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Cornelius Fichtner: 10 Steps to Becoming a PMP

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The question that I get most often asked in regards to the PMP Exam is: What steps do you have to go through in order to take the exam? Over the years, I have come up with the following list that explains how to become a PMP in 10 “easy” steps: Step 1: Read the PMI Credentials Handbook.

The PMI has published a Credentials Handbook, which you can find at the following URL: PMI Handbook. The Credentials Handbook explains everything that you want to know about the process of taking the PMP® exam and becoming PMP® certified. Reading this handbook takes about 20 minutes and it should be the FIRST 20 minutes on your journey to becoming a certified PMP®. It will answer most of your questions about the procedures of applying and taking the exam.

Step 2: Make sure that you are eligible.

It is really quite simple to find out, if you are eligible or not to take the PMP® Exam.

Do you have a High-School Diploma, an Associate’s Degree or the global equivalent of these? Then you must have a minimum of five years (60 months) of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience of which at least 7,500 hours must have been spent leading and directing project tasks. (Non-overlapping means that if you managed two projects in the year 2006, then that only counts as 12 months and not as 24.)

Do you have a Bachelor’s Degree or its equivalent in your country? Then you must have a minimum of three years (36 months) of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience of which at least 4,500 hours must have been spent leading and directing project tasks.

In both cases, you must also show that you have had 35 “contact hours” of project management training. The good news is that all project management related training from your whole life counts. So if you are 30 years old and you took a 2-day PM class when you were 21 years old, then you already have 16 contact hours.

Step 3: Become a PMI Member & Member of your local PMI Chapter.

Becoming a member of PMI International makes financial sense, because as a PMI member you will not only receive a free PMBOK® Guide but you will also receive a substantial discount on the PMP® exam. In fact, the discount is bigger than the membership fee. So even if you don’t want to stay a PMI member for life, becoming a member in your first year makes sense.

Becoming a member of your local PMI Chapter can also make sense, because most chapters offer PMP Prep Workshops. Again, as a member you usually receive a discount that is greater than the membership fee. Your local chapter is also a great resource for PMP information. You can attend your chapter’s dinner meeting and speak in-person with new and seasoned PMPs about the exam. They will be very happy to answer your questions and help you. And you will also meet PMP aspirants like yourself and you can form a study group. Studying together is more fun and increases your chance of passing.

Step 4: Sign up for the Exam.

“I want to become a PMP” is a good plan. But “I want to become a PMP and my exam date is in 3 months” is a much better plan because we all work a lot better when we have a deadline. To sign up, you first have to fill in the PMP® Credential Application and submit it to the PMI. You can find the paper application in the Credential Handbook (see step 1 above) but you definitely want to apply online at http://www.pmi.org. Once your application has been approved you will receive a letter from the PMI. Now you can apply to take the exam on the Prometric Website at http://www.prometric.com/PMI. The PMI doesn’t perform the test themselves – instead they use Thomson Prometric, a testing company with testing centers around the world. Depending on where you live you may have to travel quite far to take the exam. So you definitely want to schedule this well in advance.

Step 5: Read the PMBOK® Guide. Twice.

About 75% of the questions on the PMP® Exam come from the PMBOK® Guide. You must know it. And the only way to know it is to read it at least twice.

Step 6: Listen to a PMP Audio Workshop or Read a PMP Preparation Book.

There are many very good PMP Audio Workshops and PMP Preparation Books available. You can find them on eBay, Amazon or in your local bookstore. These resources will teach you the 25% of additional material that you cannot find in the PMBOK® Guide. And because the PMBOK® Guide is so “dry”, these third party products will help you understand what the PMBOK® Guide is trying to say. They will “translate” the concepts, tools and techniques from the Guide and give you examples from everyday PM life to show you what is meant. Many of the audio courses also come with contact hours – the books cannot offer that benefit.

Step 7: Take an In-Person PMP Workshop.

PMI chapters, universities, colleges and training companies offer a number of in-person PMP workshops around the world. They usually last from 2-6 days. Some of them require that you study for yourself in addition to the course and others don’t. Some companies even offer a passing guarantee. But don’t be fooled. This guarantee is just marketing and their risk is very low. After all – would you intentionally fail the exam, just so that you can take their course again?

In any case, taking an in-person course combined with your own studies is probably the best way to go. If you are lucky, then your employer may offer to pay for such a course. If you have to pay for it yourself, then look into the course that is offered by your local PMI chapter because they are usually very affordable.

Just like the audio courses and books, the classroom training will help you understand the PMBOK® Guide. The benefit here is that you will have an instructor and other students to help you understand particularly difficult sections like earned value or risk from the PMBOK® Guide. Don’t be shy to ask questions.

Step 8: Answer as many Sample Questions as you can.

You get what you pay for. Free is good to get an idea, but you will have to pay for “real” questions in a book, as a CD or online. The benefit of buying a book is that you can go down to your local bookshop and take some time to look through the questions in the books before you decide which one to buy. The benefit of buying your sample tests as a CD or online is that they usually come in some form of an exam simulation. That way you can get used to answering your questions on the computer.

As you make your way through all the free samples that you find online two things will happen: First you will get used to answering exam questions, which is good. And second you will begin to disagree with some of the suggested answers, which is even better. By disagreeing and then opening up your study materials to review you will learn even more. Therefore, even the worst exam sample question that you can find can teach you how to pass the exam. It’s all a matter of your personal attitude and knowing that even a bad question can take you further.

Also important: Keep track of your score. As time goes by, you will notice that you are more and more able to answer questions correctly. If you keep your score, then you can see where you are. Here is rule of thumb for you: if you consistently answer 85% of the questions correctly, then you are ready to take the exam.

Step 9: Study Hard and have a Plan.

Studying for the PMP® exam is a serious endeavor and requires personal dedication. Manage your road to becoming a PMP like a project and create a plan – a study plan. In this plan, define how many hours you will study every day, how many chapters you will read and how many sample questions you will answer. Having a good plan is the start. Then you will also have to tell your family and friends about it. That way they know that you will be “gone” for the next 2-3 months to prepare. But don’t overdo it. You should plan on having breaks and leisure time as well. You need variety in your life, so don’t forget to go and see a movie every now and then or have a drink with your friends.

During your studies, be prepared for ups and downs. Some sections of the PMBOK® Guide are easy for you and you feel great. But then, there are those sections that are more difficult because you don’t have any experience. Don’t despair. Don’t think that you are never going to understand this. Thousands of people have passed the exam before you and you can pass it, too! Stay positive at all times.

Step 10: Take the Exam.

After all that hard work, taking the exam almost sounds like the easy part. But there are a few things to consider that will help you to make this a good and successful experience for you.

Try and get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam. Being refreshed and having slept enough is important. There is no need for you to study the night before the exam and stay up until 3am. You have studied long and hard and you are now ready for this. So sleep.

A lot of people choose to take the day of the actual exam off. You can sleep in, eat a good breakfast, go for a walk and relax. That way you will not be too nervous when you get to the testing center. It is of course also a good idea to drive to the testing center a week before, so that you know where it is and you may also want to try and arrive 1 hour early. Just in case that you miss the bus or your car has problems.

Here is what you should bring: Two forms of official identification with a photo; Water and some snacks; A sweater or light jacket; A simple calculator; Earplugs because it could be noisy.

Before the exam starts there is a short tutorial that explains how to use the computer and software. Don’t skip it. There is important information in the tutorial. If you take the tutorial, then you can be sure that you understand everything and don’t make any mistakes because you made assumptions. Now click the “Start Exam” button. Good luck!

Step 11 (Bonus Step): Earn 60 PDUs in 3 Years.

Congratulations! You are a PMP as soon as you pass the exam. There is no waiting period. As soon as you see “Passed” on the screen you hold the PMP certification. Go home and send an email to all your friends and colleagues and tell them that you are now a PMP. Celebrate!

However, you are not a PMP for life. Every 3 years you will need to collect and claim Professional Development Units (PDUs) to keep the certification active. You will need 60 PDUs every 3 years to keep your certification active.

You can gain PDUs by attending your local PMI chapter dinner meeting, by volunteering for the PMI or by attending seminars offered by PMI’s Registered Education Providers. The good news is that starting November 2006 the PMI has given the OK for you to listen to Podcasts and claim a maximum of 15 PDUs in 3 years. There are about half a dozen project management podcasts available to you on the internet for free.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP
Host of The Project Management Podcast

2 comments to Cornelius Fichtner: 10 Steps to Becoming a PMP

  • ClaudiaV

    Amazing how many people fail to read the PMI Credentials Handbook. Really, it’s the best place to start prior to taking the test. Still, glad you added it as #1.

    I also like that you suggest getting in local organizations. No better way to network and meet people who are doing what you want to be doing.

    Sometimes self studying can be tough. I’ve found villanovau.com online pmp exam prep help manage my time and get me ready for exams.

  • Shrikant

    Thanks for Steps. one of the great tips for PMP prepration. once again thanks