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Easiest, Fastest, Cheapest and Safest Way to PMP Certification

- 13 comments

PMP aspirants often ask me - What's the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to achieve PMP Certification? My response is - pick any two. Easiest, fastest and cheapest are analogous to the triple constraints in Project Management - Scope, Time and Cost. You cannot have all three. You have to compromise on at least one of the factors (Effort, Time, Cost). For example, you can opt for an expensive exam prep workshop that can make it easy and fast for you. Alternatively, go for an online self-paced program, complemented by free sample exams and free tools on the web. That will be an economical option, but not as easy or fast as the previous option.

I added a fourth constraint - risk, and modified the question to:

What's the easiest, fastest, cheapest and safest way to achieve PMP Certification?



The question can be answered from two perspectives:
  1. What's the best or ideal preparation methodology that we should follow? I've addressed this question in the article How to become a PMP in 6 Steps.

  2. What's the best exam prep resources that we need to pass the exam? In this article, I'm going to address this question.
Based on these 4 constraints - Effort, Time, Cost and Risk - I've prepared 5 'recipes' for PMP Exam success. This post should be particularly helpful for people who are just embarking on their journey toward PMP certification. Read the full article to find out more.

Before I jump into the article, let me share a personal story with you.

After being away on business for a week before Christmas, I thought it would be nice to bring my wife a little gift.

"How about some perfume?" I asked the cosmetics clerk. She showed me a bottle costing $50. "That's a bit much," said I, so she returned with a smaller bottle for $30. "Thats still quite a bit," I groused. Growing disgusted, the clerk brought out a tiny $15 bottle. I grew agitated, "What I mean," I said, "is I'd like to see something real cheap." So the clerk handed me a mirror.

You must be laughing at me right now. But, that's how I am, well according to my wife at least.

Let's begin by asking "What's the absolute bare minimum amount we need to spend to get PMP Certification?". There are 2 expenses that we cannot avoid:
  1. Exam Fee
  2. Training Fee (to get 35 Contact Hours of project management education)
(Note: Some companies conduct in-house courses, which are eligible for 35 contact hours of project management education. Check with your company's training department or HR department about any such courses.)

I break this further down into 3 categories:
  1. PMI Membership
  2. Exam Fee
  3. Training Fee (to get 35 Contact Hours of project management education)
If you are wondering why I added PMI Membership to the list, then you have obviously not read the article 10 Benefits of PMI Membership. In short, $129 spent on PMI Membership will get you $150 discount on the exam fee. You also get a free electronic copy of the latest edition of the PMBOK Guide, which is the official guide for PMP Certification. That leads us directly into our first recipe.
  1. In Recipe 1, we pay for only 4 items:
    • PMI Membership
    • PMP Exam
    • Self-paced Training Course
    • PMP Exam Prep Book
    In this option, we go for the most economical training option - self-paced training - that qualifies for 35 Contact Hours of Project Management training. Apart from the training course, we add one good exam prep book to the mix. Obviously, you don't want to fail the exam and risk your 550 dollars spent on the exam, do you? We do not pay for any other tool to aid our preparation. We rely entirely on free sample exams and other free tools available on the internet. This option is definitely the "cheapest", but certainly not the easiest, fastest, or safest. The following table summarizes this option:

    Recipe 1
    PMI Membership$129
    PMP Exam$405
    PM Training$100
    PMP Exam Prep Book$60
    Exam SimulatorN.A.
    Other ToolsN.A.
    Total Cost$694
    Rating (higher score is better)
    Easiest1
    Fastest1
    Cheapest5
    Safest1


  2. In Recipe 2, we invest $50 to $100 on a good commercial exam simulator (or a sample question set) and an additional tool to aid our preparation. This will reduce the risk slightly and also make it a bit easy and fast for us. In summary:

    Recipe 2
    PMI Membership$129
    PMP Exam$405
    PM Training$100
    PMP Exam Prep Book$60
    Exam Simulator$50
    Other Tools$30
    Total Cost$774
    Rating (higher score is better)
    Easiest2
    Fastest2
    Cheapest4
    Safest3


  3. In Recipe 3, we opt for the best quality exam simulator out there and also add another tool or a book to aid our preparation. This reduces our risk further, helps cut down on preparation time, and makes our life easy. We still opt for the self-paced online training program for 35 contact hours. In summary:

    Recipe 3
    PMI Membership$129
    PMP Exam$405
    PM Training$100
    PMP Exam Prep Book$60
    Exam Simulator$200
    Other Tools$60
    Total Cost$954
    Rating (higher score is better)
    Easiest3
    Fastest3
    Cheapest3
    Safest5


  4. In Recipe 4, we upgrade to a complete all-in-one online training course that includes the prep book, sample exams and other study aids. The average cost of such a course is about $1000. We add an extra book to go along with the course, so as to not rely entirely on one source. In summary:

    Recipe 4
    PMI Membership$129
    PMP Exam$405
    PM Training$1000
    PMP Exam Prep Book$60
    Exam SimulatorN.A.
    Other ToolsN.A.
    Total Cost$1594
    Rating (higher score is better)
    Easiest4
    Fastest4
    Cheapest2
    Safest5


  5. In Recipe 5, we replace the online course with an intensive 4 or 5 day classroom training or a PMP boot camp. Usually these programs provide all the material that you need to prepare for the exam and also come with a money-back guarantee. In summary:

    Recipe 5
    PMI Membership$129
    PMP Exam$405
    PM Training$2000
    PMP Exam Prep BookN.A.
    Exam SimulatorN.A.
    Other ToolsN.A.
    Total Cost$2534
    Rating (higher score is better)
    Easiest5
    Fastest5
    Cheapest1
    Safest5

As you can see, there's no single easiest, fastest, cheapest and safest option. The most suited package will depend upon your situation. Let's talk about pros and cons of different recipes and help you determine which recipe is best suited for you.
  1. If you are a business class traveler or your employer is sponsoring your training, and you can afford to take time off from work, then by all means go for Recipe 5. But note that not all training programs are created equal. So, do your homework before investing your money in any single program.

  2. If you employer is willing to sponsor your program, but you cannot afford to take time-off from work to attend a full time classroom program, Recipe 3 or 4 would suit you better.

  3. If you are going to bear the cost of certification from your own pocket, and cannot take time off from work, Recipe 3 may be most suited for you.

  4. If you are currently unemployed, a bit tight on budget, but have plenty of time at hand, then Recipe 1 or 2 may also be viable.
Overall, Recipe 3 provides the best balance among effort, time, cost and risk. With this option, you can get certified within a span of 1 to 3 months, and under $1000.

To see a complete price and benefit comparisons and my recommended ingredients for each recipe, refer to the following document:

What is the Easiest, Fastest, Cheapest and Safest Way to PMP Certification (PDF file)

Now here's a fun project that my four year old and I did couple days ago. We put together a comparative chart of the five recipes using his Lego bricks. Who said we can't have fun while working! Take a look:


I hope you found this article useful and it helps you select the right study material for your certification. If you have other options, which worked well for you, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Image Credit: Flickr / Yui.Kubo

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13 comments:

  1. Before spending ANY money on your PMP, and "following the crowd", maybe it is worth taking a look at the OTHER options and see if instead of being a follower, you can gain a competitive advantage by getting a BETTER or more highly rated, but less well known credential?

    To see all the major Project/Program Management credentials and their relative weightings, go to our download page http://www.build-project-management-competency.com/download-page/ Be sure to download BOTH files- the word document which explains how I created the scoring model and the second file, which is the scoring model itself in excel.

    Enjoy!!!

    BR,
    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia
    http://www.build-project-management-competency.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Dr. PDG,

    Thanks for your comments. It's great to have more options.

    I'll go through your research papers and get back to you with comments / questions.

    Thanks again.

    Have a very happy new year !

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello Harwinder,

    This is exactly what I was searching for recently and good to see all this information in one place.

    By the way the total cost of Recipe 3 is $954 and not $774. You got it right in the pdf document though.

    And how much is the subscription fee for the Exam simulator - Ready Set Pass? Is it $50 or $99. It currently display as "90-day subscription to PMP Exam Simulator is $99.00" in http://www.readysetpass.com/practice-exams.html

    Regards,
    Rajesh

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Rajesh,

    Thanks for your feedback and the catch. Yes, it was a typo. My apologies for that. I've made the correction.

    Regarding your question on Ready Set Pass Simulator, it is indeed $99. You might have been confused because I listed $50 for the exam simulator in Recipe 2 but recommended a resource worth $99. Basically, all the prices listed are not 100% accurate and are meant to give a rough idea of the costs involved. Having said that, there are options available around $50 also, like PM Study, PMPerfect and PMP Exam Simulator. There are some other sample exams in the $50 - $70 range that come in the format of a regular book, and can be purchased directly from Amazon. A few such books are listed here:

    All PMP Exam Prep Books for PMBOK 4

    If you have other questions or suggestions, do let me know.

    Thanks !

    ReplyDelete
  5. No one has mentioned what percentage of people pass PMP their first time, or what percentage of people take the training and never get the cert. I have only read the percentage of right answers to pass. Thanks,

    ReplyDelete
  6. @ Anonymous:

    Thanks for your comments.

    According to Mark Langley, the executive vice president and COO of PMI, 60 - 75% applicants pass the exam.

    Source: Why Project Management Certifications Mattter

    Hope that helps.

    ReplyDelete
  7. In your EFFORT TIME COST comparison between methods, you have overlooked one rather important variable and that is the ROI. If the PMP certification results in an immediate salary increase or new job, the 5 day intensive could also be the fastest, safest(because it includes a guarantee) and cheapest(If the job salary or pay increase in the amount of study time avoided is greater than the cost of the 5 day intensive - for example if it saves 4 weeks of study and the new role yields $500 per week or more, the intensive also becomes the cheapest route regardless of employer reibursements)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think that's a very good point, and something people should consider, though I'm yet to find an employer who's willing to pay $2000 extra / month, just because I've got PMP certificate under my belt. Those boot camps or classroom trainings may also give you valuable networking opportunities.

    But generally, my philosophy is about learning while you study and I don't think those intensive Boot Camps focus much on learning.

    So, there are pros and cons for each approach.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have been working for the Government for many years on different project. In these years I had many different roles including project manager. Unfortunately I must say that many projects in the gov. are not success full because of a lack of good project management practice. I browsed through the PMBok and realised that much of the good practices/procedure in there are not followed or unknown.
    Anyway , I like to the write the PMI exam whenever I am finished study the PMBOK 4 edition. I know there are tones of practice question and books out there. But what is the best way to study the PMBok itself. I guess I could read it 3 for 4 times and memorize what I think is important but how does one know what to memorize or spend extra care when study. Any suggested how to proceeds with study straight from the PMBOK.

    Thanks for comments

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello Anonymous,

    There's no magic formula that works best for everyone. Everyone has to find his/her own study approach.

    First, you need to get 35 contact hours of training (there are various options to get those hours, as I've mentioned in the blog post above).

    As far as preparation is concerned, people generally start with a study guide and read it alongside the PMBOK Guide. Along the way, they also take sample tests, participate in forum discussions, and read blogs, to get a wider perspective. They read and re-read the study guide and PMBOK Guide until they are thoroughly familiar with the material.

    Regarding your question on what to learn, and what to memorize, the emphasis should be on learning. If you understand the material well, then you'll have very little left to memorize. It's a multiple choice exam and you need to be able to 'recognize' the correct answer, and not really spell it out. If you understand the material well, you should be able to pass the exam without memorization.

    You can use BrainBOK to aid your preparation, and get your head around the PMBOK Guide.

    Good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hello Harwinder
    I applied for a PMP training course & certification sponsored from my company, oddly, they saw this as an approach to increase my employability and change my job at their expense. They didn’t tell me their decision yet, however I started looking for an online program, which is within my means.
    Your article brought to me a great help , I may follow your 3rd recipe if ever my request is rejected. I am admiring how you generously share such useful feedback and tips with beginners and wish you the best of luck in all the projects you undertake.
    sonya

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello ,

    I'm still at the entry level in my carer what are the benefits that i can take after taking the course to reach a management level

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hello Yasser,

    I believe you should try the CAPM exam. This certification is a entry-level certification for project practitioners. It is meant for those with little or no project experience. It demonstrates your understanding of the fundamental knowledge, terminology and processes of effective project management. For more details, you can also refer to the CAPM Handbook, which would be very helpful -http://www.pmi.org/en/Certification/~/media/PDF/Certifications/pdc_capmhandbook.ashx. Later on, once you have the necessary experience with regards to project management, you can take the PMP exam.

    I have known many of my friends and colleagues who have attended PMP bootcamps (like the ones conducted by PMstudy, Cheetah, etc) to prepare for the CAPM exam. If you do have any time to take the classroom program, you can take online courses offered by many providers. Take care. Best Regards,

    ReplyDelete

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