How to prepare for the PMP exam - Part 5: Study tips and techniques

The amount of material you need to master to pass the PMP certification exam may see overwhelming, but it's possible to accomplish provided you follow a simple, four-step process for studying for the exam.

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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 fifth in the series.

The amount of material you need to master to pass the PMP certification exam may see overwhelming, but it's possible to accomplish provided you follow a simple, four-step process for studying for the exam.

Studying for the exam toward PMP certification requires a tremendous amount of time and diligence. This is not a test you can pass by "cramming" with one overnight study session. I know many project managers who have devoted two hours a day for three months toward studying for the PMP exam. I am one of them.

If you are established in your career, it may have been years since you last had to study for any kind of a test, let alone one as rigorous as the PMP exam, and your study skills may be rusty. Fear not: It is possible to master all of the material required to earn PMP certification; you just need to take a systematic approach toward studying for the exam. In this article, I'll give you an effective, step-by-step process to follow, as well as study tips and techniques.

Four-Step Study Process

I recommend applying the following basic study process to preparing for the PMP exam.

1. Survey: At the beginning of each of your study sessions, survey the material you're supposed to cover. Review all the charts, graphs and headings in both A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) and your prep book. Familiarity with the topics you need to cover will give you a better "map" of where to find specific concepts in the books, both for your initial study and later review. It will also make it easier for you to put the information into a sensible order that you can more easily retrieve from your memory.

2. Motivation: Identify your motivation: What do you want to learn from the day's material? If your particular PMP preparation material has recap questions or study goals, read them first. If you are reading the PMBOK Guide, create your own questions.

3. Read: Don't start reading until you have a set of questions in mind pertaining to what you want to learn. This transforms you from a passive reader to an active researcher, which is particularly helpful while you are studying the very dry PMBOK Guide.

4. Disengage: People tend to best remember the first and last elements of any study session. Make the most of this fact by breaking up your study sessions into smaller chunks. For example, if you've set aside two hours to study, do so in four, 30-minute increments, with short breaks between each increment. Periodically disengaging from your studies makes it easier to recall what you studied. I also recommend disengaging at a point in your reading that you find particularly interesting. Doing so will make picking up where you left off that much more inviting.

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