10 Awesome PMP Study Tips From a Topper! (I Swear by #9) – Heather Lyons, PMP

pmp study tips by heather lyons

Why PMP?

That’s a longer story to share. I’ve been doing informal project management for over a decade now. I took online certificate courses but did not feel prepared to actually sit for the exam, so I procrastinated.

pmp heather lyonsThat was 2015.

Since then this has totally been hanging over my head, the one last hurdle. And there is some real competition out there! So I knew I needed to get the certification, so that I could move on to my next development goal.

A ride is bound to have few potholes

Self-doubt … fear of failure… fear of success… I overcame them pretty much just by pushing them aside and not focusing on them.

It’s wasted energy.

Once I did that and dedicated my time to getting it done, it wasn’t really all that difficult.

Oh and when I applied… I was audited!!

That was a nail-biting period. I sort of dragged my feet — thinking ‘why did they pick me? I’m doomed!’ .. all that negative thinking… do away with it (I know it’s hard).

It took me about a month to submit my audit materials, even though I had all of them ready within about a week – my college transcripts, my PDU verification, and the sign-off on hours from two managers who had left my organization – one, 6 months prior and the other a year prior.

That’s another item. Always have people in your corner, who have confidence in you when you don’t have it yourself.

First, I’ll share the study resources I used, then my approach in the form of 10 study tip. I’ve learned that leveraging others’ experience helps in exam preparation. Hence I hope you’ll make most out of my experience.

My PMP study sources

I researched for the best ones out there and chose the following –

Alright, with that, let me share my PMP study tips.

If you are yet to short-list your study resources, see if any of these suggested study resources help. – Shiv

PMP Study Tip #1. Be passionate about PMP

While I was taking the exam, I was thinking ‘Either I’m totally nailing this or I just don’t understand any of it’ … because many of the questions seemed easy to me.

So when I got to the end and saw ‘Congratulations!’ and then I looked at my results – ‘Above Target’ in all 5 Domains! Wow, I almost cried.

I don’t test particularly well. I tried the GRE exam a few years back. I failed miserably. I wasn’t prepared, no one was watching and it was only money (sorry honey!). It mattered just a little bit.

One thing I have learned about myself though: If I have a passion for it, I tend to do well at it. So there you go.. my tip #1.

Be passionate about the subject and you’ll be able to enjoy the study process.

If you find it difficult to be passionate about, here’s one way – choose study resources that you enjoy studying from. Like a video course, if you are visual learner. That makes learning a bit of fun, and that positivity will help you get more interested in the subject.

Also Read: A Super-Mom’s Guide to Excel at PMP Exam – Sunober Cooper, PMP

PMP Study Tip #2: Put to use what you’ve learned – that will also make you a better PM

This understanding held true through my High School years. All that boring ‘basic’ stuff, eh, I did okay. And I loved English, History and French. I took French and History to the advanced levels and did pretty well. My Senior year, I had a 3.8 GPA. But my overall was just about a 2.7….. if that tells you anything about what happened before Senior year. I wasn’t really motivated before about Junior year.

Although I hated math, I really enjoyed statistics in College. Flunked it the first time I took it, got a B when I retook it over the summer (thanks Mom and Dad – what a crappy kid I was, I never even thought about the cost!!). When I got into the really meaty courses required for my degree, I took ‘Statistics as it applies to Psychology’ and I LOVED it. Aced it.

But probably because it’s not about the Math. It’s about how you apply the math.

So we get to the point of how to take and Pass the Exam. I can’t promise this is the ‘right’ way, but this was ‘my’ way. Assuming we’re applying what we know in our everyday life – we really are Project Management Professionals after all – we grow as a better PMs too.

PMP Study Tip #3: Know thyself

Everyone works and learns at their own pace, in their own way. The old adage ‘know thyself’ applies.

By figuring what study schedule, time, plan works for us individually, we get the most and best out of the limited time we get to carve out for PMP study.

All of the online forums I saw said something along the lines of ‘you must study no fewer than 3 months to get this right’. Like any public / online forum, don’t buy into the group think! Be who you are, do what you know works for you.

Personally, I don’t get motivated to actually work toward a goal until I have a firm date set.

I scheduled my exam date in early December, for January 27. My thinking was (as defeating as it may seem), if I fail it the first time, I still have a chance to take it again before March 26, on which date 6th ed. exam changes take effect. With all the hectic pace, with the festivities of the season, I wasn’t able to start studying until after Christmas. That gave me a solid month to work with.

That’s what worked for me, so if putting a date on the calendar and working backwards motivates you, that’s what you do.

Also Read: Definitely possible to hit Above-Target score by doing this, Carolina Rivera, PMP

Brain-friendly techniques to ace your PMP exam, used by toppers

PMP Study Tip # 4: Be committed to your goal

In order to study in a serious, concerted way, I needed to find a place that was not in my every day world.

I can’t study at home as intently as I would like. I have no dedicated home office area, and the kitchen is where everything happens in my house. When I am able to find time at home, it’s in a corner at my desk; this is not ideal, because there is the regular cacophony of life all around.

To give myself the best chance possible, I spent several vacation days and Saturdays at the Library, in a quiet room, to get away from it all.

In the first three weeks (Dec 26 – Jan 13), I think I had 7 Library days and 4 Home Study days, with some hours sprinkled in at home when I could, after Library or work.

Starting at the ‘2 weeks from exam date’ mark, I spent a good 3 – 4 hours each evening after work. Then 2 more Home Study days – I took the Thursday and Friday before my Saturday exam off, stayed home (kids were at school), and studied from morning til night.

Find a distraction-free study time and place and you will be surprised how much progress you make in a short period of time.

PMP Study Tip #5: Practice. And then practice some more.

Studying is cyclical (Deming was on to something!).

Read – Practice – Read – Practice.

Don’t think you can do it all just by reading a book, don’t stick to reading only one book/source, and work on applying what you’ve read to make it stick.

Whatever that looks like, whether applying it in your real world or just making up stuff so you can get it into your head. Do it.

Also Read: My paper-wall approach to perfect PMP score – by Ankur Bansal, PMP

PMP Study Tip #6: Take mock exams. For more reasons than one

I can’t emphasize enough how much good the practice exams did for me.

For me, they were not much alike in form – the wording on the practice exams was quite often very confusing.

Taking mock tests basically gives you a dry-run of the exam. It also helps you understand how you want to go about 200 questions in order to manage 4 hours of time on the exam well.

Don’t have have a simulator?
Here’s a free PMP simulator for you. – Shiv

They uncover your gaps and force you to do more research.

Going through the books, you pick up on what you pick up, but you don’t really know what’s important (it’s all important!) so it’s difficult to figure what the Exam creators may decide is what you need to know.

The Exam Simulators are really good at exposing your deficiencies. And that is a good thing!

PMP Study Tip #7: Feel yourself in the given situation and work out the solution

In the real exam — almost all questions are situation-based.

The solution needs to match the scenario.

The question usually sets you up, for example: ‘You’re initiating the project. … (followed by lots of unnecessary information, that could lead your thinking on a tangent) … You realize you haven’t captured all of your stakeholders. What should you do next?’

Well, the answer is clearly not ‘Update the Stakeholder Register’ – because you’re just now initiating! So you need to ‘Identify Stakeholders’. Know in what process or Knowledge Area they’ve already put you.

PMP Study Tip #8: Don’t ignore any aspect of PMP study

I don’t think I had more than 4 questions in the way of formulas.

I really wish I had, I would have totally nailed it. I spent so much time there while studying….

What I am trying to get to is, pace your study and try to spread your focus as equally across the spectrum as you can. The 200 questions you get are drawn randomly from a bank of several thousand questions. You don’t really know what you’ll get, could be anything.

This holds true for another reason. You know each of the 5 domains that you are tested on the exam has a passing threshold each? You would see the % questions in each of them in this guide. If you ignored these domains (very few processes) – Initiating and Closing – you may miss out on the entire exam if you couldn’t answer just the few questions that come from these.

So spread your focus on all areas of PMP syllabus.

PMP Study Tip #9: Manage your time well on the exam

I finished the exam with 40 more minutes to go. Then I went back and reviewed the questions I had Marked to be answered later.

That took maybe another 20 – 25 min.

After that I reviewed the entire exam, starting at the beginning – changed an answer or two – and kept reviewing til the time ran out.

So make use of your 4 hours judiciously, but at the same time don’t overthink any answer and keep changing it. Strike a balance.

Check out these tools (including a technique to optimize 4hrs on the exam) that PMP exam toppers have secretly been using.

PMP Study Tip #10: It’s just a ride. Enjoy while it lasts.

Quoting Bill Hicks, who is one of my husband’s favorite comedians (and I want to give a sincere shout out to my husband, without whom this achievement would not have been possible).

When you’ve put in all the effort that you could, take a deep breath and say to yourself ‘I’ve studied as much as I can. Whatever the outcome, I will be fine.’

This is advice that I was given by few people. The world will not come to an end. It’s all a learning experience – even failing the exam.

At the end of the day, you’re doing this for you. Be kind to yourself.

I hope this advice has been helpful. I hope that you succeed at whatever goals you set for yourself.

Embrace your journey, and good luck!

Heather Lyons, PMP

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