5 Tips Preparing for the PMP Exam On a Budget

I recently became the Director of Certification for the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).   I posted this on LinkedIn, and within a few days, someone who is a member of PMI Chicagoland asked me the following question.    “How do I prepare for the PMP exam if I am on a budget?”

In other words, if you don’t have the $1,000 or thereabouts that a class may cost, but only say, one-tenth of that amount, around $100, what would I recommend for studying for the exam?    I thought I would post my answer to the question online because others may be in a similar situation.

1.  Join PMI

Even if you are not certified, joining PMI is a good idea.   It costs $139 to join the national organization, with the local chapter fees varying from chapter to chapter–PMI Chicagoland charges $35.   One of the benefits you get is that you can download a copy of the PMBOK Guide.    Now you can get that on Amazon for about $40 (even an e-Book version).

However, having a downloadable version makes it easily searchable for terms that you are looking for.   When I was a reviewer of questions on PMBOK for the International Knowledge Measurement company, this feature turned out to be invaluable for quickly finding what I was looking for.

2.  Joined PMI Chapter Group on Linked In

Not only the PMI organization as a whole, but the various chapters have Linked In Groups that you can join.   If you can’t afford a class, but don’t want to study by yourself, then put in a comment in the PMI chapter LinkedIn group asking for people in your area who may be studying for the exam and want to get together or arrange conference calls to study on a periodic basis for the exam.     All good PMP exam prep classes should arrange study groups for their students to get together between classes and help either other review for the exam.   You can have a study group without a class, but the most likely place to get fellow study group members is … your local PMI chapter, and the LinkedIn Group is one of the best ways to set one up–for free!

3.  Get Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep (8th Edition)

When I was organizing study groups for the Orange County, California Chapter of PMI, back when I was helping run the PMP Exam Prep classes there, the study groups could choose the text they wanted.   The one that consistently was rated highest by the students was Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep book.   Right now it sells for about $70 on Amazon, but it is definitely worth it.   It is great for study groups, because there are interactive exercises to practice the material, and the exam questions are great discussion points for groups as well.    If you can answer the questions at the end of the chapter at a 80% rate, you know the material well enough to move on to the next chapter.

4.  Get Free Exam Questions

Once you have learned the material, how do you know if you are ready for the exam?   By taking mock exam questions.

There are many sources for PMP Exam questions that are free–the best list I have found is on the following article on the PMP Exam Simulator Site.


The recommendation that was used the most when I was out in Orange County, CA was


The important thing is to get a site that will allow you to get questions regarding a specific chapter of the PMBOK Guide.  That way you can make a little matrix of the chapters and your percentage of questions in each chapter that you’ve gotten correct.    I used to go with 80%, but I agree with the author of the PMP Exam Simulator site that you should probably aim for 85%, so that you are sure that you know the material in each section.

5.  Get Free Exams

Many of the places you can get exam questions will also give you mock exams.   The rule of thumb I told students when I was out in Orange County, CA was, if you can 85% on exam questions from ALL chapters of the PMP, then SIGN UP FOR THE EXAM.    Once you do so, you will have between 2 and 4 weeks before the exam (depending on the exam provider), and you can then work on taking mock exams.   This is not just a matter of knowing the material; it’s a matter of being able to gauge your time and skip questions that are taking you too much time on your first pass, so that you can come back and review them later.

If you can pass the entire exam at the 85%, then relax.   The night before I took my certification exam, I went and saw a movie.   Why?   So that I would not overload my head and short-circuit what I had already sufficiently learned.   But I could do that with confidence because I had received a 90% on a mock exam.   With that, I knew I had a good chance to succeed on the real thing–and I did on the first try!

It takes more ingenuity to study for the PMP exam when you are short on the resource of money, but if you have the resource of time, you can still do it!



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