Top 9 PMP Study Tips to Ace PMP Exam in 2021

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PMP Exam Study Tips
PMP Exam Study Tips

Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by andrewshih

Are you getting ready for the PMP Exam and looking for PMP study tips? 

If so, you are in the right place.  PMP exam is not an easy exam and about a third of PMP aspirants fail the exam.  It is going to take a few months of hard work to prepare for the PMP exam. In this article, I compiled the top PMP study tips to help you prepare for the test as well as PMP exam tips for tackling the PMP exam questions.

Disclaimer:  Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please review the full affiliate disclaimer

PMP Study Tips #1: Review the Exam Content Outline

In case you may not be aware, PMP exam is not based on PMBOK guide.

Instead, the PMP exam questions are based on the Exam Content Outline (ECO). ECO defines and describes what is on the PMP exam and consists of the domains, tasks, and enablers. Each of the questions will be mapped to the domain and tasks within ECO.

You should review the ECO and familiarize yourself with the tasks within each of the domains. While the enablers are not meant to be exhaustive, it will help you have a better understanding of the tasks.

PMP Exam Prep Study

PMP Study Tips #2: Read the PMBOK Guide Properly

Yes, I admit reading the PMBOK guide is dry and boring.  And yes, the PMP exam is not a PMBOK test.

However, the PMBOK guide IS still your primary PMP exam reference guide.  You are missing out on this valuable resource if you do not read the PMBOK guide and leverage it as part of PMP exam preparation.

For those PMP aspirants who read the PMBOK guide, many only read Part One covering the first 13 chapters and still not utilize the guide completely.  To maximize the benefits of the PMBOK guide, you should utilize all 3 parts.

Part One

You will need to read all 13 chapters in Part One, although you may want to skip chapter 4 Integration Management then come back after you finish the other 12 chapters in Part One.  Once you have a better idea of all 10 knowledge areas, you will be in a better position to see how all of the 10 processes integrate and work with each other.

Part Two

Part Two is really how a project should execute from initiation, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, to closing.  It will help you with solidify your understanding of project management process from Part One.  Part One helps you understand each of the processes within the knowledge areas.  Part Two puts all of them together in a way how a project should be carried out.

Part Three

The PMBOK Guide includes several Appendixes.  The Appendix is a really useful reference that most PMP aspirant neglect. 

  • Appendix X3  – Agile, Iterative, Adaptive and Hybrid Project Environment.  The PMP exam used to be about 100% predictive model. However, the PMP exam after January 1, 2021, will consist of 50% Agile and Hybrid models. It will be imperative that you review the material in this section to prepare for the PMP exam in 2021 and beyond.
  • Appendix X4 – Summary of Key Concepts for Knowledge Areas.  PMI conveniently layout all the key concepts for all knowledge areas in one appendix.  You should validate your understanding as you finish each chapter. You should also review the full list again before you step into the exam room.
  • Appendix X6 – Tools and Techniques mapping. This appendix provides the mapping of tools and techniques that are associated with each of the knowledge areas.  It will help you solidify understand the ITTO, rather than trying to memorize by brute force.
  • Review the Glossary, Acronyms, and Definitions. You should review the common acronyms that may appear in the PMP exam.  While you don’t need to remember the definition by heart, it serves as a good checkpoint if you know what they are.  You can use it like a Flash Card.

PMP Study Tips # 3: Read the Agile Practice Guide

You will need to read the Agile Practice Guide (APG) to prepare for the PMP exam after January 2, 2021. 50% of the PMP exam will be about Agile and Hybrid model. Also, don’t overlook the Annex section which contains mappings and lean frameworks.

PMP Study Tips # 4: Pick a PMP Exam Study Guide That Works for You

Many PMP aspirants will supplement the PMP study with a PMP study guide.  There are many PMP study guides available, including PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy, How to Pass on Your First Try by Andy Crowe, and Head First PMP by Jennifer Greene

Each of the PMP study guides has its own strengths and weakness, and you will need to find one that works for you.  Just because the book works for other PMP aspirants, it does not mean it will work for you. 

If your objective is simply to find a good PMPs study guide that focuses on getting you to pass the PMP, typically PMP aspirants prefer Andy Crowe’s book.  If you are looking for a PMP study guide not only to help you pass the exam but also willing to take extra time and readying to master the PMP learning, Rita’s book may be a good choice.  If you are looking for an introductory book to help you understand Project Management, Head First may be right for you.

If you want to learn more detail about the pros and cons of the popular study guides and the list of PMI reference books, you can read the full PMP Study Guide Review.

PMP Study Tips # 5: Pick a PMP Training Course That Fits Your Learning Style

The PMP training course is not only to fulfill 35 contact hours to sit for the exam but also to help you prepare for taking the PMP exam.  The course will provide you with the knowledge to help you prepare for the PMP Exam.

In 2021, PMI also replaced Registered Education Provider (REP) with Authorized Training Partner (ATP). An ATP will no longer be able to provide on-demand courses. There will only be one official on-demand course that is provided by PMI. ATP must use the official training material provided by PMI and teach with a live instructor – either virtually or in a classroom setting.

The on-demand course offers the maximum flexibility for busy PMP aspirants who prefers to study independently at a bit lower cost.

The virtual instructor-led course by an ATP will ideal for PMP aspirant who prefers direct interaction with the instructor, classmates, with extra support and study materials. ATP also provides various add-ons to make the deals more attractive.

For more information about the most popular PMP course providers, please refer to the course offerings and reviews for PM-Prepcast, PMTraining, Simplilearn, and GreyCampus

PMP Study Tips # 6: Use Quality Exam Simulator

Practice, practice, practice.  Many PMP aspirants would agree that using a quality exam simulator with difficulty similar to the real PMP exam is the most important success factor for passing the PMP Exam. 

Indeed, you will need to do plenty of practice questions so that you are comfortable with the real exam.  This is especially important for the 2021 exam.

Criteria for selecting PMP exam simulator

A good exam simulator should meet the following criteria.

  • Questions that are similar to real exam in terms of difficulty and the style of the questions.
  • Exam interface similar to the real exam that at the minimum allows you to mark for review, and go back and forth between questions.
  • Have at the very minimum 3 full exams (600 questions) with a countdown timer.
  • The answer key will have detailed explanations of the right and wrong answers.  Ideally, it will have a reference back to the section in the PMBOK guide, so it will be easier for you to review the information on the PMBOK guide.
  • You can customize the exam simulator (ex. test a specific domain, number of questions, with/without a timer, exam or practice mode), etc.)
  • You should be able to track your progress from the exam dashboard.  A nice feature to have would be highlighting your strengths and weaknesses.

Most PMP candidates who passed the PMP exam mentioned on Reddit strongly recommend PM Prepcast Exam Simulator. You can get the latest PM Prepcast discount code and learn about PM Prepcast Review.

Complete at least 3 full practice exams

Before you take the real PMP exam, you should have completed at least 3 full practice exams within the time limit for a number of reasons: 

  • You need to create your own PMP exam taking strategy.  You will need to understand your physical limitations when you tend to lose focus and need a break?  How long is the break and how often?  For example, do you need to take a short break every 50, 60, or 100 questions?  Do you need a 1, 3, 5 minutes, or a longer break to take a deep breath, clear your mind, or do some stretching?  Do you need time for a small snack or a bathroom break?
  • It is critical to try out your strategy and to go through the full exam experience a few times to get more comfortable with taking the PMP exam under time pressure and building up your stamina. You have to get comfortable with limit yourself to averaging 1 minute per question, even if that means you need to guess or simply skip and move on.
  • If you plan to take the PMP exam online, you should try to simulate the exam environment. Take the break during the designated break mark. You should not go back and review the completed questions prior to the break assuming the simulator allows it.

There are several sites that provide free PMP Exam questions.  Most of these do not provide the full exam experience or the quality of a premium exam simulators.  You should use these resources only as additional practices to supplement your PMP exam preparation.  You can find the collection of free PMP Exam questions at the bottom of my complete PMP resource page.

PMP Test

PMP Study Tips # 7: Understand the Types of PMP Exam Questions and How to Answer Them

The exam will have 180 questions in a combination of multiple-choice, multiple responses, matching, hotspot, and limited fill-in-the-blank. You will have 230 minutes to complete the exam. PMI provided few prototype questions.

It will be helpful to know what types of questions will appear on the PMP exam and understand the practical tips for answering those PMP questions correctly.

The multiple-choice questions consists of the following types of questions

  • Short/direct questions
  • Lengthy questions (Scenario, Wordy with excessive/unnecessary info)
  • Formula-based questions that test your understanding and memorization of formula.
  • Knowledge-based questions test of your memorization of the facts typically found in the PMBOK guide.  For example, you could be asked to identify a chart for quality management.
  • ITTO Questions – You could be asked to identify input, output, and took and techniques for a particular process.
  • Situational/Scenario-based questions are considered the most challenging questions that test the PMP aspirant’s ability to apply the knowledge. The majority of the PMP exam questions will be situational.
  • Interpretational questions such as identifying the critical path, forward pass/backward pass.

7 tips for answering PMP Exam questions

PMP Exam Tips #1: Take time to go through the tutorial

Not only this technique will help you to get ready for the exam, but you will also learn important tools on how to use highlight text and strike out wrong answers.  This function is not available from 3rd party exam simulator provided by REP so it is worthwhile to take time to learn it as it can be a tremendous time-saver.

PMP Exam Tips #2: Target to spend on average 1 minute per question

Quite often you will be able to eliminate 2 choices and with 2 left to choose.  Pick an answer, mark for review, and came back later. Don’t get stuck.  One common PMP Exam failure is running out of time so do not let this happen to you.  Keep in mind, there are 25 ungraded questions so remind yourself you could be wasting time on an ungraded question.

PMP Exam Tips #3: Read the question carefully

Highlight and look out for important keywords. Watch out for words like “NOT” or “Except”.

PMP Exam Tips #4: Answer wordy question 

Have you ever read through a question and wonder what you just ready?  A considerable number of PMP exam questions will be lengthy.  The trick is to read the last sentence carefully first to find out what the question is asking.  With wordy questions, some of the information can be unnecessary and it is there to make the question more complex and purposely confusing.  Part of the purpose is to make sure you know what information is relevant and what is not. 

PMP Exam Tips #5: Answer scenario question

You can expect there will be many wordy scenario questions.  Generally, this is the hardest type of question.  It is very typical that the answer choices may appear to have more than one right answer and multiple actions need to be taken.  You will need to be able to pick the best answer among the ones that appear to be the right answers.

Here are the steps for tackling the scenario questions:

  • Step #1: Read the last sentence to find out what the question is asking.
  • Step #2: Go back and read the full question and ignore information you don’t need or highlight key information.
  • Step #3: Identify what stage of project management process you are in based on the passage.  You will need to have a solid understanding and memorize where each of the processes fits in within the 5 domain groups.
  • Step #4: Read the choices carefully.  Ask yourself, Is it the BEST and FIRST action to take to solve the problem?
  • Step #5: Eliminate wrong answers and pick the best answer from the remaining choice.

PMP Exam Tips #6: Answer formula question

You simply must remember and full understanding of the formulas.

You must have a very good grasp of the Earned Value Management (EVM) formula.  It is critical that you must be able to determine if a project is over or under budget or behind schedule.  You are almost certainly going to see questions about SPI and CPI and crucial concept to understand for passing the PMP exam.

Estimate At Completion (EAC) and To Complete Performance Index (TCPI) will be considered more complicated formula questions, and there should be very few of these questions if you are lucky to get any.

You may get a question or two asking about PERT and or Communication Channels for which you will need to know the formula.

PMP Exam Tips #7: Answer ITTO question

A very common question asked by PMP aspirants is whether ITTO needs to be memorized.  Most of us don’t have a photographic memory and fortunately, PMI doesn’t expect us to have this talent. However, It is more important to understand how the input, output, tools and techniques benefit the project management process, as well as the inter-relationship between them.

You can likely expect very few direct questions that ask you about the ITTO.  However, ITTO can also be mixed with a wordy problem and asking which input, tool, or chart should be applied at this process stage.

PMP Exam Study Tips

PMP Study Tips # 8: Create your PMP Study plan and study hard

Plan your study

While there are PMP aspirants who study and pass PMP within a month or take more than a year to prepare for the PMP Exam, on average PMP aspirants take about 2 to 3 months to study for the PMP exam with a full-time job.

If you have a full-time job, you should plan to study 2 to 4 hours during the weekday and allocate as much time as possible to study for the PMP Exam on the weekend.  Try to multi-task when it is safe to do so.  For example, Can you study during your commute such as using audio if you are driving?  If you are taking public transit or waiting in a line, you have more choices – app, study notes, flashcards, video/audio.

Your situation can be different and maybe you do not have a full-time job, so you will need to create a schedule that works with your study plan.

Memorize processes and formulas

You should memorize all the processes and where it belongs in domain groups (page 25).  This is a very important page you must commit to memory for the PMP Exam. 

You must understand and memorize the formulas as well. 

While you do not have to remember ITTO, it’s certainly helpful if you do to score easy points.

Maximize learning base on your learning style

You can find a lot of lessons learned and success stories from PMP aspirants who have passed the PMP exam.  Some of them have shared their study plans.  Keep in mind however that everyone has different learning styles; what works for others may not work for you. 

For example, some people find Rita’s book helpful, while some did not.  Some people pass the PMP Exam barely read through the PMBOK Guide, and used other resources. Ultimately, you will need to explore what works for you that will maximize your learning and help you pass the exam.

PMP Study Tips # 9: Register PMP Exam for Peak Performance

Once you have a study plan, you should schedule the PMP exam and work toward that date.  By setting a deadline, it will help you stay focus and prioritize the exam preparation above other tasks.  It is possible that you will still feel overwhelmed with the study and not feel that you are ready, but you also don’t want to drag on the study forever either.  The best way to tackle this is to register the PMP Exam ahead of time and work toward the end goal.

You should pick a date and time that you can perform at your peak.  If you plan to take the PMP exam at the Pearson Vue test center, you should allocate enough time to have a relaxed meal and travel time to the exam center so you will not be under extra stress. 

You may be wondering how do I know that I am ready for the exam?  While PMI doesn’t disclose the passing score, it is generally believed you need to score at least 62% to pass the exam.  If you are using a quality exam simulator and you should strive to score 75% or above on your practice test to ensure you have a good chance of passing the PMP Exam.

Conclusion

Ace the PMP exam is just like completing a successful project that requires diligent preparation and planning as well as relentlessly executing the plan and monitor your progress along the way.

If you are looking for a recommendation of ATP courses and a collection of free PMP Exam questions, it is available at my complete PMP resource page.  If you need help with your PMP study plan or need a roadmap for your PMP journey, you can visit PMP Certification Success Roadmap.

If you have PMP study tips that you would like to share, please comment below on what works and not works for you.  Best of luck with your PMP Exam!

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