10 Tips for PMP Certification Exam Success [updated 2021]

Olusegun Ogunsina
August 3, 2021 by
Olusegun Ogunsina

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is a good choice for project managers in any industry. Obtaining this credential can prove your hands-on experience and possess various management techniques required to make any project, small or complex, a success. According to PMI, a PMP certification can build your skills, so you help an organization complete more of its projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals.

There is an increasing number of project-related jobs available right now, so adding this qualification can add value to your role and possibly give you access to a higher salary compared to non-certified individuals.

As you’re preparing for the big day, here are 10 tips to help you achieve PMP exam success.

Earn your PMP, guaranteed!

Earn your PMP, guaranteed!

Enroll in a PMP Boot Camp and earn one of the industry’s most respected certifications — guaranteed.

1. Don’t Start With the PMBOK Guide.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while preparing for your PMP exam is studying using the PMBOK guide or PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. The PMBOK Guide contains essential details such as an overview of the certification and the exam, including its prerequisites, how many and what type of questions you are about to face, time allotted for examination and the passing mark. In addition, the guide provides detailed information on the topics covered in the examination, including the percentage of questions dedicated to each subject. This helps a lot, especially in constructing your study plan.

However, The PMBOK contains a lot of new terminologies that you may find difficult to understand. The sheer volume of challenging terminology, processes and the input, and techniques and the output (ITTO) makes it overwhelming to assimilate. That is why, while the PMBOK should be read to be familiar with the domains critical for the effective delivery of project outcomes, you should think of it more as a reference text than a study course.

2. Create Your Own Custom Study Plan

The PMP exam will test you on three domains: people (42%), process (50%) and business environment (8%). You must make sure you have enough time to review all domains at least once; this includes studying and completing mock exams, visiting online forums and spending extra time reviewing areas that need improvement.

Without adequate planning, your chance of success will drop. Creating a study plan that fits your personal needs is essential; even a simple to-do list can help a lot. For your custom study plan, you should consider factors such as:

  • How soon do you intend to take the examination? Check the Pearson VUE website to schedule your online proctored exam at a test center, then find a time and location that suits you best (you will need your unique PMI Eligibility ID).
  • How much time can you devote to your study efforts? If you are already working, or have other commitments, make sure you can dedicate sufficient time to the basics, such as covering all exam topics, taking practice tests and reviewing exam simulations.
  • How much can you spend on preparation material and training courses? Look for official, certified study material and training to ensure you have a thorough understanding of each domain covered in the exam.
  • What training method best suits you? Some people prefer self-learning, while others think there is no substitute for the classroom. Use your past learning experiences to help you pick the method to help you prepare best.
  • How well acquainted are you already with the exam subjects? Even experienced professionals with good knowledge about the certification subjects can have a hard time during the examination. Your personal experience can save you some studying time, but you should consider factors such as exam length and question logic. Relying too much on experience alone is a poor strategy that will likely lead to bad results.

3. Do Less Memorizing & More Understanding

The PMP exam is a practical examination that tests your application of project management concepts and theories in real-life scenarios. Due to the amount of terminology in the PMP domains, many try to memorize their way to success only to discover the application nature of the examination when it’s too late. Reading to understand helps you internalize the concepts and apply lessons to real-life scenarios. However, basic things like process groups, knowledge areas and standard formulas should be easily recallable by any project manager. These include schedule and cost management formulas, critical path analysis and more.

4. Get to Know Your Exam

This may sound overly simple, but your first step to success is knowing the challenge you will face. The PMI website will help you find basic information on the PMP certification exam. It will also provide links to useful information, such as official training providers, exam topics, practice questions and study material.

Prep for the PMP certification by reviewing the exam content outline.

5. Leverage Free Exam-Prep Resources

The PMP Handbook, PMP exam content outline and PMP sample questions are all available as free downloads on the PMI website. Use these as a starting point to evaluate your understanding of the three PMP exam domains (as per the latest January 2021 update), covering a variety of different subject areas.

6. Get Involved In an Exam Prep Course

Deciding to use a self-study-only approach may seem like a bold decision, but it may not be the best strategy. It is important to understand that achieving exam success requires in-depth knowledge of several different subjects. Even if you have real-world experience, some of it may not apply since PMI’s point of view may be quite different from the tasks you are used to doing in the field.

Going through a certification preparation course lets you spend time with an experienced instructor with actual knowledge of beating the exam. It is an excellent opportunity to get all your questions answered, share experiences and strategies and even network if it is in-person training. 

This results in a greater success rate on any certification exam. The Project Management Institute Authorized Training Partners (ATPs) can provide participants with exclusive, PMI-authored materials and prep-courses for the PMP exam.

7. Take Practice Exams

No candidate should approach the exam without the help of PMI’s PMP sample questions. The test contains 180 questions that must be answered in 230 minutes.

Questions will be a combination of multiple-choice, multiple responses, matching, hotspot and limited fill-in-the-blank. See prototype questions to learn more.

Take your time to study and use every resource available to clarify any doubts. By the end of your study plan, you will see consistent results on practice exams.

8. Join an Online Community

A simple search on the Web will find several online communities that hold discussions on the PMP examination where both candidates and certified professionals share their certification experiences. If you are looking for general advice, posting your question to an online forum such as PMI’s Certification Central, Reddit, or TechExams can be quite helpful.

Unless you have time to help others, stay away from toxic people and posts. Many unfortunate exam takers go online to vent their frustration, and this can be discouraging.

9. Have an Exam-Day Preparation Plan

Address these three basic items at least a week in advance of your exam:

  • Is your exam kit ready? Check the PMP handbook to make sure you have everything you need for the day of your PMP exam. Some candidates fail to even attend the test for not fulfilling basic requirements like bringing adequate identification. Call your testing center to verify you understand the requirements.
  • Are you calm and well-rested? Many candidates fail because of physical and mental exhaustion. Staying up late doing a final round of study may sound tempting, but last-minute reading is usually not a good thing and may even leave you anxious. If you think it is important to do a final review, do a selective reading instead. Also, do not focus solely on weaknesses. If you have not mastered a specific topic until now, you may prefer to focus on enhancing the areas where you’re good. A great tool for selective reading is using summaries or glossaries, which have lots of important information, some of which you may have missed during your study sessions.
  • Did you make the necessary arrangements to be on time at the test site? Candidates may not be admitted to the site if they are late. If you are using public transportation, double-check the best routes; if you drive to the exam site, make sure you know where to park beforehand.

10. Clear Your Mind

Use these tips to clear your mind and stay focused during the exam:

  • Be aware of time. During the exam, you may reach a high level of concentration I like to call “the zone.” This means a greater focus, which is good for problem-solving but can cause you to lose track of time. What may seem like seconds can be precious minutes; hours tend to pass at a speedy rate, so make sure you have time to go through every question on the exam.
  • Take your time reading the questions. Even with limited time, it is important not to rush. Take your time, pay attention to each question-and-answer option and make sure you understand what is being asked. Watch for distractors (options that are false) in multiple-choice questions that can be quickly eliminated. It is also important to pay close attention to terms such as MOST, LEAST, NOT, ALL, NEVER and ALWAYS, since they can entirely change a sentence.
  • Try to relax. Remember to stretch and relax your muscles during the exam. A relaxed mind can help you solve difficult questions.
  • Remember, there is no reason to panic. Remaining calm will improve your concentration. If you followed your study plan correctly, your results would likely be great; if not, you will have a lot more experience during the next try!

In the end, the PMP certification is a great way to advance your career. However, as expected, such benefits come at a cost: only the most dedicated candidates will succeed. Plan ahead; use the tips above as a basis for your study strategy.

Earn your PMP, guaranteed!

Earn your PMP, guaranteed!

Enroll in a PMP Boot Camp and earn one of the industry’s most respected certifications — guaranteed.

Tips for passing the PMP certification exam

For those planning to obtain PMI’s PMP certification (the premier global, industry and methodology-neutral project management certificate), this article provides 10 tips that can help successfully pass PMI’s certification exam. 

This credential will enable you to qualify for additional job opportunities.

As a PMP certification holder, you might have advantages in the job market and widen your career options, as well as excel as a project manager in your current position.



Olusegun Ogunsina
Olusegun Ogunsina

Olusegun Ogunsina is a Project manager and Business Consultant. His background in architecture and masters in business administration gives him a good mix of both technical and business knowledge, which has helped him in his career as a consultant. He currently works as a freelance consultant and project manager with a focus on business growth and process improvement.