Staying Motivated While Studying for Certifications

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Tips on Staying Motivated

The first step to staying motivated while studying for certifications is to know your “why” before you commit to studying at all. This may seem like common knowledge but it proves its purpose when you are a few weeks in and losing momentum.

What are some “why’s” to take a certification exam? It’s whatever you want it to be! Are you trying to get a job that requires you to have a specific cert? Boom, there’s your why. Do you have the job you want but the certification will get you more money? Perfect, there’s your why. Or do you have this burning desire to have a certification and brag on yourself via social media? Kudos, get it done! 

Whatever your reason, that is not my business. But as long as it drives you, that’s all that matters.

Let’s be real. Your why is only effective if it helps you refocus when you find yourself losing momentum. So here’s a tip: sometimes you have to do the things you don’t like in order to get to where you want to be. This is the point of identifying your why.

What were my why’s

Not all why’s are created equal. It only needs to be motivating and make sense to you. Now, let me to you where my why’s stemmed from.

  1. Fear of failure: I could not seem to get to the jobs I qualified for. Even if I made it to the 3rd and 4th round of interviews, I would be told “you do not have enough experience” in the denial/rejection emails. And that is if I even received an explanation at all.
    1. So my motivation was to eliminate the idea that I did not have enough experience. In order to take the PMP you first have to meet the qualifications based on the amount of projects you completed. Once I was approved by the Project Management Institution it validated that I had more than enough experience to be a project manager.
    2. Knowing the difficulty of being approved, let alone qualifying, was my number one motivating factor. So ultimately, proving I had experience had become my why.
  2. The test was changing in January 2021. I did *not* want to learn anything new. After you are approved to take the PMP you have one year to complete the exam. I was approved in June, if you read my study plan then you know I procrastinated a bit. So not only did I have a 1 year countdown, there were 6 months to a major shift in the test. I was determined to not get caught by these time constraints.

Create a schedule

After you have your why, the next thing you should do is create a studying schedule. 

Try to make this schedule as realistic as possible. Include things like doctors appointments, sleep, food, work schedule, and exercise. I talk about how I created my study plan in this blog post.

Remember, this advice comes to you in hindsight. I did create a schedule, but it wasn’t as detailed. 

My biggest regret is that I neglected food and exercise during my 8 weeks of studying. Lost about 15 lbs and while that sounds nice, it is so unhealthy.

I didn’t account for all the normal things you must do to function as a human like eating, moving your limbs, and sleeping. It is about a month later and I still have trouble eating 3 meals a day, doing anything other than lazy workouts, and getting 8 hours of sleep.

Build in rewards 

Building the schedule is important, vital even. But creating rewards in the schedule is what I want to focus on in this step. 

Studying is hard work. It’s a lot of brain work too. So I deliberately scheduled time for a reward. 

I really enjoy watching anime. I allowed myself to watch one episode any time I ate, and a few episodes if I studied for at least an hour. It was more satisfying than I expected.

Stay positive

When you start testing your knowledge by taking practice test, remember that you’re still learning! I congratulated myself with “look at you, understanding this content!” when I got questions right. It’s important to hype yourself up! Be your biggest cheerleader. 

Inevitably, I also got questions wrong. Instead of beating myself up over it I would do my best to learn why it’s wrong. I would start by reverse engineering the process by breaking down why I chose my answer and understanding the flaw. 

Then I would go back and see what I was being asked. I would talk through the right answer until it felt like it made sense. Referring to the PMBOK guide 6th edition and google helped me during this process. 

Last piece of the puzzle

Now you have your why, your schedule, your rewards, and you’re remembering to stay positive. The last piece I would suggest is share your journey with someone. Personally, studying with others isn’t my strong suit.

But my family and friends knew I was studying and would hold me accountable by asking how the process was going. They also respected my need to shut the world out for a period of time to focus.

Granted, I am single with no children. I realize it is a privilege to be able to completely zone out to work, study, watch anime, and repeat for 4-8 weeks. Your support system may look different than mine so structure your schedule accordingly.

Other communities

This PMP reddit forum was so instrumental in helping me feel more prepared. I did not engage with the post, but reading everyone’s experience with studying and taking the exam helped me not feel alone in this process. So I encourage you to find a place that makes you feel that same way. 

Community and support systems are the hidden jewel. You can engage with forums, have study partners, or just stay updated by reading like I did. Just don’t let yourself think you’re alone and that this is impossible. 

To recap, here are ways to stay motivated while studying for your PMP:

  1. Identify your “why”
  2. Create a manageable study schedule
  3. Build in rewards
  4. Stay positive as you are testing your learning
  5. Get connected with a community

That’s all I’ve got for you this time friend. Stay motivated and crush it!

We usually only focus on getting the cert. But I want to shake it up a bit! So in my next post I will talk about the next steps you need to take once you pass your PMP!

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