How to pass the PMP exam.

Written by Chris Pinter                                             

The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a certificate for experienced project managers to be recognized for their knowledge in the field of project management.  The Project Management Professional (PMP) designation is the Institutes coveted certificate acknowledging the skills required to manage projects that require a specialized diverse set of skills that are unique to project management.  Many operational or administrative manages will never be exposed to the risks and changes involved in projects.  This makes the practitioners of project management highly skilled in managing risk and change.

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Managing a project is a lot like managing a small company.  You need to be effective in managing areas of business such as budget, schedule, scope, human resources, risk, quality, and many other aspects of the project.   Some projects have budgets over $1 billion, making the project more like a large company, requiring very experienced project managers.

Gaining the skills to qualify to take the PMP exam is not easy.  You need to demonstrate that you have experience in many if not all of the domains recognized by the Project Management Institute.   These include:

  • Initiating the project
  • Planning the Project
  • Executing the Project
  • Monitoring and Controlling the Project
  • Closing the Project
  • Professional and Social Responsibility (soon to be tested in the other five domains)

Once you demonstrate these capabilities you need to then study the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) published by the Project Management Institute.  The 4th edition of this guide was published in 2008 and is the most up to date.  However, PMI is always updating the guide to reflect current knowledge and best practices developed by project managers working in the field.   If you are considering writing the PMP exam the following will help you prepare for the grueling four hour exam.

1.       Check the PMI website to ensure you are qualified to write the exam.

2.       You will need to dedicate hundreds of hours to studying so make sure you are ready and capable of studying 10 to 25 hours a week.  Before you start, remember to email or call PMI to find out when they might be updating the PMBOK.   You want to make sure you have time to study and write the test before they change the material or the format of the test.

3.       You will need time to study for the exam.  Typically a person who qualifies for the exam will need six to nine months to properly study and write the exam.   PMI will give you three attempts to write the exam in one year.   Many people fail the test the first time. So it is important to take the exam seriously and plan for contingencies if you happen to fail.  The best course of action is to study first. Then when you are completely ready to write the exam, book your exam time.

4.       Once you know you have time available to study, contact PMI and get the latest copy of the PMBOK if you do not already have your copy.  Study it for a month or two on your own, scanning the chapters so you get a feel for the complexity.

5.       Sign up to a PMP preparation course such as the course offered by CIKI Learning Center (   Taking a one week course in how to write the Project Management Professional (PMP) test does not make you ready to write the exam.  It only provides you a frame work for studying and helps you identify those knowledge areas you will need to focus on while you are studying.

6.       You will need many sources to study for the exam.  One text book does not have everything you need to know.  Read as many PMP preparation text books as you can.  The best ones are written by the following authors:

a.       Crosswinds

b.      Rita Mulcahy

c.       Kim Heldman

d.      Joseph Phillips

e.      Andy Crowe

7.       Acquire a good understanding of the material.  This means knowing everything about the subject.  Practically memorizing the material.  When I took this course, Denise Holleran-Boswell the President and Managing Partner of CIKI told me some great advice.

A.      Know all of your ITTO’s…this is Inputs, Tools, Techniques and Outputs of each process.

B.      Know all of the definitions in the glossary of the PMBOK and study manuals.

C.      Be able to get high 80’s and low 90’s on the test provided in the study guide.

8.       Once you have a good grasp of the material you will want to take many practice exams over the course of 2 months leading up to the exam.  I used the following process.

a.       Write a full exam from the text you studied in the preparation course.  The idea is to get a feel for the material and how the four hour exam will affect your concentration.

b.      On the CD take a number of practice exams using learning mode, repeatedly until you start to get a mark in the 80’s.  This process should take you four to six weeks, testing yourself and studying the material.  As you learn keep track of the following:

i.      Using learning mode will provide you with the correct answer right away so you know when you get one wrong.  Getting the right answer right away will help you learn faster.

ii.      Sometimes the answers in the practise test and the text books are wrong.  This is usually a mistake on the publisher for not editing the text.  Learn how to recognize these errors by double checking the answers against the PMBOK and other study material.

iii.      Keep track of which questions you get right and wrong during the 4 hour practice exam.  As you write the practice exams you will get mentally tired.  It will be important to know how well you do during different parts of the exam so when you review your test you can focus on the section of the test when you know you are tired.   When I wrote the practice tests, I was able to get 99% of the answers correct between questions 10 and 120.  Then I started to get answers wrong as I got more mentally fatigued during questions 120 and 200.  Also, I noticed that I got questions 194 to 200 almost always wrong, because I was looking forward to finishing and not concentrating on the questions well enough.

iv.      Keep track of what areas you need to study.  Brush up on those sections of the study material before you write the test again.

v.      Use the tests from all five sources mentioned above as well as online resources such as the free test offered by Headfirst labs( )

vi.      Save one or two tests from two sources that you will not look at until the last three weeks.

9.       Once you have a good grasp of the knowledge then apply to write the exam so you have one year to retake the exam if you happen to fail.  Once PMI accepts your application, book the exam three weeks ahead.

10.   During the final three weeks you will need to study very hard.  Write a four hour test simulating the test environment, everyday for five or six days a week.  Do not use learning mode during this time and use the tests you have never seen before or have not seen for three or four weeks.  You want to build up your stamina so you are comfortable in writing a four hour test on this material.  Remember to keep track of your mental concentrations and test your ability to review the test to find errors.  Don’t forget to mark the questions for review if you had to think about the correct answer when you first looked at the questions. This is very important.  You want to be able to feel confident that you are marking the questions you are likely to get wrong so you have a greater chance of catching mistakes during your review.

If you get a mark below 70% on a practice test you have never seen before you run the risk of failing the real test.  REMEMBER… the PMP exam is not testing you on the PMBOK.  It is testing you as a Project Manager.  However, the only material you can really study is the PMBOK so it is important to get high 80’s or low 90’s for a practice exam you have never seen before!

The actual test is different in nature then the study material and the study tests.  The questions are not intended to test you on your knowledge of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) but to test you as a project manager.  The actual questions in the exam do not always present the situation is a clear manner and sometimes the choices of answers to the problem are all bad.  It is important as a Project Manager to be able to decipher the complex nature of the exam because in the real world, project managers need to make choices that are not perfect.

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