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8 Certified Project Managers Reveal The Secrets An Effective PMP Study Plan

You wouldn’t go into a project status meeting without knowing what to say, would you? It’s important to plan for even small things at work, and your preparation for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam is no different.

You’ve got a PMP study guide and now you need a plan to help you focus your learning and revise the core concepts in a sustainable way.

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. We’ve collated 11 tips from certified project managers so you can get a head start on your planning.

What is a PMP Study Plan?

A PMP Study Plan is a structured approach to learning the project management concepts, tools and techniques that you will need to know to pass the exam. It’s tailored to your learning style and breaks down what you will be studying when, so you can learn consistently without missing anything important.

How to Create a PMP Study Plan

Here are 11 tips for creating a realistic, workable study plan for your exam prep.
  1. Think about your studies like a project
  2. Use the Exam Content Outline as a guide
  3. Schedule in mock exams
  4. Make time to review the answers for practice questions
  5. Plan for breaks
  6. Be realistic about your available time
  7. Write down your plan
  8. Get the right materials for you
  9. Don’t go it alone
  10. Make the most of your time
  11. Schedule your exam!
Let’s look at each of those tips in a bit more detail so you can put them into practice for your own exam prep.

1. Think about your studies like a project

“The best way to study for the PMP exam is by developing a study plan tailored to your expertise, experience, and project management knowledge,” says Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, in his guide to creating a pmp study plan. “How to prepare for the PMP exam is similar to preparing for a project.”

He recommends defining the scope (material to study), defining the deliverables (milestones of understanding based on the exam content outline), and then developing a schedule to complete your revision.

2. Use the Exam Content Outline as a guide

PMI literally tells you the topics that will be covered in the exam: they give you the exam content outline which is a complete syllabus.

Samantha Brown, PMP, used it as a way to focus her studies on the right topics. “I used the exam outline document on the PMI website to show what they will test on in each area,” she says. “I went through that as I was studying materials and it clicked so much easier for me.”

Download the exam content outline and use it to ensure your study plan covers all the key topics.

3. Schedule in mock exams

Emily Livingstone, PMP, also planned in time to work through sample exam questions.

“I used the Exam Simulator to take weekly quizzes on each topic,” she says. “I was taking the full length 2021 Exam Simulator Exams on the weekends. I only took each exam once. I did review every question I marked and/or got wrong.”

Make sure practice exams are the cornerstone of your study plan. You’ll need to book time in your calendar to take tests at home while you are revising and find a quiet place to do them.

4. Make time to review the answers for practice questions

It’s not enough to simply take mock exams: you also have to dedicate time to reviewing your responses. If you got the answer right, be honest with yourself: did you guess? If you got the answer wrong, review the topic again.

This approach worked well for Nicole Nicholas, PMP. “I created a study plan where I gave myself 2 months to get through the study material and a full month for review,” she says. It actually took her 2.5 months to go through her study materials, and then she moved on to a review of her knowledge.

“For my review, I used the simulator in learning mode - 30 questions every night and 50 questions on the weekend,” she says. “Then gradually I took it up to 100 questions (non-timed) over the weekend. The simulator made all the difference for me. I reviewed the details of the questions I answered incorrectly, then reviewed the sections in the PMBOK® Guide when I needed more clarification.”

Schedule in time to review the results of your quizzes, timed tests and full practice exams using the best PMP study guide you can find.

5. Plan for breaks

Nora Beckman, PMP, created a study plan that included time off. “I planned one day off every week to relax my brain!” she says. “On Sundays there were no videos, no formulas, and no processes!”

Remember: you’re only human! Tools like the Pomodoro technique will help you structure your time. Make sure you have some time off in your schedule away from your study guides or you’ll risk burning out.

6. Be realistic about your available time

Emily was working full-time while she was studying, so her plans needed to incorporate learning around her day job.

She studied for 4 months, with revision ramping up with more intense focus in the last month leading up to her test date. “I am a classic over-preparer,” she says, “so I probably could have done this in a shorter amount of time, but I wanted to be prepared. Going through all the material week by week in the PMBOK® Guide/PM PrepCast videos took me a little over 14 weeks.”

If you have other commitments to fit around your study schedule, take them into account as you put together your plan. For example, taking a full test in a PMP Exam Simulator requires several hours of available time, so consider when you can find those dedicated blocks of time and use them wisely.

7. Write down your plan

“The PMP exam is of course a project!” says Nora. “So, I created a project plan.”

Nora’s plan included a 6-week overall project plan that covered the content from the Project Management Body of Knowledge - the PMBOK® Guide. Then she planned a daily learning routine and also the pre-exam phase, which was the few weeks before her test.

“Every day in the morning I made a 15 minute brain dump sheet with all important formulas and the project management processes,” she says. After that, she read the relevant topic material from the PMBOK® Guide and then watched the relevant video from The Project Management PrepCast.

“The next day, I read the related chapter in my study guide book,” she says. “After each chapter, I took the short exam in the book. That worked perfectly for me and was very motivating.”

Write down your plans so you can stick to them, and you’ll always know what topic you should be revising next.

8. Get the right materials for you

You might have to try a different PMP examination study guide or look at a range of reference materials before you find one that works for you. That was certainly the case for Samantha.

“The first time I took the PMP exam, I used materials from the company I work for,” she said. They paid for her to attend a course and she also took some practice tests from the course material, and read a bit of the PMBOK® Guide.

“I studied for months, but I failed the first time around,” she says. “I realized that the questions I used to practice were nothing like the exam questions and there was some material/concepts I didn't even know about!”

As she prepared for her second attempt, she found materials that suited her learning style better: a different prep book, videos from YouTube recommended by a colleague and sample questions.

“I found the PrepCast simulated exams and I took A LOT of practice quizzes and exams,” she says. “I can't stress enough how important it is to take practice tests, and the ones on the Simulator were VERY close to the real questions. I wish I had known that the first go around. By changing up my study method and materials, I studied about 3 more months to take the second exam. I passed with flying colors, getting Above Average on all process areas.”

As you are going through your materials, consider if they are working for you. Do you truly understand them? Do you like the voice, tone and style of the tutor? If you are finding it hard to relate, it might be time to find a different set of study materials. Selecting your PMP simulator is also a big step, so take the time to research the market and choose an appropriate tool.

9. Don’t go it alone

It’s tempting to think that you don’t need to spend much time with study materials, especially if you are an experienced project manager.

Nevine Amer, PMP, says, “I believe I underestimated the exam and overestimated the impact of my experience! I studied hard but thought I could do it solely by myself. The truth is I needed more support and more exam practice.”

Nevine failed the exam the first time, and then came up with a plan to make the second time a success. She subscribed to The PM PrepCast and curated some other resources to support her studies. She also joined a social media group to make the most of the support that offered.

“All in all, I studied about 3 hours every day after my full time job and dedicated most weekends to studying as well,” she says. “I did take days off when I felt the need for it, every 2 or 3 weeks. I am proud of what I have accomplished and couldn't have done it alone!”

Think about what support you need to help you get through your studies. Perhaps that’s a friendly social media group, a study buddy, or simply a certified colleague at work with whom you can check your thinking.

10. Make the most of your time

Use your study plan to make the most of your available time. Molnar decided to apply for the Project Management Professional exam during maternity leave, so she balanced her studies with caring for a newborn. Her colleagues suggested that she allocate 200 hours to preparation, so that’s where she started from.

As a busy parent, she used her study plan to make sure she adequately prepared all topics, taking advantage of any time she had. “Always know what the next step is in your study plan so you know exactly what to read/listen next when you have 10-15 min in your busy schedule,” she suggests. “Find even 10-15 minutes to listen to the PrepCast, for example, in the queue in the post office, while walking etc.” She also recommends becoming a PMI member to get a free pdf copy of the PMBOK® Guide so you can take it with you and read anywhere, when you have a moment.

Think about the pockets of ‘free’ time you have in a day and where you can squeeze in some study. Write these on your plan.

11. Schedule your exam!

Keith Lasken, PMP, applied for his exam a year before he got round to taking it. We see this happen often: life gets in the way and students find themselves procrastinating.

“My advice: schedule the exam!” Keith says. “Don't schedule too far out where you procrastinate then forget. Schedule it 2-3 months out so you get in focus/survival mode to be motivated to study HARD.”

Sometimes, the best motivation to complete your study plan is to have a fixed deadline: your exam date. If you think that would work for you, go ahead and book your test with Pearson Vue!

Next Steps

You’ve now got loads of tips for building your PMP study plan and making the most of the time before the exam. Create your plan, factor in time for the important activities like mock exams and reviewing practice questions, stick to it, and book your test date so you have a goal.

After that, it’s up to you! Follow the plan to PMP exam success!

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