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Areas to Focus on when Studying for the PMP Exam
By Keith MathisPM Expert Live

As you prepare for the certification, it requires that you spend a great deal of time in certain areas of knowledge transfer. The amount of preparation depends on how well you know the PMBOK® and how closely you run projects to that standard. The PMP® certification has a database of between 6,000 and 7,000 questions that are used to test individual’s knowledge of project management.

Because of this large database of questions, it is possible for two people to take the test at the same time yet their test is very different. It is also possible that your test will emphasize something more or less than someone else’s.

Participants become frustrated because they spend so much time studying only to have one or two questions come from a particular focus area. We will recommend some focus areas which have a tendency to be included in most certification tests. These areas might be emphasized more or less on your test but a thorough knowledge of these will increase your chances of success. It should be understood that if you do not know this foundational information, you will not be able to understand the questions and how they pertain to project management in real life.

  • Definitions

    Definitions and an understanding of how they are used in context are very important for the PMP® certification. Definitions are found in the back of PMBOK® and are used in questions to make sure that the participant understands exactly what the definition means as well as how it is used within a project. Participants must understand definitions from the PMBOK® vantage point not their internal culture.

  • 5 Process Groups

    You will need to understand the five process groups of initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing and what actually takes place under each. Some try to confuse the five process groups with the nine knowledge areas.

  • Inputs, outputs, processes and tools

    Many of the questions will include very specific information on the inputs, outputs, processes and tools of a particular knowledge area. As you look at each of these, it allows you to gain a great understanding of how the project management processes are driven toward completion.

    Many of these processes must be understood in a detailed manner. Some individuals will haphazardly read PMBOK® and think that the questions will be easy and can be answered with a general understanding of each knowledge areas. However, this is not enough to pass the test. You must possess an expert understanding of each and be able to distinguish one from another. It is common to have a question where you need to distinguish one knowledge area from another in order to select the correct answer.

  • Experts in quality and their writing

    Quality is a concern for any project and is very important for project managers to understand. Details on quality processes such as Isikowa, Deming, Crosby, and Juran will help in many of the quality questions. Most of these questions revolve around quality processes, quality improvements, and continuous quality. Even though these areas might not be as emphasized in PMBOK®, they are very important for understanding the background of quality.

  • Types of organizations

    In today’s environment, organizations are making changes to accommodate projects and allow the project manager to have more control. PMBOK® has great writing in the early chapters detailing the various types of organizations and how they can influence your individual project. Understanding the difference between each type of organization is going to be a key in understanding some of the test questions. For an example, if you do not understand the difference between a projectized organization compared to a matrix model organization, it is going to be very hard for you to answer the question. You must be able to distinguish between the various models with only a few descriptions.

  • Each of the 9 knowledge areas

    There are nine knowledge areas in PMBOK®. If you examine page 43 in PMBOK® 4th Edition, you will gain a great understanding of all of the knowledge areas and how they work together in an integrated fashion. Each knowledge area has detailed inputs, outputs and tools. It is very important to understand what each of these are in relation to the specific knowledge areas and make sure that you can distinguish them from one another. Since 80% of the questions will come from PMBOK®, it is important for you to be able to distinguish the difference between each of the knowledge areas and the five process groups.

  • Ethical responsibility

    Ethical responsibility has become very important in the last several years as we have seen major corporations act in questionable manners. PMI® has placed a great deal of emphasis in this area in relationship to projects. You will experience numerous questions revolving around what is ethical and the responsibility that project managers have in being ethical at all times. It would be good for you to read all the ethical and social responsibility sections in PMBOK®, as well as to go to and download any of their amended components. The ethical scenarios can include both projects here in North America as well as the world. PMI® is asking project managers to give strong ethical leadership, which is a good role model to follow.

Although we have emphasized several focus areas, it in no way guarantees that they will be on your test. Due to the enormous size of the question database revolving around the certification, these are only focus areas to give you some structure and direction in being able to pass the PMP® certification.

Dr. Keith Mathis, founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds. He offers 33 Project Management courses, is a Project Management Professional, is certified by the Project Management Institute and will customize every training session to your individual company’s needs. The Mathis Group also sponsors, which is a powerful project management resource with free reports, podcasts, videos, and a monthly newsletter. He also offers customized management training and coaching on any subject with prolific communication and professionalism.

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