PMP Exam Study in 2023: 5 Traps You Must Avoid

PMP Exam Study in 2023: Here are The 5 Traps You Must Avoid

Consider this also as the guide to your overall PMP study strategy, preparation approach, and study plan.

Just what the doctor ordered.

PMP exam study: 5 traps avoid studying pmp exam

James always wanted to be PMP certified.

He’d seen a former colleague being awarded on a project well-delivered and heard him crediting his success to PMP certification.

Soon after that, one of his friends got promoted after passing the PMP exam.

He’d also seen job profiles explicitly calling out for PMP-certified project managers.

Moreover, when he went over the Examination Content Outline document (download here), he was convinced that PMP will give him the necessary knowledge to develop skills in all aspects of managing a project.

But somehow he wasn’t able to begin the study.

In fact, one time when he did get around to starting, a production issue on the project made him put the PMP preparation on the back burner.

What James experienced is a ‘False Start’. The #1 reason why people are not able to commit to the study and take the exam.

If you think that the PMP exam is hard, think again.

From my experience of working 1-1 with over 7673+ PMP students since 2013, and having interviewed over 412+ fresh PMPs (at the time of this writing), I can tell you this with confidence: PMP is easier than you think.

However, even when you begin the preparation in earnest, there are a few things you need to know that might keep you away from taking the exam successfully.

These are the traps you must avoid at all costs.

Make a note of these, guard against them using techniques I share in this article, and you are on your way to getting PMP certified.

Sooner than you think possible.

I am sharing 5 such traps you must avoid while studying for the PMP exam. More important now than ever, because of the recent changes to the exam, given that PMBOK-7 is out and soon will be part of the PMP exam.

But don’t worry, I have also given you the ways to get past these traps and accelerate your PMP study.

Keep in mind that the best PMP study approach is a combination of multiple factors. Although these are traps, the steps I am taking to avoid these are part of a complete preparation strategy. So I tend to repeat some of the hacks or techniques multiple times in the context of each of the traps.

This redundancy is good because it helps you arrive at your overall strategy as well.

Psst.. I also have a bonus strategy for you at the end. It is guaranteed to reduce your exam anxiety.

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PMP Trap #1: False Starts!

False Start, as you know now, is the most common reason why people drop their PMP dream.

They begin the study and go on for a few weeks. Then put it on the back burner because of a higher priority work, a new project, a work-related travel, or something else. Then they come back to study after a few months. By that time they would have forgotten what they had studied earlier. And it becomes sort of a back-to-square-one situation.

So much of wasted time, effort, and energy.

If this happens a few times, guess what? They’ll abandon their PMP dream.

Some of my students have been spending 3-5-8, even 10 years dreaming about PMP, but never really getting around to do it.

I myself spent close to 3 years before I buckled up and took my PMP exam.

If you have such false starts, know that it is okay. It happens to the best of us.

I will help you get past this once and for all.

What you need to understand is this –

The root cause of False Starts is the way we think and approach the PMP exam.

Most of us look at PMP as a short-term goal, similar to how we approach the CSM exam or PMI ACP exam.

It is not.

At best, this is a medium-term goal with a horizon of a few months, at least.

Thus, your approach also should suit the goal.

The best way is to start slow & steady, crank up a nice study momentum, and accelerate it as the exam approaches. This lets you walk into the exam hall with such confidence that an above-target result is pretty much guaranteed.

The following 3-step approach will ensure you’ll never have a False Start!

Step 1. Limit your PMP exam study resources to 1-2 (bonus points if you can keep PMBOK as one of them).

This might take a bit of research. The secret is to choose the study resources that you enjoy learning from.

Do you find it easy to understand a tough subject by reading through a book, or watching an explanation in a video, or getting someone to work with you till the end?

Based on your answer to this question—you choose a book, a video course, or a mentor.

Since you decide on a mode of learning that is natural and comfortable for you, you will not experience resistance to studying regularly.

Step 2. Start with a simple study plan.

Make a quick one, don’t let this stop you from making progress. A simple spreadsheet mapped to the PMBOK chapters as milestones would do just fine. This should take no more than 30 minutes!

The fact that you are working as per a plan, helps you keep moving ahead.

As you check off the tasks, you’ll get the validation that you are making progress.

Have smaller tasks under each milestone (in the above case, Processes under each Knowledge Area) to make this even simpler.

Step 3. Make it a point to study every single day.

Even if it is for 15 minutes.

Consistency is key for PMP preparation. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Predictive, Agile, Hybrid, Knowledge areas, Processes, ITTOs, Concepts—there is quite a bit to study for this certification.

It takes time and consistent effort.

– That’s where the study plan helps.

– That’s where ticking off each task helps.

– That’s where studying every day helps.

These 3 are simple steps to follow. It doesn’t take much of time or effort.

If you stick to these, then you’ll never get a False Start. Ever.

PMP Trap #2: Overthinking!

Overthinking is procrastination dressed up like a virtue.

Thinking and planning is good. Doing it more than necessary hinders your ability to take action.

That first action you take towards your PMP goal is a cause in itself for celebration.

That means you have overcome the inertia, and set the ball rolling. Just like how using the enormous power of the engine, the car is moved from a stationary position.

Action gives your goal energy.

Don’t overthink.

Take action.

However small it is.

It does not have to be studying itself.

Here are some of the actions you can take –

  • Become a PMI member
  • Find yourself a study buddy
  • Research the top study materials
  • Join 1-2 PMP study support groups
  • Get yourself an accountability buddy
  • Create a simple study plan on a spreadsheet

Do one of these and feel the relief of getting started.

Here are 2 PMP exam study groups for daily support that you can join for Free –

I maintain these groups myself, where the members get daily sample questions, their answers with links to further study, daily flashcards, and other exclusive PMP support materials.

PMP Trap #3: Jumping in without a plan.

Sometimes, jumping in is truly what you need to get started. So, I would not call this a mistake, per se.

That is required to get over the inertia. Very important.

This is a great win in itself.

But once you start, you must think of a plan, so you get the best Return on Investment (ROI) on your time and efforts.

My personal favorite as a first step, is researching the PMP exam study material.

Assuming this is done, the next logical thing to do is to create a study plan.

Keep this simple. (remember trap #2, avoid overthinking or overplanning!)

Here’s one way to do this –

  • Fire up a new spreadsheet
  • Copy the outline of your study resource into the sheet (chapters of a book/modules of a video course).
  • Each of these becomes your milestone. Add tasks under these milestones. For example, if Knowledge Areas are your milestones, then each Process is a task.
  • Add any other tasks such as mock tests, revision, etc.

And you have a simple, trackable, milestone & task-based study plan!

Also read:

PMP Trap #4: Not getting the clarity of the Path to PMP.

Many people just begin PMP exam study on a whim.

Like I said earlier, it is a good thing. But then, you need to quickly get clarity about how you intend to go all the way till your exam.

For this, you need to know –

  • Which study resources I will use (too many is too bad!)?
  • What is the tentative timeline I give myself (2-3-4 months or more)?
  • Any events in the near future (project release, marriage in the family, work travel, etc.)?
  • Do I take the exam online or take it at a test center (the online option will give you more slots)?
  • Which time of the day I’m most productive, and hence I can align my study hours?
  • Do I need a study buddy, accountability pal, or mentor – and how to get them?
  • What is the PMP process set by PMI (use this PMP beginner’s guide)?
  • What’ll be my overall approach to PMP certification (start here)?

Simply use this as a checklist and get the clarity right now.

Once you have answered these questions, you will feel the enormity of the PMP goal dropped tremendously.

Tell me on LinkedIn what you feel.

PMP Trap #5: Lack of consistency.

You’ve probably heard me tell this a million times already: PMP is a marathon, and you need to prepare for it like one.

A big part of preparation is consistency.

I cannot harp on this enough.

If there is one word of advice for PMP preparation, I’d say it is: Consistency.

  • You must study every day – this gives you study momentum.
  • You must take the mock test at the end of each module/chapter – this helps you understand how to apply concepts and solve questions.
  • You must take full-length mock tests at the end of the first round of study – this helps you identify weak areas to focus on during the second round.
  • You must take multiple full-length mock tests after the second round – this helps you manage time on the exam (you get 75 sec/question).

If you lose track of the study, and if you have to start all over again, you’ll have to spend additional time and effort.

This will impact your other work, other plans, and possibly, that next-level career jump.

So you cannot afford to lack momentum on PMP preparation.

The solution is simple: Follow the PMP exam study plan you have created, and study every single day.

What about the long days at work?

Study at least 15-30 minutes on those days. This will help you continue the momentum.

What if I have many such days and I slip on the study plan?

This is the same as a potential situation on your project. When that happens, you simply rework the plan and continue with it.

Bonus: How to know when to book your PMP exam date

One of the questions you’ll face soon in your preparation is this: when do I know that I’m ready to book the exam slot?

Many people simply guess an exam date and book the available slot.

Some people book the exam slot based on a future event and then plan their study backward.

Both are risky approaches.

In both these cases, as the exam approaches they may realize that they’re not ready. Then they go ahead and reschedule the exam, paying an additional fee. This increases their overall PMP cost, but there is no other way, so it stays.

What’s the best way out?

Do this with a 2-step approach.

  1. Treat your PMP prep as another project
  2. Forecast the tentative exam date using a specific approach

Let me explain.

Step 1: Treat your PMP prep as a project 

Let’s assume you are managing 3 projects right now, and your manager assigns you one more. Would you ask him to drop one of the existing projects?

No! That could have negative consequences you would want to avoid, right?

You treat PMP prep as another project, assign it the same priority as your existing projects, and adjust your schedule to accommodate PMP exam preparation as well.

Here’s how –

  • Prepare a simple study plan
  • Identify milestones and create tasks
  • Estimate cost & duration -> education budget & timeframe
  • Find out the most productive time of the day (mornings/evenings)
  • Dedicate 1-2 study hours every single day as per the plan
  • Keep knocking off the tasks and the milestones
  • Soon, you’ll hit 80% on 180-Q mock tests
  • Now you are ready for the exam!

You will need to book the exam slots well in advance when they are available. How do you do that?

For this, follow this second step.

Step 2: Forecast the tentative exam date using a specific approach 

For this, you need to plan 2 rounds of end-to-end study.

The first round takes the longest.

The second round, if you’ve done the first round properly, typically takes 50% of the time taken for the first round of study.

Then you add a week for revision and mock tests. This gives you a tentative week to look for the availability of exam slots.

As an example,

Let’s say, you took 4 weeks for the first round of PMP exam study.

At the end of this, you can forecast 2 more weeks for the second round, add one week for revision, and if you want to cater for unknown unknowns (use risk management PMP concept here!), add another week.

This gives you 2+1+1 = 4 weeks of forecast. Now look for the availability of an exam slot 4 weeks later.

This is the forecast based on past performance, just like how you manage Agile projects.

And this is closer to being as realistic as possible.

In Summary,

PMP preparation is like a marathon, and you’ll need to prepare for it like one.

In this article, you saw 5 traps to avoid. Avoiding these will make your PMP path clear of unseen obstacles and unpleasant surprises.

Here’s the secret to PMP success: Find ways of enjoying your preparation.

Immersive study is one of the ways.

Ace Your PMP Exam book series

Try ‘Ace Your PMP Exam’ book series.

Using brain-friendly learning content is another.

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This is a 12-book series, updated for the latest PMP exam syllabus.

Engineered using a brain-friendly approach.

Go over the content from the ‘Look Inside’ option right above the book image, and you’ll get to see some content to decide the way you’ll enjoy these books.

I wish you all the best!

Shiv Shenoy, PMP



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