The approach you take when studying for competitive exams like the PMP or the GMAT matters just as much if not MORE than the act of studying itself. This guide is designed to outline the ultimate, tested and true, roadmap to acing your Project Management Professional Exam.
1. Digging for Information
One critical step most students tend to downplay when studying for the PMP exam is collecting as much information about the test itself as humanly possible. What’s going to be on the test is everyone’s priority, but that part on how the exam will be administered, how many questions per topic, and what has changed since the last exam review is often skimmed through.
Here’s the thing, the more you know about your enemy; the better your attack strategy and selection of weapons will be. When it comes to competitive exams – do everything you can to avoid surprises.
2. The Diagnostic Test
Testing yourself before having studied the material might sound like a really bad idea; obviously, you’re going to fail miserably. However, this exercise will provide you with valuable feedback as to:
a) What exactly are your weakest points, and I’m not referring to what you don’t know because you haven’t learned it yet. I’m talking about having a hard time understanding what the question is actually asking you, the wording and length of the test, or what perspective it wants you to take. Are you acing the more theoretical questions but struggling with application (formulas)?
b) Doing a trial run also helps prime your brain for what type of information it should be hunting for when studying for the PMP exam. Instead of passively going through the material, you now know how the content will be used to quiz you.
3. The Study Plan
Imagine that, some of us go into prepping for a competitive exam without a study plan. I don’t know if you’ve opened the PMBOK yet, but you will very quickly find out why that approach won’t last you very long.
To be fair, developing a study plan that I was actually able to follow, the one that has allowed me to enter the flow state took over a month to create. A word of advice, don’t get discouraged. Try again. Remember that putting together a roadmap involves experimenting with different study methods and arranging them in the perfect order so that everything flows smoothly as you go through the material. It may take a while to find that magical combo. I first started using highlighting with practice tests. Didn’t work. Tried mind mapping paired with flash cards. Didn’t work either. What finally did it for me is something I now refer to as the Funnel Method – you can learn all about it by watching this FREE video guide.
I have to be real with you though… I often get asked by students to help them set up a study schedule or to tell them which active reading methods they should use or in what order they should study. I’m sorry to say – the only person that can figure that out is you. And the only way to do that is by trial and error. A trick to know if your study plan is a good one look is to look at how easy it is to pick up from where you left off. If you find yourself having a mini mental breakdown every time you pick up your notes – that’s a sign that you should do some more tweaking.
4. The Funnel Method
In case you didn’t click the video link above yet, let me try this again. When studying for the PMP exam, one of the most discouraging thing is the amount of stuff you have in front of you. Textbooks, notes, PowerPoint slides from prep courses, 500 questions-long practice tests, etc. What’s even worse is pingponging between them and carrying that huge pile with you for the next 6 months.
The Funnel Method is centered around the intent of reducing the amount of the amount of items you have to study from. From textbook to textbook notes, to study guide, to cheat sheet, to flashcards until there is nothing left but yourself and the new knowledge you’ve mastered.
5. The Purge (Cheat Sheet)
It’s normal for you to receive a blank sheet of paper or booklet when taking a competitive exam to use for calculations or scribbles as you take the test.
When studying for the PMP, practice purging formulas or key words that you have a hard time remembering. We all have 2-3 things we simply can’t retain for the life of us. Add the stressful environment of test taking and we even forget what we’ve forgotten.
And so, I encourage you to try your best to mimic that environment and practice quickly writing down those hard to remember words the second you sit down. I almost want the act of sitting down to cue an automatic response of writing down your cheat sheet.
It’s all about mental declutter, the more space you free up the more energy you will have to actually focus on the questions in front of you and think critically instead of wasting your strength on remembering 2 formulas.
6. The Last Push
So you have 2-3 weeks left to go before the big exam, what now? There’s one thing, and one thing only that I advise you focus on during that last stretch and that is PRACTICE; as much as you can, as often as you can. Answering the different types of PMP questions should become like second nature to you. There really are only a handful that they can throw at you, just arranged differently.
At this stage, you should not be going back to your textbooks, no peeking at your 60 pages of notes – trust yourself.