PMP Exam Preparation

PMP Exam Preparation

The Project Management Professional® (PMP®) exam is one of the hardest exams you'll take. Here are a few tips to prepare:

If you're new to project management

I recommend taking the CAPM® exam first... that's what it's for. The PMP® is designed of an acknowledgement of achievement, not a entrance criterion. You're CAPM® certification is designed for new project managers and is good for 5 years. It's a substantially easier exam and you can convert it to a PMP® after you've developed your skills. 

If you think you're ready

First, the stats:

  • 200 multiple-choice questions (4 possible answers)
  • Only 175 of the questions count. 25 will be "pre-test" questions being evaluated, but you won't know which 25. 
  • 4 hour limit (note: if you're prepared, this won't be an issue. Most well-prepared test-takers finish in around 3 hours).
  • PMI does not publish a passing score. I tell people to assume 72% - 75%, but that's just a guess. 
  • You will know if you passed immediately.
  • Tests are offered through Prometric. You can schedule the test at any time they have a computer available.  

The first three chapters of the PMBOK Guide® written in prose, the rest is more useful as a reference, so don't try to read it cover-to-cover. As a colleague of mine once put it, "Learning project management using the PMBOK Guide®, is like learning the English language using a dictionary." Get yourself a test prep book (my recommendations are below). 

One of the challenges facing experienced project managers is what I call the PMI Bubble. You can't answer the questions based on the way you run projects, but rather they way PMI wants you to run projects. You'll need to put your style and your approach aside and answer the questions the "PMI way". I personally found this quite challenging. 

Take lots of practice exams. There are many free or inexpensive ones on the web that do an excellent job of simulating the real test. Like most certification tests, you need to learn how to read the questions and interpret what they're looking for. Here are some tips:

  • The test is very process oriented. Know the processes (all 47 of them).
  • There will be multiple correct answers... your job is to find the BEST answer from the list provided... not according to the way you run projects, but the way PMI thinks you should run projects! 
  • Most questions are situational. They'll set up a situation and ask you what to do next, what's the best tool to handle this, etc. 
  • Know your ITTO's (Inputs, Tools & Techniques, Outputs). They guide the "what to do next" questions as well as understanding the role of the processes. 
  • Know definitions and categorizations (e.g. the difference between a "mitigation" risk response strategy and an avoidance" strategy). 
  • The PMBOK Guide® does NOT contain all the information you'll need (use your supplemental test prep book for that)


  1. Read the first 3 chapters of the PMBOK Guide®.
  2. Study the rest of the guide to familiarize yourself with the processes and ITTOs.
  3. Study your test-prep book taking the supplied practice questions.
  4. Take a test-prep class (optional - see below).
  5. Take a practice exam.
  6. Find where you're weak and study it.
  7. Take the SAME practice exam again. This will help you train your mind on how to read the questions and pick answers.
  8. Repeat steps 5 - 7 until you get 90% or better! I'm not kidding... 90% or better. Typically, you'll drop 12 - 15 points between your practice exams and the real one. I'll let you do the math. 
  9. Find another practice exam FROM ANOTHER SOURCE. 
  10. Repeat steps 5 - 7 until you get 90% or better!
  11. You're ready!

Should you take a test-prep class?

Honestly, if you're an experienced project manager and follow the steps I've outlined above, you'll probably do fine without a test-prep class, but they do offer strong advantages. Instructors have successfully gone through the process and can offer more tips, answer your questions, and give you guidance you can't get from other sources. 

One of the strong advantages to taking a test-prep class is it forces you to concentrate and study in an intensive workshop atmosphere with others. They may ask questions you didn't think about. 

Recommendations for a Test-Prep Books

My personal favorite is from Crosswind Learning. It's intense... not for the meek, but thorough (it actually has more information in it than you'll need). It hits the heart of the content without a lot of fluff. It's the one I use for my private clients. 

Heldman is an excellent choice if you need a more thorough understanding of project management. It's written in prose and follows the flow of a real project (unlike the rest that are written in the flow of the PMBOK Guide®). 

Recommendations for On-Line Practice Exams

There are plenty of excellent practice exams on the web. It's impossible for me to keep up with all of them. If you get a recommendation from someone else, it's probably good. Also, I don't check these every day, so some information might have changed. Those disclaimers out-of-the-way, here are mine:

GOOD LUCK! and please feel free to contact me if you have questions. 

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