The Project Management Professional, or PMP®, certification is considered one of the most recognized and sought after credentials among business professionals. It consistently rates in the top ten for published lists of professional certifications, and as an example, ITCareerFinder has ranked it as the #1 highest paid IT credential of 2014. The number of candidates and active holders of the designation continues to grow. According to the Project Management Institute’s PMI Today® newsletter, the number of PMP holders grew from approximately 585,040 in November, 2013, to 626,205 by November, 2014.
If you have considered or looked into pursuing the PMP, you may be aware that the process of applying to qualify for the credential, long hours of study, and passing the challenging 200-multiple choice question exam (in a formal, highly-standardized testing environment) is no small investment of time and effort. The study component is the most time consuming, as the exam is almost wholly based on the 500-plus page A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – Fifth Edition, or PMBOK®, also published by PMI.
Having recently gone through the certification process myself, I heard and ultimately agree that the successful candidate should read through the PMBOK at least twice, highlighting and/or taking notes of key terminology, concepts, and formulas.
But is that enough? I am sure that there are many PMP credential holders out there who were able to successfully pass the exam in one try based on their own self study of the PMBOK, without the benefit of supplemental written material or classroom boot camps that are specifically designed to successfully prep you for the exam.
However, I would argue based on my own experience, as well as feedback from other credential holders, that PMP boot camps can boost your chances of passing the exam, often on the first try. Here are 7 key benefits of PMP exam prep boot camps:
1. To validate your current state of knowledge of the PMBOK and to help isolate specific areas to strengthen knowledge. Although by no means a difficult read, the PMBOK is a highly-structured set of guidelines to lead and manage a project successfully, starting from Initiation to Planning to Execution to Monitoring and Controlling, to finally, Project Closure. And each one of these process groups has its own set of knowledge areas that they intersect with, along with processes that have their own inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs. The developers and facilitators of good PMP boot camps will have analyzed sample exam questions and developed presentations and practice drills in areas for which questions are very likely to be asked. By testing your own knowledge in these drills, you will identify areas for further study prior to the exam. Be aware that this benefit only comes into play if you have done at least some study prior to boot camp. I have seen participants come into boot camps with no or very little pre-study, which can lead to frustration in keeping up with the volume of content presented during class.
2. To realistically assess the timing of your PMP examination date. A very common initial misconception of the PMP certification process is that if you have been working as a project manager for years, you could scan through the PMBOK and then easily “ace” the exam. This is far from true, as the PMBOK has a very specific structure of inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques for multiple process groups, all with specific naming conventions that you may very well be using in one way, shape, or form in your experience. However, the terminology and methodology may be spelled out differently in the PMBOK world, which is what you are really being tested on. Once you get into the testing drills and find out the areas of focus for exam prep, you may want to schedule your exam date based on how much time you truly need to study post-boot camp in order to pass it on the first try.
3. To have access to supplemental material and study tips outside the PMBOK. By taking some exam questions and by speaking with previous earners of the credential, I found that there are in fact some questions on the PMP exam which are NOT covered in the PMBOK guide. Some of these questions may be more concerned with the “soft skills” aspects of project management, such as leadership, communication, and motivation skills. Although they will still take up a minority of the questions that you get on the 200-question exam, a good boot camp will cover standard models of motivation and leadership and highlight which business gurus should be studied. Once you learn them, they will represent some of the easier questions on the exam, and could ultimately make the difference between passing the exam… or not.
4. To have access to limited, but highly-valued small group or individualized expert coaching. Although boot camps have on average 15-25 people in the classroom, good facilitators should be more than willing to provide you with a degree of individualized attention. They should offer good tips and advice on everything from the somewhat lengthy application process to qualify to sit for the exam, to specific topical areas that you might struggle with, to last-minute logistical guidelines on exam day. Even outside the allotted class time, I have seen facilitators make themselves available to participants who need extra help, even by email well after the class is over. Be warned that you may not want to take too much advantage of this, as they may not be technically obligated to provide that extra-curricular help, but they see the value in providing it as a way to promote themselves and/or their training business.
5. To network with a built-in study group of fellow participants. Given the challenging nature of the PMP certification process, the old adage “misery loves company” definitely applies! In many cases, you will find your fellow boot camp participants are close to where you are in the overall process–near completion of the application milestone in the days or weeks before the exam is actually taken (you will not want to have too much time go by after the boot camp before you actually take the exam). I have established new professional contacts and even friendships with fellow participants or others who have just gone through the process, and only they will be able to appreciate the stress of study and the need for continuous drills to make sure that you are prepared on exam day.
6. To gain access to study aids, tips, and resources beyond the PMBOK. The developers and facilitators of quality PMP exam boot camps have years of experience in creating and refining companion materials to the PMBOK itself. They know, based on previous feedback, what works and what doesn’t. Nothing will take the place of your own individual study before, during, and after boot camp, but I have come across valuable reference sheets, alternate models to help comprehension and retention, and exam tips and techniques distributed in boot camps that can be invaluable add-ons to the PMBOK. The most helpful of these types of aids could also be sample exams, which allow you to not only test your knowledge and its application in scenario-based questions, but also check your timing. You will have no more than four hours (including optional breaks) to complete the 200-question exam.
7. To take advantage of extra help opportunities if you don’t pass the exam the first time. Although you may be rightfully wary of any PMP exam boot camp or prep course that absolutely guarantees a 100% pass rate, success is entirely dependent on the focus and study time invested by the participant before, during, and after boot camp. Even if it is not advertised, many boot camps will allow you take the class again if you do not pass on your first try. You will want to avoid additional tries of the exam if you can help it, but there are many valid reasons for not passing the first time, and if that happens to you, you would not be alone by any stretch. The opportunity to repeat boot camp at no cost is a piece of insurance, so to speak, to review concepts and repeat drills on a process level, as the exam will indicate what process groups you may have rated low on.
At the end of the day, the most essential resources to prep and study for the PMP exam are the PMBOK guide and PMI’s PMP Requirements Handbook. The decision to invest additional time and money into a PMP boot camp is an individual one for sure, but one I would heartily recommend to give you an extra edge to ultimately gain your well-earned PMP certification.
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The PMP might be the key to unlocking career success. Learn more about the PMP and project management with these AMA resources and seminars.