Published on December 15th, 2012 | by Kyith1
How I pass my Project Management Professional (PMP) exams
Project Management Professional (PMP) is an exam that many candidates find challenging to pass. I used to think its difficult but with the right preparation, you can increase your chances of passing.
I was asked by my project manager to take my PMP certification. It looks like something that i find it hard to turn down. I almost ran out of excuses.
Unlike some of my peers, I was "lucky" enough for my company to sponsor the course under the CITREP scheme. I say "lucky" because if I do not passed the certification, the HR department will hound me to pass it. If I don’t passed it, it is likely i need to pay the course fee myself.
Having that became a push factor to treat this as the mosthorrifying course I have under taken (that include Discrete Maths, Statistics and Operating Systems in university).
I passed the exams 7 months later with
- Initiation: Proficient
- Planning: Proficient
- Executing: Proficient
- Monitoring and Controlling: Proficient
- Closing: Moderately Proficient
Why am I writing this post?
Because I want to tell you that if a dim wit like me can passed it, so can you. You just need to study it the right way.
Taking the PMP Prep Course
My colleagues helped me to signed up for a PMP preparation course on April 2012. We thought that this is a course to enhance our project management skills. Little did we know that this course, unlike most courses, have the sole aim of helping you to pass the PMP exam.
This course assumes that you have some capacity working as a project manager and prepares you by linking daily work to the context of what is required for the exams.
So next time if you are looking for a course to aid any areas you are deficient in project management, this is probably not what you are looking for.
The course lasts for 5 days and during the course, the trainer will go through all the process groups and knowledge areas that you will be tested upon in the actual exams.
Word of Advice (WOA): When choosing a center for prep course, it helps to ask around which prep center is good.
While most trainers at each prep center are hired for their past experience as a project manager and success rate at helping candidates pass their exams, different trainers provide a different training scheme and training materials.
For my trainer, he provided some additional reading materials from Verma’s book on human resource, communication, project organization. Other trainers typically provide Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep Book.
If you ask me which is more important, I would say the Rita Prep Book hands down. It is amazing that my trainer did not provide that to us.
Looking back we would probably die without it’s explanation.
Although my trainer have a high success rate (his last cohort 100% pass), I cannot fathom how I would pass with just the materials provided.
The PMP Exam
The PMP exam is a 4 hour long exam where you need to answer 200 MCQ questions.
Out of the 200 MCQ questions, 25 of them are experimental and are not counted towards your total score. You will not know which of the questions are the experimental questions, which means that you will have to try and get all of them correct.
WOA: I really cannot tell which of the 200 questions I done are experimental. They are THAT close to the actual questions.
The passing mark is not clear. Many have said it is 61% in the past, but recently it seems to have gotten more difficult, which is why people believe its not 61% any more.
If you are aiming for 61%, then it means you need to get 106 questions correct at least. To be safe you probably aim for 70%, which is like 123 questions. (still a pretty big number)
The crazy thing about this exam, is that it thoroughly test the candidate in the 9 knowledge areas in project management as well as a category that isn’t mentioned much, which is ETHICS.
Even though i say there is a methodology to study for the exam, I still feel that a candidate can gain much out of studying for it.
Some employers will say that its just an exam like any CCNA or Microsoft Certification but really there are test questions but non of the questions you did before will come out.
The questions are generated from a question bank of 2 million questions (rumored but after the exam and many other accounts, it is true, none of the 2000 questions i did in practice actually look the same).
In the midst of studying for the exam, something will definitely enlighten you. For those aspiring to be one, you will come to understand the diverse skillset required for being a project manager.
If you keep doing and doing, memorizing and understanding, something good will drill into your brain that will help you to become a better PM.
Fix a study duration
Don’t drag your feet. While you are acquainted with the material after prep course, block out a target date to take the exams.
I think 3-6 months will be good enough preparation for your exams.
Be motivated. The most important thing is to not feat the paper, don’t procrastinate and start studying.
Classifying the questions
The questions that are asked can be classified into three kinds:
- Questions based on Input, Tools and Techniques and Output. They will ask which comes next, comes first.
- Questions with calculations and diagramming. These are questions that needs some time to calculate or draw.
- Questions that are situational. Essentially, some of the ones in (1) can be found here as well
(1) and (2) can boost your chances of passing. (3) you will have to build habit when you start doing the questions after figuring how to answer the questions.
Remembering the input, output and tools/techniques (ITTO)
One thing I realise after the exam is how much remembering the ITTO help in answering 50% to 70% of the questions.
This is because one portion of thee question asks along the lines what are the ITTO.
The other portion asks tricky questions but the answers will require an understanding of ITTO
Numerous sources say you don’t need to memorize you just need to understand and practise that in daily life. Well not many people have a brain for that.
I fear that there are questions that I will understand wrongly and thus lead to wrong answers. That couple with not all areas was used in my work leads me to memorize the 42 ITTO.
Now my brain have been weakening all this time so I have even trouble remembering what you told me yesterday, so how do you remember all the 42 ITTO?
There are some techniques that can aid you. To remember something, you got to practise it, repeat reviews.
What I do is to write the ITTO on flash cards, then make a schedule to everyday go through some.
For busy folks, create short periods where you can have time to practise and recall with your flash cards.
I make sure that every morning for 4 months I go through 2 knowledge areas ITTO. So in 5 days I will complete one cycle.
If I am busy that week I will have one night where I will try to recall all 42 ITTO
If you have 4 months, do staggering. For example first three days try to remember the ITTO for Project Integration. This means you can roughly recall them.
Then, the next three days you try to remember Scope Management + Project Integration.
The next three days will be Time Management + Scope Management + project Integration.
By the end of the month you would have repeated so much that it will be difficult for you to forget them.
Studying the theory
First 2 months, study the Rita guide. This is because pmbok is very dry and may bore you to tears.
The good thing about Rita guide is that it explains and relates real life examples to the syllabus that you are studying.
This helps you connect with the topic much better and value adds later to your professional career.
While reading Rita, continue to reference back to Pmbok. Remember that at the end of the day some questions specifically asks for definition in pmbok.
Start doing questions
After you have a single pass of Rita and Pmbok, you are ready to start doing test questions. The purpose of doing the test questions is to be expose to many difference terms and concepts that will be tested in the exam.
It is not always going to drill inside your head after the first pass but doing sample test questions will help. That’s one aim of doing questions.
The second objective is to get to know new concepts that is not taught in Rita and Pmbok. Do know that even though those two books are thick but there are many concepts that is out of the syllabus and the exams will ask.
Before doing, do inventorize your sample questions. The best is to have six to eight 200 questions sample. That means you will go through roughly 1200 to 1600 questions.
Leave the questions at the end of Rita book alone. You will do that at the end of the revision. Leave another 200 questions for you revision one week before the exam.
When doing the sample questions, develop the following habit.
- Do the questions 50 at a time within 1 hour. I didn’t have time to finish the exam. It will take time to understand the questions. If you don’t practice like this you will not develop a comfortable urgency.
- Read the question once.
- Evaluate all 4 options. Do not discount obvious wrongs.
- Read the question again.
- Ask yourself which process group and knowledge area you are at. This will help you eliminate some wrongs and tell you which is correct.
- Ask yourself what is the question asking.
- Do ther calculation,or recall your ITTO
- Eliminate the wrong answer
- Pick the answer closest
Practice that for all questions. The key is create a habit. This is so that when you do the actual examl it becomes a HABIT to be comprehensive and fast.
You will also know where you are deficient and need to study more.
Trust me developing this habit is the most important thing that help me pass.
Mark each 50 questions, take note of the wrong answers, go back to Rita,Pmbok or internet find out why they are wrong.
Understand how some of the complex questions are answered
One aspect is to be comfortable in how questions are phrase, what are the clues.
The questions are not super long, but the longest questions that i encounter is nearly 5 lines long.
Some resources that can help understand these questions are
- Read Rita’s initial chapters describing the questions and how they are presented and should be answered
Practice the calculations, understand the tools and techniques
There are much calculations and diagramming
- Understand all the cost variance, schedule variance, cpi, spi, bac, eac, etc. Learn how to calculate them and derive using them.
- Understand critical path method, pert, mean, variance, standard deviation
- Calculate number of communication channels
- Understand procurement contracts and how to calculate how much the seller and buyer stand to receive under different contract
PMI Code of Ethics
There is a section that consist 10% of your exams but are not taught in any of Pmbok and Rita. That is code of ethics.
How do you study for it?
- Read the official Code of Ethics PDF posted on PMI website. Do a google search. It will lead you to PMI website.
1 Week Pre-exam preparation
It is recommended that you take a few days leave from work. This will roughly include 4-5 days for intensive studying and the actual exam.
During this period,
- Ensure that you are able to understand the 9 knowledge areas and 5 process groups
- Ensure that you are familiar with most of the new concepts you learn from doing the sample questions
- Ensure you know the calculations and diagramming
- Ensure you build up that habit to evaluate the questions
- Do Rita’s questions. The reason you leave this for last is because Rita’s questions are pretty tricky and close to what is required for the exams. Read through why you get the questions wrong.
- 2 days before the exam ensure you go through the following
- A person on PM Zilla have compiled notes that provides a comprehensive view of what you need to recall from a lot of sample questions. You will need to register the account and get the notes here > http://pmzilla.com/comprehensive-pmp-notes
- Mark Reynold’s have a list of PMP Definitions that is good to review and make sure you understand these concepts > http://pmzilla.com/comprehensive-pmp-notes
1 Day before the exam
By then, if you have follow the preparations you should be pretty good to go. Do relax for the last day.
During my exam, I tried to be special and sleep early, i ended up only getting 3 hours of sleep. And by the time of exam, I haven’t slept for like 14 hours!
You cannot eliminate nervousness but my advice is to just follow your normal schedule. Don’t do anything special. Just rest well.
Be at the center early. Sometimes the exam center will let you start. You will have a 15 minute tutorial. Use that time to download the formulas or some notes onto the pieces of paper provided.
Follow the strategy of answering the questions you set out. If you want to answer the easy questions first and leave the difficult ones later you can do that.
Personally i attempt all questions unless i take more than 5 minutes on a single questions.
This is where your time keeping habit practice come in. Be aware that you have about 60-80 seconds per question. Just be aware of the time. Speed up where necessary.
I had to make use of the full 4 hours.
I hope i have provided enough information for those thinking of taking the exams.
The important thing is figuring out how the questions are suppose to be answer and making a habit to read and answer the questions the right way.
Let me know if this is useful or how different are your study methods.
Do Like this page or share this page if you think it is useful.
Here are some more tips and tricks how to make passing easier
- Guide to Answering Situational Questions: There are many questions on changes changes and more changes, how do you tackle them.
- You Tube video teaching you Critical Path and Pert: How is Critical Path done? How is Pert calculated?
- You Tube video teaching you Critical Chain: You don’t need to know so much about critical chain but here is a good guide why old scheduling is not that good and why crtical chain is good.
- You Tube video teaching Fixed Price Contracts.
- You Tube video teaching Cost Plus Fixed Fee.