PMP Exam Preparation Guide - How to Become a PMP Certified Project Manager

  • Project Management
  • PMP
  • Certification Guide
  • Published by: Maria Forsberg on Jul 16, 2022

Whether you’re already a project manager or you want to become one, getting the PMP certification is a good move. In this article, we’ll go over what the certification is and how, why, where, and when to get it. Let’s get started!

What is a PMP Certification?

The PMP certification by PMI is a project management certificate - hence the acronym PMP, which stands for Project Management Professional. It’s the leading project management credential in the world. In fact, many companies and organizations consider it the gold standard.

So what exactly does the PMP certification do? Well, it helps project leaders work smarter by teaching them soft skills (like good communication), technical skills (like workflows and processes), and business skills (like the relationship between projects and organizational strategy). It also teaches project leaders three key methodological approaches to project management: predictive (waterfall), agile, and hybrid.

The PMP credential is designed by project professionals for project professionals, to help enhance their work and advance their careers.

What is PMI in Project Management?

At this point, you may be wondering what PMI stands for. PMI stands for Project Management Institute. It’s a US-based nonprofit organization founded in 1969 with nearly 700,000 global members and over 300 local chapters. It’s by far the top association for project management in the world, and for good reason:

The PMI has a lot to offer to its members and to the project management community as a whole, including globally recognized standards, certifications, online courses, thought leadership, tools, digital publications, communities, and more. Here’s a closer look at what PMI offers:

  • Eight certifications. These include the PMP, the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA), the Program Management Professional (PgMP), the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP), the PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP), the PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP), and the PMI Project Management Ready.
  • Global standards. The PMI provides global standards for project management in business and government. These standards are developed by volunteers who are experts in the field and provide a common language for project management professionals.
  • Over 300 local chapters. The PMI has over 300 local chapters across 80 countries. Each chapter is led by volunteers and offers many networking events and learning opportunities for project management professionals.
  • Training and education. The PMI offers project management training via virtual events, online courses, in-person seminars, and authorized training partners for continuing development. In total, PMI has trained over 2.9 million project management professionals in nearly every country. In addition, the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) has recognized almost 100 degree programs worldwide.
  • Thought leadership. The PMI is a leading voice in project management worldwide. It runs a yearly Thought Leadership series and an annual research project called the Pulse of the Profession, which focuses on current industry trends.
  • Academic research. The PMI has a research program that aims to advance the science, practice, and profession of project management. It does this by running research projects, symposiums, and surveys and sharing its findings in publications and working sessions.

As you can see, PMI is advancing the field of project management in many ways. For (aspiring) project managers, it’s a must-have resource.

What is the right time to get a PMP Certification?

If you’re considering getting the PMP certification from PMI, you may be wondering what the best time to do it is. The answer is it depends. Ideally, you should get the PMP certification when the following is true:

  • You have enough time to prepare. After applying to the PMI, getting your PMP certification usually takes around 8 to 12 weeks.
  • The PMP exam hasn’t been updated recently, so you don’t have to learn new material.
  • You have the needed work experience. To qualify for the PMP certification, you must have three years of experience in leading projects.
  • You’ve completed the needed project management training. To certify, you need to complete 35 hours of project management education/training or the CAPM certification.
  • Your company chooses to invest in your career development by offering to pay for the PMP certification, enroll you in a preparation course, and give you time to study for the PMP exam. If your employer truly values its employees, it will do this.
  • You are scoring well on practice exams (over 75% is ideal), so you have a good chance of passing the PMP exam.

If you check all the boxes above, it might be a good time to apply for the PMP certification. But only do it if you’re confident. If you take the PMP exam at the wrong time and fail, you’ll need to retake it.

You can retake the PMP exam twice within the year-long eligibility period, but you must register and pay the application fee again. So it’s best to pass the first time by preparing well in advance and only applying for the PMP certification once you’re ready.

How to get a PMP Certification

Now let’s go over how exactly you get the PMP certification. First, you must meet some eligibility requirements. These include having a four-year degree, 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification, and three years (36 months) of experience leading projects.

If you don’t have a four-year degree, you must have a high school diploma or an associate’s degree (or a global equivalent), 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification, and five years of experience leading projects. Keep in mind that for multiple work experiences to count separately, they must not overlap.

If you meet all these eligibility requirements, gather the necessary documents to prove such. Your experience documents should show where you’ve worked, your role and responsibilities, and the duration of the projects. Your training documents should show the institutions you attended, the courses you completed, and how many qualifying hours you accumulated.

At this point, you’re ready to apply for the PMP certification. To do that, you’ll first need to create an online PMI account (unless you already have one). Then you’ll need to upload the documents showing you fulfill the eligibility requirements and register for the PMP exam.

Registering for the PMP exam costs $555 or $405 for existing PMI members. Once approved, you can schedule to take the exam at a Pearson VUE testing site located near you or online while being monitored by an online proctor.

The PMP exam itself has 180 questions (175 scored and 5 unscored questions), which include multiple-choice, matching, hot area, limited fill-in-the-blank, and multiple-response questions. The questions cover three main domains:

  • People (42% of questions)
  • Process (50% of questions)
  • Business Environment (8% of questions)

The PMP exam questions also reflect different approaches to project management:

  • Predictive (waterfall) - This method focuses on detailed project planning and predicting the future to anticipate risks.
  • Agile - This method focuses on breaking the project into several phases, encouraging constant collaboration among stakeholders, and adapting and improving the project as it goes along.
  • Hybrid - This method combines the predictive and agile (and possibly more) methods. It relies on careful planning and adaptability.

You have 230 minutes to complete the exam, during which you get two 10-minute breaks if it’s the computer-based version (paper-based exams have no scheduled breaks). You also get an additional 5 to 15 minutes for an optional tutorial before the exam and an optional survey afterward.

Once you have finished the PMP exam, you will be notified instantly whether or not you have passed. If you pass, you’ll get a physical PMP certificate in the mail within two to four weeks. Within two weeks, the PMP registry will also update your status as a PMP certificate holder.

If you don’t pass the PMP exam, you can retake it up to three times within your one-year eligibility period. If you still don’t pass after three retakes or your eligibility period expires, you must reapply for the PMP certification (and wait one year from your last retake to take the PMP exam again).

Finally, to keep your PMP certification active, you must maintain 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) over a 3-year cycle. PDUs are one-hour blocks of time spent learning, teaching others, or volunteering for all things project management. Then after three years, you must renew your PMP certification by paying a recertification fee ($60 for PMI members and $150 for nonmembers).

And that’s it! Getting the PMP certification may sound like a lot, but it’s well worth it.

Do we require experience for a PMP Certification?

The PMP certification does have a work experience requirement. But it varies depending on your situation. Let’s break it down:

If you hold a four-year college degree, PMI requires that you have a total of at least 4,500 hours of work experience across a three-year period. But if you don’t hold a four-year degree, you must have at least 7,500 hours of work experience across a five-year period. So your work experience must meet a specific volume and duration requirement depending on your educational status.

So what exactly counts as work experience? First of all, any work experience that is over eight years old (from the time of your PMP application) won’t count. Otherwise, anything that falls under the following five PMI project management process phases will:

  • Initiation (when the project is introduced)
  • Planning (when the project’s scope is defined)
  • Execution (when the project officially begins)
  • Monitoring and controlling (when the progress of the project is tracked, reviewed, and assessed)
  • Closing (when the project is completed and the client approves it)

If you have experience across any of the above five project management phases, it can count toward your PMP certification. Think of your experience from jobs, volunteering, and side projects. If you don’t quite have the hours, start logging your work experience and having your boss sign off on it so you can keep an accurate record.

When it comes to verifying work experience, the PMI isn’t overly strict. Still, you must be truthful and accurate. The PMI runs regular audits to verify work experience claims, so you don’t want to be caught fudging numbers in any way, or you may be disqualified from ever getting the PMP certificate. 

If you do all that, you’ll accumulate the necessary work experience in no time!

Is it useful to study PMP as an Entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, you may wonder if studying the PMP would be useful. The short answer is yes. Project management has many applications for entrepreneurship. Let’s go over them in more detail:

First of all, starting a business is a type of project. It requires creating a plan, building relationships, communicating the plan to other stakeholders, problem-solving and analytical skills, and managing scope, cost, and risk. None of this comes easy.

In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years, 45% fail during the first five years, and 65% fail during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.

But project management skills (like the ones you learn from earning a PMP certificate) can help you gain greater control and confidence as an entrepreneur. Here are some PMI project management frameworks that can come in handy:

  • Scope management - Project management involves identifying obstacles to starting a business, defining solutions, delegating responsibilities, documenting project execution and milestones, evaluating and forecasting scope changes, and developing methods for project intervention.
  • Effective execution - Project management requires effective execution. This involves effective time management, scheduling, and estimating timelines.
  • Resource management - Project management involves making sure you meet goals within time and budgetary constraints. This requires budgeting, present value evaluation, cost-benefit analysis, cost-schedule and forecasting, sensitivity analysis, and resource accounting.
  • Risk management - Project management involves risk management. It teaches you how to minimize risk through avoidance, reduction, transference, sharing, and retaining.

As you can see, entrepreneurship and project management go hand in hand. So getting the PMP certification is a great way to boost any new business.

PMP Courses - Find, Compare, and Review

Before taking the PMP exam, consider enrolling in a PMP exam preparation course. It’s not required, but it will dramatically increase your chances of passing the exam. The real question is, which PMP exam prep course is best?

The answer depends on your schedule, budget, and learning style. Most PMP exam preparation courses are offered by third-party vendors, so each is a little different in its approach. Here are our recommendations for the top PMP exam prep courses currently on the market:

  • Readynez PMI: PROJECT MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONAL (PMP) course - This course is a five-day instructor-led course offered online for 2,490 Euro or in a classroom setting for 3,790 Euro. Both versions include instructor-led training, all course materials, and a certification guarantee. The classroom course also provides accommodation and all meals. So if you plan to take the PMP exam soon, this course is a great way to prepare!
  • PMP Certification Training Course by Simplilearn - For $999, this online boot camp offers 20 hours of video lectures, over 1,400 practice questions, eight practice exams, 90-day flexible access to all course material, and a 100% money-back guarantee.
  • The Complete PMP Certification Course by ExamsPM - This is a six-week boot camp with over 1,500 exam questions and on-demand video lectures that can be downloaded. If you don’t pass the PMP exam within six weeks, you’ll get a full refund. The course also counts toward 35 PMI contact hours and 30 professional development units (PDUs).
  • PMP Exam Prep and PMP Training Course by PM PrepCast - This course comes in three tiers: a Basic version for $279, an Elite version for $349, and an Elite PLUS version for $389. The Elite and Elite PLUS versions include over 2,280 exam sample questions, over 2,000 study questions, and 90-day access to a PMP exam simulator. If you don’t like it, you can get your money back within 90 days, no questions asked.
  • PMP Certification Training Course by Dooey - This course costs $677 for the self-paced version and $875 for the live online version. Both include 4 exam simulations and over 700 practice questions. The live version also includes regular meetings with the instructor.
  • PMP Certification Training by GreyCampus - This boot camp course is available over four or 10 days, online or in person. Each instructor has 10 years of experience in project management. You get 24/7 customer support, 30-day access to the instructor helpline, 12-month access to all materials, and a 100% money-back guarantee if you don’t pass the PMP exam on your first try (granted you take the exam within 14 days of completing the course, complete the full course, pay enrollment fees, and pass two mock exams with a score of at least 75%).

Compare and contrast the above PMP exam preparation courses and find one that best suits you. If you’re serious about passing the PMP exam, enrolling in a preparing course is one investment you won’t regret.

PMP Certification Preparation

Exam preparation courses aren’t the only way to prepare for the PMP exam. Here’s a full list of what you should do to start preparing today:

  • Set a deadline. Before you do anything, set a date for when you want to take the PMP exam. This will give you a target to aim for. Also, be sure to share your goal with others for support and to keep you accountable. For example, tell friends, family, or even your boss. If you’re lucky, they may even give you time to study at work.
  • Create a study plan. Once you have a time frame to work with, it’s time to create a study plan that integrates with your work and family obligations. Identify windows in your schedule when you can study. Then break up the exam material into manageable chunks and spread it evenly across your available study time. A good go-to reference book for much of what the exam covers can be found in PMI’s flagship Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide.
  • Take a course. Some people do better in a class setting than they do studying on their own. If this sounds like you, check out different online or in-person courses that have live instructors.
  • Join a study group. Study groups give you peers that can be a source of motivation and support as you prepare for the PMP exam. You can find them through your local PMI chapter, PMI’s Project Management Insitute group on LinkedIn, com, and other places online. Even if you don’t end up using it much, being part of a study group can help you when you have occasional questions you can’t find the answer to.
  • Take practice exams. In addition to studying, you should take plenty of practice exams. This will give you a feel for how the actual exam will go. Give yourself the allotted 230-minute time limit and try to keep yourself to all the official exam rules and guidelines. You can find many free and paid practice exams online or as part of prep courses.
  • Develop good test-taking skills. A major part of how well you do on the PMP exam depends on your test-taking skills. Learn how to read questions carefully, pace yourself, skip questions you’re unsure about and return to them later, and use the process of elimination. If you’re not sure what the right answer is, start by eliminating the options you know are wrong. This will help you narrow down your choices. If all else fails, guess. There’s no penalty for guessing wrong on the PMP exam, so you might as well try. After all, you have a 25% chance of guessing right!
  • Come prepared on exam day. Before the day of the exam, make sure you visit the testing center to familiarize yourself with how to get there (if you’re taking it in person). Get a good night’s rest the night before and have a good breakfast that morning. Then arrive at the testing center 30 minutes early to give yourself a nice safety cushion. Also, make sure you bring a government ID so the proctors can verify your identity. It should be valid and include your photo and signature. Don’t worry about bringing a calculator, scratch paper, or a pencil. These items will be provided for you.

If you follow all the steps above, your chances of passing the PMP exam are much higher. So don’t underestimate the power of adopting multiple exam preparation methods.

How much does a PMP Certification cost?

Before you decide to get the PMP certification, you should know exactly how much it will cost. That way, you know what you’re getting yourself into and whether the investment is worth it to you or not. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the various costs to consider:

The PMP exam itself costs $555 unless you are already a PMI member, in which case the exam only costs $405. That said, you also need to consider the time investment. If you don’t already have the required work experience, you’ll need to acquire anywhere from 4,500 to 7,500 hours of project management experience, depending on your higher education status.

To maintain your PMP certification, you must complete 60 professional development unit (PDU) hours every three years. Plus, you must pay a PMP certification renewal fee ($60 for PMI members and $150 for nonmembers) every three years.

If you want to become a PMI member, it’ll cost $129 per year plus a one-time $10 application fee. In exchange, you’ll get to enjoy many member perks, like exclusive content, events, tools, templates, and a copy of the PMBOK Guide. It can definitely be worth the investment, especially if you plan to get any of PMI’s other seven certificates.

At the end of the day, getting your PMP certification could put you back about $2,400 to $2,500. But your long-term gains could be much more. PMP certificate holders can expect to increase their salary by up to 25% in the US and much more in other countries. That means you can make up for the PMP certification cost in no time.

Advantages of getting PMP Certified?

Getting a PMP certification can benefit your career in many ways. If you’re still on the edge about whether or not it’s for you, here are some advantages you can look forward to:

  • Gain global recognition. The PMP certification is recognized worldwide and across many industries. CIO magazine ranked it as the top project management certification in North America, and it’s arguably the top one in the world. Many employers look for it in job candidates. So you can put it on your résumé to stand apart from the competition.
  • Grow your career opportunities. The demand for PMPs is growing. By 2027, the project management labor force is expected to grow by 33% (or nearly 22 million new jobs), and employers will need to fill nearly 88 million project management roles. This is great news for PMPs looking to grow their career.
  • Expand your professional network. Becoming a PMP gives you access to the PMI network, which has nearly 700,000 PMI members and over 300 local PMI chapters across the globe. The people you meet at events and trainings will open up new career opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Master valuable skills. One of the main benefits of getting the PMP certification is that it demonstrates your knowledge and skills. These include skills in communication, leadership, organization, team management, resource management, problem-solving, conflict resolution, time management, and more. The exam and all the work experience required to earn the PMP certificate show that you are a true professional.
  • Learn to work smarter. Getting PMP certified will teach you to make better business decisions, maintain industry best practices, and apply predictive, agile, and hybrid principles. This will add a lot of value to whatever business or organization you work for.
  • Increase your salary. Earning the PMP certificate will help you earn more. In the US, project professionals with the PMP certificate have a median salary that is 25% higher than the salary of those without it. Plus, your salary only goes up with time. Those who’ve held the PMP certificate for 1 to 5 years have a median salary of $103,727. Those who’ve held it for 5 to 10 years have a median salary of $120,000. And those who’ve held it for 10 to 20 years have a median salary of $130,000.
  • Demonstrate your dedication to the field. Getting the PMP certificate is no easy task. You must meet strict requirements and pass a tough exam. But by doing it, you demonstrate your dedication to the industry and you know how to speak the language of project management so you can better collaborate with others in the field.

Without a doubt, getting the PMP certificate has many career benefits. There’s no better way to supercharge your project management skills and advance your career at the same time.

2023 Review of Project Management Professional (PMP)

The last time the PMP exam was updated was in January 2021. Until it changes again, you can expect the exam to cover three main domains: People (42% of exam), Process (50% of exam), and Business Environment (8% of exam).

Each domain contains underlying responsibilities that you are expected to meet as a (future) project manager. Here’s the full list of domain tasks so you know what it takes to become a PMP:

Domain 1 (People) tasks

Manage conflict.

  • Lead a team.
  • Support team performance.
  • Empower team members and stakeholders.
  • Ensure team members/stakeholders are adequately trained.
  • Build a team.
  • Address and remove impediments, obstacles, and blockers for the team.
  • Negotiate project agreements.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders.
  • Build shared understanding.
  • Engage and support virtual teams.
  • Define team ground rules.
  • Mentor relevant stakeholders.
  • Promote team performance through the application of emotional intelligence.

Domain 2 (Process) tasks

Execute projects with the urgency required to deliver business value.

  • Manage communications.
  • Assess and manage risks.
  • Engage stakeholders.
  • Plan and manage budget and resources.
  • Plan and manage schedule.
  • Plan and manage the quality of products/deliverables.
  • Plan and manage scope.
  • Integrate project planning activities.
  • Manage project changes.
  • Plan and manage procurement.
  • Manage project artifacts.
  • Determine appropriate project methodology/methods and practices.
  • Establish project governance structure.
  • Manage project issues.
  • Ensure knowledge transfer for project continuity.
  • Plan and manage project/phase closure or transitions.

Domain 3 (Business Environment) tasks

Plan and manage project compliance.

  • Evaluate and deliver project benefits and value.
  • Evaluate and address external business environment changes for impact on scope.
  • Support organizational change.

To learn more details about each domain task, review the Project Management Professional (PMP) Examination Content Outline.

Earning a PMP certificate is not easy. But if you put your mind to it, it’s definitely possible. Enroll in a PMP exam prep course like the one by Readynez today to take your project management career to the next level! We’re happy to explore your options with you, just contact us for a conversation.

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