Looking to earn a project management certification? You’ve come to the right place.
There are lots of tools and online schools offering study guides, simulations, tips and tricks for passing the PMP Exam to get your Project Management Professional certification from PMI.
There are so many, in fact, that it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to invest your money to help you get that certification.
I say “invest your money,” because that’s how I looked at the journey to achieving my project management certification — as an investment in my future.
I passed the PMP exam on my first attempt, and it was extremely gratifying, the culmination of years worth of preparation and months of intense study and practice.
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PMP Exam Study Options
Before I ever signed up to take the PMP exam, I spent several weeks reviewing the various options for exam prep.
There are a lot of great resources out there, but you do have to be a little bit careful to avoid the scam artists and the over-promising claims of guarantees.
I won’t call out any of them specifically, but just make sure you do your due diligence.
I also encourage you to consider the three primary resources that I used, since I can actually vouch for them:
Note: I’m only recommending these services because they worked for me.
I’ll go into each of these options in a bit of detail, but first, it’s worth noting some other options that you might consider for helping you pass your PMP exam on the first try.
College Courses and Project Management Certifications
Some colleges have begun offering project management certification, in addition to prep courses for the PMP exam. I found some very nice options while doing my research, but what ultimately kept me from going this route was cost and location.
I found that the reputable colleges and universities that were offering good online-only programs were more expensive than I could afford, and the ones that were more affordable were often in-person programs that were simply too far away. Still, if you can afford it, college courses can be a very good option for PMP exam preparation.
Project Management Certification Boot Camps
I found a number of two-day “boot camps” for PMP exam study, some with money-back guarantees or promises of continued study at no cost if you didn’t pass your exam on the first attempt.
I like the concept of a boot camp — intensive study over the weekend, right before you sit the exam — and I like the idea of receiving additional help if you don’t pass on the first try. Again, cost and locations were factors here, for me: boot camps are often held by PMI-certified trainers in larger cities, and for me, the closest ones were often at least a couple of hours away and cost more than I was able to swing.
I’ve mentioned cost-prohibitive options in my first two here, so I just want to expand on that a little bit, especially because I noted previously that getting my project management certification was an investment in my future.
The reality is, though, getting the certification is expensive on its own.
Taking the exam costs money, and you can offset some of that cost by joining PMI.org first, which I highly recommend doing — not only will you save money on your exam fee, but you’ll gain access to a number of study materials to help you with the exam.
More on that later.
But the point is, I was on a budget for getting my PMP certification, and that budget had already included laying out some money just to get in the door, so I didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on exam study or online education prior to my exam.
If cost is a factor for you, as well, then do your research before signing up for a PM Boot Camp. There are some very, very good instructors out there, and there are some sketchy ones.
I found some of the offerings to be more intimate group settings or even 1-on-1, and others appeared to be large class situations where I felt I wouldn’t get the direct help I was looking for. So I ultimately passed on this option.
OK, now onto the options I did go with.
Surefire PMP Exam Prep Resources
PMI.org and the PMBOK Guide
As I noted previously this was the first thing I did when I became serious about getting my PMP certification.
I signed up for a membership at PMI.org, because after all, this is the organization that is offering the certification I needed, and I began studying the available materials. Along with membership, I received a free digital copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge, commonly referred to as the PMBOK Guide (and pronounced, “Pimbok” — you’ll hear this a lot during your exam prep).
Full disclaimer: the PMBOK Guide is a tough read.
It’s dry and sometimes difficult to follow.
It is, after all, a text book and not an adventure novel.
So go into it remembering this guide is a learning tool and not something you’ll likely enjoy poring over for hours at a time.
I managed just fine with the free digital version through my PMI membership, but if you want the physical copy to hold in your hands, order it through PMI.org after you sign up for your membership; otherwise you’re going to pay a lot more for it.
Whichever way you go, physical copy or digital, you need this book. It will be referenced throughout your exam training and will be a very useful study aid as you prepare. Get familiar with it, review a section or a chapter at a time, and leave yourself enough time in the lead-up to your exam to read it all the way through once and to go back over specific sections a second time, at a minimum.
If you want to pass your PMP exam on the first try, this is essential.
In addition to the PMBOK Guide, there are a large number of tools available to members on pmi.org, so I encourage you to scan those and use as many of them as you can, even if you’re just casually reading what’s offered. This will help you become familiar with the terms, processes and other key elements that make up the PMP exam.
PM Happy Hour
The primary offering from PM Happy Hour is a podcast, which is extremely well-done and very engaging.
Despite not being a regular podcast listener, I stumbled across this while I was first considering the transition to project management, and I am very comfortable saying that Kate and Kim really helped pique my interest and find my way to becoming a full-time PM.
PM Happy Hour now offers an annual membership at a very reasonable rate, and while the podcasts episodes themselves are free, membership, as they say, has its perks.
Among the reasons I signed up was the ability to earn PDUs after I received my certification.
PDUs are Professional Development Units, which you’ll need to earn after you receive certification in order to re-certify every few years. So I liked that this was an option, and I also liked that joining PM Happy Hour gave me increased access to the podcast hosts and the materials they created, including project management templates that I found really helped me understand many of the items I was learning about during my exam study.
The podcast itself isn’t structured as a PMP exam prep tool, but it absolutely helped me get my project management certification. And I found that PM Happy Hour gave me a lot more practical, real-world view of the technical-sounding things I was reading about in the PMBOK Guide, and that was really useful for me.
It’s one thing to read about rules and situations and frameworks, and it’s another thing to hear real project managers speaking about how those rules and frameworks are applied to real situations.
Lastly, while I was still studying for my exam, PM Happy Hour offered a small-group course on communication, which we’ve noted on this site is an extremely important part of project management — maybe even the most important part. I joined the weekly course, which was conducted over video chat, and it was extremely beneficial, both in my exam preparation and in my real-world project management duties.
In short, I highly recommend checking out the PM Happy Hour podcast and signing up for a membership.
Last but certainly not least, I used the PM PrepCast tool as my primary study aid for the PMP exam. I reviewed many other online offerings for PMP courses, but there were three primary reasons I went with PM PrepCast:
1. Self-paced study
I liked that I could go through the individual courses at my own pace, in between my work and other commitments.
2. Mobile access
The video courses can be streamed on a browser or downloaded for access on a phone or tablet. While I did most of my studying and viewing through the browser, it was awesome to be able to download episodes here and there and take with me to watch on the plane while headed on vacation or at a coffee shop if I needed a change of scenery.
3. Simulation exams
I decided early on it was hugely important that I take some simulation exams before I sat the real exam. I felt this would prepare me for the real thing and give me great insight into the areas I needed to study more closely.
I took many 200-question simulation exams through PM PrepCast in the two months prior to taking the real exam, and they were invaluable for me.
While watching the PM PrepCast courses, I took notes in a text file and kept my digital PMBOK Guide open and visible. After each session, I would review the notes I had just taken and create some flash cards from the key items in the lesson. I then reviewed those flash cards every night until I took the exam.
I feel very strongly that all of the above tools and methods I’ve mentioned helped me pass my PMP exam on the first try.
I believe that if I had taken out any one of them, I would not have passed in one go, but of course there’s no way for me to know that for sure. I just know that this set of tools worked for me.
What ultimately winds up working for you may be very different than my experience, but I encourage you to consider the above suggestions as you research your options for PMP exam preparation tools.