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How to Prepare for and Pass the PMP Exam

Dec. 27, 2019
Global Knowledge

Take a look at the job descriptions for project manager positions and you will see they often require Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. The demand for professionals who can successfully manage a project to completion is rising. Heavy demand means you will be able to command a higher salary and have the flexibility to choose projects you are passionate about.


Project Management Institute (PMI) is highly selective in determining eligibility for the PMP exam. Restricting access ensures a high level of competency and standards within the industry. 


The PMP Exam itself includes 200 questions, which must be answered in 4 hours. 


You can’t just sign up and take the PMP exam. First, you must meet the PMI requirements, which are based on different levels of experience and education. 


Here is a breakdown of the basic PMP Exam requirements:


Education Level Hours of formal PM education PM Experience (years) Hours Leading Projects
Bachelor’s/four-year degree 35 hours (satisfied by Global Knowledge Project Management courses)  Minimum of  three years/36 months unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience 4,500 hours
High school diploma/associate degree/global equivalent 35 hours (satisfied by Global Knowledge Project Management courses) Minimum of five years/60 months unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience 7,500 hours


What do the requirements mean?


The 35 hours of formal project management education requirement often leads to confusion. What does this mean? More importantly, how can you know what type of courses qualify?

First, be sure to review the PMBOK Guide from the Project Management Institute. You will find a complete explanation included in the book.


For now, here is a brief explanation of hours to clear up any confusion.


1. What do the 35 hours entail?

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that the 35 hours has to be met with one course. On the contrary, you can take as many courses as needed to get to 35 hours.


2. What are contact hours?

A contact hour equals one hour (60 minutes) of training or instruction. If you take an in-person course that runs from 9 a.m. to – 5 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break, you would earn seven contact hours. You can also claim hours for online courses or podcasts.


3. What does formal project management education mean?

Formal project management education means that a PMI-recognized entity or vendor must offer the course. Such entities may include a university, community college, national training provider, local vendor or online vendor.

Be sure to research any entity offering courses to be sure they are reputable and recognized by PMI. You will also want to get a certificate of attendance in order to show you actually took the courses.

Formal education means that simply reading the PMBOK Guide on your own is not enough to qualify for the PMI Exam.


Keep complete documentation

Be sure to keep documentation and proof of every course you take. You will need to include this paperwork in your PMP exam application. Proof can include certificates, test results, course syllabus, course descriptions, and transcripts.

Before taking additional courses, be sure to review all past training and classes as some may count toward your 35 hours.


Hours never expire

Qualifying course hours never expire. You could have taken a course five years ago and it will still count toward your 35 hours. Even college courses from 10-15 years ago may count. All you need is documentation that you completed the training.

PMP training and eligibility for the PMP exam

PMP training examines the concepts and methodologies used in project management. This training will prepare you to for the PMP exam. Training covers the five phases of project management, giving you a thorough understanding and knowledge about the process of completing a project.

As a side note, this training – and the resulting PMP certification – will make you a desirable asset.


Five phases of project management

The five phases of project management enable any PM to successfully complete a project, on time and on budget. The phases can be applied to any industry or type of project, whether it is a product, service, department or program. The phases simply provide a road map for getting from the start to the finish.


Overview of the five phases:


Phase 1: Initiation 

This phase defines what the project is in broad terms. Once the project has been given a green light, you would create the “project charter,” which outlines the purpose and requirements of the project.


Phase 2: Planning

This is where you will develop the roadmap for how you will complete the project. Begin to set goals (SMART or CLEAR), define the roles and responsibilities of each team member, and write project documents (Scope Statement, Work Breakdown Schedule, Milestones, Timeline, Communication Plan, Risk Management Plan).


Phase 3: Executing

Your deliverables are developed and completed. This phase will include status reports, meetings, development updates, and performance reports.


Phase 4: Monitoring and Controlling

This phase measures the project progression and ensures that everything is being executed according to the plan. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be used to analyze each area. This phase often occurs at the same time as Phase 3.


Phase 5: Closing

The final phase takes place after completion of the project. You will need to create a project punchlist to finish any remaining items. You will also need to prepare a final budget and project report.


What types of courses count toward PMP hours?

Eligible PMP courses must cover project management topics. However, a broad range of courses fall under the PM umbrella, including:

  • Project quality
  • Project scope
  • Project scheduling
  • Project budget
  • Project communications
  • Project risk management
  • Project procurement
  • Project integration management


All courses must be about project management. Courses on general leadership or team management might be useful, but they won’t necessarily count toward your PMP hours.


What does NOT count as PMI hours?

So, we’ve covered what counts, but what does not? Pay attention to the description of any course you take, even PMI-recognized ones. Not everything counts toward your PMP hours.

Things that generally don’t count as PMP hours:

  • PMI chapter meetings (unless formal instruction is given during the meeting)
  • Self-study hours
  • Degree programs (Associate, Bachelor or MBA) – Some hours may count, but simply having a degree is not enough to qualify for the PMP Exam.


From the PMP Handbook:

“If you have completed a university or college course on project management that met for 3 hours a week for 15 weeks, you would record 45 hours. If only a portion of a course dealt with project management, only the hours spent on project management can be applied toward the total.”


How to study for the PMP exam

There are some basic steps you can take to prepare. Taking the PMP exam is not easy. Some people end up taking the exam two or three times before passing. However, you can pass if you are strategic and focused in your preparation.


Step 1: Study the PMP exam outline

The first thing you want to do is study the PMP Examination Content Outline. The outline includes an overview of the five phases of project management, along with a breakdown of tasks within each phase. Each section ends with a list of key knowledge and skills needed for that phase.


Step 2: Enroll in PMP courses

You’ll need to enroll in formal study courses to earn your 35 hours. An accredited Registered Education Provider (REP), such as Global Knowledge, must offer all courses. You can also take courses offered by PMI Chapters, and review study books published by REPs.


Step 3: Create a study plan

Just as you will need to create a plan for every project, you will also need to create a study plan for the PMP exam.


Key elements of your PMP study plan:

  • Go through the PMP exam outline
  • Review the PMBOK Guide
  • Review PMP Sample Test Questions
  • Take practice/mock tests
  • Review books or study guides about project management and the PMP exam


Be sure to develop a study timeline based on the date of your exam (once you have registered). Determine how many hours you will need to spend every day/week in order to prepare by the deadline. Only you know how fast you are able to absorb information.


PMP exam application

The process to register for the PMP exam takes time, but our step-by-step guide will help you through it.


Step 1: Become a PMI member

It’s a good idea to register for PMI membership, although this is optional.

Still, there are several benefits to joining. For one thing, PMI members enjoy a discount off the cost of the test, $405 for members vs. $555 for non-members.

Once you become a member, you will also have access to free resources like electronic copies of the PMBOK Guide and the PMI Salary Report.


Step 2: Get educated

Take your 35 hours of PMP courses. Remember, classes must count toward the formal education requirement.


Step 3: Submit your application

Once you have met all eligibility requirements, it’s time to register for the test. You can complete an application via PMI’s online certification system.


Things to include in your PMI member application:

  • Contact information – Name, email, address, phone numbers
  • Education – Include schools attended, level of education, degrees, certifications, date(s) of graduation/completion.
  • Domain experience – Include details about projects, programs, portfolios, dates of employment, roles in organization(s), references, and experience
  • Domain education – Names of courses you completed, institutions attended, documentation for qualifying hours (35 hours)


(Note: Your application will remain active for 90 days.)

Your application will then be reviewed by the PMI. They will verify your eligibility, experience and education based on the criteria in the certification handbook. It usually takes about 5-10 days to complete the review.

(Note: PMI occasionally performs random audits on applications in order to ensure the credibility of the certification program. Be sure all of your information and documentation is correct.)

Once your application has been approved, you will be sent information on where and how to pay for the exam.


Step 4: Schedule your PMP exam online

Once you have been approved, you will have up to one year to take the exam. When you are ready, schedule your PMP exam online. You can also find this information in the certification handbook or in the scheduling instructions included when you receive your approval.


Find a PMP test center near you.


Step 5: Take the test

Good luck. All you have to do is take the test and pass!


Note: You are allowed to take the PMP exam up to three times.

What is a passing score?

Only about 61% of those who take the PMP exam pass it. It is difficult to guess the “passing score” as PMI doesn’t disclose much information about scores in general.


PMI never discloses:
• Criteria related to PMP pass rates
• Data or information on those who pass on the first try
• How many questions there will be on each PMBOK knowledge area
• If exam questions are random or selected based on your answers


Here is an explanation on the scoring process from the PMI.

“The PMP passing score for all PMI credential examinations is determined by sound psychometric analysis. PMI uses subject matter experts – project professionals from around the world and many different disciplines – to determine how many questions you must answer correctly to pass the exam. Each scored question in the exam is worth one point; and your final score is calculated by totaling the points you have earned on the exam. The number of questions you answer correctly places you within one of the performance rating categories you see in the report.”


Seven tips for passing the PMP exam


Let’s review seven tips that will help you prepare for the PMP exam. We covered most of these in greater detail above.

  1. Study the PMBOK® Guide – Be sure you understand the various project management methodologies so you will be able to answer the questions with confidence.
  2. Invest in PMP® exam prep books – Prep books should cover the basics of project management and also the inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs (ITTOs) for each methodology.
  3. Take PMP® exam prep workshops – If you learn better in a classroom setting or need one-on-one help, in-person workshops can be invaluable.
  4. Take online PMP® exam workshops – You can find many PMP exam workshops online. These options may also be less expensive than on-site workshops, plus you can usually take the workshops based on your schedule.
  5. Take online PMP exam simulators – Exam simulators are basically online practice tests. They use questions similar to what you will find on the actual PMP exam. They even try to simulate the environment you will face when taking the test.
  6. Create flash cards – You may have learned this trick back in elementary school. Flash cards are a good way to test your mastery of the methodologies and processes of project management.
  7. Join a study group or discussion forum – If you need the support of others, form a local study group or join an online forum. You will be able to ask questions and uncover new resources that will help you prepare.


Get ready for a bright future

Becoming a PMP will open up new opportunities to advance your career. Having a PMP® certification instantly elevates you to a higher level of achievement and respect from employers, colleagues, team members, and clients. You can also command a higher salary since professionals with your skills are in high demand.


Make sure you fulfill the 35-hour “formal education” requirement by taking PMI-recognized Global Knowledge Project Management Courses. You can also take our PMP® Exam Prep Boot Camp to ensure you are fully prepared to pass with flying colors.