Blog Barista: Dana Graham | Jan 17, 2019 | Project Management | Brew time: 7 min

“Congratulations! You have passed the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam!”

Those are words that anyone who has prepped, studied, and crunched for the PMP exam is happy and relieved to see! And I will admit… for me, a little surprised. After all my preparation, I was still nervous. Not to mention that of the first 20 questions on my exam, I was only certain on 2 answers. So, I spent the next 180 questions convinced I was going to fail.

In addition to being a project manager, I am also an attorney so I heard a lot of “well, if you passed the bar exam, you can pass this.” This only made me more nervous because I did not want to let anyone down. I even told the fine folks here at KL&A’s The Pour Over Blog that I wouldn’t even write this post until I passed the exam, because I didn’t want to jinx myself or be embarrassed. But, as it so often happens, nerves are no match for appropriate preparation. Trust your training, commit to studying, and you, too, will pass the PMP exam!

If you’re thinking about becoming a Certified PMP, then here are 5 tips and tricks from my experience:

1. Research Your Boot Camp.

Most PM’s use a PMP Boot Camp as the 35 hours of instruction needed to become certified. My boot camp was a small class through our local PMI Chapter. The instructor had a ton of experience and was really knowledgeable, which was great because several of us in the class were pretty new to PMI’s terminology. She was able to provide some “PM 101” guidance we might not otherwise have received, which taught me a lot and made me better at my job. That said, spending some time on these important basics meant we didn’t spend quite as much time drilling into exactly what we should know for the exam. As a result, I didn’t have a clear plan of attack when it came time to study.

If you’re someone who has worked in the PM field for a long time and are just now looking to get certified, you may prefer an exam-centered boot camp that packs everything in, so you can take the exam right away. I was happy to have some time to study and plan, so my class worked out great for me. It’s personal preference and based on your own circumstances, so make sure you do your research and determine the best fit for you.

2. There is No Substitute for Practice Questions.

I did hundreds and hundreds of practice questions. When I got one wrong (or got it correct after a guess), I went to the explanation and studied what I was misunderstanding. This helped immensely, not only to prepare for exam conditions, but also to learn concepts and connections. Here are a few of the resources I used for practice questions:

  • PMP: Project Management Professional Exam Study guide, 9th Edition by Kim Heldman: This book was part of the materials for my PMP boot camp and I found it incredibly helpful. It provides an overview of each area of the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) and has a lot of practice questions. It also includes a link to an online bank of questions. A word of caution: I found the practice questions in this book to be a little easier and more clear-cut than the actual exam. I assume this is because the book is trying to help you learn, and ambiguity isn’t always a great teaching tool. However, on the exam, there were a lot more questions that had 2 or 3 possible answers than in this study guide.
  • PMP Project Management Professional Practice Tests by Kim Heldman and Vanina Mangano: Again, this book provided a lot of practice questions, both in the PMBOK chapter exams and comprehensive exams. As with the above Sybex book, the questions weren’t exact replicas of what I saw on the real exam, but the instruction and feedback provided was very valuable.
  • PMP Certification Mastery mobile app: I only used the free version of this app, which was somewhat limited, but it provides a lot of practice questions and even some stats on your strong or weak areas. This was particularly useful to  help guide that crunch-time studying. I never subscribed to the full (pay) version, but if you’re someone who travels a lot, having all the study material on your phone would be helpful and very convenient.

3. Learn the Chart.  

THAT chart. The PMP Process Chart that is the backbone of the PMBOK.  You need to memorize this chart before your exam, as each Knowledge Area and Process is fair game on the exam. Use mnemonics or whatever works for you to help remember, but know every item in every box. Rote memorization is necessary here. You will want to recreate the chart on your scrap paper when you start the exam so that you can refer to it throughout. It will help you think through questions and may even jog your memory if you get a little lost.

4. Learn the Formulas.  

I’ll be honest… I didn’t know the formulas as well as I probably should have, but what I did know, I had down cold. As it turns out, I got about 2 formula questions on the exam (whew!), but I think that was just luck of the draw. To learn the formulas, I tried to memorize them, of course, but then sought out practice questions that applied them. Putting the formulas to use was the best way for me to understand and really be able to accurately use the formulas.

5. Be Aware of Time Constraints.  

The PMP exam is timed and you have 4 hours to complete it. I am usually a pretty fast test taker, so I had enough time, but you should know some questions took a lot longer than others. So if you are someone who generally likes a lot of time on an exam, you need to be prepared. In my opinion, the best way to prepare for the timed exam is to take a practice test under exam conditions. Find a silent room, use an online practice test (since you’ll likely take the exam on a computer), and set a timer. Put your phone away, shut down anything else on your internet browser, and try to resist the YouTube vortex when you get bored. Get through 200 questions and see how long it took. 200 questions in 4 hours means you have an hour to complete 50 questions. What I like to do is write down the time and how many questions I should be through so that I can make sure I’m keeping up the pace.

For example, say I start the exam at 1:00PM. Then, at 1:30PM I should be through question 25. At 2:00PM, question 50. At 2:30PM, question 75, and so on. This is a trick that one of the professors in my Bar Exam Prep class taught us and I have used it many times since. It helped break a pretty long exam into chunks of time, so you never got too far ahead or behind.

Go Get ‘Em Tiger.

I hope these tips and tricks are helpful to you as you prepare for the PMP exam. And who knows, someday we might end up as colleagues at KL&A! Best of luck in your studies, and when in doubt, it’s probably the answer that includes filing a change control.


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