PMBOK Guide Alone Enough for the PMP Exam?


PMBOK Guide Alone is not enough for the PMP Exam

Is studying the PMBOK® Guide alone enough to pass the PMP® Exam? The answer really depends on how familiar you are with the PMBOK® Guide. Some say that around 80 – 90% of the PMP® Exam questions are covered in the PMBOK® Guide. However, it is clear that the PMP® Exam is way more than the PMBOK® Guide. The PMP® Exam tests the exam takers more about their knowledge and skills in carrying out project management according to best practices. If you wish to fully prepare for the PMP® Exam, you will need to have other study resources in addition to the PMBOK® Guide.

The PMP® Exam Syllabus

The best literature to understand the PMP® Exam syllabus is, without doubt, the PMP® Exam Content Outline. Since the PMP® Exam is based on a “Role Delineation Study (RDS)” on the knowledge and competence of serving practitioners in project management, it intends to assess and validate the knowledge and skills of PMP® holders in the field of project management. The Content Outline states that:

… while the PMP® Examination Content Outline and the PMBOK® Guide have commonalities, it is important to note that those involved in the study described previously were not bound by the PMBOK® Guide. They were charged with defining the role of individuals leading and directing projects, and using their experience and pertinent resource to help in this task …

On the relationship between the PMP® Exam syllabus and the PMBOK® Guide, the outline has expressly added that (quoting the PMP® Exam Content Outline):

Although many of the domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills outlined by the PMP® Examination Content Outline are also covered by the PMBOK® Guide, there are some that are unique to the PMP® Examination Content Outline. Candidates studying for the examination will certainly want to include the current edition of the PMBOK® Guide as one of their references, and would be well advised to read other current titles on project management.

In short, studying the PMBOK® Guide alone will cover just part of the exam syllabus for the PMP® exam. Other books and articles on project management would need to be included as the exam study materials in order to fully prepare for and pass the PMP® exam.

The PMP® Exam and PMBOK® Guide

Both the PMP® Exam Content Outline and PMBOK® Guide are published by the Project Management Institute, they share the same organization of grouping project management knowledge into five domains:

  1. Initiating the Project
  2. Planning the Project
  3. Executing the Project
  4. Monitoring and Controlling the Project
  5. Closing the Project

The PMP® Exam Content Outline further includes the percentage distribution of the questions according to the five domains:

  1. 13% – Initiating the Project
  2. 24% – Planning the Project
  3. 30% – Executing the Project
  4. 25% – Monitoring and Controlling the Project
  5. 8% – Closing the Project

The PMP® Exam Content Outline describes the domains in terms of “tasks” (e.g. there are 6 tasks in the domain of initiating the project, 12 tasks in planning the project) while the PMBOK® Guide describes in terms of “processes, process groups and ITTO”. In addition to the “Tools and Techniques” mentioned in the PMBOK® Guide, there are further “Knowledge and Skills” required for the PMP® Exam, for example:

  • cost-benefit analysis
  • business case development
  • cross-cutting skills (e.g. active listening, leadership tools and techniques, presentation tools and techniques, etc.)
  • PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is also mentioned in the PMP® Exam Content Outline

What Else Should Be Included in the Study Material List?

According to the a survey with PMP® certification holders, it is found that the following are the most popular study materials:

  1. The PMBOK® Guide – this is consider by many the “Bible” for the PMP® Exam, PMI members can download a PDF copy of the PMBOK® Guide for free. In case if you want a printed copy of the PMBOK® Guide, you can purchase it from Amazon.
  2. PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct – a copy can be downloaded free from the PMI website for free.
  3. Other Current Titles on Project Management – nobody would know which “current titles” are referred by PMI … Fortunately, there are some “PMP® Exam Study Guides” which successfully summarizes the other useful knowledge in project management which is known to be required for the PMP® Exam. Popular and time-tested choices include:

    If you would like to understand more about the differences between these PMP® study guides and would like to know which one suits you most, you might want to read this blog post on PMP® Study Resources. I personally chose the Andy Crowe’s PMP® Book to help me pass the PMP® Exam.

    (Disclosure: the above links to PMP® exam prep books are affiliate links, purchases made through these links will help fund the running of this website, thank you!)

  4. Many PMP® aspirants would also like to take PMP® practice exams (also known as mock exams) to help them familiarize with the actual exam procedures and format as well as to test their PMP® knowledge. The practice exams are especially useful if you take the exams in full for a continuous session of 4 hours. You will understand your concentration span and your need to take bathroom breaks. The simulated tests will help you plan ahead:
    • how long you will spend on each question
    • when to take breaks and how many
    • whether to mark questions you are not sure

    This blog post gives a list of free or low-cost but high quality PMP® practice exams.

  5. If your budget allows, it is highly advisable to enroll in PMP® bootcamps / online course / podcast courses that can help you to pass the PMP® exam. These courses are no general project management courses that you would take in universities or sub-degree courses. They will help you to fully prepare for the PMP® exam syllabus with a laser focus. In other words, these courses are exam oriented. Though you may not need to earn the 35 contact hours with these exam prep courses, taking one such course will be beneficial for your PMP® exam! I took an online PMP® exam prep course which allowed me to study anywhere I want. The course includes not only the PMBOK® Guide and additional project management knowledge but also PMP® exam taking techniques.

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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