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  Head First PMP vs. Rita Mulcahy's PMP Exam Prep

Head First PMP Certification Guide Rita Mulcahy's PMP Exam Prep Guide Which is the best PMP exam prep guide? On one side, we have Rita Mulcahy's best-selling PMP Exam Prep, which is favored by almost two-third of all PMP aspirants. On the other, we have books like O'Reilly's Head First PMP, which take a radically different approach to education. Rita tells you that if you don't follow her methodology, you'll fail the PMP exam. Head First authors try to convince you that professional training can be fun too. Selecting one of these study guides is a dilemma that many Project Managers face when they embark on their journey toward PMP certification. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at both the guides and compare them head to head.

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The review is based on several parameters such as content, presentation, quality of sample questions and exercises, and price. Let's take a closer look now.

Content Head First PMP is easy to read, easy to understand, and true to it's claim of being "Brain Friendly". It is full of stories, humor, visuals and has more of a primary school text book feel. It's not serious, but sincere. I'm a huge fan of the "Head First" series, and this is the 3rd Head First title I have read (other 2 were related to technology certifications). On the other hand, Rita's book is serious stuff from the word go. It is more direct and precise. Although, both books cover the PMBOK Guide, 5th edition adequately, Rita's book goes slightly more in depth in certain areas and uses more precise PMI terminology.

Winner: PMP Exam Prep (with a slight margin)

Presentation and delivery Head First has lots of visuals and helps you absorb the material through multiple senses. On the downside, it makes the book lengthy and heavier, with almost 40% more pages to read than Rita's book. However, I still favor the Head First style over all other PMP exam prep guides.

Winner: Head First PMP (hands down)

Sample Questions Both books offer about 400 sample questions (taking into account Head First PMP's 200 question full length sample exam). I found the quality of Rita's questions to be better and more closer to the style of real PMP exam questions. Therefore, I'll go with Rita here.

Winner: PMP Exam Prep

Exercises Both books do a great job in this area. Rita with her famous process game, "what comes next/before" type quizzes, and tons of other exercises has really set a benchmark. However, Head First PMP has it's own touch of ingenuity. It's original, refreshing and revolutionary. It also has plenty of exercises like "There are no Dumb Questions", "Magnets", "Sharpen your pencil", "What's my purpose" (match the following), crossword puzzles and more. I would say that this one is a tie.

Winner: Both

PMIisms Understanding the PMIism (PMI way of thinking and terminology) are a key to passing the PMP exam. Chapter one of Rita's book starts with a list of 60+ PMIisms, which takes you from 0 to 60mph in less than 5 secs. Head First deals with PMIisms in a more subtle way, and probably not as effectively as Rita's book.

Winner: PMP Exam Prep

Outlook The Head First PMP authors, unlike Rita, maintain a very positive and motivational tone throughout the book, and never try to undermine your ability or look down upon you. Rita's style is to grab your attention by scaring the hell out of you. Just for the fun of it, Rita's book mentions "fail the exam" at least 15 times, and so much so that she has a chapter in the book titled "Reasons You Might Fail the Exam".

Winner: Head First PMP

Timely Updates O'Reilly is pretty slow in updating Head First PMP to keep up with PMI's PMP Exam changes. Usually their updates come 6-9 months after the PMP Exam has changed. This is pretty frustrating. On the other hand, RMC is always prompt in updating their guide, and usually releases the updates months in advance.

Winner: PMP Exam Prep

Price This is the least important factor for me, but just for the sake of comparison, Head First PMP costs around $44 and Rita's PMP Exam Prep costs around $90. Moreover, if you are in the Indian subcontinent, you can grab an Indian edition of this book for less than Rs. 500 ($10). Unfortunately, there's no such option for Rita's book.

Winner: Head First PMP

Freebies Head First PMP offers you about 20% material of their book for free! Yes, that's correct. You can go to the Head First PMP website and access their free 200 question full length exam online, the complete Risk Management chapter, and the Critical Path Drill excerpt, absolutely free.

Rita also offers a free online preview lesson, but she's not as generous as O'Reilly.

Winner: Head First PMP

Conclusion Both the books have their pluses and minuses. Put head to head, I think both are equally effective in helping you pass the PMP exam. It really boils down to your preference.

Recommendation If you have limited exposure to real world project management, Head First PMP is better suited for you. Whereas, if you have good exposure to medium to large projects and need a "to-the-point" guide for PMP exam preparation, Rita's PMP Exam Prep is the book for you. If you can afford, then get both. Here are the links to these books:

Head First PMP (O'Reilly Publication)


PMP Exam Prep (RMC Project)

What are your thoughts? Which PMP exam prep guide do you recommend and why? Share your thoughts, opinions, stories and reviews here.

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  1. Hi Harwinder,

    Having gone through both the books for my PMP exam (which is due in a week's time), I completely agree with all the points mentioned by you. I had even skipped reading the chapter "Reasons You might fail the exam" from Rita's book just to keep myself positive.

    The quality of exam questions though is a little poor in Head first PMP as I could easily score more than 85% any time.

    And my personal favorite is HeadFirstPMP for its simple structure and straight into the brain concepts.

  2. Despite being a PM and someone used to self-studying for technical certifications, I found Rita's book very hard going. I then switched to Head First and breezed through it. Its so easy to read and understand, I can't recommend it highly enough.

    The only downside for me is that I think the sample questions are too easy, so if you are going to use it, you will need to supplement it with questions such as those from Rita's book.

    Having read Head First, I then went back to Rita's book (for the questions) and also the PMBOK guide and they both made much more sense, everything just seemed to "click".

    Rita's book is very highly respected and recommended amongst PMs, but I'm afraid there was just something about her writing style & tone which I just didn't like.

  3. Hello,
    I am just beginning the process of building a business case to my employer to become PMP certified. I have all the qualifications and am excited at the opportunity.
    That being said, I want to attend an instructor led class. I have done hours of research and I think I have settled on Cheetah Learning. Do you know anything about them, or can you recommend an instructor led company. I am in the Columbus, OH area.

    Thank you in advance.

  4. Hello Chris,

    I do not have much feedback on Cheetah Learning. But they are quite renowned. You should be able to get some feedback by posting your question in some PMP exam prep forums.


  5. In your blog I have seen an good article regarding comparison of PMP training firms. Guess this helps chris

  6. Hello Anon,

    Thanks! You are absolutely right.


    You can access this link to get more info:

    Comparison of PMP Certification Training Providers


  7. Rita book is example of marketing your stuff.Although it has good material.But I failed in EXAM following only Rita's book .I felt ditched by believing about Rita's book, so now Head First is my hope .Ofcourse i shall go through rita after head first.

  8. I have used Rita book several time when preparing groups for the PMP. I can strongly recommend it.

  9. Nice article. I'm just starting to prepare for PMP and looking for the right study guide.

    How is Kim Heldman's PMP study guide compared to these two books?

    Which sequence should I follow if I want to read all three books?

  10. Hello Mayur,

    I prefer the above 2 books over Kim Heldman's, which I find a bit bland and more textual in nature. But if I have all 3 books, I'll start with HF, then move on to RMC. I'll use Heldman's book only for reference on specific topics along the way.

    Hope that helps.

  11. Thanks Harwinder for your reply.
    I don't have all the 3 books as on today. This is how I plan to go ahead based on your comment.
    1. Quickly go through PMBOK3 (since PMBOK4 I'll be getting after 15 days)
    2. Thorough reading of PMBOk4
    3. Get eBook and read Head first PMP
    4. Get eBook and read RMC
    5. Keep Kim heldman optional (I already have ebook)

    Any suggestion is welcome.

  12. I've used Head First PMP and is really awesome. Recommended!

  13. Just passed the exam this morning. I read both HeadFirst and Rita's books, along with the PMBOK. I'd say the most important is the PMBOK. I found it easier to read than Rita but not as interesting as HeadFirst. You're not reading a novel though, you're studying for an exam.

    I'd recommend neither as the PMBOK is all you really need. If you feel you need more, there are plenty of free resources a Google search away. Just make sure you are looking at current information.

  14. Please does Head first have updated materials for the new exam?

  15. to pass PMP exam you need to study both head first as well as Rita's Book.

  16. I'm just a new arrival to the PMP world so i bought both Rita's book and Head first along with my PMBOK...starting with rita for its popularity I found informative but a little scary "old school style" so I switched to HF and it was just streaming...then back to rita which then made sense...

  17. I started my preparation from Rita and PMBOK and later on attempted Headfirst Free Exam. I found the exam really informative and it made many concepts clearer to me. As per my understanding it totally depends on your own schedule and the way you plan and study. Whether you read Rita or Headfirst it depends on your commitment and attitude to clear and pass the exam.

  18. I am seriously preparing for PMP exam. Had one round each of Rita and PMBOK. Now I turn to HF for fine tuning the aspects. Kim's book is also worthwhile mainly for the questions appended.

    1. Sasi,

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Best regards.

  19. Really helpful comparison!
    I already have Rita's book, but I found reading it and the PMBOK, a daunting task. I have recently gone through the free content of Head First available online and it seems a more user-friendly guide. And now, thanks to your in-depth review here, I'll go ahead and order it.

  20. I only read Rita's Exam Prep book and luckily, the questions that came out of the exam were as if I am just answering the chapter tests of Rita's book. However, I think the exam might go really easy if you encounter each scenario in your real world. Working in a corporate project management department made me correlate each questions with what we are really doing. I don't recommend memorizing Rita's process chart since it is written differently from PMBOK in the wording/context point of view. I suggest sticking to PMBOK process chart and go through with Rita's book while relating its content to your real-world experience. Cheers to all PMP aspirants! PS. I Never went through the PMBOK even once. I just referred to it for the process chart.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. You may have been lucky because usually the questions on the exam are quite different from those in any book or online resource. I agree that having real life experience makes passing the exam easier.


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