Often the question that intrigues people that are planning for their PMP exam is: What does it take to get PMP certificate?
In the past few years, I have had the honor of helping over 732 PMP aspirants from around the world, with personal 1-1 coaching. More often than not I am surprised to learn the reasons that are holding them back.
..and strategies to use when you have no clue about the answer (use with caution!)
I myself have been guilty of believing in some of these. These are simply myths and understanding them will make your PMP journey clearer and smoother.
By the way, this probably is going to be an important post you would read about PMP exam, and this is a long one. So cut any distractions, get yourself a cuppa coffee, sit back, relax and let’s get started (and don’t miss the bonus section in the end).
Some of PMP aspirants have taken just 2 weeks to begin the study and pass the exam, and some have taken years before finally appearing for their PMP exam. It took me about 2.5 yrs after ‘deciding’ to take the exam. With some smart planning it is definitely possible to pass PMP within 4-week timeframe.
Building blocks of PMP exam
If one has to understand the basic building blocks of PMP success, there are just two you need to get your PMP certificate –
1. Find your ’emotional’ reason to get PMP
PMP journey can be hard and a long one for many. Based on my interaction with several hundred PMPs I see the main reason for the delay is the lost study momentum. With so much to do on our plate at work, it is natural to drop the lesser priority tasks. And that exactly what PMP turns out to be – lesser priority – when we don’t have a strong reason to get it done.
Tying the need for PMP to an emotional reason is one of the ways to make sure that it gets higher priority. Here’s how to figure out the emotional reason –
Take a pen and paper (you can do this exercise with your spreadsheet program as well).
Draw a vertical line at the center.
Title the left half as ‘Reason’ and right half as ‘Need’. The idea is to substantiate the reason for your PMP certification with an emotional need.
Start writing down whatever comes to your mind under ‘Reason’ as to why you need your PMP certification. Start each sentence with “I want to..”.
This is your brain talking.
Keep writing, even if it appears silly. Write till you can’t think of any more reasons.
Then write 3 more reasons (yes, you will get them).
Now, focus on to the right side of the page (or second column if you are using a spreadsheet program).
For each reason, think of an emotional connect. A need that you must fulfill to lead your ideal life. Begin the sentences with “so I can..”, and feel free to list multiple needs under each reason.
This is your heart talking. (Do listen to it, this can potentially change the course of your life).
For instance, your sheet may look like –
You get the picture.
Now select top 3 that you feel strongly connected with.
Then print this out (if you typed in) and stick the sheet at your work desk at the office, and study desk at home. Look at this every day. I’d even stick pictures of “Needs”, so as to supercharge my priority for PMP certification.
2. Get the right resources
By ‘resources’ here I mean everything you need to hit your PMP goal – study resources, study plan based on your professional background, study schedule built around your lifestyle, help with applying for PMP exam at PMI, and some external help – with a study buddy, forum, or group that helps when you feel stuck, go off track, or need a bit of motivation to go along.
If you are absoluetly getting started, I would recommend visiting this page. This helps you chalk out a plan to get to your PMP goal in the shortest possible time.
And for a comprehensive set of resources that you may want to begin your research at, click here. This page has the choicest of the collection of PMP courses, books, sample questions, free simulators and much more.
And if you need some help with prep planning, please feel free to write to me with a couple of slots (5-9pm weekdays at GMT+5:30 timezone). My email address is [email protected]
With these two foundation blocks in place, you will have a good start to your PMP prep. It sets good study momentum that should take you to your PMP goal rather easily. Yes, well-begun is indeed half-done.
With that covered, based on my interaction with PMP students in the past few years, let us look at some of the myths (and facts) for a PMP aspirant to understand to make his/her PMP journey easier.
PMP myth #1: PMP is easy/complex
Easy or Complex is a relative term used, and often without a solid reference point. As you start going through PMBOK you will realize that it is not incredibly complex, but then many ITTOs and even processes start to look similar. And this is where the confusion starts.
Based on the amount of project management experience one has had in the past, some of the concepts may simply start to make sense. It is also possible that some of the concepts may seem counter-intuitive, especially if you have been working as a project manager for several years.
The bottom line: Keep your experience aside while studying for PMP exam. PMI expects things to work in a certain way (some call it ‘idealistic’), and make it a point to understand PMI’s way of managing projects while answering PMP questions.
This, of course, does not mean that PMBOK guidelines are not practical, they are guidelines to keep in mind. While managing projects in the real-world one must also understand the environment, policies and supporting factors of their organization to manage the project.
PMP myth #2: PMBOK is all that you need, or, PMBOK is a must
Again, there are few PMP students that have used ONLY PMBOK guide to study for their exam. There are also people that have completely shunned PMBOK and aced PMP exam on their first attempt.
I am of the opinion that PMBOK guide is necessary for preparing for PMP exam. Simply because majority of questions on the exam can be expected from PMBOK. At the same time,
At the same time, understand that PMBOK alone does not cover all of PMP syllabus.
PMP myth #3: PMP = PMBOK
PMBOK is not the syllabus for PMP exam. PMI publishes a thin 12-14 page long document called ‘PMP Examination Content Outline’. This is PMP syllabus that one should refer to. PMBOK, for the large part, adheres to cover details of this syllabus, but you should expect questions from outside PMBOK as well.
The bottom line: Choose 2-3 study resources for your test, keep PMBOK as one of them. With PMBOK being a bit of a dry read, do your research and choose others based on your liking to study using a specific medium.
For instance, if you like studying from video lessons, choose one of popular video courses from REP (a couple of them here and here). If you like to read from books, consider Head-First, Rita, or Scordo.
PMP myth #4: You don’t need a simulator, get free questions on the Internet
While study resources are great to understand concepts, actually attempting PMP exam and passing it takes something more. I call this ‘Last Mile prep‘.
You must have a good PMP exam simulator in your arsenal.
While there are many free question banks are available on the Internet I do not advise depending solely on them. I sure can tell you about few that have passed PMP exam taking only free question banks available on the Internet, but I do not consider it is wise to neglect a good simulator.
Paid simulators are available for a price for a reason. Most of them are prepared by competent PMPs that contribute towards actual PMP exam, so you can expect the similar variation of questions as on the real test. One of them is this one.
PMP simulators are kept up to date (remember 25 pre-test questions PMI includes amongst your 200 questions? It’s a rolling list and some of the questions make to the real exam), they mimic the style and variation of real exam questions, and they help you practice your strategy of attack.
If you consider the average age of PMP test takers to be 30+ yrs (no official word, based on inputs on forums) one is several years away from the regular practice of taking 4-hour long exams. A PMP simulator that allows you 200 question, timed exams helps you replicate real exam situation. You can practice optimizing your 4 hours on the exam in order to answer most of the questions correctly in the given time.
For any free question sets that you take off the Internet, just make sure they are updated for PMBOK-5. There are many PMBOK-4 tests floating around which can easily take you off the study course and induce plenty of confusion because of the changes in ITTOs and processes between PMBOK-4 and PMBOK-5.
PMP myth #5: Aim to get 61% or X number of questions correct and you’ll be through
This approach apparently used to be true several years ago. This does not hold good anymore because PMI uses weighted average approach to grade your test.
According to Cornelius Fichtner, a leading PMP training authority (search for ‘dirty’ here),
“Passing the PMP Exam is no longer determined by the percentage of questions you answer correctly. It is calculated using a sound psychometric analysis. In essence this means that the harder questions are worth more than the easier questions.
So you get a higher score if you answer more of the harder questions correctly and a lower score if you answer more of the easier questions correctly. The minimum score needed to pass is determined by the overall difficulty of your individual exam.”
PMP myth #6: You should take only REP course
No. Any training shop can offer you PMP training. However, there is an advantage of taking the PMP training offered by a REP (registered education provider), precisely for the same reason – their training material has been validated and certified by PMI.
This is more crucial after PMI brought about changes to PMP exam syllabus in Jan-2016, with no updates to PMBOK. The only way to get updated course material that is validated by PMI is a REP provided PMP study resource – either a video course or a book.
If you already have fulfilled 35 contact hour requirement from courses offered by non-REPs, don’t worry, you are not losing out on anything.
PMP myth #7: You need 35 PDUs before taking the exam
The thumb rule to remember is that PDU is applicable after the exam.
What you need before the exam is 35 contact hours of project management education. And majority of PMP course providers offer PDUs for the learning hours you spend with them.
If you have already got your PMP (thanks for still reading this 🙂 ) you can use the PDUs from related exam such as Agile project management course or risk management course towards fulfilling your PDU requirement for continuation of PMP credential validity. While at it, you may be interested in this free PDU guide.
PMP myth #8: You need technical background in order to appear for PMP
Absolutely not. Even people from non-traditional project based organizations have got PMP certification. Karen Kinsman is a director at a University and successfully managed to pass her PMP exam.
In my personal view, if you work as a project manager to manage technical people it helps you understand their issues better and makes your job as a PM much easier. But it is not a must to have a technical background to even get PMP. Some of the best PMs I have seen do not have a technical background.
PMP myth #9: You must know ITTOs by heart
This is probably the widely believed myth.
Before PMI made changes to PMP syllabus in Jan-2016 you would find direct ITTO questions on your exam, but not anymore. Nowadays almost all questions are based on scenarios and test your ability to apply a PM concept to a situation and choose the right course of action.
However, you must expect questions that can be answered with the knowledge of certain ITTOs. These questions too do not need you to remember ITTOs, and they are constructed in such a way that you can deduce the answer easily.
Here’s an article that talks about how to gain ITTO knowledge without breaking the head to memorize all the ITTOs.
PMP myth #10: PMP gets you higher salary, better job
PMI’s gloal survey indicates that project managers with PMP earn as much as 20% higher than those without PMP certification.
But this in no way means that by having PMP under your belt you will automatically be able to earn more or get a better job.
Of course, you will get an edge with PMP in front of your name. Many organizations in their job profile call out specifically for candidates with PMP certification. If you are a contender for that promotion along with another candidate, and if you have PMP, you may get an edge.
The point is that having PMP automatically does not mean higher salary or that raise.
PMP myth #11: PMP certification is expensive
Many candidates do not invest in good study resource because they do not want to spend money.
Look at it this way.
PMP credential certainly adds value to your career, otherwise, you wouldn’t be aspiring to get it. Put a dollar value to it based on how it would help in your career. What logic you base it on does not matter. Just arrive at a dollar value.
Next, a failed PMP attempt costs more. There is reexamination fee, the cost of time to be invested again to study for the test and the lost opportunity cost.
If you add all that up, would investing in a study resource and simulator right during the first attempt at PMP look expensive?
With that perspective, it should not.
Plus, just like we keep a set amount aside for insurance, food, vacation and so on, we ought to have a dedicated budget for self-development. And PMP is an investment in our growth.
Not getting PMP may prove to be costly in the long run.
PMP myth #12: PMI does application profiling for Audit
PMI does a random selection of applications for audit, there is no profiling based on sex, nationality, race, background or any of that sort. On an average 5-10% of applications submitted to PMI are selected for audit.
But you can take every precaution to make sure that your application is good.
Here are few pointers you can use –
- If you have just one multi-year project to show for your project management experience, it may be a good idea to break it down into smaller projects based on milestones or some logical means.
- Describe clearly your role and activities performed in the capacity of a project manager (your designation does not matter).
- Use this step-by-step guide and the sample spreadsheet to put together your project management experience in a way that PMI expects.
- If you have worked on multiple projects at the same time, PMI expects you to report one of the projects only.
- Talk to your previous managers that managed your projects about PMP exam, share your PMP application with them for the eventuality of PMI contacting them.
- Keep the 35hr contact education certification ready, keep your educational qualification certs ready. Here’s what PMI expects for an audit.
PMP myth #13: One Below Proficient score will fail the exam
While the truth is that no one knows for sure the exact parameters required for passing, and the fact that PMI does not officially state how grading is done, I personally have seen cases where people passed PMP exam with one BP score.
Harvinder Singh of Deep Fried Brain Project studied results of 23 PMP students. You should check out his findings here.
PMP myth #14: You need to choose the correct answer
No, choose the BEST answer. You’ll get options that are partially correct, or correct under certain conditions, but choose only the BEST answer for the given scenario in the question.
One of the reasons that make PMP ‘hard’ is the fact that PMI includes partially correct answers. This means that based on the amount of preparation a candidate has undergone a different option looks like the right answer.
This is why, it also makes sense to take as many mock tests as you can. You can figure the kind of question being asked and quickly choose the answer (search for ‘question type’ on this page to know how to identify different types of questions).
PMP myth #15: You need at least X months to prepare for the exam
This is related to a previously mentioned myth.
The amount of time that it takes to prepare for PMP depends on various factors, such as –
- Number of years of project management experience
- Study resources used
- Study approach (choosing a KA and going across different study resources seems to yield better results)
- Number of hours spent every day
- Whether or not you choose to use a Simulator as a means of study
..and so on.
Please do not compare your length of study with someone else and feel that you are lagging. Each one has a unique PMP journey. Sooner or later you will know when you are ready as you go along with your study plan.
You can certainly help yourself by scheduling the exam date at the end of your first round of study. This act takes your preparation to a whole new level!
PMP myth #16: More PM experience results in better chances of passing
It can be argued that the opposite is true. The first advice I got from my mentor is “NEVER answer a PMP question based only on your experience”.
Which turned out to be true.
PMI expects that you answer the question based on how it is explained in PMBOK. Some call this PMIsm. In real world there may be other forces at play that ultimately contribute to the decision taken on projects, so it helps to keep your past project management experience aside while preparing for the PMP exam. Don’t take it personally, it just helps that way. 🙂
PMP myth #17: I am too young/too old for PMP
Age is also not a factor for PMP. I have come across 23 yr olds getting their PMP, and know of people in their 60s and got their PMP.
What matters is whether you think you are ready to take up the credential (and of course if you are eligible as per PMI’s eligibility criteria).
Now, these are the myths (and few facts) that you need to understand while you are on your PMP journey.
This article is already about 3300 words long and it has taken me over 2 months to put this together. But I want this to be even more useful for you.
So before we wrap up, let me share few PMP exam tips with you.
Bonus: PMP prep tips
- Make and stick to a study plan and schedule (get your free PMP Study Blueprint here)
- Make your own notes. Several successful PMPs have shared this to be one of the reasons for their success. The act of making notes helps you understand the concepts better. You’ll also be able to use the notes for revision before the exam. Make use of mnemonics (memory aids). The notes shared on this blog use mnemonics in many places.
- Post Jan-2016 PMI changed questions to make situation-based. This puts the onus on you to be able to apply a concept to given scenario and come up with the answer. This means the more you practice mock tests better will be your chances to ace the exam.
- Each time you take a simulator test, plan to spend at least couple of hours for studying the results. Yes, this is a huge secret that successful PMP students are using. This saves you a lot of time in studying the concepts. When you are in ‘question’ mode (just after you took a mock test) your brain is actively looking for an answer. So you read the question and then the answer and understand the reasoning for it. Then it just ‘sticks’.
- Write the table in page 61 (table 3.5) in PMBOK-5 every day for 10 days. When you do this also understand the logical flow between processes across knowledge areas as well as process groups. Soon you will be able to write this table in a matter of minutes, and this exercise alone helps you get insights into the interdependence of processes.
- Take the last week off before the exam and do these 5 things.
Tips for Computer Based Test
- Use multi-round technique while practicing on simulator mock tests (search for ‘proven strategy’ on this page)
- Understand various ‘types’ of questions and answer them accordingly to save precious time on the exam (search for ‘question type’ on this page).
- When you go over a question and you decide to mark it for attempting later, take few seconds and mark an option you think is right. This is because (a) most likely this is the right answer (b) if you can’t come back you have at least 25% probability of getting the answer right.
- In case you are absolutely running out of time and there are questions that you haven’t even looked at, simply run through them randomly checking one of the options as the answer. You still stand 25% chances of getting it right. This, of course, should be the last resort and not part of the exam prep strategy 🙂
Here’s a good set of tips by Thomas Frank to deal with multiple choice questions – when you have no clue about the answer. So use the tips with care!
Well, that’s it for now!
I hope this post been useful in your PMP preparation, and you will come back to this page again to make sure your progress is not hampered by any myths as you go along preparing for the exam.
And if you liked this post, please share this page socially to help other PMP students. Thank you for your kind gesture.
Go ace that exam.
Shiv loves to help start-ups build software products, PMP aspirants ace the exam and shine at work, and help individuals and SMEs get most out of their internet presence (read 'earn massive money' 🙂 ).
Shiv lives on the picturesque suburban Bangalore with his wife and two lovely kids and in his spare time he plays flute and paints.
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