“How to prepare for PMP exam the Agile way!” – yes, that makes it interesting and effective for sure. Arindam Thakur reveals how he did it. He also showed that no matter how busy you are, you can get PMP certified on the sides with a short and sweet (but practical) plan and commitment.
Arindam is from Kolkata and currently working in Bangalore, and has worked as Project & Program Manager in Data & Business Analytics in his long career spanning 16+ years.
When he is not taking project management challenges head on, Arindam can be found burying his head in a book while listening to music, or watching a movie.
In this article Arindam shares his 4-week plan and all the insights he gained while following it and ticking off the ‘Get PMP certified’ box.
What made you take up PMP certification?
I have been doing IT Project and Program Management for over 8 years now. I have managed various medium and large-scale engagements over the years in ERP, Data Architecture, Analytics, and Cloud.
As it happens, most of us start as a developer and find our way into project management, mostly learning on the job.
While working as a Project Manager I always wanted to have a validation on my Project Management skills. I looked around and I saw some of my peers were studying for PMP.
On some research, I realized that this certification is sort of a gold standard in Project Management – covering pretty much all aspects of Project Management. Not to mention the earning potential as PMI has reported, of course.
Moreover, the fact that the syllabus for PMP comes from a deep analysis of present project management practices across industries and geographies, one cannot go wrong with PMP.
I did read on comparisons between Prince2 and PMP. Most of the projects I have been managing were from North America Region, where PMP is a coveted certificate and hence I decided to start the journey to become PMP certified.
How do you see PMP helping you going forward?
During the project execution, many a times we work with PMOs and other helping departments to take decisions. Although I had a sketchy idea about all these steps, I wanted to have a more profound knowledge. I expected learning for the PMP Certification would help me to bridge these knowledge gaps and would provide me with directions on how a professional should carry out the actions.
I am glad that not only I learnt Project Management end-to-end, I also received a certification for all the learning ? I am already making use of all the knowledge in my day-to-day work and quite enjoying it.
I’m also able to help my peers and other stakeholders with it whenever required, which is a nice bonus!
Can you share the study resources used?
I have mainly used the following resources:
- PMBOK6 – for reading and reference
- PM-PrepCast – I liked the style in which the materials were presented in the PrepCast. I took a lot of notes and whenever I could get time, I went through them to revise various concepts.
- PM Simulator Mock Tests – I solved around 1100 questions from the simulator, took 5 full-exams in the last 3-days (scores – 80, 83, 82, 79, 77)
- PMI Mock Tests (get free mock tests here) – another great source for preparing for the main exam, though I found it to be easier than the actual test. I scored around 75% in the only attempt.
- Oliver Lehmann 100 questions – scored 72 in my first attempt last Sunday before the exam, gave me some confidence, as many people have mentioned that to be a harder exam.
These were pretty much what I used, knowing that one of the smart thing to do while conserving preparation time is to have just enough study resources.
You mentioned the ‘Agile’ approach about how to prepare for PMP exam?
Yes, of course.
I began my initial preparation in early 2020, actually. But due to the pandemic, scenes changed on the office front and the idea to finish PMP went to back-burner. I was working on some critical projects, and hence I might’ve had to let go off my dream of becoming a PMP.
Then I came across the PM Exam Smart Notes blog in one of my searches. After an inspiring one-on-one session with Shiv, I realized that I could still make it with the right amount of smart efforts and started to plan for finishing PMP, no matter how busy my work kept me.
Just like handling an Agile Sprint, which is time boxed event with specific planned outcome, I went about preparing for PMP exam the agile way.
I made an end-to-end study plan of 4 weeks.
My PMP study plan in brief:
- Weekdays (Mon to Fri) – Evening after wrapping up office (8.30 pm to 11 pm)
- Weekends (Sat & Sun) – I tried to accommodate 6 hours on each of these two days, guess I was successful 80% of the time
- Sprint Planning to the exam:
- Week 1 & 2 – Complete the syllabus end-to-end for the first time (I took a lot of notes during these weeks)
- Week 3 – Revision of the Concepts, Extra studies (from YouTube, Blogs etc.), Sectional Tests and revising PMBOK for the concepts not sticking properly
- Week 4 – Full Mock Exams (at least 6 of them to cover almost all the questions in PM Simulator) and other tests
The goal was to give the final exam at the end of 4th week.
Awesome! Was it all good all the way?
I did face some scheduling constraints in my study plan as some parts of my current project were supposed to be released in the weeks before the exam. This warranted extra office hours and I had to compromise with some of my planned study hours.
My approach while planning the PMP Sprint was to add some contingency reserves in my study plan. This would enable me to not beat myself up if I was not able to finish something as planned.
This came to my rescue and I utilized these reserves (almost 90% of the time) in order to ensure I was on track.
Also, due to these sudden changes to my plan, I took the liberty of adding one extra week to my overall plan. The earlier plan was to finish everything within 4 weeks. Due to these changes, I added one extra week to make sure nothing gets in the way.
Thankfully, I could stick to this revised plan and executed it well to balance both office work and studies.
So in a strict sense I had to increase Sprint length, which is not done in an Agile project,. But the Agile approach to PMP study ensured that I did it in 5 weeks.
The week before the exam is crucial. What was your approach to study during this week?
I took a 2-day time-off before the exam. In this week, I concentrated mostly on taking as many mock exams as possible.
Overall, I took 5 mock tests in the last 3 days and was scoring at an average of 80%. My scores we 80, 83, 82, 79, 77%.
I also did reviews of the questions I got wrong or marked while taking the exam.
Then I went through the glossary once to ensure I am not missing out on any of PMI’s terms or concepts.
Most of all, I was trying to calm myself down all the time leading up to the exam day. I was wondering if I have peaked a little earlier than I was supposed to! ?
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Can you talk about your exam day experience?
My appointment was at 8.30 in the morning, so I checked in by 8.15 am.
I did not face any trouble with PearsonVUE (thank God, I was nervous after reading all the stories on forums!). The proctor was nice and warm and released my exam by 8.25.
- The first set of questions were pretty easy, I marked around 10-12 questions for review. I realized I was really bad with Closing process group (shows in my scorecard too! ?) and was extra cautious with all such questions.
- I utilized the 10-min break for a quick snack and some refreshments. Came back and joined the party all over again.
- After the break, the initial few questions seemed very tough and I started to mark them for review wherever I wasn’t sure! after finishing all the questions, I still had ~30 mins left, which I used for the review. In all, it was a pleasant experience.
About the exam questions –
- I found them to be tougher than all the mock tests I had taken so far. I was very cautious and read the questions thoroughly to identify the process/situations and then answered the questions.
- 80% of the questions were situational (I expected this) and at least 20% of the time the answer choices were very close (or it seemed to me)
- Got around 2 Critical Path, 5 or so on CPI/SPI questions (no calculation, only drawing an inference based on the data given)
In the end, a nervous few seconds later I realized that I have made the dream come true!
Any specific study tips about how to prepare for PMP exam?
- The biggest tip – BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. There were times when I have had a rough day at office and I had to start the studies post dinner. I used to curse myself for coming up with this audacious plan. But something in me kept on saying that I could still do it, I just had to hang on there for some more time. Your situation could be completely different (family, kids, work etc), but never ever stop believing that you can make it
- Review mock test answers (at least the wrong and marked ones) – Extremely important. I did not get enough time to do it. And looking back, I think I should have devoted some more time to it. Especially the areas I was not so good at (e.g. Closing Process Group)
- You must choose a note making practice that you are comfortable with – it could be pictorial, bullets or plain text…but make sure you make notes and go over them time and again to get a profound understanding. I used Evernote for my note-making
- I also went through some YouTube Videos whenever I was stuck with any of the concepts. Many a times, the videos cleared the doubts which the words could not.
Overall, this is how I went about and prepared for PMP exam using Agile approach.
I wish all the aspirants good luck! This may not be an easy exam to take and prepare for, but make sure you enjoy the journey (especially the learning) as much as the final outcome. ?