Preparation and Study Advice for the Project Management Professional (PMP) Examination

Introduction

The aim of this article is to support aspiring PMPs by providing general advice on how to prepare for the PMP certification exam.

Live in PMI’s World

This is advice you will get from any decent guide or article, and it is worth repeating here because it is so important. In order to understand how to apply PMI’s methodology, you need to be able to look at various situations from the viewpoint of a project manager working in PMI’s ideal environment. The chances are that your current workplace does not operate in this ideal world, so you will have to use your imagination. Experienced project managers should pay special attention to this because it is natural to fall back on your own experiences when answering situational exam questions (and there will be many of them). If you do this, you will certainly get caught out because most of the multiple choice options available will be perfectly sensible and plausible actions that you may normally expect to take. To answer these types of questions correctly, you will need to select the option that aligns best with the ‘PMI way’.

Use a memory dump

Memorising key formulae and other critical information, and writing it all down in the practise time before the exam is definitely worthwhile in both your mock and real exams.

Make the most of your mock exams

Taking full mock exams followed by detailed post-exam reviews are very valuable activities to carry out in your study plan. Not only does the mock exam allow you to recall and apply the knowledge you have gained; it also helps in developing your exam strategy.

Follow the format of the PMP exam and start by spending up to 10 min maximum writing down your ‘memory dump’ sheet. Needless to say that the mock exam should be timed with no interruptions.

During the exam note down the number of any questions that gave you trouble or in which you had to guess the answer.

During the exam also note down any terms or phrases that you do not understand. Many of these terms will be from the multiple choice options.

Devise an exam strategy before each mock exam and try to stick to it.

Following the mock exam, take a well-deserved break, and then conduct a detailed review of your exam results.

Most mock exams/sample questions provide the reasoning and a PMBOK page reference along with the answers. Carefully read both sources when conducting your review.

Review your exam results and note your scores in each knowledge area and process group – most exam software will do this for you. Prioritise the lower scoring areas for further study. Remember that the exam is highly weighted in the planning, executing and monitoring & control process groups; so a low score in any of these areas should be at the top of your list.

Review all the questions you marked as difficult or you answered incorrectly and make a list of the related study areas or topics.

Also, note the number of ‘normal’ questions you answered incorrectly. You need to review these questions, determine the reasons you are getting them wrong, and then modify your exam strategy accordingly. For example, I determined after my first mock exam that I got a number of the easier questions wrong because I skim read them and did not fully understand the question. Therefore, I modified my exam strategy going from a strategy of attempting to answer the questions quickly and marking tricky questions for review, to a strategy of carefully going through each question once and not coming back to review any.

Remember not to study everything again

Prioritise the weak areas.

Do not memorise the ITTOs

The PMBOK contains several hundred ITTOs (Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs) and many PMP candidates attempt to memorise all of them, which is a big mistake. The PMP exam is set up to test your knowledge of applying PMI’s ideology and processes, not your memory. The exam has few questions that will ask you to simply name an ITTO, so do not waste any of your study time trying to memorise them. If you develop a good understanding of how the PMBOK should be applied in real life situations, then working out most of the ITTO questions will be relatively easy.

Do not mark many questions for review

There is no point in marking loads of questions for review unless your strategy is based on skipping certain types of questions in order to answer them at the end. If you simply do not know the answer to a question, then you are unlikely to get a sudden flash of inspiration when you come back to it. A question marked for review requires you to read and attempt it twice – it is not an effective use of your time. So focus on answering the questions correctly first time around and use the ‘mark for review’ sparingly.

Use elimination

Elimination of blatantly wrong multiple choice options is a popular strategy for dealing with tricky questions. However, I found that it was worth using elimination in most relevant PMP exam questions, even when I thought I knew the correct answer. Selecting your answer, then going through each of the other options confirming why they are incorrect is more time consuming, but it will cut out many silly mistakes. It will also help build up your knowledge during practice testing as you note any unfamiliar terms for review. Just be sure to keep an eye on your pace during the exam.

Conclusion

Gaining a PMP certification is certainly not a stroll in the park. It is estimated that up to 50% of first-timers fail the exam, so you will need to ensure that you are well prepared for it. To that end, we hope that you have found this article helpful.

Good luck with your studies and the exam.

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