The PMP Certification is now the world’s leading certification in project management. It has grown considerably in terms of prestige and popularity over the years. There are now 750,000 PMP certificate holders worldwide.

Additionally, a joint study from and found that 10% of the project manager job postings require the candidate to have the PMP certificate. For job seekers, this means that if you are serious about a career in project management, the PMP certificate is essential in today’s job market.

After helping hundreds of students get PMP certified, I want to share a few of my top tips and tricks that will get you certified on your first try.

1. Understand the big picture & the ITTO “story”

The PMBOK guide may not be the most interesting reading material in the world. In fact, many PMP aspirants complain that it is too dry and wordy. However, the point of the PMBOK is to explain the “story” of how PMI wants you to manage a project from initiation to closure.

PMI tries to simplify things by explaining their project management process in charts instead of words. Seeing complex charts for the first time can be overwhelming, which is why many candidates get confused.

As you are looking at the charts in the PMBOK, translate these charts into simply, plain English for yourself. Let’s take Plan Scope Management as an example. Its ITTO chart is attached below:

plan scope management

At first glance, this chart may be confusing, but once you “translate” this chart into English, it just tells you the “story” of how PMI wants you to create a Scope Management plan. In plain English, this chart says, “to create the scope management plan, you need to meet with your experts in meetings and take a look at your existing project charter and project management plan.”

That’s it! Now it’s your turn to translate the rest of the ITTO charts into plain English for yourself.

2. Create a cheat sheet

Before you walk into the exam centre, you will be given 2 blank sheets of legal sized paper. If you want additional sheets of paper, you need to give back one of the sheets you were already given, meaning you cannot have more than 2 sheets at any time.

It is a good idea to draw a “cheat sheet” for yourself before you begin your exam. This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and stay calm before the timer starts counting down. You can refer back to your “cheat sheet” whenever you’d like to during the exam.

Since the Process Chart is the “skeleton” of the PMBOK, it is a great resource to include on your cheat sheet, along with all of the formulas you need to know.

Here is an example of what a cheat sheet can look like. Feel free to add in more material that you feel is necessary.

PMP cheat sheet

3. Create memory aids

A great way to speed up your learning process is to create memory aids for yourself. Here is an example:

The 5 Information Gathering Techniques in Identify Risks are: 1) Interviews, 2) SWOT analysis, 3) Delphi Technique, 4) Root Cause Analysis, and 5) Brainstorming. If you had to hard memorize this exhaustive list, it may take you a long time and you may forget it soon after.

However, let me teach you a memory aid that will allow you to remember the 5 Information Gathering Techniques in the next 30 seconds.

All you have to do is simply rearrange the order of the 5 techniques and it will spell out BIRDS.



Root cause analysis

Delphi technique

SWOT analysis

Memory aids work because when you associate something you already know (birds) with something you don’t know (project management concepts), your brain will remember the concepts much faster.

Now it’s your turn. Go create your own memory aids to pass your PMP certification on your first try!

4. Do practice questions

Have you ever heard of the term “PMI-ism”? It refers to the specific way that PMI does things. A common misconception PMP candidates have is that they can rely on their real-world experience to answer PMP exam questions and skip studying. Anyone who has tried this technique has failed. PMI has a framework and a structure that they want PMP certified project managers to follow. The only way that you’ll understand this methodology is by doing as many practice questions as possible.

It is also simply not enough to assume you can pass the PMP after you’ve read the PMBOK a few times. While the PMP exam is based on the PMBOK, it also includes many situational questions that are derived from the RDS (Role Delineation Study). Every 3-5 years, PMI surveys thousands of project managers world-wide to find out what they’ve been doing on daily basis. They try to incorporate their experiences into the PMP exam. You can only prepare for the situational questions on the PMP exam by doing as many practice questions as possible. Reading the PMBOK, or any other study guide, is a good starting point, but it will not be enough to prepare you.

5. Know your formulas

When you walk into the Prometrics centre, the computer software will pull 200 random questions from its database. The people next to you in the exam centre may also be taking the PMP exam, but all of you will have entirely different exams.

The software does not know whether a question is formula-based or not. Thus, some test takers report that they got almost no formula questions on their exam, while others report that 30% of their exam was formula-based. On average, however, expect 5-10% of your exam to involve mathematical calculations.

There are two main categories of formulas on your PMP exam: Earned Value Management (EVM) and Procurement. Here is a guide to all of the formulas you need to know for your PMP exam and their interpretations.

There you have it! My top 5 tips to passing your PMP certification on your first try. To learn more about project management and the PMP certification, sign up for a free PMP training class here.