AT A GLANCE
No. of Attempt
Mock Exams Attempted
PMBOK® Guide Read
|“Instructors may try to scare the life out of you about this exam by telling you how difficult it can be. They’re absolutely right, but it’s by no means impossible. “|
Studying and Preparation
- Take a prep course, whether you feel you’re still new to PM or whether you feel you’re a seasoned pro. Either group will benefit from this course – the former because the body of knowledge can be overwhelming if you’re just a few years in, and the latter because you’ll find that what you have been doing all along and can probably do in your sleep might just be the wrong way (according to principles and practices that the exam tests you on – which is the only thing that matters for the purpose of passing it). If you shop around you can find good courses for good deals … but beware of anything that’s so cheap it sounds too good to be true. I took my course through the Technical Institute of America, and it was very helpful. I also liked the flexibility of attending the class in person, or remotely (tapping into the exact same class).
- Don’t just rely on the course materials or your own experience. My course used the Andy PMP® Book (as opposed to Rita’s PMP® Book, which is the other well-respected exam preparation book out there). I also got a copy of the current PMBOK® Guide Guide version 5 from the PMI® site (free if you’re a member). In addition, I chose to get Rita as well. I found that the three complemented and supplemented each other. If you try to rely on just one of the three you will most likely fail. You need AT LEAST two of the three (including PMBOK® Guide), but I definitely found that there were “holes” in Andy that Rita/PMBOK® Guide filled, and vice-versa for Rita.
- Make a study plan. Whatever your desired timing is, create a plan around it. Mine was essentially to cover one topic area across two different books each day, build up knowledge of the process grid and formulas gradually (more on that further below), and include practice exams. After all was said and done, I believe I had read Andy twice, PMBOK® Guide three times, Rita once, and had skimmed all three once more.
- Practice exams are critical. Research online and take as many as you can, but try to find them from legitimate sources (I came across some practice exams that were either outdated from older PMBOK® Guide versions, or gave “correct” answers that I knew for a fact weren’t correct). I actually came across Edward Chung while researching resources.
- Run through as many full-length (200Q) mock exams as you can, and use a timer to simulate the real-life time constraints that you’ll be up against. However, don’t start off doing the full-length mocks until you feel you have a good handle on the material or it could end up being overwhelming. Chapter quizzes are a good way to test yourselv – both Andy and Rita have them, and there’s a great resource (Scordo) on the PMI® site that has short quizzes on each knowledge area as well as slightly longer quizzes.
- Bad news – there’s no easy way to “study” the ITTOs, but you need to know them for the exam. By “know them” I mean simply knowing how they would fit in with a particular process. That’s really the only way to “study” them. You have to just understand them and what their purpose is…then you should be able to intuitively pick the right answers on ITTO related questions. But there aren’t really that many questions on the exam (although it always seems like there are – LOL)…maybe 10, with at least half of those containing pretty obvious wrong answers if you’ve even halfway studied the processes.
- If you’re not working and have even been thinking about sitting for your PMP® exam someday, I suggest you DO IT! I had been downsized out of my company due to a mass restructuring. A friend had mentioned that he passed his PMP® exam, so I started asking him about it because I’d thought about doing it in the past, but was so busy balancing work and life that I didn’t feel I could find the time. This was a perfect opportunity to fully devote to studying. I took a 5-day bootcamp class the first week of March, and made studying my full-time job (literally M-F, plus weekends as well just before the exam) until I took the exam on May 5. Even during one week when I was away on a pre-planned vacation, I brought study materials with me and also did my cheatsheet every single morning.
- Speaking of the cheatsheet, it goes without saying that you HAVE to assemble this. The way I did mine was:
- Start off with the process groups and the formulas. I broke the process grid into chunks and focused on memorizing 1-3 knowledge area processes at a time, writing them down over and over, and then adding a couple more KAs every few days, until I could write the whole grid out (easier to learn than you think… trust me, I never thought I’d get it the first time I looked at it). I didn’t worry so much about timing it at that point.
- At the same time, I was doing the same thing with the EVM formulas. I would memorize a couple at a time, write them over and over, and add a couple more every day or so, until I could write them all. Of course, you also need to know the definitions and uses for the formulas and processes, but that comes with your general knowledge by default.
- Once I got those all, I started timing myself and coming up with abbreviations that were intuitive for me (such as using “$” instead of “cost” “SH” instead of “stakeholder” “q” instead of “quality” “m or mgt” instead of management, etc.), which made it quicker to write out.
- Once I felt like I could do those in my sleep, I began to focus on other items to include, such as the communication formula, sigma percentages (1,2,3, 6), pert (both beta AND triangular), standard deviation/variance, PTA formula, the 7 QM tools and the 7 QA tools, float/free float, and the four “outlier” subsidiary components of a PM plan (requirements, configuration, process improvement, change management) – since all of the others simply represent the knowledge areas (minus integration) and the three baselines. I downloaded a great free timer app to my phone called “beautiful timer” so that I could easily time myself from anywhere.
- Especially if you’re using the Andy PMP® book to study with, keep in mind that there are FOUR different variations of the EAC formula, so you should know which one applies to which scenarios. PMBOK® Guide and Rita explain this (I prefer the PMBOK® Guide explanations myself). There are also online resources that explain it in easily-understandable ways if you need further clarification or examples.
- If you don’t use the calculator function on your computer very often, START. You are not allowed to bring a regular calculator into the exam room, so your only option will be the calculator on the (Windows-based) computer. It could take a little getting used to if you normally use a regular calculator, and you don’t want that to slow you down. In some cases you can use the keyboard to populate the numbers into the calculator, and in place of the = sign, but I didn’t find it to work 100% of the time during my practice. But this is why practice will come in handy – to see what works and what doesn’t for you so you know how to navigate effortlessly on test day.
- Breathe and relax. You CAN pass this exam on your first try! On the first day of my prep class, despite having done what I and others had considered “project management” activities for my career of 16 years (though not hard core IT or construction PM), I started to seriously doubt myself and wonder if I’d made a mistake in pursuing this certification. I thought maybe it wasn’t a good match after all, or I actually didn’t know enough. Even by the last day of the course I still had looming doubts. But over the following week alone, as I started to see how much I was absorbing and relating back to my previous projects, my confidence grew. I no longer felt clueless, and my focus became completely mastering this body of knowledge as presented – not just to take and pass the exam on the first try, but also to apply on future projects, since I saw many places where I could have executed past projects even more efficiently by applying some of these principles that I hadn’t known about with the formal knowledge gained through this preparation (don’t worry, most people are guilty of that without guidance – which is why the PM certification is so valuable).
- Talk to people you know about the exam. It happened to be a friend of mine who inspired me to go for my exam, and after that it was amazing how many people I knew (and even people I didn’t know) offered their support, encouragement, guidance, resources, etc. Just the words of support and encouragement alone that people give can be a huge counterbalance to the emotional and mental pressure that all of the studying and preparation can put you through…so don’t go through this process alone, because you certainly aren’t!
- Don’t schedule your exam until you are comfortable with the material and confident. Otherwise, you will end up cramming, and that is bad because
- there’s really no way to cram for this exam with facts and figures; you have to know the material and the concepts & application, and
- if you cram, you will be nervous – and you will most likely forget the things you tried to cram. This will most likely lead to failure of the exam, and you really only want to have to take it once! Facilities typically schedule 2-3 weeks out, so study until you’re comfortable and then schedule the exam. You will then have this extra time to reinforce what you’ve learned and be more relaxed going in.
- If you live close enough, make a practice run to the exam center before the day of your exam. Try to replicate the time you will be going for your exam so you know what traffic is like at that exact time of the day. Go into the center and have a look around (they won’t let you go into the actual testing room, but in the center I went to there’s a glass window so you’re able to at least peek in to get an idea of the setup).
- On the day of your exam, aim to get to the center, and go in, as early as you can. I thought the exam started at the same time for everyone (in my case, 8am), but as it turns out they admit you in based on the order in which you come in and register. And they started bringing people in before 8 to begin their tests. I ended up finally starting mine around 8:20-8:30.
- I brought some water and a banana to put in my locker just in case I needed it, but I didn’t – and I never got hungry during the exam. Go to the bathroom right after you register at the front desk, and try not to drink much water that morning (but enough so that you don’t dehydrate or become overcome with thirst, but the idea is that you don’t want to create a need to go to the bathroom during the exam if you can help it).
- Just for my own sanity, I wrote a little grid for myself on the front of my exam booklet showing where I should be pacing based on how much time had passed. So for instance after 25 questions I should have at least 3:30 left; at 50 questions I should have at least 3 hours left, etc. This did NOT include extra time to go back and review, so the takeaway was that I needed to be doing far better than these times to make sure I had room to go back at the end. Even taking my time, I was far ahead.
- It’s tempting to get discouraged if you get a few tough questions in a row, or overly confident if you get a few easy questions in a row. Especially in the first scenaro, don’t let this affect you. The questions are randomly ordered, so you can be sure that there will be easy ones and hard ones somewhere on the test. Sometimes a bunch of one type or the other just happen to come “clumped” together. You may spend 10 minutes trying to figure out one or two problems, but you may only spend 25 seconds on the next seven questions. Or, you may spend 5 minutes drawing out the formulas or diagrams for one question, only to have the next three questions refer back to it.
- So my practice timing was always based on 7 minutes. I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that when I started the tutorial, it was actually 15 minutes long. With that, I was able to do my cheatsheet and also add some other items to it that I hadn’t specifically practiced with the timer, but wanted to remember.
- I would suggest NOT leaving any questions blank as you go along. If you’re not sure of something, choose what you think is the best answer and then MARK THE QUESTION so you can come back to it. This way, in case you run out of time, it’s better to have something selected than nothing – because a) it could be the right answer, and also b) an unanswered question is automatically wrong, while an answered question has a 25% chance of being right! Once you’re done answering the questions, you can then go back and thoroughly review your marked answers.
- I didn’t feel that there were very many diagramming questions on my exam – maybe 2 or 3. I also found that with those – as well as the formula questions (there were more of those but even still not a whole bunch), the same problem was often described so I didn’t have to start all over from scratch each time. But make sure you read the questions carefully to determine whether or not this is the case. They sometimes like to trick you with questions to make sure you’re paying attention!
- The facility I used had some great noise-cancelling headphones that you could put on if you wanted things super quiet. Not sure if all facilities have this.
- My prep course instructor advised that we should ask for extra paper to make sure that we had enough to draw network diagrams nice and large so as not to crowd forward/backward pass numbers and potentially calculate wrong. It was good advice, but I found out that (at least at my facility) it’s the rule that they can only give you one test booklet to start. You can always ask for another booklet, BUT they will take the first one away before they give you the second one (I’m glad I asked before going in)!
- As said above, breathe and relax. You can do this!
I went at a nice pace and took my time, finishing the questions in 3 hours. I then went back and reviewed my marked answers, making a few changes along the way. That took about 30 minutes, and then I submitted the exam. I didn’t feel over- or under-prepared for the exam; I was comfortable with all of the questions and wasn’t blindsided by anything. I think taking a variety of practice exams with different terminologies really helped with that.
Instructors may try to scare the life out of you about this exam by telling you how difficult it can be. They’re absolutely right, but it’s by no means impossible. It’s an intense exam, which is why the certification is so highly regarded (would it be so valuable if just anyone could pass it?). But if you study the right way, remain focused and diligent, and leverage the mocks and resources that the PMP® authors and all of us who have successfully gone before put out there, you should do just fine.
BEST of luck!
~ PMP® Lessons Learned by G. Smith