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How to prepare for the PMP exam part 1: assess your eligibility

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP | Oct. 19, 2010
Not everyone is eligible to take the Project Management Institute's exam toward PMP certification. Here's a breakdown of the requirements. (This is the first of a weekly, eight-part series of articles on preparing for the PMP exam.)

The questions project managers ask me about the PMP exam most often concern the required "Project Management Experience Hours" and "Contact Hours." Somehow, the PMP Credential Handbook makes both sound more complicated than they are, and applicants seek a clearer explanation.

Project management experience hours refer to the number of hours an applicant has spent leading and directing project management-related tasks. The applicant does not have to have been a project manager but must have played a significant role in the portion of the project in which he or she was involved and must have led or directed project tasks. The applicant could have been a team lead, functional lead, technical lead, project sponsor, meeting facilitator or subject matter expert.

The number of project management experience hours an applicant will need depends on whether the applicant holds a bachelor's degree or high-school diploma. In either case, the applicant must have accrued his or her project management experience hours within the last eight years.

Applicants also need experience in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing a project—what the PMI defines as its five "process groups."

The online application for the PMP exam provides a limited amount of space (500 characters) in which to describe the project management tasks the applicant led or directed for each project. Be sure to provide concise descriptions since space is tight and one sentence is rarely enough for the PMI to determine a project's eligibility.

Contact hours refer to the total amount of time an applicant has spent in formal instruction. Contact hours are earned by attending project management-relevant training, either in a classroom or online. While project management experience hours must be accrued within the last eight years, any project management-related training an applicant took in the past can count towards the PMI's requirement for contact hours. There is no expiration date on any project management training an applicant has undertaken.

Is PMI Membership Mandatory?

Another question I often get asked is whether one has to be a PMI member to take the PMP exam. The answer is no, you don't have to be a member, but there are at least two financial benefits to becoming a member:

  • PMI members receive a significant discount on their PMP exam application fee. This discount is greater than what it costs to become a PMI member.
  • PMI members receive a free PDF copy of the PMBOK Guide, which is needed to prepare for and pass the exam.
  • What's more, many local PMI chapters offer discounts on their PMP exam prep workshops to PMI members.


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