PMP Study Guide

Prepping for the Project Management Professional certification exam was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my professional career. After 5 months of studying almost on a daily basis I passed the PMP® exam (5th edition) on the first pass with an Above Target score. One of the things I learned throughout this journey was what a great community the PMP® community is. There is no shortage of project management professionals willing to share their knowledge and mentor others. Therefore, I wanted to share my experienced hoping what worked for me might help someone else out there. 

Throughout this PMP® study guide, you’ll find some affiliate links. The affiliate links add ZERO cost to the products or services. If a sale occurs as a result of clicking these links, we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. Any proceeds are used to support any maintenance costs of this blog. Anything left over is donated to charity.

Earning the 35 PDUs
The very first thing I did was to receive my 35 PDU’s from completing the Joseph Phillips PMP Prep course on Udemy. This course only cost me $10 at the time and was well worth it. However, in my opinion, it was not enough to pass the exam. It was a very good base and provided some great mnemonic tips for memorizing the earned value formulas. Mr. Phillips provides a great summarized study guide which I studied countless times.

I read a lot during my preparation (3 books and 2 workbooks). The first book I read was the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition from the PMI site and read it cover to cover. I admit, it was not the easiest read in the world but it is a MUST if you want to pass the exam. A lot of the exam is based directly on the material in the PMBOK® Guide.

The next thing I did was read 2 more books at the same time. I would read one chapter from Head First PMP 3rd Edition and then take the test exam at the end of the chapter. The next day or so, I would read one chapter from PMP Exam Prep, Eighth Edition – Updated and take the test exam at the end of the chapter. The chapters are organized by Knowledge Area so for example, I would read the Head First chapter on Scope Management and then the next day or so, I would read the Scope Management chapter in Rita’s book. This process worked well for me. It really hammered home the methods and processes. If I missed something during the first time through, I would almost certainly catch in on the second pass. It was also interesting to experience the different viewpoints from the different authors. This may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me.

The last two books I read were actually workbooks from Aileen Ellis on Earned Value and Network Diagrams. I worked on these during my lunch hour at work. If you are worried about the earned value formulas and having to figure out network diagram, calculating float and forward and backward passes, then I strongly recommend these workbooks. After completing these, I was extremely confident that I would correctly answer every EV and CPM question on the exam. That is the truth.

Practice Exams
Once I was finished with all the books, I took many free and paid PMP® practice exams. I wound up purchasing the PM PrepCast Simulator by Cornelius Fichtner and it was the best decision I made. He has several free practice exams if you’d rather not spend the cash. This REALLY helped me with my timing. The simulator comes with 8 full 200 question practice exams. I logged the results of every single exam I took, even the chapter exams in the books. I tracked how long it took to complete each practice exam and calculated the time spent per question! Maybe that was overkill but the PMP® is a grueling four hour, 200 question exam. You have an average of 1 minute and 20 seconds per question. You MUST have your timing down before you take the exam. That was very important for me in order to gauge when I was ready to take the real exam. 

If you are interested in seeing my PMP® practice exam results, click here.

Find Knowledge Gaps
The way I found my knowledge gaps is probably how most people do, I did two things. First, I reviewed EVERY WRONG question I got on a practice exam to understand why I got it wrong. If this sounds time consuming, it’s because it is! The things we do in pursuit of professional growth.

Second, after taking each full PM PrepCast practice exam and reviewing the wrong answers, I would see where I scored the lowest. If I scored less than 70% in one or more knowledge areas, I would re-read the chapters in the Rita book. This worked really well for me. For example, I struggled with the Risk Management knowledge area, consistently scoring in the low to mid 60’s. After re-reading the Risk Management knowledge area, I was consistently scoring in the 80’s. 

Committing to Memory
After all the reading, studying and practice exams, I had already committed a bunch of information to memory. What is important to realize is that I did not go out of my way to commit data to memory just for the sake of committing it to memory. After going through this study process, I was able to inherently learned the project management methodology to the point that I really understood it from PMI’s perspective.

You really need to know each knowledge area well but you just can’t know everything. It’s too much. Below are the topics that I committed to memory. There were several questions on these areas on the exam. These are the topics that I focused on making sure I knew inside and out so that I could recall them quickly and easily on the exam. 

  • PMBOK® Knowledge Area, Groups and Process Chart
  • Organizational Structure Types
    • Projectized
    • Strong Matrix
    • Balanced Matrix
    • Weak Matrix
    • Functional
  • 7 Quality Tools
  • Diagrams and Charts
    • Scatter Diagram – relationship between variables
    • Control Chart – process over time
    • Run Chart – plot observed data in time sequence
    • Histogram – bar chart to describe statistical distribution
    • Control Chart – Rule of 7, control limits
  • Sources of Conflict (know the order, several questions on this topic)
  • Know the top quality pioneers
  • Project Statement and Project Charter contents
  • Performance Measurement Baseline (know each baseline)
    • Scope Baseline
    • Schedule Baseline
    • Cost Baseline
  • Power/Influence Grid
  • Sigma values
  • Maslow’s Hiearchy of Needs
    • Physiological
    • Safety
    • Social
    • Esteem
    • Self-Actualization
  • Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation
  • Ouchi’s Theory Z and McGregor’s X and Y theory
  • Procurement and Risk Knowledge Areas (several questions)
  • Estimating Types
    • Rough Order of Magnitude
    • Budget Estimate (-10 to +25)
    • Definitive Estimate (-5% to +10%)
    • Parametric
    • Analogous
  • PM Powers
    • Referent
    • Reward
    • Formal
    • Penalty
    • Referent
  • Conflict Management
  • Understand Integrated Change Control process

Read the PMBOK® Guide Glossary definitions
Surprisingly, reading the glossary definitions at the end of the PMBOK® Guide, really helped me. I read the entire glossary once and HIGHLIGHTED any term that I did not know by heart. The day before the exam, I skimmed through only the highlighted terms.

The Brain Dump
The final part of my preparation was to carefully prepare and practice my “brain dump”. If you are reading this blog post, you most likely know what I’m referring to. For those of you who may not know, a brain dump is just a dump of all important information that you’ve committed to memory to paper. You will receive several sheets of paper at the exam center. YOU WILL ONLY BE ABLE TO DUMP AFTER YOU BEGIN THE EXAM. This means that if it takes you 15 minutes to dump your information to paper, your exam time just shrunk to 3:45 (to answer 200 questions). Dumping this information prior to answering exam questions frees up your brain to be able to concentrate on the actual questions and gives you a place to quickly refer to during the exam. Having a good brain dump should be a part of your strategy plan for taking the exam. But PLEASE don’t waste time jotting down things you already know and have committed to memory.

My brain dump took me about 8 minutes to dump. I practiced it over and over again prior to taking the exam and always timed myself. My brain dump included the following.

  • Rita’s Process Chart (the Planning Group)
    • I wrote down the entire list of planning processes in the correct order. This was really helpful for me to visualize the entire project management flow. I cannot share this information on this blog post because it would be considered plagiarism. I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on Rita’s PMP® Prep book. I answered several questions correctly because I knew this.
  • Formulas
    • PV = % planned
    • EV = % complete x BAC
    • CV = EV – AC …… greater than 1 is good
    • SV = EV – PV …… greater than 1 is good
    • CPI = EV / AC …… greater than 1 is good
    • SPI = EV / PV …… greater than 1 is good
    • EAC = BAC / CPI (at current CPI)
    • ETC = EAC – AC
    • AC + ETC – bottom-up when original budget no longer valid
    • AC + (BAC – EV) – at budgeted rate, one-time variance
    • AC + [(BAC – EV) / (CPI*SPI)] – when EAC is dependent on schedule
    • TCPI (bac) = (BAC – EV) / (BAC – AC) …… less than 1 is good
    • TCPI (eac) = (BAC – EV) / (EAC – AC) …… less than 1 is good
    • PTA = (Ceiling Price – Target Price / Buyer Ratio) + Target Price
    • PV = FV / (1 + r)n
    • [N (N-1)]/2
    • (P + M + O) / 3 = Triangle distribution
    • (P + 4(M) + O) / 6 = BETA/Pert
    • (P + O) / 6 = Standard Deviation (SD)
    • (SD)2 = Variance standard deviation
  • Float
    • LS – ES = LF – EF (LS=Late Start, ES=Early Start,LF=Late Finish,EF=Early Finish)
    • ES + du – 1 = EF = Forward Pass (du=duration)
    • LF – du + 1 = LS = Backward Pass (du=duration)

The Exam
It’s true, the exam is very tough. You MUST truly understand the project management process from PMI’s perspective in order to pass. I estimated that approximately 80-85% of the exam questions were situational. I expected this based on taking all the practice exams. However, the thing that threw me off slightly was that I felt there were several questions that didn’t include enough information. They were a bit vague and because of that, there seemed to be 3 or sometimes 4 valid answers (to me). It seems  that many of the questions are designed like this to make sure you KNOW project management. Just keep telling yourself, CHOOSE THE BEST ANSWER and you’ll be OK.

My strategy for taking the exam was to MARK and skip any questions that I did not immediately have an idea on. A lot of people do this and I think it is a good strategy. Even though I marked the questions, I also wrote the question numbers down on my paper and circled the ones that I did not answer at all. Those would be the first ones that I’d review before looking at all the rest of them. 

I had 20 minutes left over to review my answers. I made it a point to NOT change too many questions but I  did change approximately 4 answers. During ,my practice exams I kept track of everything, including when I changed my answers and found that approximately 70% of the time, my initial answer was correct. If you are not sure of the answer, GO WITH YOUR INITIAL ANSWER.

Well, there you have it. This was the process I used and it worked for me. I decided to document my journey so as to help anyone else out there who might find it helpful. There is an endless amount of resources available for anyone who wants to pursue their PMP® certification. There are a lot of good people out there willing to provide free material and mentor others. Posting my experience in the hope that it helps someone is the least that I could do. Feel free to leave a comment if this was helpful (or not) or if you have any questions. Thank you for reading and good luck on the exam!

Resources and References
PMP Exam Prep, Eighth Edition – Updated – Rita Mulcahy. This book comes HIGHLY recommended but it is very expensive. However, I must say, this book REALLY helped me get ready for the exam. Remember, if you are planning on taking the exam after March 26, 2018 you will need to pick up the PM Exam Prep, Ninth Edition which can be pre-ordered at

Head First PMP 3rd Edition – Another very good book which complimented Rita’s. It is a much easier read mainly due to the Head First format. There were a few things I got out of this book that I did not get anywhere else. I was lucky and did not have to purchase this book. I checked this one out from the library. If you are planning on taking the exam after March 26, 2018, you will want to pick up the Head First PMP 4th Edition based on PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition.

If you are worried about Network Diagrams, calculation the critical path or memorizing all the Earned Value management formulas, then you might seriously want to consider one or both of the books below by Aileen Ellis. I bought these workbooks and they are cheap, short easy reads and each have 50 questions in a workbook format. By the time you are done with these, you won’t fear any Earned Value or Critical Path questions on the PMP exam. I promise you.

Aileen Ellis – How to get every Network Diagram question right on the PMP® Exam
Aileen Ellis – How to get every Earned Value question right on the PMP® Exam

PMBOK® Guide 5th or 6th Edition – of course if you are serious about passing the PMP® exam, you MUST read the PMBOK® Guide. You can get this guide as part of your PMI membership from the PMI website. Of course, you’ll need the 6th edition if you are planning on taking the exam after March 26, 2018.

Oliver Lehmann – This is a great source of information. Oliver offers some great free material. His practice exams are arguably the hardest ones on the web.

LinkedIn PMP Study Group – Join the I Want to be a PMP LinkedIn group. I highly recommend it. Folks post all the time about their experiences which are invaluable.

Joseph Phillips PMP Prep – Online PMP Prep course on Udemy. Joe is a good teacher and very knowledgeable about project management.

Rita Mulcahy’s website – This site is chock full of good information. 

Project Management Institute – All aspiring project managers should join PMI. Most companies will pay the annual fee. Even if they don’t, it is well worth it.

PM PrepCast – This exam simulator is fantastic. It really did help me get prepared for this exam.

George Almeida, PMP


George Almeida

Welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere. I'm an Information Technology manager for a Fortune 500 company. I specialize in Windows operating systems, applications, servers, storage, networks and also have a technical background on the IBM iSeries platform. My only purpose for this blog is the hope that it helps someone, someday, somewhere. Any meager proceeds derived from our sponsors will be donated to charity.

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2 Comments on "PMP Study Guide"

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Shafik Ahmad

Very insightful write-up on your PMP journey. Congratulations George.