How to: PMP® Self-Study, Secrets of an ‘Accidental’ Project Manager – Kevin Ball, PMP

PMP self-study : how toKevin Ball worked in the automotive manufacturing industry for over 25 years as a technical leader in the IT department supporting the plant floor. He traveled the globe either deploying new or upgraded computer systems at the the assembly plants. He’s been on every continent except the Antarctica.

Kevin became an ‘accidental project manager’ during this time as the deployments / releases needed to be lead by a project manager.

He is happily married with 5 children, 3 grown children and 2 adopted children. Born in Canada and transferred to the United States where he lives today. He enjoys helping people and learning about different cultures and different ways of thinking.

In this post Kevin lays bare how exactly he went about preparing for his PMP® self-study.

Even if you don’t have time to read through Kevin’s gem of an experience, don’t miss his study tips at the end of this post.

What triggered your desire to take up PMP® exam?

Kevin Ball pmpWell, I had been an ‘accidental’ project manager for the past 10+ years and when GM laid me off (along with 4,600 other people).

I felt I should become PMP® certified in order to separate myself from others when looking for a new job.

Did you consider any other project management certifications?

I received my PMI-CAPM® certification back in 2012. I was thinking this might help me either get a promotion, move into another area of work or get a raise.

While GM did not ‘recognize’ my CAPM® certification it certainly helped me in my day to day job and, in retrospect, helped me prepare for the PMP® certification as well.

Also read: Here’s what’s changing in PMP exam in 2019!

Now that you are PMP® certified, how may this impact your work?

While it does not fully portrait all my skills and experiences, I am hoping the PMP® certification will help potential employers / recruiters consider me when checking out my resume and LinkedIn profile.

Which study resources did you consider, and used for the exam preparation?

I tool self-study approach to my PMP® exam.

I had great success with Rita Mulcahy study resources for my CAPM® certification exam and I went back to Rita for my PMP®.

And I also purchased the study questions (RMC had great exam questions >1,600 for variety).

These two, in my opinion were the just right set of study resources.

I also printed out the equations found in PMBOK, the knowledge areas and process groups.

Here’s something that helped me get a understanding of processes immensely –

I laminated the knowledge areas and process groups and then cut them each into specific ’ steps’.

Then before I started studying the book, I went through all the three and memorized the sequences of the knowledge areas, process groups and then wrote down the equations.

I did this every time I studied. Again while I mentioned you cannot memorize everything, my experience and what was in the book made sequencing the knowledge areas and process groups very easy.

I did not do any studying/testing in either an online / virtual classroom or a physical classroom as I prefer to study on my time, alone.

How did you approach the exam and what was your study plan?

Work through the book, memorize what the book recommended, do the sectional tests. Aiming for about 200 hours of studying and then take the full exam questions until I obtained >70% on the exam. It’s all laid out in the RMC PMP® package.

The RMC PMP® exam prep package did come with ‘flash cards / flip book questions’ but I never used them.

Finally – I picked my exam date two months in advance – giving me a goal to strive for. Otherwise personally I would potentially keep delaying the exam until I was comfortable.

I did set a secondary goal of 3 days before the exam as reaching the >70% grade. That way if I didn’t reach it then I could reschedule the exam for only $70 versus cancelling on the day of the exam as I was afraid I would have to pay full price again to reschedule.

Also read: Learn how this busy mom from London did the impossible and got her PMP!

Can you please tell our readers about some of the issues you faced during your PMP® journey, and how did you overcome them.

Getting experience in project management – while it is easy to create a MS Project and follow a set sequence of steps. It is critical to truly understand why you are taking those steps versus blindly following them.

That is key to the exam – to know what to do next (based on the PMBOK) and why you need to do it.

If you do not have experience in project management then the steps will not make sense. And then the questions in the PMP exam will become even more difficult as the questions have answers to how you think it should be done as well as answers on how the PMBOK tells you it should be done.

The questions may say you are at ‘step C’ and what step D would you do next. But you need to realize what was done in step A and step B and how that will impact what step D is. Without experience and understanding automatically what steps A and B are – you cannot memorize what step D will be.

How did you prepare in the week prior to the exam?

Once I achieved >70% on the exam – I stopped studying.

For me, if I kept studying, I could really stress myself out and ‘think too much’ which would cause me to over think the questions on the exam.

I got a good night sleep before the exam. Arrived 30-45 minutes before the exam. Thought happy thoughts for a while and then checked myself in.

What was your exam experience like?

Stressful at first and then I settled in and went to work.

Doing the RMC exam questions ahead of time prepared me for what to expect regarding the exam question user interfaces (using a mouse, high lighting, striking out wrong answers, … etc).

I did find that while I completed the RMC exam in three hours – I only had 10 – 15 minutes left when I completed doing the exam and then reviewing some questions I wasn’t sure of.

Also read: My recommended PMP study resources (tons of free ones too)!

Any specific tips, especially for taking PMP® self-study approach?

Well, here are few that I think would help –

  1. Plan on at least 200 hours of studying – in my experience taking too long or too less are both counterproductive.
  2. Do not try and memorize the PMBOK – but try to understand the reasons behind what is documented in the PMBOK.
  3. Answer everything according to what is documented in the PMBOK. Do not base your answers on how your company does project management. Once you get your PMP certification – then you can go back to running projects the way your company does.
  4. I concentrated on the RMC PMP book and questions and very seldom looked at the PMBOK. I only looked at the PMBOK if I wanted further clarification of what was in the RMC PMP book.
  5. If taking test exam questions – don’t keep taking the questions over and over again. You will fool yourself thinking you are doing okay when in fact you are just memorizing the test exam questions and the answers. RMC recommends you take their full 4 hour exam only twice – I took it three times.
  6. Know yourself and how you best learn. For instance, visual learner, through memorization, by yourself, in groups, … etc. and then do that when studying. Myself – I like studying by myself with little to no distractions. I’d like to study on my schedule with a target date that I am forced to work to. I recommend setting the exam date two month in advance.
  7. When doing your day to day work try and think like a project manager. And use the tools and ideas outlined in the PMBOK wherever you can. This way you can start thinking like a PM and start understanding why the knowledge areas and process groups are defined the way they are. Better yet – ask your manager to assign you to a project and that you want to become a PM and would like to be mentored by a PM where possible. Experience is extremely valuable in preparing and taking the PMP exam. Even when your company doesn’t follow the PMBOK exactly.
  8. Start with the PMP® certification and then work toward Agile/Scrum certification if you work in the IT development world. I am not sure if Agile/Scrum would be used outside of the development world.

That’s it!

I’d like to tell you that if you want to take the PMP® self-study approach, it is definitely possible by having right set of study resources, right attitude, bit of self-motivation, and a systematic study plan.

I wish you good luck for the exam,

Kevin Ball, PMP


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