Best reference books for PMP Preparation

When I was about to start self-study for my PMP exam during this time in last year, I was overwhelmed with countless books and preparatory material on the internet and couldn’t focus on what were the best resources and how to focus to get the best out of a set of resources. Eventually after consulting with a few professional PMP trainers and some certified PMPs, I came up with a study plan that optimized use of following 2 guides (Do not get any more books. Two is more than enough. You won’t have time to read more than two books!! These are hefty books!) :

PMBOK guide – PMBOK Guide is published by PMI, which also conducts the PMP Exam (if you are a PMI member, you can download the PDF version of the document for free from their website). It is written by different people across the globe and incorporates the “good practices” of project management. However the language and approach of this book is quite dry and may not be an interesting read.

Rita Mulachy Book – One thing I would say is that I was able to concentrate fairly easily reading this book without zoning off. It’s not the most exciting reading, but at least it is pretty easy to follow, unlike the PMBOK.. This book presents a lot of scenarios for you to think through in the exercises and practice exams.

Despite of reading both PMBOK and Rita’s book, I will give credit of my success to Rita’s. here you can find my I will give my detailed take on Rita’s Book:

Pros

This is a good study companion to the PMBOK guide.

It does have some tips for memorizing things (like math formulas, theories on motivating employees, etc.) — I found these tips helpful for the most part

This book also has some tips on items to focus on (because higher chances of them being on the PMP exam) and those not to focus on too much (because lower chances of them being on the PMP exam – based on historical data)

This book – is a bit wordy – it probably weighs about 2kgs and has about 600 pages, however, the wordiness is meant to make it less ‘dry’ it seems (try reading the PMBOK – now, that’s dry)

Chapter practice tests – were very helpful for me (it is how I best learn)

Goes beyond the processes and ITTOs and actually discusses and shows how PMI’s framework can make a PM better prepared, more effective, and more knowledgeable.

Sample questions are around the same difficulty that I found on the actual PMP test, all other sources (other than Oliver Lehmann’s free questions) were easier.

The book itself is well edited for content, I didn’t find a single spelling or editorial mistake (the Crowe book is full of them).

Rita’s Process map, when combined with what the PMBOK says, brings it all together and makes sense.

Some people say the book has a negative tone (lots of “ways you can fail” or “do you do this on your projects? If not, you better study extra hard because you have bad habits”), however if you can take constructive criticism well, I think you learn a lot from the guidance provided. It helped me!

Cons

The organization of the book is similar to others, but less detailed on the actual ITTOs.

Each chapter has its own questions, but there is no “final exam” offered in the book. Therefore you’re stuck using example problems that are all similar (you’ll take 35 risk questions, then next will be 30 or so procurement questions, etc.), which helps you answer them, possibly giving you a false sense a security.

Most of the exercises in the book are simply blank boxes with questions like “What do you think a PM should do to measure risk?” I didn’t find these useful at all; the open end answers were actually very annoying. The exercises regarding calculations were extremely good though.


Since the topic was the best reference book, the answer is not that simple. Let us look at brief reviews of a few other books.

Andy Crowe PMP Book: Andy’s book is written in a very simple but formal & structured language. You will feel very comfortable while reading the book. As you read the book, it makes you feel confident about passing the exam. I think the style of the writing and the language of the book would appeal to most of the readers. The book has a full-length 200 questions exam at the end. The chapter questions and final 200 questions provide a very good coverage of the PMP topics. However, I found these questions to be somewhat easier than the real exam.

Head First PMP Book: The book is written in a very light and engaging manner. The language is easy to understand and lucid. Apart from the simple & easy language, the book explains the subject through numerous diagrams, charts, and figures. Unlike many other books on the same subject, you can read this book without much boredom or exhaustion. As you read the book, you get instant understanding of the PMP Exam topics. Every chapter of the book starts with a small story. The authors use this story as the centre point for explaining the PMP topics. They explain the topics through a series of small examples and anecdotes that are based on the initial story. In every chapter, there are small exercises, crosswords and fill-in-the-blanks, which are very useful in remembering the PMP concepts. At the end of every chapter there are sample PMP questions that give the reader a thorough revision of the chapter. The biggest strength of this book is also its weakness. The language of the book is simple and easy, but it is written casually. The casualness helps in understanding the topics quickly. However, at the same time, it gives a false sense of confidence to the PMP aspirant. Many aspirants start feeling that the PMP exam is easy. This can be detrimental for the exam preparation and could lead to undesirable consequences. Overall, Head First PMP is a good book but it may not be suitable for everyone.

Kim Heldman’s Book: Kim Heldman’s book is very different from other Exam Prep books. Most of the books follow the PMBOK Guide’s structure and are written Knowledge Area (KA) wise. But, PMP Study Guide by Kim Heldman is written Process Group (PG) wise. It gives a complete coverage of the topics written in the PMBOK Guide but chapters are arranged differently. The book starts with an assessment test. By doing this test, you understand the PMP Exam difficulty level and get to assess yourself. This creates a good foundation. There are PMP sample questions at the end of each chapter also. Even though the questions are good but they are very few. The book is written in a conversational manner. It is very easy to read even for a novice project manager. The language of the book is easy to understand and lucid. But on the downside there are very few figures, tables, charts, or diagrams in the book. So, sometimes it becomes difficult to interpret the written word. I think the book would appeal to aspirants who are new to Project Management. It is one of oldest books for PMP Exam Prep.

 

Commenting on what is the best is a very subjective opinion since each of these books has their own set of dedicated fans.

We are all unique people. We have different backgrounds, different knowledge & skill-set and different learning styles. What is good for me may not be good for you. Some people are visual learners while others like to do more exercises. Some prefer easy & descriptive language in a book while others want precise & to the point content

That being said, if I had no other choice or was adamant on just one guide, I’d go by Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep. 🙂

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