How to prepare to get the PMP® Certification

Tips I used and helped me to get the certification.

One of my 2018 resolutions was to get the PMP certification. By the end of 2017, I had paid for and scheduled a PMP training course for January 2018. I didn’t have any more excuses since I really wanted to get this certification for a while and had already paid for it.

I studied for 3 months and got the certification with a really high score. It was awesome to see on the screen: CONGRATULATIONS! I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t sure what to feel first: happiness, relief, or exhaustion.

I’m a PMP video

Getting this certification was really important to my career. I learned a lot. I learned new concepts. I learned new ways to do the same job. I learned fancy names for the work I already knew how to do. I learned new math formulas. I learned about important thinkers and their methodologies. I was also proud of myself for passing an extremely difficult exam taken in my second language — Hooray!

If you don’t know me yet, I’m all about sharing learning and giving tips in this blog. After I got the certification a bunch of people asked me some questions so I decided to write this post to help you all in your journey!

Price

  • Membership: US$129/year
  • Exam Member price: US$405.00
  • Exam Non-member price: US$555.00

Prerequisites

  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent)
  • 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of project management education

OR

  • Four-year degree
  • 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of project management education
The PMI letter I received

1 — Become a PMP member

When you become a PMP member, you become eligible for a discount when you purchase the exam. You’ll have access to the PMBOK® Guide pdf for free and also access to their webinars, workshops, and local community events.

  • US$129/year. Plus one-time US$10 application fee;
  • Unlock 1,000+ tools and templates;
  • Opportunities to earn PDUs;
  • Access to the PM Job Board;
  • Be part of the PM community;
  • Download the PMBOK® Guide for free.

2 — Prepare the list of your projects

You’ll need to have a list of the projects you worked as a Project Manager. The project list should highlight your projects names and duration. You’ll need to provide:

  • Project name;
  • Start date and end date;
  • Approximate duration in months;
  • Amount of hours you approximately spent in each phase: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control, and Closing.

Note: If different projects overlap in timing, PMP is going to consider just one project for the same period of time. I highly recommend you choose projects with different timing, for example, if I list the Lunna project and mention the period of Jan 2016 to Jun 2017, any other project between the same period of time shouldn’t be listed.

Military experience: The military experience counts toward project management hours. Please check if your missions can count as project management experience.

3 — Project summary descriptions

In addition to the information you provided above, you should also have a summary description of your projects. The PMP application requires input of the following data.

  • Project Title (80 characters);
  • Project Role (37 characters);
  • Job Title (72 characters);
  • Organization Name (50 characters);
  • Address;
  • Phone Number;
  • Contact name, email, relationship to you (sponsor, client, stakeholder, manager from pull-down menu);
  • Project Description — this is a blank text box — you must write at least 300 characters and cannot exceed 550 characters;

While the 550-character project description is “free form” with no prescribed format or content, you should craft clear topic sentences to ensure you describe:

  1. Project objectives;
  2. What you’ve done in 5 process groups and the deliverables;
  3. Results;
  4. Challenges, uniqueness (if need be, this can be eliminated from the descriptions).

Tip: Write a draft in a separate document and perform character count. Remembering that character count includes spaces, punctuation, and letters/numbers. Don’t forget: The key is to abbreviate and to avoid repeating data you have or will enter elsewhere on the application.

4 — Scholarship experience

At least 35 hours of formal project management education is necessary to qualify for the PMP. This education must be:

  • Consistent with topics included within the PMP Exam Content Outline;
  • Demonstrated through successful completion of courses, workshops, and/or training sessions that include some form of assessment or certificate of completion;
  • Obtained in advance of submitting your application, but could have been accrued at any point in the past;
  • PMP doesn’t accept forms of self-directed learning or attendance at meetings/presentations as contact hours.

5 —Read the PMBOK Three times

When my teacher said to read the PMBOK three times, I was like, WHAT? I know, it’s a lot. When I read the PMBOK for the first time, I was trying to understand this puzzle. Some concepts weren’t clear to me at all. When I read it the second time, most of it started to make sense. When I read for the third time, I felt that it had adhered to my brain. So try it!

6 — Consider reading the Rita Mulcahy preparation exam book

As I mentioned, the PMBOK is like a puzzle in the beginning. I see it as a dictionary with all the concepts you need to know. Who likes to read dictionaries? No one, right!? The Rita Mulcahy preparation book helps you understand the concepts, and at the end of each chapter you will find a quiz to test what you learned. It also has a bigger quiz at the end of the book.

Tip: The quizzes are really nice, but they don’t reflect what you’re going to find in the exam. The exam questions are much, much, much harder, unfortunately.

7 — Give yourself 4‒6 months to study and get the test

I did everything in three months because the new edition of the PMP was going to arrive, and if I didn’t take the test, I’d need to study everything again in the new edition. I didn’t have much choice. I got my certification on March 25, a day before the last day to take it. It has insanely hard, so I highly recommend you give yourself more than three months to take the test, especially if you have a full-time job, which was my case.

Consider creating a schedule where you study everyday including weekends. Make sure you’re on track with your studying and also the memorization of the math formulas, concepts, and the PMP map including all the process groups (Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control, and Closing), and also the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs.

8 — Study 4‒5 hours per day and also your entire weekend

With a full-time job it is really challenging to study more than 4‒5 hours per day, and if you have kids I believe it’ll be even more challenging than that. I organized my life in such a way that all my free time was dedicated to my reading and PMP quizzes. My study schedule looked like this for three months:

Study Schedule — Weekdays

  • 1 hour before I go to work
  • 1 hour of commuting going to work
  • 1 hour of lunch break
  • 1 hour of commuting back to my place
  • 1 hour, sometimes 2 hours, when I was back home

Study Schedule — Weekends

  • 6 hours of class
  • 1 hour of lunch break talking about the PMP exam with my teacher
  • 2‒3 hours when I was back home

9 — Consider a preparation course

The only reason I say this is because in the preparation course you’ll learn some important techniques to pass the exam. The teacher will also help you to organize your study schedule and help you stay on track with the studying and quizzes you’ll need to complete before you get the certification. And of course, the teacher will answer your questions and help you to make sure you’re on the right path. The PMP website will have a list of the training courses in your area. If you’re in San Francisco, send me a message, I can refer you to my teacher. She’s the best, I promise!

9 — Have a PMP study group

You can organize a study group, or if you don’t know anyone else getting the PMP certification, you can enroll in a formal study course offered by PMI chapters. They have PMI chapters in lots of different cities, and when you’re a PMP member you can attend their workshops and watch their webinars too!

11 — Have a PMP cheat sheet

Two months before my exam my teacher gave me a PMP cheat sheet, which was basically a paper with all the math formulas, important concepts, and anything else important that I should memorize. I made sure I copied my cheat sheet everyday until I took the exam to ensure I knew everything on that cheat sheet. I was lucky enough to have lots and lots of math questions on my exam, and I was so glad I knew all the formulas I needed to get the right answers! You can find some examples of PMP cheat sheets by searching on Google.

12 — Memorize the map

I don’t know if you’ve heard about the map yet, but as you read the PMBOK you start to create a map with all the processes, inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs the book describes. You’ll need to create a physical map with all this information to understand how this works and why. You’ll also need to memorize most of it because the exam will ask you about it. Sometimes it’ll ask you the correct name of each process group, and sometimes you’ll need to describe how and why it occurs and in what order, for example. When I was studying, I carried my huge map to my classes and also had it posted in my bedroom. Everyday I read my entire map out loud! You can find some map references online too.

13 — Performance measurement

There are a total of 200 multiple choice questions on the PMP exam, and only 175 are scored. The rest are called pre-test questions, which do not add to your score. These are experimental questions being tested to determine if they’re going to be included on future exams. Some important information about the exam:

  • It’s a closed book exam;
  • You can’t bring your book and quizzes to the test;
  • They’ll give you some sheets of paper and a pencil;
  • No calculators are allowed. You’ll use the computer calculator;
  • You can bring snacks and water, but you’ll only be allowed to consume those outside the exam room;
  • You need to sign out when you leave exam room and sign in when you return, so include this time when you’re calculating how much time you have left to complete the exam.

The PMI doesn’t score exams using percentages, it shows you the proficiency level for each of the domains mentioned in the test results. When you take the exam, the score will only show whether you are proficient, moderately proficient, or below proficient in each of the domains. There’s not a specific passing score for the PMP exam, it’ll depend on the difficulty of your specific exam. The percentages of questions that will be asked from each of the domain areas are:

  • Initiating: 13%
  • Planning: 24%
  • Executing: 31%
  • Monitor and control: 25%
  • Closing: 7%

14 — Do full-length tests and score between 75% to 90%

I think I started to feel prepared when I started to score more than 75% in the simulation tests. I created a Google Sheet with all the tests I took and my scores. My teacher gave me different quizzes to do during the PMP process, and I answered almost 3,000 PMP questions. The exam will consist of:

  • 200 multiple-choice questions
  • 4h to complete

15 — Watched YouTube videos

I was reading the Rita Mulcahy and the PMBOK, doing quizzes, writing my cheat sheet everyday, taking my classes, and studying the map posted in my bedroom, but I was missing videos to watch. I watched a bunch of YouTube PMP preparation videos, which I didn’t much like until I saw Praizion videos. He explains the concepts really well, and sometimes has some video animations explaining the concepts. These videos are really worthwhile to watch!

Praizion YouTube Channel

16 — Celebrate!

Don’t forget to celebrate with your loved ones when you take the exam. Enjoy this moment and make sure to give back all the love and understanding you got from family, friends, and partners during the PMP preparation period!

17 — Maintain Your PMP

To maintain your PMP, you must earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years. Don’t wait until the third year to maintain your certification, start now. You should consider subscribing to and watching their webinars to earn PDUs, they’re really interesting. You can check out their webinars at this link:

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I really hope you found this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions!




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My name is Thaisa. I’m a Product Manager, and I’m based in San Francisco, US.

More about me @ my Portfolio, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. I’m building an app dedicated to women’s health. If you want to get early access, subscribe to the waiting list here. If you’re looking for PM goodies, check my online store too!