Understanding PMP Exam Preparation

paper test with two pencils and an eraser on top of it

The Project Management Professional (PMP) exam takes commitment and time to prepare for. This exam is offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is an internationally recognized professional designation. Before you can take this exam, you will need to meet the education and training requirements.

Due to the rigorous nature of the exam, it is a good idea to commit to a serious PMP exam preparation program. Earning a Master of Business Administration in Project Management degree can provide you with opportunities to prepare for the exam. Here, we’ll explore other steps you can take to prepare, and we’ll answer some common questions, such as, What is a PMP certification and How hard is the PMP exam?

In This Blog:

What Is a PMP Certification?

Project Management Institute (PMI) certifications are developed by practitioners for practitioners. They’re considered the gold standard in achievement for project management professionals because the process to achieve them is so rigorous.1 PMI maintains minimum education and work experience eligibility requirements to sit for the exams. There are varying eligibility pathways, such as:2

  1. A high school/secondary degree and a minimum of 60 months of professional project management experience
  2. A bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 36 months of professional project management experience

Even among PMI certifications, the Project Management Professional certification is considered the gold standard due to its rigor and strict eligibility requirements.3 The PMP can be helpful around the world and in virtually every industry imaginable.2 Consider pursuing your PMP certification if any of the following responsibilities of a project manager apply to you:

  • You are responsible for delivering projects by leading and directing cross-functional teams in light of resource, budgeting and time limitations.
  • You are responsible for all aspects of a project throughout its life.
  • You apply knowledge and experience to identify and use specific methodologies for project management.

How Hard Is the PMP Exam?

Passing the PMP exam requires having an understanding of project management concepts that is both broad in scope and in-depth in nature. You can expect to answer questions on the following domains:2

  • People: Including conflict management, team leadership, team empowerment, team training and stakeholder collaboration
  • Process: Including project execution, communication, risk assessment and management, budget management and procurement management
  • Business environment: Including project compliance, benefit tracking, regulatory changes and organizational change

These are just a few of the topic-area tasks for each domain. It’s a good idea to review the PMI’s PMP exam preparation materials well ahead of your exam date so that you have a firm idea of what to expect.


Another common question students often have is, What’s the difference between PMP vs. PMI? It’s sometimes thought that the two acronyms each refer to a different certification, but this isn’t the case.

PMI refers to the organization itself — the Project Management Institute — whereas PMP refers to one of the certification exams it administers. PMI administers multiple certifications and “micro-credentials” designed to allow professionals to demonstrate their command of project management principles and practices. PMI also serves as a community, providing networking opportunities within local chapters and events.

5 Steps for PMP Exam Preparation

Now that you have a better grasp on the basics of PMP vs. PMI, let’s take a closer look at five steps that can bolster your PMP exam preparation.

1. Review What Is on the Exam

It is important to read through the PMP examination content outline document, which is available on the PMI website. This document breaks down the domains and individual tasks associated with them. 

Start by going through this document to get an idea of how to create your study plan. You may feel confident in one area and less so in another. Knowing how the test is designed can help you determine where to focus your attention as you continue preparing for the exam.

2. Sign Up for a Study Course

There are local organizations approved by PMI that offer project management training, workshops and other forms of PMP exam preparation. Use an accredited trainer so that you know you are receiving a quality education that can help you attain your certification. 

The courses given by approved trainers will include ready-made study materials and practice exams. They also help you review project management concepts and terminology. 

3. Start Studying

In addition to taking a course, you should find the latest edition of the PMI study guide, prep book and any other self-study books published by other training organizations. Try to review more than just one book to ensure you don’t miss out on any vital information. 

As you study, focus on the knowledge areas and process groups that you feel you need the most work with. However, do not forget to also test yourself and brush up on the areas you feel confident in too. Paper or electronic flash cards can also be a very helpful means of retaining the information you’re studying. 

Remember, new information is added to the PMP exam periodically so that project managers remain knowledgeable about the most up-to-date practices. That is why it is important to make sure you are studying current information and prep books.

4. Take the Practice Test

How you score on a practice test given in a study course or in a study guide can be a good indicator of how ready you are to take the PMP exam. You will be able to get an idea of your general project management knowledge and afterward, you can analyze your test results to see what areas you need to focus on within the test. Additionally, if you have not taken a long test in a while, sitting for a mock test can help you understand what it will be like to sit for a four-hour PMP certification exam.

5. Study With Others

Working with a group to study can help you find somebody whose strengths might lie in the areas that you are struggling with or vice versa. Additionally, studying for the PMP exam with people who have experience that differs from yours may help you better grasp the scenarios used in the PMP questions. Working with a group can motivate you to continue to study and stay on target before your PMP exam.

The tricky part is finding a study group. If you know of some people taking the exam, ask to meet with them and study together. This is when being in a Master of Business Administration in Project Management degree program can be beneficial, as some of your peers are likely preparing to take the exam. 

Otherwise, try searching for “PMP Study Groups” online or on social media platforms to find a group near you. Arrange to meet on a regular basis so that you can break up the monotony of studying for the PMP alone.

Other Certifications From PMI

In addition to the PMP, there are other certification options you might consider pursuing, to include:


The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) can be ideal for those who lack sufficient experience to take the PMP exam. It’s ideal for those with zero to three years of experience, as it only requires 23 contact hours. PMI offers a Project Management Basics course online, which fulfills the contact hours eligibility requirement.4

This exam takes three hours, during which you can expect to answer 150 questions about project management terminology and practices.4


PMI also offers certifications for specialized areas, such as risk management. If you work in risk management, consider earning the PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP®) certification. Depending on your academic qualifications, you may need one, two or three years of professional project risk management experience to be eligible for this certification.4
You can expect this certification exam to be two and a half hours in length. You’ll need to answer 115 multiple choice questions.5

Earn Your MBA in Project Management at GCU

If you are hoping to take the PMP exam and become a certified project manager, you can prepare by earning your Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Project Management at Grand Canyon University. For more information on GCU’s Colangelo College of Business degrees, fill out the form at the top of this page.

1 Davis, K. (2023, Sept., 4). Benefits of PMP Certification for Professionals and Employees. Knowledge Hut. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2023. 

2 Project Management Institute. (2021, January). Project Management Professional (PMP)® examination content outline. Retrieved Nov. 13, 2023. 

3 Project Management Institute. (n.d.) Certifications. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2023. 

4 Project Management Institute. (n.d.). CAPM® Certified Associate in Project Management. Retrieved Nov. 13, 2023. 

5 Project Management Institute. (n.d.). PMI-RMP® - PMI Risk Management Professional. Retrieved Nov. 13, 2023. 

Approved by the academic program manager of the Colangelo College of Business on Dec. 15, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.