The Secret to Passing the PMP Exam

Ever since I passed the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam last year, I’ve had more than a few friends ask me to share some advice to help them pass the exam.

It’s no secret that the PMP exam is tough.

A typical study plan includes these books: PMPBOK (600 pages), PMP Headfirst (894 pages), and Rita Mulcahy’s PMP exam prep (611 pages). Add all that up, and you’re looking at over 2000 pages of content to keep in your noggin.

The recommended study time is over 200 hours. If you’re going to put in that much time, and you likely will no matter who you are — you’ll want to maximize your study time.

So, what is the secret?

Before I get to that (trust me, it’s coming), let’s back up a little and examine the root of the problem.

Way back in 1885, a German psychologist by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the forgetting problem. He proved what most of us already know: We forget information quickly from the time it is learned, as shown below:

This study has been replicated many times since its discovery. The sad fact is that humans don’t retain things for very long. This is bad news, especially if your task is the mass memorization of over 2000 pages of content.

Feeling down yet?

Another of Ebbinghaus’ findings, albeit much less known, is the silver lining to this dark cloud. It’s called spaced repetition (SR), and it’s the antidote to the forgetting problem.

SR works by incorporating increasing intervals of time between review and testing of previously learned material. It exploits the “spacing effect,” whereby humans more easily remember or learn items when they are studied a few times, spaced over a long time span.

Surprisingly, while it is one of the best-documented phenomena, the spacing effect is also one of the least known and appreciated in the field of learning (Dempster, 1988).

Tip: Use Spaced Repetition to Maximize Your Study Time

Hopefully, you’re convinced that spaced repetition is a valuable tool to have in your PMP study toolbelt, but how are you going to implement it?

If you perform an internet search, you’ll come up with some recommended tools for implementing SR, including AnkiSRS, SuperMemo, and Flashcard Deluxe.

While these are helpful tools, they’re not tailored for the PMP exam. That means you’re going to have to spend time programming in the questions yourself. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time studying?

Give PMQuiz a Try

Instead of wasting your time setting up a general purpose SR tool, head over to the PMQuiz website to sign up. We think you’ll be impressed. This iPhone app has a beautiful interface and over 1500 PMP questions in its database, and it comes with built-in spaced repetition features.

Make the most of your PMP study time: Signup for PMQuiz for free today.


Dempster, F.N. (1988). The spacing effect: A case study in the failure to apply the results of psychological research. American Psychologist, 43, 627–634.

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