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2021 PMP Exam: For Candidates – All the Facts You Need to Know

2021 PMP Exam: For Candidates - All the Facts You Need to Know

If you want to be a Project Management Practitioner now, the New 2021 PMP Exam is in operation. The old one is dead and gone.

Therefore, we shan’t cover the comparison now – the old syllabus is no more. If you want to see a comparison, please take a look at our earlier article, PMP Exam Changes in January 2021: What will be Different?

This article is about the new PMP exam. If you are considering or in the process of becoming a PMI Project Management Practitioner (PMP), this article will Give you the Facts.

2021 PMP Exam: For Candidates - All the Facts You Need to Know

What We Will Look at

What is the PMP?

PMP stands for Project Management Professional. It is the principal qualification of the PMI, the Project Management Institute. This is the world’s largest professional body for Project Managers. Consequently, PMP Certification is recognized and valued by organizations everywhere.

Before we start… What is the PMI?

You will gain your PMP Cerification by taking a demanding exam. And you will need to maintain it with significant continuing professional development (CPD) activities. Because of these, PMP certification also provides a real validation of your level of knowledge, and therefore competence, to manage and lead a project.

Of course, you can expect the PMI to have a bias in favour of PMP Certification. However, they are so widely respected, we must take their research finding seriously. PMI asserts that:

those with a PMP certification garner a higher salary (20% higher on average) than those without a PMP certification.

So, the new PMP Certification will be a highly-regarded professional qualification, all over the world. It gives you a solid grounding in all the basics of project management, and a status that will often be reflected in your employability and salary expectations.

Caution

However, beware. This is not going to be equally true everywhere.

The closer you are geographically and culturally to the US, where PMI is based, to more these things will be true. They are also the case when working in a US-based global organization, or in places and industries that do not have other, competing qualifications.

But, for example, in the UK, the Association for Project Management (APM) is the dominant professional body. As a result, its APM Professional Practitioner Qualification is at least as highly regarded.

Comparing PMP with Other Qualifications

For obvious reasons, I am often asked about how the PMP exam and qualification compares with other certifications. So, here are the articles in which I compare them:

Investment Analysis: The Business Case for Becoming a PMP®

This article will not compare the relative merits of PMP Certification and other competing qualifications, like the APM Professional Practitioner Qualification. So, to a degree, the arguments that follow can equally be made for equivalent qualifications.

As a Project manager, you would not expect your organization or client to undertake a new project without a robust business case. So, let’s look at why you should become a PMP (the benefits), and what it will take to do so (the costs).

Why Should You Become a PMP®?

We cannot assume the value you will apply to the benefits of PMP Certification, so we’ll just give you a list of the benefits you might consider.

  • Long-term career development
    – PMP certification can kick-start this
  • Short-term access to jobs
    – but note that many employers value experience over qualifications. However, it may get you that interview.
  • Suitability for bigger, more complex projects
    – but note that, once you are an active project manager, it’s your rack record and reputation that will have the biggest impact
  • Achieving the qualification signals your commitment, determination, and diligence
    – but not necessarily your suitability to lead projects
  • Enhanced salary expectation
    – dependent on sector and geography
  • Thorough grounding in the craft of Project Management
    – or, at least, traditional project management – see our article Why You can No Longer Ignore Agile Methodologies
  • Professional recognition and respect
    – you’ll be part of an exclusive club
  • Fellowship and networking
    – not only does gaining your PMP Certification put you on the inside, but you may meet lost of your peers while working towards it

The Full Cost of Passing your 2021 PMP Exam

I will document the individual costs below, but there is a summary, based on reasonable assumptions.

ItemCost
(US$)
Comments
PMI Membership$139Assumes you are not already a member. Student membership is far cheaper
Examination fee$405Assumes you are a PMI member.
Retakes (maximum of 3) are $275 for members.
Examination Taking$ nilThis used to be an item, when you’d have to travel and maybe stay overnight to access an exam center. Now, you can take the exams online, from your home.
PMP Preparation Course$1,999From a PMI Authorized Training Partner. I have used the cost from the course from PM PrepCast – a highly reputable provider. This is not a necessary item, as long as you have your 35 Education Hours.
PMP Examination Simulator$ nilLikely to be included with a full training course, but allow $100-$150 if you need this as a stand-alone item.
Books$0 to $200Broad Range. The two essential books are available free in PDF Format if you are a PMI member. You could spend many hundreds of dollars on the full reading list.

So, to conclude…

  • Minimum cost: US$544
  • Likely cost: US$2,550 – $2,800
  • Maximum (sensible) cost: US$3,900 (includes extra preparation materials and the cost of the maximum of 3 retakes of your exam (at $275 each for members).

Requirements for Gaining Your PMP Qualification

To be a PMP, you need four things:

  1. Meeting the prequalification requirements
  2. To be a PMI Member
  3. To pass the new PMP examination

For full details and always-up-to-date information, always check the PMI’s website. And do download and read the Project Management Professional (PMP) Handbook.

PMP Pre-qualification Requirements

Before applying for your new PMP examination, you must meet one or other of these sets of certification requirements:

  • A four-year degree
  • 36 months of leading projects
  • 35 hours of Project Management education/training or a CAPM® Certification

…or

  • A high school diploma or an associate’s degree (or global equivalent)
  • 60 months of leading projects
  • 35 hours of project management education/training or a CAPM® Certification

PMI Membership

You’ll probably want to join the PMI. This will save you more than the cost of your exam fee. And you’ll save more money on the absolutely necessary PMBOK® Guide. It will also be the basis of your CPD and maintaining your PMP certification. And anyway, why wouldn’t you. This is the club you’ll be applying to join as a senior member.

Cost of PMI Membership (in US dollars)

  • Standard: $129 per year, plus a one-time $10 application fee
  • Student: $32 per year, plus a one-time $10 application fee

The PMP Examination

This is non-negotiable.

No exam: no certification.

The new PMP exam will require you to have experience in, and answer questions from, three domains:

  1. People (42%)
  2. Process (50%)
  3. Business Environment (8%)

Within each of these three domains, there are:

  • Tasks (what project managers need to do) and
  • Enablers (the actions we take to complete the tasks)

The PMI states that the new PMP examination will give even (50:50) representation to:

  • Predictive project management approaches and
  • Agile or hybrid approaches.

Cost of Taking the New PMP Exam

  • PMI Members: $405
  • Non-members: $555 (Recall that the full membership fee was $129+10)
  • Retake (members): $275
  • Retake (non-members): $375

Time and Effort

Before you make your decision, however, you do need to think about the time and effort you will need to commit. Studying will be a big part of your life for anything from two to six months. Some do it in less or take longer, but this is the normal range. The exam is (rightly) hard. And the content you need to learn is big.

You will typically be spending 2 to 3 hours each day reading, learning, and practicing exams. That means anything from 100 to 300 hours of work – the figure of 180 is often cited on the internet.

Before you make a decision, consider your circumstances.

What are your work and family commitments? Do you have the time and energy to prepare for the 2021 PMP exam properly? And, if you do, how will you spread it out; a quick sprint of 3-4 hours a day for 2 months, or a steady pace of 10 hours a week 6 months? You’ll also need to budget for your 35 hours of direct learning.

You also need to understand yourself, and how easy you find learning and understanding new material. If you are new to project management, a lot of that material can seem complex and difficult. For some, you may be able to assimilate all the knowledge in 120 to 180 hours. But for others, you may need 200 to 300 hours to fully understand and learn it all. Be brutally honest with yourself.

The PMP Syllabus: What You’ll Need to Know

The syllabus for the 2021 PMP exam is set out in the May 2020 edition of:

  • The Project Management Professional (PMP) Examination Content Outline (The PMP ECO).

You can download the current PMP Exam Content Outline (May 2020) from the PMI website.

Content of the PMP Exam Content Outline

The ECO contains:

  • 3 Domains, each made up of a number of…
  • Tasks – things you need to do within the domains, each with a set of…
  • Enablers – enable you to do the task
Domains, Tasks, Enablers - PMP ECO 2019
DomainTasksProportion of exam questions
1. People1442%
2. Process1750%
3. Business Environment48%
Total35100%
The Structure of the PMP Exam from 2 Jan 2020

Here is an image from the ECO, to give you a sense of how the Domains Tasks and Enablers look.

2021 PMP Exam Syllabus - sample

Agile, Hybrid, and Predictive Project Management

The PMI is clear, the new PMP exam will be designed for balance.

  • Agile/hybrid Project Management will feature in approximately 50% of the questions
  • Predictive Project Management will feature in approximately 50% of the questions

To quote the PMI:

About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches.

PMI PMP Examination Content Outline, May 2020.

My expectation is that a lot of questions will apply equally to Agile/hybrid and Predictive PM, and so count on both sides of the balance.

The 2021 PMP Exam Syllabus and The PMBOK Guide

The new PMP exam is not a test of your knowledge of the PMBOK Guide (and its predecessors never were either). Indeed, while the PMBOK Guide is one of the 10 references the PMI offers candidates, it is just one.

There is no clear mapping of new ECO to PMBOK6 although you will recognise a lot of the Knowledge areas in the 17 tasks of Domain II, Process.

And remember the PMBOK 6th edition was based on 5 Process Groups and 10 Knowledge Areas. The PMBOK 7th edition (due out in 2021) will be based on principles.

At the moment, the safest assumption is that:

  • Before PMBOK 7 arrives, any PMBOK content you will need for the 2021 PMP exam will come from the 6th edition
  • After PMBOK 7 arrives, you’ll still need PMBOK 6 content for the foreseeable future, but will probably also need to be familiar with PMBOK 7 content as well

However, I will, of course, update this when PMI makes a clear statement – probably soon after it published the 7th edition.

The New PMP Examination Content Outline in More Detail

The PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO) is a short (10 page) document, that is mostly tables. So it would be wrong for me to reproduce too much of it. So, for all the detail, do download and study a copy. This is THE primary reference for the exam, so consider it mandatory reading.

However, I’d like to offer a flavor of some of the tasks in Domains I and III. For Domain II, which most closely reflects the PMPBOK Guide, I’ll offer a table that maps the ECO’s tasks to the PMBOK Chapters.

Domain I: People

This reflects, to a large extent, the Leadership dimension of the PMI’s Talent Triangle. Here, we have:

  • Managing Conflict (Task 1)
  • Team management and Leadership (Tasks 2 – 7, 11, 12, and 14)
  • Negotiation (Task 8)
  • Stakeholder engagement (Tasks 9, 10, and 13)

To me, this suggests a strong focus on your role as a team leader. I particularly welcome Task 11: ‘Engage and Support Virtual Teams’. This recognizes the reality of many modern workplaces. Not just large multi-nationals, by the way. Lots of small businesses need to participate in multi-organization projects.

Domain II: Process

This domain covers the Technical aspects of project management (as does the Technical Project Management dimension of the Talent Triangle). It does not drop directly onto the PMBOK guide, but an inspection allows us to map relationships. We’ll do so in both directions.

Mapping the PMBOK Guide onto the PMP ECO
PMP ECO Process Domain TaskPMBOK Chapter
Task 1: Execute project with the urgency required to deliver business valueChapter 1, 2
Task 2: Manage communicationsChapter 10
Task 3: Assess and manage risksChapter 11
Task 4: Engage StakeholdersChapter 13
Task 5: Plan and manage budget and resourcesChapter 7, 9
Task 6: Plan and manage scheduleChapter 6
Task 7: Plan and manage quality of products/deliverablesChapter 8
Task 8: Plan and manage scopeChapter 5
Task 9: Integrate project planning activitiesChapter 4
Task 10: Manage project changesChapter 4, 5
Task 11 Plan and manage procurementChapter 12
Task 12: Manage project artefactsChapter 4, 5, 8
Task 13: Determine appropriate project methodology/methods and practicesChapter 1
+ Agile Practice Guide
Task 14: Establish project governanceLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide 6th Ed
Task 15 Manage Project IssuesLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide 6th Ed
Task 16: Ensure knowledge transfer for project continuityLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide
Task 17: Plan and manage project/phase closure or transitionsPart 2 Chapter 6
Phase closure largely missing from the PMBOK Guide
Mapping the PMP ECO onto the PMBOK Guide
PMBOK Guide 6th Edition ChapterPMP ECO Process Domain Task
1. IntroductionTask 13, 15
2. The Environment in which Projects OperateTask 15
3. The Role of the Project Manager
4. Project Integration ManagementTask 9, 10, 12
5. Project Scope ManagementTask 8, 10, 12
6. Project Schedule ManagementTask 6
7. Project Cost ManagementTask 5
8. Project Quality ManagementTask 7, 12
9. Project Resource ManagementTask 5
10. Project Communications ManagementTask 2
11. Project Risk ManagementTask 3
12. Project Procurement ManagementTask 11
13. Project Stakeholder ManagementTask 4
Commentary

To me, this suggests that the authors of the PMP ECO wanted to assert their independence from the PMBOK Guide. The PMBOK Guide has never been a syllabus or sole sourcebook for the PMP examination (as it is for CAPM). But, there is enough mapping here to have allowed them to bring them more closely in line – even if only by choosing a different sequence, to match the PMBOK chapter order.

This seems nothing less than perverse! It’s clearly a deliberate choice to keep the PMP examination very different from the PMBOK Guide.

Domain III: Business Environment

This domain is very similar in intent to the Strategic and Business Management dimension of the Talent Triangle. Though, necessarily, it is smaller in scope. It only makes up 8 percent of the exam, and has four tasks. I particularly cheer Tasks 1 and 2:

  1. Plan and manage project compliance
    Alongside task 14 of Domain II, this introduces a welcome focus on project governance.
  2. Evaluate and deliver project benefits and value
    At last, we are seeing PMI formally acknowledge the importance of value and benefits management. The bullet point enablers do, however, miss out any mention of actually tracking the delivery of benefits
  3. Evaluate and address external business environment changes for impact on scope
    This leans towards business acumen and raises the conception of a Project Manager to a more strategic level
  4. Support organizational change
    Here too, I like this a lot. I have long (since the late 1990s) been a vocal proponent of integrating project management and change management into one discipline – of which the two labels represent ends of a continuous spectrum of capabilities.

How to Prepare for Your PMP Examination

Preparing for a major professional examination, like the PMP, is a project in itself. And I am currently considering creating a fully revised edition of our PMP Exam Prep Guide.

For now, do take a look at that guide – the Premium Edition is free, because it is no longer optimized for the current exam. That will still give you plenty of ideas and advice to plan your exam campaign.

Training

You need 35 hours of Project Management education to meet the PMP requirements. But I also recommend you take a structured training course.

There will no doubt be providers out there offering all of these options:

  1. PMI Authorised PMP training
    I’ll say more about that below.
  2. Non-approved PMP preparation training.
    Use this with care. Some will certainly be of decent quality, but much will, frankly, be junk. You are investing in a lifetime career. I recommend option 1.
  3. General non-PMP specific Project Management training
    There are good reasons to gain a good solid knowledge of Project management – using a non-proprietary approach – before learning the formal PMP content. When you have this under your belt, you will find the ideas and principles in the specific PMP training will slot into place more easily. As an example, do take look at our Course Course Programs if you haven’t had basic PM training.

PMI Authorized Training Partners

Unless you have an exceptional mentor or are very confident with self-study, I do recommend you take training. And if you do, I strongly recommend you invest in training from a PMI Authorized Training Partner (ATP).

An ATP training program is endorsed by the PMI and uses authorized PMI materials and PMI-trained instructors. PMI has developed the content itself, to drive consistency. You will get a standard 5-day course.

ATPs: not REPs

You may be familiar with the PMI’s old system of Registered Education Providers (REPs). These no longer exist. Anyone displaying that badge is no longer authorised to provide PMP training by PMI.

Look out for these badges. They will tell you if a provider and an instructor are authorized.

PMI Authorized Training Partner Badges - illustrative

Authorized trainer must still provide ther training through an ATP

The 5-day PMP Exam Training Course

The PMI provides ATPs with a standard 5-day Training course and all of the materials (including slides). They have structured it around 5 lessons; not quite one lesson per day.

The Five Lessons in the PMI-developed Training Course

  1. Creating a High Performing Team
  2. Starting the Project
  3. Doing the Work
  4. Keeping the Team on Track
  5. Keeping the Business in Mind

PMI has developed both the course and the exam. This means that the course is designed to help you pass the 2021 exam. It contains exactly the information you need. This is another reason to go with an ATP for your 2 PMP exam training.

Premier ATPs also get 200 ‘cloned’ PMP exam questions from the PMI. Unlike the questions in other exam simulators, these are actual PMI questions, rather than similar questions the provider has developed.

By the way, PMI also offers (a paltry) 3 sample exam questions on its site. Not very generous, in my view.

A Grumble about The Training Course

I do have a serious critique of the materials PMI has made available. The content may be good, but the style harks back to the mid-1990s. Their slides are mostly bullet-point heavy. They are dull and unengaging. The quality of your training experience will depend on the extent to which the trainer can bring the ideas to life for you.

Illustration of PMI's Authorized PMP Training Slides

Beyond the New PMP Exam Training Course

Training is not mandatory. But neither is it likely to be enough

There are two additional things you are likely to need:

  1. Additional self-study (probably using the books PMI recommends)
  2. An exam simulator

Self-Study

The PMP exam has never been based exclusively on the PMBOK Guide. But it has always leaned heavily on it.

This has not changed. The new PMP exam uses the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition as one of the references for the PMP Exam. I don’t now expect the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition until mid-2021. This means that the PMI is likely to use the Sixth Edition as an exam reference throughout 2021.

PMP is not a test of the PMBOK guide – it is a test of the ECO. But I do think we can expect that 70-80% of questions will come from PMBOK 6. But there will also be around 50% of the questions referencing Agile and hybrid methods. So, you must also study the PMI’s Agile Practice Guide (APG).

However, the detail within other PMI Practice Guides is not necessary for the PMP examination.

The 2 Mandatory Reference Books for the New PMP Exam

As a result, I consider the PMBOK Guide and APG to be pretty much essential reading. You will will need to be familiar with all of the content. But note: you will not need to memorise it. Success in the new PMP exam is not about rote learning.

Here are links to those books.

The 8 other 2021 PMP Examination Reference Books

The PMI also recommends PMP candidates to look at 8 other books. The PMI does not endorse these books. They also state that these books are only part of a broader set of educational resources and texts that you could use for exam and study preparation.

So, you must select your reading matter for yourself. But, here are the books PMI lists:

2021 PMP Examination Preparataion Books

In addition, you may also want to use a new PMP exam preparation book. Candidates have found this kind of book extremely helpful in the past. There have been many on the market but, at time of writing (late December 2020), only two are advertised as being ready for the 2021 PMP exam:

Exam Simulator

A well-constructed exam simulator will prepare you for how PMI words its questions and how the different question types work. As we will see below, there are five types of questions.

There is no method as good at evaluating your progress and identifying gaps in your knowledge as a simulated exam. This would be a very wise investment.

What You can Expect in the PMP Examination

PMI currently uses Online Testing – and you can do this from your home. Therefore many aspects of how they run the test arise from this.

The examination consists of:

  • 180 Questions (of which 175 will be scored)
  • 230 minutes’ duration, structured:
    • Two 10-minute breaks for computer-based exams
    • No scheduled breaks for paper-based exams at a center
  • 5 question types:
    • Multiple choice
    • Multiple correct
    • Drag & Drop
    • Fill in the blank
    • Hotspot questions

The mandatory breaks are there in the online exam because, during the sessions, you need to stay in full view of the camera. You may not get up from your seat. Also, you must work on a completely clear desk.

The examination software also provides you with:

  • An on-screen whiteboard
    The equivalent of a standard pad of white paper, because you need a clear desk. But don’t plan to use it much during the exam (see below: Brain Dump)
  • An on-screen calculator

What about the ‘Brain Dump’?

I never advocated for this idea and now, frankly, nobody I know does. You cannot do it on paper and the on-screen whiteboard is not suitable. It will just waste a whole load of your time.

Use the brain dump method solely as a revision practice.

And What about the Formulas and Math Questions?

I understand that the math questions are likely to be easy and not require any calculation beyond what you should, as a practicing project manager, be able to do as mental arithmetic (in your head). But, there is an on-screen calculator available because you are not allowed to use your own device.

Staying Qualified: How to Keep Your PMP Accreditation

As long as you meet the PMI’s Continuing Certification requirements (CCRs), you won’t ever need to take the PMP exam again. But you will need recertification every 3 years. This requires you to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs).

You can earn Professional Development Units (PDUs) for every hour of learning, in the three talent areas of:

  1. Technical Project Management
  2. Leadership
  3. Strategic Business Management

Learn More

To learn more about this, take a look at our article, PMI Education Contact Hours and PDUs: Your Essential Guide.

You should also take a look at our article on the PMI’s Talent Triangle: The PMI Talent Triangle: A Guide [for members and non-members]

Here is a link to the PMI’s Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Handbook.

The Transition: Considerations for Early 2021

If you failed your PMP exam last year (2020), you cannot retake the old exam. You will need to take new exam.

If you studied under the old ECO, you have probably covered around 4/5 (c.80%) of the new syllabus. So you will need to find a way to learn the extra 20%.

The good news is that I can confirm that your training hours during 2020 are still valid towards your 35 hours in 2021.

What the PMI is Offering You

PMI has committed to creating a free online course for New PMP Exam candidates. They say that you won’t need to reapply or pay any additional training fees to take the new version of PMP.

Their new online course will help you bridge the knowledge from the current and the new version of the PMP. It will cover concepts related to agile and hybrid approaches of project management. The course is:

  • self-paced
  • online
  • FREE from 22 January to 18 April 2021.

And, the best news of all from PMI…

If you don’t do well in your exam, PMI will offer eligible candidates 65% off your re-examination fees.

If you are planning to take the new PMP by 18 April, you will be eligible for the free course. You just need to fill out a form to register to gain access to the course.

How OnlinePMCourses is Helping You

I will be continuing to create free videos on my YouTube Channel. Some of the videos I will be publishing in early 2021 will address elements of the new syllabus.

I have created a new playlist, which will include all the new videos and also any from my backlist that I think will be helpful to you. Check out my PMP Conversion to the 2021 Syllabus playlist.

What the ATPs are Offering You

Some ATPs are looking at creating content for you – but I am not aware that any has it currently available.

What are Your Thoughts about the PMI’s New PMP Exam?

I’d love to hear your thoughts (and answer your questions). As you’d expect, I’ll respond to any comments you make, below.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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  • Markus Kopko says:

    Hey Mike,

    great stuff, as usual!

    Just a short note:

    This information towards Exam Governance is not longer correct:

    “200 Questions
    4 hours duration, structured:
    90 questions, which you submit
    A mandatory break of up to 10 minutes
    110 questions”

    Furthermore, the Exam is now

    180 questions (the previous exam was 200) but the same number of questions will be scored (175)
    230 minutes to complete the exam (so, more Time per Question now)
    One additional break for a total of two 10-minute breaks for computer-based tests. No scheduled breaks for paper-based exams.

    Just to let you know.

    Markus

    • Mike Clayton says:

      Thank you Markus – I will make the correction but leave your comment to show everyone the value of a second pair of (well-informed) eyes.

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