Swaroop started his PMP preparation in the month of October and obtained certificate on 3rd February with 3Ps and 2 MPs on his first attempt. He had a unique approach – he paired up with his friend for PMP exam. They seemed to have had a huge leverage of each other’s time and efforts. In this article, Swaroop lays out the exact step-by-step process they followed to pass PMP exam, along with few PMP exam tips.
When you are in college, you may have enjoyed preparing for exams. You may have even pioneered the art of sitting at length and optimizing the exam time and come up triumphant every time. But once you join a job that ‘skill’ starts waning. After close to a decade now if you have to appear for a full-fledged 4-hour-200-question-exam, well, you certainly remember your college days.
Preparing for PMP exam is one such experience.
What does it take to appear for PMP exam
Clearing exams wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. PMI lays down conditions – in terms of educational qualification and in terms of number of hours of project management experience – to even to be eligible for PMP exam.
Assuming you pass that hurdle, there are a ton of processes to understand and related project management concepts, and each process has several Inputs, Tools & techniques, and Outputs. And then depending on how much of project management experience you have, reading PMBOK book could be a pleasant experience or a tough nut to crack.
At times it feels like not having project management experience is a boon while understanding PMBOK guide.
That is because PMI expects you to answer a question based on the ideal strategies as given in PMBOK and not based on how you may have acted in the real world scenario. Therefore, not basing answers purely on your experience would be a favor you would do to yourself.
PMP exam success will depend on your understanding of Project Management guidelines defined in PMBOK, end to end.
The exam is of 4 hours duration, in which you’ll answer 200 questions. Sitting in the exam hall for 4 hours in itself may seem like a big deal answering mostly situational questions.
You will be thrown questions after questions where, to use cricketing analogy, you’ll have to bat plenty of curve balls, bouncers, yorkers, googlies to get certified as a PMP. This is where the mock exams will help you to practice sitting continuously for four hours optimizing the time to answer questions and to really get the grip on different patterns to solve the questions.
Here’s a quick & short guide about PMP exam that you may like to go through first.
How I decided to take up PMP
Soon after completion of my MBA in Project Management in 2014 I had paused the idea of getting a PMP certification for about 2 years. One of my friends from office was researching about PMP and during a tea break we got to talk about it. We decided to go at it together and enrolled as PMI member immediately.
We booked a slot for 35 contact hours of mandatory project management education from PMI chapter of Bangalore and completed within 15 days of that tea-break discussion.
Our goal was to pass the exams in the very first attempt.
In the context of appearing for a c0llege exam, the PMP exam effort differs in that here you would need to answer the questions in the context of a real-life project management scenario. Memorization does not help at all. Well, at the best it may help you remember the process names or few ITTOs, but just that is no good for passing the exam.
Few PMP exam tips
Coming back to our plans to tackle the PMP exam, in the time that we had between enrollment and the classes, we did some research on the Internet about experiences published by other successful PMPs, made a rough study plan and drew timelines. Below are few tips based on our experience of the PMP exam.
- Plan to take up PMP exam within 4 months (to a maximum of 6 months). Beyond that there is a risk of losing interest due to other priorities life throws at you. PMP preparation would totally occupy whatever little time you get after left after office hours. Therefore a shorter and focused plan would ensure success with more certainty than a long term diluted plan.
- Treat your PMP prep more as a sprint than a marathon. Set aside 3-4 months of study period with 1-2 hours of daily and 4-5 hours of weekends/holidays study. Around 150-200hr of preparation time is required depending on your prior experience and grasping power.
- Do not leave in the middle or take a break – not even for a day or two. For PMP exam, momentum is everything. Else you may feel that you are beginning to forget whatever you’ve learned. PMP preparation has to be a continues exercise.
- Every day read as many pages as you can comfortably cover (say 20 pages). Do not dry-read anything- always move ahead only after you understand the current concept/process. Don’t stress yourself while reading.
- Do not skip concepts or processes. In the college exam one could decide to leave out a chapter or two and still hope to pass the exam. But in PMP, processes are mostly inter-related and inter-linked, and flow should be maintained as per PMBOK index. Plus, there is a passing threshold in each of the 5 domains of the exam, so you don’t want to take any chances.
- Prepare a study tracking sheet with start and end dates. You may not always go as per the plan but having one will sure help you make progress. Be open to change/refine your plan as needed. For me it took almost 2 months to completely read through the exam preparation study material. And then one and a half months for PMBOK guide.
- Plan to take a minimum of two full-length mock tests. More the merrier. Attempt few mock tests during the same time of the day as your exam slot. This will help you identify and overcome any physical restrictions (hunger, drowsiness, restroom breaks etc).
- After each mock test, spend a couple of hours to analyze what went wrong and also what went right. This gives you insights into your preparations methods and knowledge gaps. Target is to consistently score 80% and above in fresh 4-hour tests (not repeat ones).
- Once you have completed a process group, or even knowledge area, try to take small tests of 20-30 questions. You can do this even during your second pass through study material. We aimed to solve about 1200 or more credible questions before appearing in the final exam.
- Try solve few sample questions during breaks, at the end on the study hour, or before taking a nap. It will be fun and like playing a game – which is very beneficial. A good smartphone app or an online question bank may help to serve this purpose.
- Find a like-minded individual as a study buddy. It would a huge benefit, as we found. Share knowledge with each other, push and motivate each other when events pull you off the study path.
These are few PMP exam tips we have learned from our experience. I encourage you to read from others’ as well.
When will you know if you are ready?
Once you are done with first round of end-to-end study you should feel confident confident enough to schedule the test. Keep a decent amount of buffer based on time required to study the second time. Also, keep a week or two to practice mock tests in a Simulator.
As an thumbrule, keep the goal to score about 80-85% in consecutive 4-hr mock tests. That should be a reasonable indication about your readiness for the big-day.
PMP Exam Tips: On the day of exam
- The biggest advantage you can have is by keeping a calm mind, no matter what happens.
- Try to keep studies before the exam-day to a minimum. Have a good night’s sleep. Any stress on exam day would only impair thinking, and you are likely to hit wrong answers in the exam.
- Plan to reach exam hall at least an hour and half before the exam. You can go over brain dump, flashcards, or short notes you’ve made.
- Check with your exam center of dos and dont’s beforehand. Carry all relevant documents. Carry Small snacks, high energy bars etc. You can take none into the exam hall.
- Ideally, planning a break (or not) should be practiced during your mock test attempts. Reducing unknowns during exam will only help do it better. A break will take at least 10 minutes of time (with security check etc). Then there is the time needed to get back into groove and regain exam momentum.
- If you feel stressed, (or not), take a minute or two to close your eyes and take deep breaths ever 15-30 minutes. This energizes you and helps focus.
- Move through easy questions quickly (but don’t rush – you may get them wrong). Save time for complex questions and problems – some may require as long as 4 minutes to solve and some require 10 secs. Try this technique during mock tests (click here and search on the page for ‘proven strategy’).
Also Read: 9 things to do on the day of your PMP exam
PMP is an essential credential for project manager. Apart from the obvious advantages of industry recognition, better compensation and so on, PMP will help the project manager get overall perspective of any project and apply best practices to do a better job.
I hope that few PMP exam tips I’ve shared in this post will help in your own PMP exam preparation. Should you have any questions I’d be happy to help. Connect with me on LinkedIn here.
Swaroop Bharadwaj, PMP
Also Read: The complete PMP prep guide!
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