since your absorption of the material will degrade in long doses. The key is understanding here, not just to get through the sections as quickly as possible.”

Ashwini agrees, but suggests you don’t prolong your study time too much. “If you stretch preparation time too much you will end up losing interest or your learning curve may drop. So, in my opinion, six weeks is good to keep yourself focused, engaged and motivated.”

Actions:

  • Decide how much time you can spend studying.
  • Put blocks of study time on your calendar.

4. Test yourself

One of the experiences you get with a classroom course is the chance to take exam questions and then discuss them with the instructor. So how do you replicate that experience? Simple. Use a PM Exam Simulator.

“The first most important thing is to test yourself with the simulator,” says Elie de Castro, PMP. “As much as you can. Take at least two full exams to get a taste of it. Then do at least one per day round of 60 questions (75mn).”

Elie was scoring around 77-81% at the end of her studies, prior to taking the exam. She recommends using the vast majority of your study time to carefully review any answers you got wrong. Dig into the topic, using the references and question explanations. That will increase your level of understanding.

She also has a further tip: “Review what you have done correctly in order to reinforce your own knowledge for future more tricky questions,” she adds.

Elie’s approach also included creating a ‘questions answered notes register’. “Take notes of your wrong answers, even of the good tricky ones,” she says. “Then read them often to capitalize on your memory and sense of logic and understanding.” This way of note taking will help you reinforce what you have already learned and approach the rest of your studies with a clear understanding.

Actions:

  • Take two full exams to build familiarity.
  • Schedule time to take other exam questions and tests.
  • Get into the habit of researching why an answer is correct or incorrect using the references provided in the simulator.
  • Keep notes about what you have learned from the questions.

5. Book your exam

There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you! Forum participant, mopish_kat felt the same:

“I am very much a procrastinator, and so when I started my course with PrepCast, I made sure to book the exam one month after the course end date so that I would have [the] finish line in sight,” they say.

You can book your test as soon as your application is approved, and that’s exactly what Maylyn Tran, PMP did. “Once approved I scheduled the exam for less than two weeks out,” she says. “There weren’t many options available for scheduling, so schedule once you are approved.”

Having a fixed date to work towards will help you create your study plan and stay on track. It’s much harder to procrastinate when the examination date is on the calendar!

Actions:

  • Put the date on your calendar.
  • Review your study plans and work backwards from your test date to ensure you dedicate enough time to self-study during this time.

Ready to start your self-study?

As you can see, it is perfectly possible to study by yourself and successfully pass the PMP exam. Lots of people do it, and as long as you have the right tools to support your learning, you can too.

When you’re ready to get going with your studies, selecting your PMP simulator is one of your very first steps. The PM Exam Simulator has thousands of top-rated reviews from customers, so check it out and see what customers have to say about how it helped them hit Above Target results in their exams. We look forward to hearing your success story once you’ve passed!

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