The Monday Mover

Delivering high-impact career tips every Monday morning. 

TTM #005 How to get professional certifications for less money

Jul 11, 2022

Certifications are expensive, but they don't have to be.

Read time: 2 minutes

Certifications without experience are meaningless. Certifications with experience open doors.

The real world application of tools and methodologies always outweigh a piece of paper...

    → When establishing immediate credibility
    → When it is a requirement for a job
    → When it is a preferred qualification for a job
    → When setting rates or salary expectations

And training companies know this. They try to capitalize on your desire to add a certification to your resume.

Everywhere you turn, someone is selling an expensive prep course with "guaranteed" results. Each certifying body sells their own body of knowledge and courses. There are coaches, books, prep quizzes, study groups.

You don't need these.

I know because I wasted a lot of money on them...
Only to ditch them for little-to-no cost options that actually HELPED me pass my exams.

Here's what I learned:

1. Separate learning to apply at work vs. strategizing for an exam

Get really clear on your why.

Mastering a tool for real world application is an entirely different skillset than creating a strategy to pass an exam. You should develop your expertise through stretch assignments at work, but you don't need to be a subject matter expert to pass the certification exam.

Once you embrace this, it's easy to see that you do not need a bunch of expensive (and often boring) prep classes.

Instead, spend your time researching certification requirements and information on the exam structure.

2. Ditch the official body of knowledge books and buy an inexpensive prep workbook or question bank.

BOKs have their place, but your certification prep is not one of them.

When I sat for the ASQ Black Belt exam, I read their certified Six Sigma handbook cover-to-cover. It was 946 pages. It was full of jargon, complex statistics and numerical tables I never saw at work. All it did was stress me out. I wasted 3 weeks trying to digest that book.

Finally, I found a free six sigma course on that explained complex topics in plain language AND tied it back to the exam concepts.

When I sat for the PMP, I didn't bother cracking open their book. Instead I spent $75 on an exam prep guide from Rita Mulcahy and studied that. I took a free LinkedIn learning course through work that satisfied the PM training requirements.

I passed both exams on the first try.

3. Create a test taking strategy

For each exam, create a test strategy based on your learning style that will help you pass the exam.

Don't spend your time and money trying to learn all the materials; that comes from experience.

→ Focus on competencies that impact your score. Each certification has a breakdown of scoring.

→ Study to your strengths, not weaknesses. I'm terrible at math. Instead of spending weeks trying to learn statistics, I focused on 2-3 basic formulas that I knew would be on the exam. By leaning into my strengths, my goal was to score higher in all the non-math sections.

→ Learn exam nuances and question types. You can research this for free online. Google. Reddit. Join groups on LinkedIn. Ask previous test takers.

→ When in doubt, lean on key concepts. The PMP is HUGE on change management. If there were 2 answers that sounded good, I ALWAYS selected the one related to change.

→ Time box prep time. Give yourself no more than 30 days to study for the exam. Any longer and it won't stick.

→ Practice questions > Watching videos. 90% of the exam is answering the question from the point of view of BOK, not your real world experience. The best way to train yourself in the exam language is to practice.

Well, that's it for today.
I hope this helps.



Delivering high-impact career tips every Monday morning.

Join our network of ambitious women. Every Monday morning, you'll receive 1 actionable tip on growing your career and professional brand. 

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.