PMP Study Resources: PMBOK, PMP Guide plus PMP Sample Exams

PDF Download: The Complete PMI PMP Certification Guide can be downloaded as a PDF file.

PMP study guide and prep book

Many PMP® aspirants got confused that the PMP® exam is about the PMBOK® Guide. The reality is reading the PMBOK® Guide alone is not enough for the PMP® exam. Yes, though the PMBOK® Guide is published by the PMI and as its name suggests it covers the body of knowledge of project management, it is meant to be the framework of best practices in project management. The actual PMP® exam is more than the PMBOK® Guide.

According to 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.

This expressly states that a PMP® candidate cannot solely rely on the PMBOK® Guide as their one and only source for study. The PMP® exam covers way more than what are included in the PMBOK® Guide. It was estimated by many PMP® instructors that the PMBOK® Guide guide contains around 80% of the materials that would appear on the PMP® exam paper. This means that the other 20% of the exam materials have to be found from “current titles on project management”.

What are the “current titles”? I hear you ask. Unlike the PMI-ACP® Certification exam which includes a booklist of reference titles, the PMP® exam does not come with such list. Read on and you will know more about how to tackle this nagging question. The answer lies in the “PMP® reference books/study guides”.

Below we will briefly discuss the PMP® exam prep materials you will need and offer you some of the best suggestions.

1) The PMBOK® Guide

The “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (PMBOK® Guide) is published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMBOK® Guide is currently in its fifth edition. With each update in edition, the PMP® exam will also be updated. The PMP® exam is now based on the fifth edition of PMBOK® Guide. The PMP® Handbook suggests candidates to make use of the PMBOK® Guide as one of their references and it is estimated that the PMBOK® Guide contains around 80% of materials required for the PMP® exam.

From a survey with 100 PMP®s, it is found that over 95% of all PMP® aspirants do read the PMBOK® Guide for at least once during their exam preparation. Unless you are super confident of your project management knowledge, it is highly advised to read through the PMBOK® Guide at least once during your exam study.

It is imperative to note that once you have become a PMI member, you can download the electronic copy of the PMBOK® Guide for FREE. It is an encrypted and watermarked version that allows you only to read and print the pages but not copy and paste the text. You should exercise care not to distribute the file to others as it is watermarked with your name on every page. PMI takes intelligence properties infringement very seriously.

However, many of the PMP® aspirants expressed that the PMBOK® Guide was a difficult read. Some even thought of giving up the PMP® certification as they could not make sense of the PMBOK® Guide. There are two ways out:

  • Hold on and read it through, don’t focus on understanding
  • Give up the PMBOK® Guide and make use of a PMP® Exam Prep Course or PMP® Study Guide (below)

2) PMP® Exam Prep Books and Study Guide

There are two reasons you will need a PMP® Exam Study Guide:

  • To help you understand the PMBOK® Guide
  • To learn the remaining 10%+ of the knowledge required for the PMP® exam as the PMBOK® Guide only covers around 80% of the exam syllabus

A search for PMP® Study Guide will give you hundreds of results. One could not help wonder: which book is the best? A better way to ask the question in a more relevant way is: which book suits me most?

Most Popular PMP® exam prep books

We will first introduce the most popular books available on the market, these include (according to popularity):

These are the most popular PMP® study guides. Nearly every PMP® lessons learned you would encounter would name one or more of these as their resources for PMP® study. These three books varies widely in their approach to the PMP® exam:

  • Rita’s PMP® Book is most comprehensive (and most wordy) of all. It will give you a lot of extra information not necessary for the PMP® exam. However, the tone of the author is a bit condescending (you need to read a few pages to experience it) and the book does not cover the ITTO (Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs) of the PMBOK® Guide very well.
  • Andy Crowe’s PMP® Book (How to Pass On Your First Try) is exam oriented. It covers all that are necessary for the PMP® exam and nothing more. The format is just like a pile of quick study notes. It does the job of helping you pass the exam well but may make less contribution to your daily job.
  • Head First PMP® Book is geared towards visual learners. It makes use of the latest findings from cognitive research by including a lot of illustrations, charts and games. It is fun to go through the book while studying for the PMP® exam at the same time. However, some serious readers would find the layout of the book too “chaotic”.

You may click on the book covers above to try reading a few pages of the books at Amazon. I personally make use of Andy Crowe’s book for my PMP® exam and it takes only 4 hours to finish reading it once.

Which PMP® Exam Study Guide Suits Me Most?

As a conclusion from the survey of 100 PMP®s, the following two questions would help you identify your best PMP® study companion.

Question 1: Does the PMBOK® Guide make sense to you? Do you ‘leave no stone unturned’ in your quest of knowledge?

3) PMP® Practice / Sample Exams (Mock Exams)

After all, taking an exam with 200 questions for 4 hours continuously requires not only full preparation but also your stamina and strategy. All PMP® instructors would advise you to sit for a 200 questions PMP® sample exam at least once. You need to know when you need a break to refresh and to go to the bathroom. But it is more advisable to take as many as PMP® practice exams as you can practically make it. How to obtain as many practice exam as possible without breaking your bank is another pressing question. Luckily, many quality mock exams are available for free. You can find a list of free PMP® practice exams here.

How do I Know if I am Well Prepared for the Real Exam?

Most PMP® instructors would advise candidates to achieve around 75%-80% or above upon their first attempt of a PMP® sample exam. You should note that:

  • The PMP® sample exam must have not been attempted before
  • The exam is completed in one sitting within the 4 hour time limit
  • The exam is attempted in an PMP® sample exam simulator (i.e. similar to the actual computer-based conditions)

These will allow you to understand your readiness for the PMP® exam. If you still haven’t achieved 75% when the exam date is near, it is advisable to postpone the real PMP® exam and practice more until you are ready. More on that later.

What’s Next?

After you have obtained/chosen your PMP® study companions (i.e. PMBOK® Guide, PMP® mock practice exams, PMP® study guide, etc.), it is time to actual fill in your PMP® application online through the PMI website to officially begin your PMP® certification journey.


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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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9 Responses

  1. KJ says:

    hello Edward,
    firstly, thank you for compiling and presenting all information. I would like to know what resource you would recommend for someone who has started preparing for the pmp. I would like to test my knowledge as and when I prepare. what relevant resource do you suggest for chapter wise knowledge check. Any pointers for chapter wise questions?

  2. Hassan says:

    Hi Edward,
    I used your website extensively while preparing for my PMP. Well, thank you very much indeed as I did clear my PMP today! It’s unbelievable this amount of materials is available for free. Thank you for your selfless service!

  3. David says:

    Hi, I used PMBOK Guide and “McGraw-Hill Education PMP Project Management Professional Exam”. Worked great for me.

    All the best

  4. Sandeep says:

    Hi Edward,
    You blog is absolutely awesome and helped me a great bit to clear my PMP. The study material is very concise and touches all the important concepts for a quick review. Many thanks again and keep up the great work! 🙂

  5. Ahmed says:

    Hey Lungile,

    How long did it take you to study for the exam?

    Edward, thanks so much for your post! Appreciate this blog and what your doing for the PMP community!


  6. Lungile Khambule says:

    Thank you for an awesome site. I followed most of the advises given and I have passed my PMP on first attempt. I used PMBOK, Rita and Kim books

  7. Andre van der Merwe says:

    Another awesome exam prep book is Kim Heldman’s PMP Study Guide. It’s written in “everyday language” according to process groups (not to knowledge areas like the PMBOK), and contains lots of practice exam questions at the end of each chapter. Here is her website: