Last week we talked about some of the "Don'ts" for studying for your PMP exam. This week, we want to go over the "Do's". As a reminder, here are your three overall best study techniques:
3 Study Tips
- Retrieval practice
- Space it out
- Get some sleep
Now, let's get right to it.
Retrieval practice is one of the most effective methods of studying when it comes to both deepening your understanding as well as increasing the likelihood of creating long term retention.
So what is it? Retrieval practice is the simple, albeit frustrating process of recalling facts or concepts from memory (rather than putting them in front of you with a book or cheat sheet). It can take many forms: taking tests, creating flashcards, putting concepts into your own words, solving a novel problem before being given the answer, or imagery.
Retrieval practice works because it causes you to think and it requires effort. When you combine these two things the information you’re recalling will be reconsolidated in your brain - the neural connections will grow stronger and more efficient - making it easier to recall in the future. The greater the level of effort required in recalling something, the more work is being on those specific neural circuits.
I say this so you can lean into difficulty. When you’re struggling to recall a definition, formula, or the sequence of steps in a process, sit with it. Think. Give yourself 2-3 minutes to try to recall it. This is the work that really matters, resist the temptation to put the answer right in front of you.
Space it out
Learning is essentially interrupting the process of forgetting. That’s why spacing out practice is another really beneficial technique. This is advantageous for two reasons:
- It allows a little bit of forgetting to take place (to increase the effort required for retrieval) and
- It stops your studying from becoming mindless repetition
Spaced repetition of key ideas is crucial in making sure you get the most from your study time. If you can interleave different but related topics (say, studying both processes from the Initiation and Execution phase), you’ll increase the effort and complexity of your studying, which will require you to spend less time overall in achieving an acceptable level of competence.
Most studies say 25-30 minutes of highly focused practice is the sweet spot. After that, you’ll likely start to see diminishing returns. Even a quick 5-minute break to clear your head will give you the rest you need to move forward.
The last tip I have for you is to get good sleep. Consolidation (information transferring from STM to LTM) takes place during sleep. Without the right amount, we’re prone to flood our system with cortisol, and cortisol shuts down the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for consolidation).
I understand this is common sense but it’s often not acted on. According to the CDC and American Sleep Association, over 35% of the US population reports sleeping less than the recommended amount (a minimum of 7 hours). It’s easier said than done, but if you intentionally work up towards 7-8 hours of sleep you’ll be doing yourself a favor by making the most out of your studying the previous day.
Leading up to my PMP exam I spent the majority of my time taking practice tests, reviewing flashcards for definitions, processes, and formulas, and spent very little time re-reading text or re-watching videos. I felt more confident in not only recalling the information but also understanding at a level that helped choose the best answer among 3-4 correct ones.
If you have any questions or would like additional information on either the PMP exam or helpful learning techniques, feel free to send me a message. Thanks!