The PMP exam is difficult for both novices and experienced project managers, but the sheer volume of material makes studying a challenge on its own! Over the course of my studying, I made a tool to practice intermittent recall and help store the exam material in long-term memory. Scroll to the bottom of this post to download it, or read on to learn why it’s helpful for exam takers.

To begin with, I recommend that you take 7-8 weeks to study the exam material, and then 2-3 additional weeks to hone in on the exam itself. This study period is what I’ll be talking about here. Why so long? Because if you’re studying for the PMP, you should want to retain that knowledge and apply it as a project manager. A week-long boot camp and memory dump may help you pass the exam, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll keep that information long enough to apply it in a professional context. Studying with long-term memory in mind will benefit you both on the exam itself and beyond.

That being said, I think the best place to start is to actually read the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide issued by the PMI. I won’t lie, it’s very dry and difficult to stay engaged while reading it. But I found it helpful to see everything that the PMI recommends in its native state, and I think you will too. Please note, however, that reading the PMBOK guide by itself is not enough to pass the PMP exam.

After reading the PMBOK, I recommend using a dedicated prep book, such as Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep (9th Edition) or Andy Crowe’s The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try (6th Edition). These books weave together the core material, other exam material not included in the PMBOK guide, and learning exercises to help you study. Whatever you use, it’s critical that your prep tool is aligned to the latest version of the PMBOK Guide (6th edition as of this writing), or it won’t be accurate. I used Andy’s book, and found it very comprehensive. He covers all test material and includes a full-length test for you to practice with.

It should take you roughly 6 weeks to get through both the PMBOK Guide and a prep book. But even with all of this reading, it’s still not enough to go and take the test comfortably; you’re familiar with the exam material, but how well can you recall it? Memory recall is the how tests work after all. This is where long-term memory comes in: long-term memory is much more reliable for tests and exams than short-term memory.

To store information in long-term memory, you need to both study and practice intermittent recall. Flashcards and writing drills are time-tested examples of this concept. For my test prep, I made my own intermittent recall exercise to help learn, retain, and recall the PMBOK processes. You can download it here. It’s a fill-in the blank exercise that asks you to recall the key inputs, tools, and outputs (ITTOs) for every single process in the PMBOK guide. Please note, the process ITTOs in this exercise are based on Andy’s book, and may not line up 100% with another prep book.

Doing this once or twice a week in the lead-up to the exam helped me get comfortable with each process and how they flow together (with one processes outputs becoming the inputs of another). If you use this exercise in your studying, you will both learn the PMBOK material better and have improve your recall on the PMP exam.

Coming up next, I’ll go over the exam itself and give you a free strategy guide to maximize your performance.