You need to commit solid study time before you’re ready to take the test for the coveted Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. But you’re busy with work, and the last time you took a test was when you were in school (with that regrettable hairstyle). Study? Study?! How can you possibly do that?!
For most project managers, every minute of the work day is allocated to projects, and every minute after work is filled with activities that help you think about something else. If you want to earn the PMP, one way or another you need to find a path forward. Otherwise, you are sure to procrastinate and put off your goal for a few more months for “when you’re sure you’ll have more time.” (Ha.)
Here’s some inspiration: More than 700,000 busy project managers made it work. They found the time to study, and they passed the exam. If they can do it, you can too, right?
I asked a few people who teach PMP review classes for their tips for getting through the study portion of the PMP process. This is what I’ve learned.
Choose a study method that works for your learning style.
Before you choose the PMP exam prep option that’s right for you, consider how your brain takes in, processes, and remembers information. What type of learner are you?
- Visual learners prefer to see information in text or figures. You like visual clues, such as headings and graphics. When you remember things, you often “see” the memory. If this describes you, look for study programs with written materials that you can highlight and color-code; flashcards; summary charts of key words and formulas.
- Auditory learners prefer hearing the topics out loud, either from an instructor or recordings. You could record yourself reading the books, then listen to the material while you’re driving, walking, or at the gym. Consider joining a study group where you discuss what you’re learning, or listening to music as you study.
- Tactile learners learn and remember by being physically engaged. Mark up your reading materials, redraw graphics, use flashcards. Also, stay active when you study. At the gym, use the stationary bike or treadmill while you read or listen to recordings.
- Social learners learn best with other people, so they can ask questions and share real-life experiences. Study groups and instructor-led courses are great choices. Don’t lock yourself in a quiet room; the solitude can actually become a distraction, and you don’t get the feedback you crave.
- Sequential learners think one step at a time, mastering one concept before moving on to the next. For you, a comprehensive self-study course where you’re in control is ideal. Study a chapter or concept, then take a quiz to apply what you learned and to make sure you really understand it before you move on.
Most of us can see ourselves as a combination of these learners. To learn most efficiently, choose a course that plays to your strengths and learning styles.
Create a reasonable study plan.
The next step is to create a study plan that fits in with your life. Don’t set yourself up for failure by pretending that you will change your lifestyle.
Make and meet a deadline. If you have a drop-dead date for when you have to earn your PMP – say, a goal you committed to at work – start there and work backward.
For example, maybe you’re up for a promotion, but you need the PMP to take that position. You have two months to get it done in order to be eligible for the new job. Your course provider should help you estimate how long you need to study and if your plan is realistic. If you are in a 35-hour course, you should budget at least that much additional study time on your own – so that’s 70 hours. With eight weeks of available time, that’s just under 9 hours a week. Totally do-able.
Identify your flex time. If you don’t have a hard and fast deadline, look at the wiggle room in your schedule. How much time could you comfortably set aside in your calendar each week without it taking over your life? Could you take an hour at lunch a few days each week? Squeeze in an hour before bed or in the morning before work? Study on the bus or train on your commute to and from work? Set aside a few hours on the weekend? What does that add up to? I bet you could easily set aside 10 hours a week if you’re creative and willing to make a commitment.
Just remember, be reasonable. You need a life and you need downtime. This needs to work for you – and only you know your limits.
Schedule your study time in your calendar and honor it.
You’ve got a plan now; the tough part is sticking to it. The key part is to make the self-study a part of your life. How do you make sure you don’t miss important meetings? How do you convince yourself to work out at the gym? You add it to your calendar. Do this for your PMP study time, complete with annoying reminders.
You really do need to treat your study time like you would any other commitment. Don’t fall behind. If you have to skip a study session, reschedule it immediately. Treat it the way you would a missed parent-teacher meeting. Life interruptions do happen; don’t beat yourself up over it. But you know it’s important, so you immediately reschedule.
Set goals for yourself! Otherwise you might let the “study” drag on forever. So schedule your exam. Yes, that’s scary, but it’s also a great motivator to set your study plan in stone. Plus, setting the date early on ensures you get your preferred date and time. It also allows you to look ahead to when you’ll have achieved your goal and will, once again, have a bit of spare time on your hands.
Focus on your weak areas.
You had to know that actual studying was going to show up somewhere on this list, and here it is. Yes, studying requires reading, and practice questions, and memorization. However, you can save time by studying smarter – more efficiently. (That’s what you’ve learned already in the real world of project management, right?)
This means that you should focus on your weak topics – whether it’s the topics PMI does differently than your organization, or things you never had to do in your job before.
How do you figure out what you don’t know? There are a couple of ways. Your PMP exam prep course may include a pre-test that identifies your strengths and weaknesses. If you don’t have access to a report, try skimming your study materials once-through before getting into the nitty gritty. Flag or write down the topics that you expect will require extra time to understand. When it’s time to dive in, focus on your weaknesses.
Making time to study can take a bit of thought and effort. But as every good project manager knows, the plan is half the battle. Get that part right, and it won’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your life to achieve your PMP goal.
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