PMP Exam Self-study: How to breakdown the study materials

If you are considering the self-study route for the PMP exam, this article would show you how to breakdown the PMP study materials and create a self-study action plan. 

The PMP exam discussion forums online suggest that the PMBOK 6th edition and the Agile Practice Guide are good enough materials to study and pass the exam. These two materials are among the ten study materials published by PMI and I shared what to expect in the new version of the PMP exam. For the purpose of this article, we would consider these two materials (PMBOK 6th edition and the Agile Practice Guide) as the main PMP exam study materials.

You can get a free pdf copy of the PMBOK 6th edition and the Agile Practice Guide if you are a PMI member (that’s how I got mine). I tell my PMP coaching students that having the PMI membership is good because you pay about $405 for your exam as a member but without membership, you pay $555. PMI membership costs about $145, so it balances out.

In my opinion, if you are not a PMI member and you plan to write the PMP exam within a year, you can become a member because it would pay off; you don’t have to incur the additional cost of purchasing these two materials.

Alright, back to breaking down the PMBOK 6th edition and the Agile Practice Guide and creating a self-study action plan.

There are 2 routes you can take when creating a self-study action plan:

1) Work backward: determine what date you want to write the exam and work backward from that date to determine the number of pages you need to cover every week across both books in order to have finished reading the book as well as the necessary revision and attempting practice questions before the exam.
2) Start where you are: with this route, you determine the number of pages you can read every week and work your way forward to determine how long it would take you to cover both books.

This is my most preferred option because it’s the most realistic and this is the option we would elaborate on in this article.

Start where you are

Step 1: Determine the length of time you have every week to study for the exam

Step 2: Depending on the weekly length of time, determine the number of pages/chapters you can cover within that time duration. You might want to attempt studying for a day or two to have the best estimate for this.

Step 3: Determine the study duration based on the total number of pages/chapters across both books and the number of pages you can study weekly based on the length of time you have to study every week.

For example, you determine that you only have 10 hours every week to study and can only cover 3 chapters for 10 hours every week. Assuming there are a total of 20 chapters across both study materials. This means that you would need approximately 7 weeks (that is, if 3 chapters in 1 week, then 20 chapters divided by 3 chapters would give you 7 weeks) to complete studying the chosen PMP materials.

With this knowledge, you can draw up a study goal and create a study plan.

You can go further by breaking down the study into days to make your self-study goal more manageable.

Using the example above, you can determine to read for 6 days every week, giving yourself 1 day as rest or grace day. This means that you need to read at least half of a chapter daily across the 6 days to have read 3 chapters in the week.

Hence your self-study goal is to read at least 0.5 chapters every day (6 days every week) for 7 weeks.

This is how to break down or split the PMP study materials into manageable study chunks that can be easily tracked. It also gives you a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound) self-study goal.


Once your study goal is clear, you can draw up a study plan. Ideally, your study plan should have dates attached to it. See an example study plan below:

sample study plan

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