Every Tuesday I publish either a PMP article or an interview of a recent PMP-certified project manager.
At the time of writing this article, I’ve interviewed 327+ freshly baked PMPs.
The goal of the interview is to get them to share their approach, principles, strategies, and insights used to pass the exam.
And you know what?
They never surprise me with the ingenuity with which they devise PMP strategies.
In this week’s article, I’m super glad to share with you the 15 such PMP strategies. You can use these immediately and see results. And as you do, I would be happy to hear how these work for you.
You will get not just the strategies, but also step-by-step instructions to put them to use.
My recommendation is that you first go over this article, and then take 5 minutes to choose the strategies, and implement them as soon as you can.
I’ve also shared a bunch of study resources towards the end of this article you can use to supercharge your preparation.
If you have any questions, drop them in Comments below, and I’ll make it a point to help you with them.
The benefits are many –
- Ease of study, so you can enjoy the journey and avoid frustration
- De-risking your exam, so you can hit whatever timeframe you have
- Reduction of prep time & effort, so you can spend more time with family
- Absolute clarity of path to PMP goal, so you don’t lose track or waste precious time
Before we deep dive, please take a second and share this page on your social network to help other PMP aspirants.
You can download this Strategies eBook at the bottom of this page.
PMP tips and strategies at a glance (click to jump)
- PMP strategy #1: A neat way to truly enjoy your study
- PMP strategy #2: How to get PMP no matter how busy you are
- PMP strategy #3: Use this to never lose track of the study
- PMP strategy #4: How to balance work, family, & PMP prep
- PMP strategy #5: You’ll also need THESE to pass PMP
- PMP strategy #6: This is how you legally cheat on the exam
- PMP strategy #7: Do this to avoid nasty surprises
- PMP strategy #8: Use this to boost your confidence like magic
- PMP strategy #9: Use one of these 2 ways to get PMP for free!
- PMP strategy #10: Do this to truly save loads of study time
- PMP strategy #11: One of the simple ways to de-risk your exam
- PMP strategy #12: Here’s how to cut information overwhelm
- PMP strategy #13: The only shortcut I’d suggest for PMP
- PMP strategy #14: Do this to avoid false-starts
- PMP strategy #15: How to answer more questions correctly
- Study resources for your PMP preparation
- Download PMP Strategies eBook
Here’s Your Free PMP Course & Weekly Study Support!
Top 15 PMP tips & strategies you can use today!
PMP Strategy #1: Find a study buddy to enjoy your study
Meera Sidhu is from the Healthcare research field, something not considered to be a ‘traditional’ project management background.
She passed the PMP exam with all-domain ‘Above Target’ score, and did not find it to be difficult at all.
Surprising, considering how many of my students from the IT field find it to be quite the opposite. 🙂
The secret: She found a way to enjoy it by teaming up with a study buddy.
“Getting a study buddy was the best PMP strategy I used. It was loads of fun. We would also vent our anger and frustration during our calls 🙂 ”, laughed Meera when asked about the best tip she can provide for PMP preparation.
How you can find a study buddy?
- Join an online study group (consider this, this, and this)
- Spend 30 minutes every day to answer the ‘question of the day’, read the flashcard, and interact with others
- Ask for a study buddy, by sharing your timezone and exam time frame
- Once you find someone, set up the rules of engagement
Sample rules of engagement:
- Set up the frequency of meeting (1 hr every weekend)
- Share your respective study plan, or create a common one
- Set up meeting agenda in advance: respective study update, blockers, quizzing each other, etc
- Celebrate each other’s small wins (hitting a milestone, scoring above 80% on the mock test, etc)
PMP Strategy #2: Think like a project manager and gain control over schedule
PMP preparation is as much of a mind game as it is a juggle with family, work, and self-time.
One of the ways to look at it is to treat PMP prep as another project you are going to handle.
This means, you plan for it like a project and allocate time and resources like a project.
Manish Kumar did this pretty well, and handled the timelines & risks superbly. He got Above Target score even when he almost missed the exam due to a bout of fever!
Here’s how to plan for PMP like a project:
- Create a simple study plan that you can use to track your progress.
- Create a schedule: Go agile here. Give approximate high-level timelines and refine them as you progress through the weeks.
- Arrive at an overall cost: PMI membership fee, exam fee, study material fee, simulator cost. This will be your budget.
- Identify risks and mitigate them: What important events at work and personal front you will have in the near future? What if you have a health issue for a few days.. The known unknowns and unknown unknowns!
Adopt project manager mindset and strategy –
Kelly Heyrman too followed a similar approach. Here’s what she said during her interview –
While reading the question, you put yourself in the shoes of a project manager. And while going through the answer options, think about how would PMI expect you to answer.
Usually, any extremes are not likely to be the answer.
- Options that contain words like ‘must’, and ‘only’ are not likely the answer.
- Options that suggest extremes such as closing the project, refusing something to the customer, going to sponsor with a problem – are not likely the answer.
At the same time, options that indicate inclusiveness, collaboration, and decisiveness of the project manager are likely to be the answer.
You may also enjoy:
- 19 daily project management challenges you face & how to deal with ’em
- A step-by-step guide to creating your PM personal brand!
- PMP Exam Study in 2022: 5 Traps You Must Avoid
- 9 insane PMP prep tips, from 9 years of coaching
PMP Strategy #3: Find your WHY first and never lose track
“Nail your WHY, PMP exam becomes easier”, was the one-liner secret to passing the PMP exam that Lubin Charles shared.
Why do I want to take up the PMP exam?
Probable answers are –
- To get promoted
- To get my dream job
- My company has mandated it
- To strengthen my case during the appraisal
Well, these are superficial ones.
What you need is the REAL reason.
It’s not apparent, and you’ll have to do some digging.
Here’s a way to do it –
Take a pen and paper and write the following: “I want to get PMP certified because ____________”.
That blank could be one of the above reasons, or something else.
Now append a second line: “so that, ________________”.
This blank would be the reason behind your first reason.
You keep doing this exercise of appending “so that, ___________” till the reason brings tears.
The emotional reason.
It would matter to you the most.
Here’s an example of an overworking project manager –
“I want to get PMP certified because I want to ask for the promotion,
so that, I can take up challenging work,
so that, I can earn more salary,
so that, I can take my family on vacations,
so that, I can truly spend quality time with my kids,
so that, I will not feel the regret of not being part of their childhood.”
Potentially, this touched an emotional chord for that project manager. That’s his WHY.
The reason that strikes an emotional chord.
THAT would be your reason for PMP.
Write this down on a sticky note and stick it at your study desk, read it every day.
PMP Strategy #4: Learn to balance work, family, PMP prep and avoid frustration
Hashiru Newland is another PMP that doesn’t come from a traditional PM background. He works in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
His strategy was almost common sense, but not many people use it.
He of course started with a study plan. That was the basis for his ability to balance.
Then he started studying just 1 hour a day, for 4-5 hours a week.
This helped him get into the daily study habit.
- Create a trackable study plan (we’ll see how to create one soon).
- Start slow. Plan for just 1hr study per day to start with. Then slowly increase it to 2 or more.
- Set a daily study goal – that means you study every day and decide how much you’ll cover in a day. You won’t be able to complete it every day, which is perfectly fine. But having a goal is important. You will start adjusting it, and then hitting it soon.
- Study in slots – use the Pomodoro technique to study for 50 minutes + take 10 min break. This gets you the best RoI for study time.
These 4 things help you make PMP study a daily habit, and balancing it with work and family becomes second nature to you.
PMP Strategy #5: You need THESE to pass PMP, not just the study resources
Emma Oguda nailed this the best during her interview.
These are the attributes that’ll get you quicker and surer results:
Discipline & Focus:
PMP syllabus is quite vast.
- Predictive (49 processes, 10 Knowledge Areas, 5 Process Groups)
- Agile & Hybrid (Scrum and other frameworks, practices, ceremonies, strategies, and more)
PMP preparation takes anywhere between 4-6 weeks (for my students) to several months.
Thus, it takes discipline and focus to take it that far, all the way to the exam.
Positive mindset & Perseverance:
The truth is that some amount of our work frustration will trickle on to the study. Sometimes it’s hard to understand a few concepts. Initially, we get low scores on quizzes and mock tests.
And it’s okay.
A little bit of a positive mindset and perseverance goes a long way. Because, soon enough you’ll start picking up the concepts, connect the flow, and start scoring better on the tests.
No need to worry! Using the strategies in this article, you will enjoy the whole process and stand a chance over 95% of PMP students to get certified faster and easier.
- Here are 6 PMP mindset hacks no one is telling you!
- This week’s top PMP resource discounts, offers & bonuses
- Learn to intuitively create PMP Process Chart in 7 minutes
- Find your WHY and you will find PMP preparation DAMN easy
PMP Strategy #6: Use the brain dump strategy and legally cheat on the exam
John D Howze comes from a military background and used PMP to transition to the corporate world. He and his team safeguard 581 aircraft valued at $6.6B for US Army enterprise. He leads 298+ personnel directly with over a 600-person workforce under management.
The other tip he shared was to use a brain dump strategy during the exam.
What is this Brain dump strategy?
The first thing to understand is that you can use this only if you are taking the exam at a test center (and not online from home or office).
When you take up the PMP exam at the test center, you will be given scratch paper.
You can take the first few minutes and write down all the things you need to remember during the exam, readily. Such as:
- Process chart
- Important definitions
- Lists (PM power, risk responses, etc)
- Anything else that you need a quick reference to
And then you refer to this throughout the exam whenever a question demands it.
If you want to use this strategy, you need to create your brain dump during the week before your exam. This is the time you know what type of information you need ready access to during the exam.
Caution to take with brain dump strategy:
- In a few centers, they give you an erasable board, which limits how much you can write. Ask about it while booking your slot.
- If you ask for another scratch paper, you’ll have to return what you have. And you’ll lose the paper with brain dump on it. 🙂
PMP Strategy #7: Planning is key to avoiding surprises
Earlier we saw the strategy to consider PMP prep as just another project. Bring it into the mainstream instead of keeping as a side project.
The primary work involves here is to create a study plan. A trackable one at that.
I’ll tell you upfront that no plan works till the end. Life happens, and you adjust the plan. Well, as a project manager you already knew this. I didn’t have to tell you that. 🙂
A study plan is foundational for PMP success. And here’s a dead simple way to create your study plan.
It is quite simple.
Fire up a spreadsheet.
- Copy the outline of your study resource (book, or video course). Each chapter or module is a milestone. Now you have the entire syllabus at the milestone level.
- Now, copy the outline of each chapter or module under the corresponding milestone as tasks. For instance, Project Risk Management is a milestone and each of the processes becomes a task.
- There you have the basic task list. You don’t have any dependencies, so no network diagram is needed. 🙂 Now, give a tentative date at the milestone level.
- As days pass by, keep marking the completed tasks and use the data to rework the forecast dates of the remaining milestones.
The idea is to be agile.
Start with something and keep refining based on the data as days pass by.
PMP Strategy #8: Simulator is a game changer, boosts your confidence
Once the exam started, oh boy… the true terror began!
I read my first question, and remembered thinking to myself “wow, I don’t know the answer, this is nothing like the simulators”.
The same happened for the second question, the third one, the fourth, the fifth, and so on…
By the time I was around question 30 I thought to myself that I had already lost the exam, and everything I did was just a waste of time, I was completely demoralized.
Someone that began their exam this way, ended up scoring Above Target on all the domains.
That’s Juan Carlos’s experience.
He attributes his success solely to the fact that he used a simulator to good effect.
Simulated tests give you an upper hand with the PMP exam.
Consider the benefits of using one:
- You get several dry runs of the 4-hour complex focus-draining exam
- You get to practice time management (on the exam you get 76 seconds per question)
- You find your knowledge gap areas, so you can plug the holes
- You also get to learn the edge content (potential content that the exam may cover)
If you don’t have one already consider one or more of these –
PMP Strategy #9: Find a way to get PMP for free!
1. Get your company to sponsor your PMP
Many companies have an educational budget, some have it as part of employee compensation itself.
Ask your HR and see whether they can take care of your PMP expenses (covers PMI membership, exam fee, and study resources cost).
When you get PMP certified it helps your manager as well as the organization. It’s a win-win.
This can be in terms of reimbursement of the cost or awarding study resources (pmief by Cornelius, for example).
PMP Strategy #10: Choose your study resources based on your learning style
This is a biggie!
Nearly a decade ago I was preparing for the PMP exam, and I picked up PMBOK to start my preparation.
I spent several months trying to study from it, and could not go beyond the first couple of chapters.
Then I chanced upon a video course (I enjoy watching videos like most people), and covered the entire syllabus over the next 7 weeks.
How you study decides,
- How much you understand
- How much you remember
- How quickly you can recall
All of which are needed to ace the PMP exam.
The trick is to match your learning style with your study resources.
Step 1: Find your learning style.
Do you enjoy reading, watching videos, or need some nudging?
Step 2: Research top resources based on your learning style.
Enjoy reading? Get a book.
Enjoy videos? Get a video course.
Need hands-on? Get a mentor.
Need to fast-track? Get a combination.
PMP Strategy #11: De-risk your exam, take it at the test center
Tiffany suggested this strongly.
- The former is a convenient but risky option.
- The latter is a bit inconvenient but a safe option.
Precautions to take for online exam:
- Ensure your computer runs the exam software successfully (sometimes even an OS update can break it)
- Keep a backup computer ready
- Ensure uninterrupted power supply
- Ensure a strong and uninterrupted internet connection
- Ensure no one walks into the room while the exam is underway
- Ensure there are no voices around, even from outside your room
Even if one of these goes wrong, the proctor may terminate the exam!
It has happened to more than one of my students.
Worst of all, if there is a technical glitch at the proctor’s end then you will have to retake the test on another day.
Advantages of taking at the test center:
- No precautions of the online exam are necessary
- If things go wrong you have immediate help at hand
- You get a professional and safe environment to take the exam
- You get to use scratch paper, so you can use the Brain dump strategy!
- You can use noise-canceling headphones & attempt the exam in total silence
PMP Strategy #12: Limit your study resources, cut information overwhelm
Ravi explained this well in his PMP Lessons Learned interview.
I have seen that people have the habit of collecting study resources. Almost to the extent of hoarding.
The problems are plenty –
- You spend more money (or time)
- You may get information overloaded
- You may use resources that don’t match your learning style
- You will end up spending too much time across too many resources
You only need 2 study resources and one simulator, to keep it lean and mean.
I would recommend keeping your learning style-based resources as primary, and PMBOK (+APG) as a secondary resource.
If you did your research well and chose the top 2 resources, you will the study syllabus well.
PMP Strategy #13: Want a shortcut? Get a PMP Mentor
I loved it when Jessica Colletta said it.
“Get yourself a PMP exam mentor”, said Jessica when I asked about the single most useful tip she can give a PMP student, “and you’ll not have moments of doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Ever.”.
A mentor has been there, done that.
A mentor can help you :
- Get clarity of goal,
- Instill the right mindset,
- Avoid any possible traps,
- Get past every blocker,
- Walk the shortest path!
Not feeling like studying? They’s tell you what to do.
Not able to recall concepts? They’ll show you how to study.
Not able to score above 80%? They’ll give you strategies to improve your score.
PMP Strategy #14: Study every day to create momentum, and avoid false-start
I began my PMP prep in all earnest.
But every time I made some progress, some higher priority thing would stall my progress.
A new project.
Training new crew.
And then after several months, I get a breather. I pick up the study material. And it feels like I’m at square one.
Has this happened to you?
This is called a false-start.
I had several of them.
It took me close to 3 years to FINALLY study seriously for PMP and pass it.
And you know what’s the perfect antidote for avoiding false-starts?
Studying every single day.
Here’s how and why:
- You study every day at the same time of the day
- You study even if it is for 15 minutes (on those busy days)
- This way you make PMP study a daily routine!
- It becomes just another stuff you do every day.
- Even if your work tears apart your days, you’ll be able to pick up the study pace when you get a breather.
- That’s because you never stopped studying in the first place.
Study momentum is very very very crucial.
If there is ONE strategy you take from this article, let it be this.
PMP Strategy #15: Forget your project management experience, and more questions right
Darrell Braswell discovered this after some sleepless nights. 🙂
This strategy is true if you are a veteran project manager with years if not decade+ of project management experience.
The perspective to consider is:
A project environment contains many variables.
Two PMs with similar projects and similar conditions may take completely different decisions when faced with the same problem.
Their decision is taken based on several factors:
- Short term vs long term impact
- The relationship with and expectations of the client
- The constraints such as time, resources, or schedule
- The risk level of each of the alternative decisions
But from PMI’s perspective, if there is one problem, there is one solution.
An IDEAL ONE.
This is good as well as bad news.
Good news, because, you can predict how an ideal PM would behave given a situation. The PMI’s way of thinking.
Bad news, because, you cannot use your own project management experience to answer exam questions.
That’s why you keep your experience aside and don the ideal project manager’s hat and answer PMP questions.
Simple as that. 🙂
Phew! That was long.
But hopefully, you found a gem or two, a strategy or two, a technique or two, or a tip or two to use in your own PMP preparation.
We covered 15 of them.
Do you have any other tips to share or a problem for which you didn’t find a strategy here?
Let me know in the Comments and I’ll help you with what I know.
Let me also know the project management topics or topics related to the PMP exam that you would like me to write about.
Resources to fast-track your PMP
And yes, if you are just beginning your PMP study here are a bunch of resources that might help you.
- PMP Beginner’s guide: http://bit.ly/pmp1guide
- Get a free PMP course: http://bit.ly/pmplpad
- Video course: http://bit.ly/pmprepcst
- Free simulator: http://bit.ly/freepmpsim
- 2280+ Questions simulator: https://bit.ly/BF21-ospsim
- Master PMP concepts in a brain-friendly way: https://bit.ly/masterpmp
- Free PMP support group on LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/li-pmp
- Free PMP support group on Facebook: http://bit.ly/fb-pmp
- New exam simulator: https://lnkd.in/gSe4-M_N
- PMP Last Mile prep program – https://lnkd.in/gS3JnbD
Here’s wishing you good luck!
PS: Follow me on LinkedIn and click the Bell on my profile to get all the tips I share daily.