Insights on Preparation for the PMP® Exam

The PMP® (Project Management Professional) certification from the Project Management Institute is well acknowledged among project management professionals and across industries. The exam is based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

Preparing for the exam is a challenging experience, especially after several years away from academics. It will bring back good old memories of the preparation circus from your university classes’ exams. A glimpse of your college days will return…fun, right?

Effort and Experience

Passing exams is no cakewalk. For the PMP exam, you must have the minimum experience as defined in the eligibility criteria by PMI. This will ensure you understand the concepts and processes related to project management, and that aspirants have worked in a project environment. If you have no project management experience, reading PMBOK Guide will be like reading an alien language.

Though you may have ample experience in project management, you still need to make an effort to understanding PMBOK Guide and passing the exam. No guesswork will help; passing the exam will come from core study coupled with PM experience in real world projects.

The exam will ascertain your understanding of project management from top to bottom. The test will take up to four hours with 200 questions. Sitting in an exam hall for this long is in itself a big deal. When you add in mostly twisted situational questions, you can become even more bugged and annoyed. The computer will throw question after question at you, and you have to bat the curve balls, bouncers, and more to get certified. This is where mock tests and exercises will help in giving you a grip on the pattern to answer questions (search the internet for a vast array of option, some free, available to you).


Soon after completion of my MBA in project management in 2014 (from distance education), I paused on the idea of getting a PMP certification for two years. One of my colleagues in the office was conducting some research about the exam, and our inception came in the form of a tea break. We soon decided to proceed with enrolling as PMI members without a second thought. Remember, delays will exponentially lengthen the process of obtaining your certificate.

We had booked a slot for 35 hours mandatory contact classes for preparation from the PMI Bangalore Chapter, and completed those within 15 days of our decision to appear for the exam.

Student vs. Professional

Our goal was to pass the exam on the first attempt. Exam preparation should be done as a professional, not as a student preparing for university exams. You must get a grip on applying concepts and logic to various situations. Memorizing will not help, apart from few formulae and PMI-specific words. You don’t even need to memorize the ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), which can be tackled using logic (if the concepts are clear).

Study Tips

  • Let’s return to our plan to tackle the exam. In the time we had between enrollment and classes, we did some internet research on the exam experiences of others. We made a brief plan and timelines. Below are a few snippets based on our experience of passing the PMP exam:
  • Do not drag study plans beyond four to six months. You risk losing interest due to other priorities. Exam preparation will consume the low balance of personnel time you have left after office hours, so it shouldn’t be prolonged.
  • Take preparation as short running bursts rather than a marathon. Dedicate four months of time (1-2 hours daily, 4-5 hours during weekends/holidays) for exam preparation; in total, around 150-200 hours of preparation is required depending on experience and your ability to grasp concepts.
  • Do not leave in the middle or take a break—not even for a day or two. You lose momentum and tend to forget concepts. Preparation must continue.
  • Read as many pages as comfortably possible (say 20 pages or whatever works for you), and do not “dry read” anything. Only move to further pages/concepts when you have understood the previous one. Don’t stress yourself while reading.
  • Do not skip concepts, as all are integrated and interlinked. Flow should be maintained as per the PMBOK Guide index.
  • Prepare a bar chart/tracking sheet with start and end dates (we made one).
  • It took us almost two months to completely read a well-known exam preparation study guide, and 1.5 months for PMBOK Guide.
  • Do not attempt to solve questions vaguely without at least reading the concepts once—this may corrupt the thinking process and related “PMI-isms.”
  • At minimum, do two full mock tests (preferably on the same time of the day you may likely appear for the exam).
  • Analyze what went wrong and what went right after your mock test evaluation—this gives insights on where you stand with respect to your preparation methods and knowledge (your target is to consistently score 80% and above).
  • Take small tests of 20-30 questions regularly once you have understood the PM concepts (maybe while you are reading your books for a second pass). Solve about 1,200 or more credible questions before appearing to exams.
  • Between pages, maybe at the end of the study hour or before taking a nap, try to solve 10-20 questions; it will be fun and like playing a game—one with a benefit. A reputed mobile app or an online question bank may help.
  • If you can, find a like-minded individual for combined study (it benefited us).

Exam Tips

  • Keep calm. Do not get worked up; book exams have prepared you and you should be confident after consistently getting about 80-85% right in all mock tests/exercise questions.
  • Days before the exam, take time free yourself from tensions. Any stress will impair thinking and logical; you are more likely to answer incorrectly if you are too stressed.
  • Stay fit and healthy.
  • Be early to the exams; avoid unnecessary chaos.
  • Carry all relevant documents.
  • Carry small snacks that have high instant energy (hunger can ruin the possibility of right answers; your brain requires an adequate supply of glucose to function efficiently). Snacks may be consumed during breaks (breaks are at your own expense of the running clock).
  • Beware of “nature” calling. Before entering the exam, use the facilities to avoid exam urgency.
  • Plan for one or two quick breaks depending on your available time. If you feel irritated or stressed, just take a break or a deep breath (which helps pump a good amount of oxygen to the brain to get your focus back) and then resume with questions. Do not attempt questions under stress and tension.
  • Take less time on questions you are confident in; save that time for complex questions and problems. Some may require as long as four minutes to solve, and some require 10 seconds.


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