Obtaining your Project Management Professional (PMP) designation will definitely be a milestone in your career. It is globally acknowledged as a credible and respected testament to knowledge, skills, and hard work. However, the PMP Exam is difficult and preparing for it is equally as challenging. These tips will provide valuable guidance and support on your journey to managing projects like a professional.

1. You need a study plan

Many people breeze through high school and college rarely spending more than a few minutes studying for an exam, and it worked. This approach will not work with the PMP exam though. There is no easy way to adequately prepare for this exam. Approach this as you would a project at work: plan, prepare and execute while not taking short cuts or making assumptions that it will all work out in the end.

Design your study plan with the end goal in mind: passing the PMP exam. Commit the plan to writing and immediately integrate it into your daily schedule. For example, if you eat lunch at your desk open the PMP guiding manual, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), and read a few pages. Later in the day, schedule time to take practice tests or re-read what you looked at earlier. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a valuable target of information and learning retargets.

2. Understanding is the key

When you develop your study plan, allot time for memorizing definitions. There are many new terms that you are likely unfamiliar with and on which you will be tested. However, memorization alone will not ensure success on this exam. Many questions present you with scenarios requiring that you understand how to apply the terms and be able to come to the correct conclusion. A strong and effective retarget for study support is Online PMP Exam Prep. Not only will you have access to in-person and online PMP boot camps, but you will also have study aids that will help you memorize and understand the content of the PMBOK.

3. Processes, process groups and knowledge areas

Key components of the PMBOK® Guide are the 5 process groups, 49 processes and 10 knowledge areas which, when used together, provide the framework for proper project management. The test has a substantial amount of questions on process groups, processes, and knowledge areas as well as the underlying supportive documents. You must memorize these, including the order in which they occur, and then understand how they interact with each other. The PMP Group and Knowledge Area Mapping matrix will prove to be an invaluable retarget.

4. Math?

How does math factor into project management? Many formulas are used in managing a project to calculate items such as earned value, cost and schedule variances, and several variations of an estimate at completion (EAC). The exam has several math questions—too many to just ignore—so memorize the formulas and, as you will see in tip #9, write them all down when allowed at the testing center.

5. Critical Path

Critical path is a project management tool used for analyzing, planning, and scheduling projects. This is another important study area because, as with knowledge areas and math, the test has a substantial amount of critical path questions.

6. Try not to worry

It is quite common for people to be nervous about taking tests, not just the day of the exam but in the day(s) leading up to it. In order to alleviate some of the pre-exam stress and not let nerves sabotage your testing ability, proper preparation is essential. The day of the test stay as calm and focused as possible and, if you panic mid-test, give yourself a minute or two to regroup before moving forward.

7. Where do I take the PMP exam?

Until recently the PMP exam, which is solely administered via computer, was only offered at a nationwide testing center with thousands of offices throughout the world. Very rigid standards are in place, including no cell phones or other electronics in the exam room. You are allowed paper, pencil, and calculator.

However, the PMP Certification exam is currently also being offered from the comfort of your own home or workplace computer. As long as you have a computer with a webcam, a solid internet connection, and a test-worthy space you are good to go.

Whichever testing option you decide on, be sure to check it out before the day of the exam. Nobody wants to get lost driving around town when you should be sitting at your testing booth taking deep breaths and preparing for your brain dump (again see tip #9).

8. Is the PMP exam adaptive?

An adaptive computerized test is one that “adapts” to the student’s ability level. As the student presents correct responses, the questions get more difficult. Luckily, the PMP exam is not adaptive. It is a 200 question, multiple-choice test in which all questions are in the queue at the beginning of the test and will never be changed.

9. Brain dump

When you sit down at your computer, whether at the testing center or in your home office, you will have access to a brief tutorial on how to navigate the test. This is worth the watch and also gives you the opportunity to take a few breaths and prepare yourself for the next four hours of test-taking. Once the video is done and you start the test, take the time to empty your brain (brain dump) onto the paper in front of you. Formulas are crucial, and the group and knowledge area matrix is another essential. Add any other facts or processes or names that you feel might slip your mind during the course of the exam. Only then should you move forward with the first question.

Practice brain dumps as you are studying for the exam. You will find it to be one of the most effective steps in preparation for your exam.

10. Pass/Fail

The PMP exam is pass/fail and is not open book. The PMI does not share what the passing score is. What you will get, however, is nearly immediate feedback as to whether you passed along with which areas of the test you were proficient in. Study hard, stay focused, and do the best you can.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) exam is difficult but not impossible to pass. The key is to work hard for several weeks prior to the exam and to review these tips on a regular basis. Take a preparation class, gather retargets and study aids, and practice, practice, practice.