Divya works as a Senior Technical Project Manager in IT sector, and has over 14 years of rich experience. One of the most active members of PMESN community, she aced her PMP exam recently with a perfect ‘Above Target’ score in all 5 domains.
In this interview Divya shares her approach, strategies, and the issues she faced and how she overcame them.
What made you take up PMP? Did you consider any other certification exams?
I recently moved into project management role from Quality Assurance and was looking for a way to get the right education. When I researched ways of getting it, nothing really came close to PMP certification.
This was like none other in terms of both depth of knowledge and credibility. I realized that the only way to get a PMP certification was to actually EARN it by working at it methodically. This made it all the more challenging and appealing.
With PMP certification now what would you expect?
My primary objective of taking up PMP was a self validation of my knowledge and to get a well-rounded project management education. Other perks like recognition and better opportunities come with it but they weren’t the drivers for me.
It’s been a fortnight since I saw those golden words on my screen post my exams. I feel much more confident at work now.
Although we use Agile methodology at work, there are a lot of tips and learning from PMP that I can still implement at work. Even simple lessons on ethics and responsibilities are so handy and helpful.
The PMP prep journey in itself had a lot of teachings that I have applied to my personal life as well. To be more disciplined and manage time better, to name a few.
Which study resources did you use for the preparation?
PMBOK was my first study material.
I did a reading of Rita’s book (ad) initially along with the practice exams and it was very useful.
I had heard horror stories about PMBOK and dreaded it but it didn’t take too long for me to fall in love with the PMBOK guide! But I found it so well written and simple. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the PMBOK and this helped me prepare for PMP ITTO based questions.
Can you talk us through your prep approach and study plan?
As a full-time working mom with a toddler, I didn’t have the luxury of taking my time. I gave myself 3 months.
From the day I decided to take the PMP, I told myself I’ll ace it. As dramatic as it may sound, I do believe in the power of subconscious mind. I told myself just ‘Target’ score won’t do, it had to be better.
Coming to my study routine, if I plotted my study momentum on a control chart, it would be with a lot of ups and downs, some even beyond the control limit but within the specification limit 🙂
Honestly, it wasn’t easy.
I studied anywhere between 30 mins to 2 hours during week nights and about 6-8 hours on weekends. There were days when I didn’t study at all and then there were couple weeks I couldn’t keep the momentum (sick kid at home or week-long Christmas vacation just 2 weeks before the exam).
It sounds scary but I had a awesome Christmas vacation too and I told myself I’ll make up for the week when I get back to studying. I think no risk is big if you have a well planned response. I made my own plan, accounted for known and unknown risks so it worked well.
That strategy helps you keep up the momentum even when on days you can’t get yourself to study. A big thanks to Shiv for creating a group like this.
During my studies I specially focused on the PMP ITTOs. The easiest way I found is to try and ‘understand’ (rather than ‘remember’) how inputs and outputs flow across logically related processes. This can be done easily by focusing on Data Flow Diagram in PMBOK for each process.
To my surprise, in hindsight I can say that just preparing for PMP ITTO based questions increased my ability to answer majority of non-ITTO questions as well!
I planned a 2-week break from work before my exams.
I knew this is where I had to put in my best efforts but as luck would have it, my kid fell sick and I lost couple days. But then hey nothing comes before family 🙂
The last 10 days I studied for about 12 hours a day.
That is awesome! How about any blockers you faced?
I’m not someone who can sit for long time in classrooms or online training sessions so I knew it was going to be self-study for me.
My first issue was that I didn’t know where to start. 🙂
Here comes the role of a mentor.
I encourage everyone to find a good mentor. I cannot emphasize how important this is. So my mentor guided me on the materials and created a study plan for me.
If you are a working parent with kids, you must account for unexpected surprises in your plan like kids falling sick, occasional longer work hours and other breaks.
I am not a morning person so my study time was mostly nights and sometimes I felt exhausted at the end of a long day.
Along the way, I was again lost on the study materials influenced by the social media but I told myself I’ll take my chances and stuck to studying to my plans.
I think it’s important to make a plan and stick to it. Don’t let yourself go beyond PMBOK and one another supplement material. Otherwise it can simply make things complicated.
In the last week before my exam I was heads down into studying. I took a 4-hour mock exam, reviewed PMBOK again and mostly stuck to the study notes I had made.
What was your exam experience like?
My exam experience was uneventful. I had visited the center 2 days prior to the exam to familiarize myself with the route, test center etc.
I reached test center an hour early. The staff were courteous and well trained.
I’ve typically heard people come out and say questions were easier than the ones in PM-Simulator. I found it the other way. I was able to complete 200 questions within 3 hours during the last few mocks. But during my exam took a whole 3 hour 45 mins to take a pass through all questions. Used the last 15 minutes to review.
My strategy to take the exam was simple:
- Go for all the easy ones first.
- Note down and skip the complicated ones, PMP ITTO questions (that needed time to analyze), and formula based questions.
- Mark the ones that I wasn’t 100% confident.
- In the second pass, I revisited the noted down questions and then went for the marked ones. At one point, I felt a little distracted but took a 1 min break and told myself to buckle up.
I was reviewing questions until the timer went off. I closed my eyes and prayed. When I did open my eyes that sentence on the screen made me cry!
This was a long and a exhausting journey but was worth it at the end. My hard work had payed off. I’ll vouch for the fact that there is no substitute to hard work.
That is so amazing. Any specific study tips for PMP aspirants?
I do, of course!
- First of all, believe in yourself. No matter what has been your past PM experience, or how busy you are at work, or what blockers you face, constantly tell yourself that you can do this.
- Secondly, find a good mentor. This helped me. I’m thankful to mine who constantly followed up and ensured I did not lose momentum.
- Third, try not to simply memorize concepts but understand them. I can assure you that there are not many who cleared the exam by memorizing. Use mnemonics if it works for you, they are great to remember sequences etc, but ensure you understand the concepts.
- I focused heavily on the PMP ITTOs. Don’t think that studying PMP ITTOs will only help answer those few ITTO based questions. You may or may not see a lot of direct ITTO based questions in the exam, but thoroughly understanding the PMP ITTO flow gives you the knowledge and confidence required to answer majority of the questions.
- Ensure you understand the process table (1-4 in PMBOK) thoroughly. I recreated the table on my sheet in the first 7 mins of my exam (brain-dump strategy).
- Take mock tests during your prep. Spend time understanding gaps.
- Last but not the least, use the elimination technique while answering questions.
All the best,
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