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Are you interested in pursuing Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification through the Project Management Institute (PMI)? If so, you want to make sure you understand all the requirements for obtaining this designation. Perhaps most importantly, as part of your PMP certification, you need to pass a rigorous exam that assesses your knowledge of all things related to successful project management.

So, what exactly does the exam entail, and what is the best way to prepare for it? By having a better understanding of the format of the exam itself, along with some tips on how to prepare for PMP certification, you could set yourself up for a better chance of success.

What Is the PMP Exam?

The PMP exam is a 180-question examination that you are required to pass to earn your PMP certification. These questions are presented in a variety of formats, ranging from fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice to matching and hotspot responses. The exam itself was updated relatively recently in 2021, so you must rely on the most up-to-date information about the exam itself as you prepare.

The PMP exam may be taken at any Pearson Vue Testing Center near you or taken online. You have three hours and 50 minutes to take the exam, with two 10-minute breaks throughout.

The format of the exam is:

  • Process (50 percent of the exam) – Focuses on the processes and methodologies required to complete a project, such as managing budgets and scheduling
  • People (42 percent of the exam) – Focuses on building teams, leading team members, addressing conflict, and related topics
  • Business (8 percent of the exam) – Focuses on business aspects of working as a project manager, including industry regulations and compliance standards

Importance of PMP Certification

According to the Project Management Institute, PMP certification is the most sought-after project management certification in North America. Having this certification on your resume could help demonstrate to your employer (or a potential employer) that you have gone above and beyond the requirements to become a project manager, boosting expertise by pursuing additional education and designation.

Another potential benefit of earning PMP certification is that it could open up all kinds of networking opportunities for you. During your PMP preparation and even after your exam, you have the ability to connect with others in your field and potentially even explore mentorship opportunities and build upon professional networking relationships that may pay off down the road.

Eligibility and Prerequisites for PMP Exam

It is crucial to note that not just anybody may take the PMP exam. Certain eligibility requirements have been set forth by the PMI to control who may take the exam and earn this prestigious certification.

Education and Experience Requirements

There are two potential ways to qualify for the PMP exam:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree, 36 months of project leadership experience, and 35 hours of project management training or CAPM® certification.
  • Have a high school diploma, 60 months of project leadership experience, and 35 hours of project management training or CAPM® certification.

Keep in mind that you must be able to document your eligibility criteria. During the application process, some applications are randomly chosen for verification. If yours is chosen, you would need to submit copies of your degrees or diplomas as well as proof of your project management experience and training (usually in the form of a signed verification letter from a supervisor).

Project Management Education Criteria

Regardless of which eligibility path you take to meet the criteria for PMP, you need to have at least 35 hours of project management training or education to qualify. This education could come in many forms, including online classes to prepare you for the exam. However, it is also worth noting that many PMP applicants earn their education and training in an advanced degree or certificate program, such as a master’s in project management or a graduate certificate. Also, if you already have a CAPM certification, then your 35 hour requirement for the PMP will have already been met. However, you will still need to fulfill the other PMP requirements for certification.

Key Elements to Develop an Effective PMP Exam Study Strategy

If you meet the eligibility requirements to take the PMP exam, the first step is to apply online through PMI directly. Once your application is approved, you should start thinking about a PMP exam study strategy.

Duration to Prepare for the PMP Exam

One of the most important things to think about right off the bat is how long to prepare for the PMP exam. After all, while you may take the exam up to three times in a year to pass, you would still need to pay the exam fee each time. That being said, it is ideal to pass the exam the first time around.

So, how long do you need to prepare? It is recommended that you give yourself at least a few months to study, but the exact amount of time necessary varies depending on your level of experience and education.

Familiarizing with PMBOK® Guide

Much of the PMP exam is based on information covered in the Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®, so it is a good idea to focus the majority of your studies on this book. Make sure that you have obtained a copy of the book’s latest edition. From there, consider building a study guide that covers each of the chapters in this book in detail.

The book itself may be a bit dry, but the information covered in this guide is the single best preparation resource for the exam. By the time you are done studying, you should have read the guide all the way through at least once.

Exploring Other Study Resources

Aside from the PMBOK, there are some additional study resources you may want to explore as you prepare for PMP certification.

Resources such as PMP preparation classes and online study guides could prove useful in getting ready for exam day as well. Because there is substantial math involved in project management, it could also be helpful to have a resource for studying and memorizing formulas that you may need to use on the exam itself.

Strategizing PMP Exam Preparation

As you prepare to take the PMP exam, it is essential to create a personalized study plan and to take at least one or two practice tests along the way.

Creating a Customized Study Plan

Ultimately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to studying for the PMP exam. Everybody has a different background and level of project management experience that they bring to the table, just as everybody has a different learning style.

With this in mind, it is crucial to know yourself and create a study plan to suit your needs and lifestyle. If you know that you tend to procrastinate when it comes to studying, for example, then you should avoid cramming by building 30 minutes of PMP study into your schedule each day. Likewise, it is critical to review the PMBOK to determine which areas would require more of your focus.

Importance of Practice Tests in Preparation

One of the best things to do is take some realistic practice exams, which could give you a better feel for what it is actually like to take the PMP exam. Taking practice tests is also a great way to determine which areas you need to focus your studies on based on the questions you get wrong.

Memory Techniques and Understanding for PMP Exam

There is a lot of memorization required to pass the PMP exam, so be sure to consider some memory techniques to help you get through.

How to Recall PMP Inputs and Outputs (ITTO)

One of the biggest challenges many test-takers face is remembering process inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs (ITTO). For some, it may seem like memorization is your best bet here. In reality, however, you could perform better on the exam if you actually take the time to understand each process and when it should be used. From there, you would be better able to confidently answer questions based on a true understanding rather than memorization alone.

Understanding Processes, Process Groups, and Documents

With numerous process groups and knowledge areas to understand, preparing to answer questions about these might seem overwhelming. Again, this is where it could be useful to have a copy of the latest PMBOK so that you may study each process, process group, and document in-depth before the exam. The more you have these memorized and truly understand their applications, the better your chances of being able to answer questions about them with confidence.

Preparing for PMP Exam Day

As you head into exam day, you may be feeling all kinds of emotions. Before you let anxiety get the best of you, consider these few tips.

Handling Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety is common, affecting nearly one in five adults. Fortunately, there are some steps to take to minimize anxiety leading up to your test day. First, remind yourself of all the work and effort that you have invested to be in a position to even take the exam. If you have truly put in the work to study and prepare, then you should be able to head into the exam confidently.

In addition, it could be helpful to practice some deep breathing and meditation exercises in the days (and hours) leading up to the exam, as these may help steady your heart rate and relieve stress.

Getting to Know Your Testing Center

Make sure, too, that you know where you are going to take your test if you are not taking it online. This means planning the route to your testing center and ensuring you give yourself plenty of time to arrive and relax before the exam starts.

Setting Expectations for the Exam

Set clear and realistic expectations for yourself on exam day. PMI does not publicly release its process for scoring exams, so there is no set percentage of questions you need to answer correctly to pass. Additionally, keep in mind that the PMP exam is not adaptive (as many other computer-based exams are), so questions do not change based on your responses.

Finally, remember to watch the exam tutorial before you begin. This is simply a 15-minute tutorial that does not count against your test-taking time but walks you through the process of navigating the computing and completing the exam. This could be particularly helpful when it comes to managing your expectations during the test.

How Could PMP Certification Enhance Your Career?

Having PMP certification could be beneficial when you work as a project manager in any industry. PMP certification is one of the most sought-after designations in the field and could help enhance your resume. Meanwhile, the PMP certification process could open the opportunity for some valuable networking and even mentorship experiences.

Of course, preparing and studying for the PMP exam also helps build your knowledge and expand your skills as they relate to successful project management—and the requirements to renew your certification every three years could help you stay on top of any industry changes and remain relevant.

Though the path to obtaining your PMP CE may not be simple, the reality is that having this credential could be an excellent way to improve the value of your skill set. The key is to understand the format and content of the exam and how to prepare for the PMP exam properly.

Ready to Further Your Project Management Education?

If you are looking for additional ways to reinforce your skills as a project manager, you might also consider furthering your formal education with a graduate certificate in project management. Specifically, Post Project Management Graduate Certificate or University’s Master of Science in Project Management program which allow you to build a foundation of insights to help you manage project-focused teams and cultivate leadership approaches. Plus, this program is offered entirely online, so you could earn your certificate around your busy schedule.

Reach out to learn more about this program or fill out your online application today.

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