Knowing the best PMP books to study is absolutely key to pass the PMP exam. Spoilers ahead!
The Best PMP Books
This combination of books served me well on the PMP exam. However, you should definitely take into account that each individual has different study habits, and certain combinations of study materials may work better for your personal preferences. (Side note: one of the things that I found annoying is that a lot of online article have a hard time saying “These are the three books you should use.” I don’t have a hard time saying that — these books are tried and true!)
You must have a copy of the PMBOK Guide that you read multiple times. (I’ll discuss how to use the PMBOK Guide below. The only choice you need to make is between Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep and Head First PMP. I discuss the pros and cons of each below too — my goal is for this article to be your one-stop shop in choosing your paper-based PMP resources.
Also remember that books aren’t your only option when studying for the PMP exam. There are also plenty of online resources (like the one you are reading now). There are also podcasts and much more — don’t get stuck on paper.
Be sure to also do your research and ensure that the guide you are purchasing matches up to the newest edition of the PMBOK Guide. If you find a used copy for cheap on Amazon that matches up with the second edition of the PMBOK Guide, then you haven’t invested properly in ensuring you’ll pass the PMP exam.
PMBOK Guide (6th Edition)
You might be saying, “Why is this dude even including the PMBOK Guide on the list?” Well, it is the best book to study for the PMP exam. Purchasing the PMBOK Guide can be kind of pricing, and you might be wondering if you really need to buy it to pass the PMP exam. The answer is a resounding “YES!”
As great as it is to use resources like the ShriLearning PMP prep blog and the books that I’m going to be discussing below, the PMBOK guide is a must-have. As a project manager, you want the primary source information to be totally up-to-date in your field. Plus, you’ll want to keep your PMBOK forever and refer to it as you manage projects. Some of the books on this list you may want to keep as you move forward managing projects, but to be totally honest, some of them are really just exam prep books.
- It’s your primary source. If you really want to be a project management expert, you’ll want the PMBOK guide forever and ever. It is the definitive guide to project management. It’s even in the title: the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This is clearly the text you should know best.
- It’s methodical — almost excruciatingly so. Perhaps not surprisingly, PMBOK is organized to the point of repetitiveness. While other books will get you to connect to the material in a way that’s relatable, PMBOK does it is a way that’s authoritative.
- It’s all you really need. Plenty of folks have passed the PMP exam without study materials, because most of what you need is in the PMBOK guide. If you’re the kind of person who can read the textbook once and pass the exam, then the PMBOK guide is for you.
- It can be pretty boring. Hopefully, you like project management, which is why you want to take the PMP exam. Indeed, sometimes when I was reading the PMBOK guide, I actually got excited about new ideas to try on my projects. Unfortunately, that’s not the case the whole time — some of the PMBOK really drags and you need an external source to liven it up.
- Some material on the exam isn’t in the PMBOK guide. Some of the Management 101, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, isn’t actually discussed in the PMBOK guide. You’re expected to know it as background knowledge. Unless you’re right out of college, you probably need some refreshing on Maslow and more.
- There are no practice questions. As far as I’m concerned, this one is a dealbreaker. In fact, you probably want more than just practice questions… you want a test-prep simulator that will give you the full experience. But any resource worth its while will have practice questions. You can read about PM theory forever and ever, but IMHO until you start doing practice questions, you don’t really know what you’re getting into.
Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep
Rita’s book is excellent, and for years it has been the gold standard of project management preparation. I used it personally, and I compare it against Head First PMP because (1) both are shown to work, according to the many folks who have used each and passed and (2) Head First is the second best-selling book behind Rita.
- The practice questions are excellent. Though the tone of the practice questions is a little different than the PMP exam, I found them extremely useful to test my knowledge of the chapter.
- It gives you everything you need to pass the exam and then some. This book covers every topic you could possibly encounter on the PMP exam but somehow makes it more accessible than the PMBOK guide. The way the book synthesizes the information is invaluable.
- It feels like a personal PMP coach. The prose reads like someone is really coaching you to complete the exam. I loved it, because it felt like someone was watching me. They would say things like, “Slow down! Did you really write down all of your thoughts for the last exercise?” Of course I hadn’t! Rita’s book made me think more than the others.
- There’s too many practice exercises. I ended up skipping some. Of course, they probably do this because people like me skip them.
- It’s a little harder than the PMP exam. I’m not sure this is totally a con, but I wanted to include it just in case you really just want to cover what is absolutely necessary for the PMP exam. But in the same way a sprinter runs a mile to prepare for the 100M dash, I think it is a smart approach to over-prepare.
- There’s not a third con. I can’t think of a third con, because without this book I’m not sure if I would have passed the PMP exam.
Head First PMP
Full disclosure: I actually only used the PMBOK Guide and Rita for my study efforts. But Head First PMP came in a close third, and if you want to invest in both resources, it might not be a bad idea to get it. I’ve done a really thorough review of the feedback on Head First, so here we go!
- It’s the easiest reading. Folks say that Rita’s book put them to sleep, but Head First PMP is really engaging. If you like short and snappy, then Head First may be for you.
- There are lots of graphics and diagrams. If you like lots of visuals, then Head First has you covered. It uses lots of imagery to explain complex concepts.
- You could even use it as a precursor to Rita. If you are feeling like you can’t choose, then don’t! Buy the Head First exam, read it first, and then use Rita’s book. It’s simple and fun style will be a good introduction to the concepts of the PMP exam, and then you can round out your studying with Rita’s comprehensive approach
- Maybe it’s too fun! If it’s not your style to prefer fun, short snippets of information, then this may not be the book for you.
- It possibly oversimplifies the concepts. A very few detractors argue that it oversimplifies the PMP concepts — but they’re just buzzkills, right?
- Rita’s sample questions are better. Nothing is more important than sample questions, and Rita’s straightforward style is better for sample questions that the Head First guide. It’s one of the reasons I personally settled on Rita.
When it comes down to deciding what PMP resources you are going to use on your exam, it’s crucial to know how you learn so that you choose resources that fit your needs. However, you can also get decision fatigue from looking at all of the options out there.
For that reason, I recommend as a requirement the PMBOK guide and then choosing either Rita Mulcahy OR Head First PMP, depending on your personal preferences. Don’t get decision fatigue — just choose and start studying!
What books and resources are you considering for your PMP exam? Let’s discuss.
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