These techniques have got nothing to do with preparing for PMP® certification exam alone. I have been using these for many exams I have taken in my student life and professional career. Many people are already using these, and these are not out-of-the-blue techniques.
You may already know some of these yourself!
In any case I want to share the study techniques I’ve used so you may find them useful in your exam preparation.
Should there be a specific approach to PMP® study?
Having one has helped me enormously.
There are two ways to approach the PMP exam. One way is to get the high level picture first, and then drill down into each topic, and piece together the overall understanding as you go along.
Second way is to dive down into specifics of each topic and then assemble the bigger picture.
Whichever way you choose to go about, just make it a point not to hurry.
The notion of accomplishing more learning by hurrying is incorrect. By hurrying, we don’t give our brain enough time to absorb and retain the information. You will see better results by slowing down, and spending focused and quality time on the subject.
This is similar to how you would approach the task of panning entire range of the forest, for instance. You could either get a map of the forest, identify different geographic ranges, and pan each one of them. Or you could just start from one side and keep covering the area. But the down side of this approach is that, you would not know how much is remaining to be done until you are actually done panning the entire forest.
I find that the former approach is easier – where you start understanding what each of the Knowledge Areas stand for, how each Process Groups are connected, and the mapping of 47 processes across these Knowledge Areas and Process Groups.
Once you have this ‘map’ clear in your mind, it is easier to understand each process (with their ITTOs) and see immediately how it fits in the overall scheme of things. I find this way of understanding to be more holistic and easier for the brain to associate (brain remembers by way of associating new information with the information it already has). This repeated reinforcement of the bigger picture as you learn about each process, makes for an easier understanding.
With this top-down approach, at any point in time you know how much is done and exactly how much is remaining. Even if a particular topic takes more time to get a hold of (like Cost Management Knowledge Area, with all its formulas, for instance) you can figure how much more time you would need to finish the study. It makes it more comforting.
That said, here are two posts you can read first, in order to get a high level understanding of 47 processes, and how they are grouped in Process Groups as well as Knowledge Areas.
- PMBOK® Processes in Process Groups
- Project Management Body of Knowledge – Fundamentals of Project Management
Here are some of the study tools and techniques you may fine useful –
- Tip #1: Create a study space – place and time, where there is no (or least) distraction. Distraction can be both external and internal. If your surroundings are calm during morning hours (or night hours) choose these slots as much as possible. Keep simpler topics to study when decibel levels are higher than your liking. Most important, do not entertain other thoughts while studying. If some pleasant thought (of playing your favorite video game) enters your mind, gently tell it that you will play it after study hours and push it aside.
More serene a study space you have, better will your mind absorb what you study. And you will spend lesser time.
- Tip #2: Do not try to ‘memorize’ anything! Yes, instead focus on understanding the concept. Let us say you are studying inputs for Estimate Costs process. Just understand the different Tools & Techniques such as Analogous Estimating, Parametric Estimating, Bottom-Up Estimating etc. Once you run through these few times (preferably over different days) your mind sets up a pattern to link this process and the inputs. You can speed this process up by creating your own mnemonic triggers. Or use the ones I use in my notes.
- Tip #3: Stop when your brain tells you to. When your mind indicates that it can’t absorb any more, stop. Take a small walk, do a 5-min meditation, do something that gives you a quick break. And then get back to study. This way you will make effective use of your study time. Typically you can study for 30-45mins of continuously and take a break. Our attention span usually is this small.
- Tip #4: Know that everything is logical. All processes, their inputs, tools & techniques, outputs are logically derivable. When you start on a process pause for a minute and think of what-could-be the inputs, outputs before reading through, your mind will try to ‘discover’ them. Its okay if you draw a blank at times. But when your mind discovers the answers it will ‘stick’. So take it slow, and always try to make sense of the process you are studying as applicable to your project management experience. Also see how is it connected to the process group or knowledge area – anything that helps you connect it to the big picture. You may feel a bit difficult at the beginning, but keep at it. It will be enormously helpful.
- Tip #5: Do not rush. This is really a golden rule for me. There was a time where I was putting endless hours into studying PMP® and not ‘getting’ much in the end. It can be a frustrating experience. Then I realized that when I go ‘slow’ I study ‘fast’. From them on I made strides in my productivity.
You may get a feeling that there ‘is so much to study’, but do not let it overwhelm you. ‘The Great Wall of China’ was built one brick at a time. Same holds good in building knowledge or mastering a subject. Take time to understand the concept. Give your brain enough time to make connections between what it was just fed and what it already knows. This is how long term memory is built. Connections, and then repetitions to strengthen these connections. That is why you will see some amount of repetitions in these notes. Redundancy is a very useful study technique.
- Tip #6: Set up small victories. Once you complete studying a process treat yourself to a small reading of your favorite magazine, or something like this. There are times when you need to focus a bit longer and reach a milestone. Remind yourself of the ‘goody’ you are going to have once you are done with the study. This is a good motivation.
- Tip #7: See Green. Consider yourself lucky if you can overlook into green space (garden, mountains, woods, indoor plants) from your study desk. If not paste poster of a pleasant scenery some place around your study area. You will take lot of ‘thinking pauses’ during study – look into the green space when you do so. Green helps us think better, calm mind and helps retain focus. Moreover, color green is proven to be good for our eyes!
I am blessed with my neighbor’s beautiful woody green space overlooking my study corner, and I can’t thank him enough. 🙂
- Tip #8: Have a right ambiance. Some people prefer to study in complete silence, while some need some kind of ambiance noise because silence can be deafening! I find it very helpful to concentrate when there is a slow, soft music playing in the background. It helps me get into ‘the zone’ and keep going without any distraction. If you like to study in the backdrop of some music check out www.8tracks.com – you can pick and choose the music that suits you and get on your study routine.
You wouldn’t be surprised to find apps such as Coffitivity (click here) that recreates noises from coffee shop, because research has proven that mind can concentrate better when there is some level of ambiance noise!.
- Bonus tip: Study as if you are doing it to teach others. This technique by far has worked for me every time, like a charm. When you prepare notes as if it is for you to teach others, your mind quickly gets into Absorption and Discovery mode. It feels responsible to gather all the information required to answer questions from students. It poses less resistance even when the subject is a bit ‘dry’!
I have included some of these techniques in the PMP Study Blueprint. I you haven’t already, I urge to you take the benefit of it by signing up on the sidebar of this blog. Close to thousand people have been benefited by it so far.
What are some of study practices you use? Do share them in Comments below.