Most certified project management professionals (PMPs) will tell you that passing the PMP certification exam requires a considerable amount of studying. Here's a list of essential study materials you'll need to be successful. PMP expert Cornelius Fichtner has prepared a series of how-to articles designed to help interested parties prepare for the PMP exam. This article is the fourth in the series.

The PMP exam is a four-hour test with 200 multiple-choice questions that cover concepts from the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Some PMPs have described the exam as grueling, and most will tell you that it takes a considerable amount of studying to pass it successfully.

It is not surprising, then, that you'll need numerous study materials. The good news is that you can choose from a variety of resources and formats designed to fit your individual learning styles and preferences. Here's a short list of essential study materials.

1. The PMBOK Guide

The PMBOK Guide is an essential resource. If you use no other study material to prepare for the PMP exam, use the PMBOK Guide. You cannot pass the exam without it.

PMI members can download a free PDF copy of the current PMBOK Guide from the Project Management Institute's website. The PMBOK Guide is also available in a hard copy from online and local bookstores. By the time you are ready to take the PMP Exam, you will have read most of this book at least twice, if not three times.

2. PMP Exam Prep Book

Most certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs) will tell you that they used a PMP exam prep book in addition to studying from the PMBOK Guide. PMP exam prep books complement the PMBOK Guide, and I highly recommend using them. Two that I recommend are Achieve PMP Exam Success, 4th Edition: A Concise Study Guide for the Busy Project Manager by Diane Altwies and Janice Preston, and Andy Crowe's The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try.

PMP exam prep books explain the PMBOK Guide, a dry, scholarly reference book, in plain English and systematically take you through its concepts. Many give you tips about what to expect on test day and come with a CD full of sample questions.

3. PMP Exam Prep Workshops

PMP exam prep workshops are a good option if you prefer a classroom setting and need more one-on-one interaction. They are also great places to network with other aspiring PMPs, and project managers who register for them end up forming study groups with other participants. Another benefit of these workshops is that they usually satisfy the 35 contact hours required to apply to take the PMP exam.

Many local PMI chapters offer a series of weekend classes. Make sure that your teacher is PMP certified and that the presentations are based on the current PMBOK Guide and current exam.

4. Online PMP Exam Prep Workshops

PMP exam preparation courses are also available online. They tend to be less expensive than the in-person workshops. Some online prep courses are intensive, while others are self-paced. Choose the option that best suits your study style. Do lots of comparisons and read testimonials before you commit to one.

5. Downloadable PMP Exam Prep Videocasts

Successful PMPs will tell you to have your study materials with you at all times. That way, when you're stuck in a waiting room, you can study for the exam. Thanks to PMP exam prep videocasts, you don't have to lug your PMBOK Guide and exam prep book everywhere you go.

PMP exam prep videocasts are powerful learning tools that reinforce concepts from the PMBOK Guide through audio-visual training. You can download them to your smartphone, MP3 player or laptop so that they're always handy and portable. I created one called The Project Management PrepCast.

6. Online PMP Exam Simulators

PMP applicants would be wise to use an exam simulator to prepare for the exam. Exam simulators are basically practice PMP exams. They pose the same style of questions that you'll find on an actual PMP exam, and they aim to replicate the exam environment so that you can get comfortable with the pressure and timing associated with the exam. PMP exam simulators are an excellent way to measure your ability to apply PMBOK Guide concepts to questions you've never seen before. They offer an effective way to find out what you don't know and build your confidence before your actual exam day.

7. Flash Cards

Flash cards, whether paper or electronic, are tried, tested, portable and cost-effective. You can download electronic flashcards that you can then flip through on your computer or smartphone. Others you can print out from your computer. Creating your own flash cards can be an incredibly helpful study activity. One of the other benefits of flashcards is that they let you include family and friends in your studies: Hand them your cards, and they instantly become your study partners.

8. Free Online Resources

When it comes to free online resources, you get what you pay for. Not all of them are very useful or credible. Before you use any study materials (whether they're free and web-based or whether you pay for them), confirm that the content comes from a reputable provider and is based on the current version of the PMBOK Guide, which has significant changes over the previous edition.

The one online resource that I recommend are PMP exam discussion forums. These forums are a great place to interact with others who are also preparing for the exam. Many PMPs, including myself, continue to visit these forums even after we've become certified. We answer questions about our experience before and after the exam and help out with the practical application of the PMI framework. These forums are a great way to build your professional network so they're well worth your time and effort--as long as you don't use them as an excuse not to pick up your books and study. Try the forums at PMHUB, PM Zilla and O'Reilly.

In my next article, I'll cover how to study for the exam. Since successful PMP exam takers studied, on average, 10 to 12 weeks, your time needs to be spent wisely. I will help you with that.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, is a noted project management expert with nearly 20 years of project management experience in various industries. He has helped over 11,000 students in their PMP Exam Prep with The Project Management PrepCast, a downloadable and portable exam prep video workshop. A former PMI Chapter president, Fichtner is currently an active volunteer in his local PMI chapter and a member of PMI's New Media Council. He is also the host of the Project Management Podcast and the PDU Podcast.