by Cornelius Fichtner, PMP

How to Prepare for the PMP Exam Part 3: Build a Project Study Plan

Nov 01, 2010
CareersCertificationsProject Management Tools

Studying for the exam toward PMP certification will be a much less daunting task if you apply your project management skills to it and create a project plan. In this third article in's series on preparing for the PMP exam, you'll learn the essential elements to include in your project study plan.

Project managers seeking PMP certification will serve themselves well if they approach preparing for the PMP exam as a project and create an appropriate project plan. Like any project plan, your project plan for passing the PMP exam needs to outline your mission, schedule, weekly goals, and communication efforts. Putting in place a project plan for your PMP exam preparations will help you stick to a study schedule and greatly increase your chances of earning that coveted PMP certification. Here are six essential elements of your PMP exam preparation project plan.

Editor’s Note: Given the interest in project management certification, and PMP expert Cornelius Fichtner have prepared a series of how-to articles designed to help interested parties prepare for the PMP exam. This article is the third in the series.

1. Assess Your Mission

Ask yourself, “What is my motivation for earning the PMP certification? How will being PMP certified affect my life, my job, my self-esteem and my bank account?” Understanding why you want to become PMP certified will be a great motivator in reaching your goal. Take some time to write down what having a PMP certification means to you.

2. Establish a Daily Study Schedule

A daily commitment to studying for the exam can make a big difference in your progress and greatly enhances your chances of passing the PMP exam with flying colors. Set aside study time on your calendar for each day, and organize your study materials so that they are ready to go when you are. Take into consideration major personal and professional events that will affect your ability to study and schedule your studies around them.

Also, set goals. For example, decide how many pages of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide you will study each day, what chapters in your PMP prep book you will read, and the number of sample exam questions you will answer every day.

Make time for study breaks, too. Cramming too much into a study session can be counterproductive. Find a balance between the quantity of material you cover each day and what you can reasonably retain from daily your studies.

3. Set Weekly Study Goals

Set reasonable goals regarding the amount of material you hope to cover each week. Feedback from my students shows that you’ll be able to get through one main chapter of both the PMBOK Guide and your prep book each week if you devote two to three hours to in-depth study each day. This will also give you enough time to test yourself on about 200 sample questions and complete your exam preparation in around 10 weeks.

Creating a burn down chart—a graphical representation of work left to do versus the time you have left in which to complete it—and hanging it on your refrigerator so that you and your family can track your goals and progress can be a great visual motivator. It’s also a fun way to create buy-in for your family, so that they can support you in your goal of earning PMP certification and help keep you accountable for achieving it. Meeting your weekly study goals are small victories that you should celebrate on your path to PMP certification.

If you find yourself slipping against your weekly study goals, you’ll know you need to either buckle down and stick to your study plan or reevaluate it if it’s not realistic.

4. Select an Appropriate Study Location

Give some thought to your ideal study environment. Do you require complete quiet or prefer to have some light noise in the background? Do you prefer to study in a dimly lit space or a bright room? Your ideal study location should prevent (or at least) minimize interruptions and distractions. Studying in a place where you feel energized and can concentrate is critical to your success. Preparing for the PMP exam is not something you want to do in front of the TV or with your family buzzing around.

5. Communicate with Your “Stakeholders”

Your stakeholders in your effort to earn PMP certification are the people who are likely to be affected by your study schedule, such as family members, friends and some co-workers. Set expectations with them early about your study needs, and communicate with them often. Make sure they understand why becoming PMP certified is so important to you and why you need to devote some time away from household or social obligations to prepare for the exam. To ensure your stakeholders buy into your efforts, explain how they’ll benefit from your having PMP certification.

Fill in family members on your study schedule so that they know when you’re unavailable to take phone calls and can’t be disturbed. If you have small children, you can opt to use a “signal” like hanging a red rope in front of the door where you study. That way your child knows that when the rope is up, mommy/daddy may not be disturbed.

6. Stay Flexible

After you define your PMP exam study plan, do not forget to remain flexible. Changes are a normal part of any project. Having a plan will help you quickly get back on track. Remember that being able to gracefully handle changes and uncertainty is what will make you a great project manager.

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.