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How to Get Your PMP Certification

Max earned his project management professional (PMP) certification in 2013. He holds an MA in communication from U of I.

What Is a PMP Certification?

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is owned and managed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The credential is widely respected across all industries, and especially carries a lot of weight in the information technology (IT) industry. Having your PMP helps you stand out from the crowd of project managers, and indicates that you have a lot of experience and a very strong understanding of what it takes to be a great project manager. Understanding the prerequisites required to sit for the exam, and then all of the study time you have to put in to help ensure you pass the test, can help you determine whether PMP certification is something you want to pursue. And for those who want to pursue it, it can help them start building a plan to achieve that goal.

The Project Management Institute is the organization that owns the PMP credential.

The Project Management Institute is the organization that owns the PMP credential.


The requirements around whether or not you are eligible for the PMP certification to depend on your level of education. If you have a high-school diploma (or the equivalent) but not a four-year degree, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. A minimum of five years operating in a project management capacity where you spent at least 7,500 hours leading or directing projects, and
  2. 35 hours of formal project management education.

If you have a four-year degree, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. A minimum of three years operating in a project management capacity where you spent at least 4,500 hours leading or directing projects, and
  2. 35 hours of formal project management education.

An important thing to keep in mind about these prerequisites is that you don't need to accrue them at a standard job. You can count hours you spend leading projects at charities you volunteer at, your church, your neighborhood, or anywhere else. As long as you document it and have someone who is willing to sign off on it, you can count it. Additionally, when documenting your project time, you will need to call out across the various projects how much time you spent operating within each of the process groups that the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) identifies as part of the project management process.

It's also important to remember that PMI does do routine audits of applicants to ensure that the information being provided is true, as a way to maintain the integrity of the PMP credential.

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Contact/Education Hours

Most of the places where you'll go to get the required 35 contact hours will push you toward a core set of study materials from one provider. Common providers include Andy Crowe and Rita Mulcahy, among others. It's important to review study materials used by the various places where you can get your required education hours, and ensure that you work through an establishment using study materials that you feel will best suit your learning style.

The contact/education hours themselves also come in different flavors. You can choose to work through an online course and work from the comfort of your home; you can opt for a three-day bootcamp where you spend roughly 12 hours a day working through the materials; you can choose to spend all of your Saturdays for a month in a classroom; or more. Again, make sure you go through a class that will fit your learning style.

Study Materials

While the PMP exam is based on the concepts put forward in the PMBOK, the PMBOK is a dense read, and it doesn't do a great job of laying out how the concepts work in practical application. This is why it's important to find a study book geared to your learning style that takes the concepts from the PMBOK and shows how those will work in the real world.

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Index cards, purchased or self-made, are almost necessary to help learn all of the terminology you'll need to have a firm grasp on for the exam. There are also a lot of great flashcard apps for smart devices you can purchase or access for free.

If you can afford it or access it for free through a library, Rita Mulcahy's PM FASTrack exam simulation software was the best tool I used in preparation for the test. There was a large pool of questions, and the way the questions were presented in the application matched the exam almost perfectly.

You'll need to be very familiar with the five process groups outlined in the PMBOK.

You'll need to be very familiar with the five process groups outlined in the PMBOK.

Practice Exams

After you're comfortable with the material, you really want to hit the practice exams hard. There are a variety of places where you can get access to high quality practice exams:

  1. Work: One of the easiest places to check for practice tests is any library of educational materials you have access to at work. You may have access to a wealth of PMP study materials and practice tests and not even realize it.
  2. Library: Your local library can be another goldmine. It's a good idea to see what books and software they have access to that could help you on your journey.
  3. The Internet: This is a big one, and you have to be careful. There are a lot of good sites where you can download free testing materials, such as: Oliver Lehmann, PreparePM, PM Exam Simulator, and more. Use your judgment when considering whether a site is credible, and also make sure that the PMBOK version of the exam on any materials you consider downloading matches the version of the PMBOK associated with the test you're taking. Additionally, there are a lot of great discussion forums dedicated to supporting people pursuing PMP certification, such as PM Zilla. Be careful with these sites as well, as they can be a great source of information, but can also make you unnecessarily afraid that the exam is more difficult than it really is.

Study Approach

Everyone is different, but the approach that worked for me was as follows:

  1. Start with the required contact hours/education. At the end of that, you'll likely take a practice test that will have the same time constraints and question types that you'll see on the actual test. The score you get on that test will serve as a good gauge for how well the information you reviewed in the formal training sunk in. Don't panic if you don't do well on that test, and don't get too excited if you do really well. Temper your expectations and understand that either way you still have quite a bit of work to do to ensure that you're ready.
  2. Find a study partner. If you can go through the training with that person it will be even better, but even if you only sync up with them after the training, it will really help to have someone else to study with going forward. Push each other, encourage each other, share tips, and share good study materials that you've encountered.
  3. Make time to study regularly. I study roughly three to four hours every other night for two months to make sure I was ready. A lot of that time was spent taking practice tests, but another large part of that time was studying information associated with all of the questions I got wrong.
  4. Keep a log of all the questions that you missing in your practice tests, and then go through the PMBOK or your study book to really dig into what should have been the correct answer for that question. I wrote all of my notes out by hand and then typed them up, and that really helped get me ready.
  5. Take a lot of practice tests. After you feel like you've covered all of the material in-depth, there's nothing better you can do than start taking practice tests. Given that the required score to pass is roughly 60%, you want to be consistently scoring between and 70% and 75% before sitting for the exam to ensure that you're ready and will pass. Given that the cost of the test is roughly $500 each time you take it, you don't want to go back too many times.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Max Dalton


Max Dalton (author) from Greater St. Louis, Missouri on September 04, 2017:

You're welcome! I hope it helped! Did you successfully get your PMP?

Kavya from India on July 25, 2017:

Thanks For sharing.

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