How To Prepare for and Pass Your PMP Exam
By Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM
It took Kevin Reilly nearly 3 times longer than he expected to study for his Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam. “I estimated 120 hours and it took me 320,” he said, in an interview with Cornelius Fichtner, host of The Project Management Podcast at www.pm-podcast.com. “I’m a pretty detail-oriented guy so I don’t think it would take everyone 320 hours to study. But of course, everyone’s an individual so you have to determine that for yourself.”
Kevin created a project plan for his PMP exam prep study, but was a bit aggressive with his estimates. About a quarter of the way through his studies he realized that he would have to alter his plan and his expectations. “It took about 5 months for me to actually do it,” he said. “I was working full time when I first started studying.” But Kevin unfortunately lost his job and was then able to focus full-time on his studies for the last 6 weeks of his preparation plan.
After being in IT project management for about 10 years Kevin realized that he wanted to know more about the framework and techniques behind what he was doing. “I joined my local PMI Chapter and went to a couple of meetings,” he said, “I decided pretty quickly that the PMP certification was for me. Once I started my studies, my bootcamp instructor indicated something very interesting. The PMP certification is not just a certification. It’s actually an accreditation similar to CPA. So it’s not like a one-day seminar where they hand you a certificate. It holds a lot more value and is globally recognized as the standard for project management.”
Kevin treated his application for the exam like a job interview. He spoke to every person that he worked for or with who was connected to the projects on his application and sent them the information to verify in advance. This also gave him the opportunity to check the contact information for those people, in case his application was audited.
Luckily, Kevin didn’t get audited, but he advises applicants to be prepared in case it happens to them. Once the application was submitted, he could concentrate on the bulk of the exam preparation. “I went through a 3-day PMP exam prep bootcamp and I used Andy Crowe’s Velociteach materials,” he said. He also read A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) twice.
“The first time through, I actually read it. I did not study it,” he said. “Basically, I highlighted the sections that were not familiar to me. Then I went back and I studied the highlighted sections and I also made some manual flash cards of each of the terms in the glossary that I did not understand.”
Kevin’s exam date came round and he attended the testing center. Like many testing centers, it had a locker to store his personal items as he could not take them into the exam room. He was given paper and pencils and taken to a cubicle in order to start the exam.
Kevin chose to start his exam as soon as he sat down, using the 15-minute computer-based test (CBT) as a countdown timer in which to prepare his brain dump sheet and notes. “It was familiar territory for me,” he said. “I had already been through the process every time I took a practice exam. So I knew exactly what to do when I went in there.”
After he had prepared his notes he ended the CBT and the real exam began. This is an unusual strategy – most candidates choose to write out their notes before starting the 15-minute CBT. “Psychologically, I knew I had that 15 minutes,” he explained. “I did not want to think about anything else except for dumping that stuff in my brain.”
The approach paid off, and Kevin only needed just over 3 hours to complete and verify his exam. “The first thing I did was to go through all 200 questions,” he said. “Anything that had a formula or more than 2 sentences, I marked for review. That took about an hour.” He then took a break and went back to the computer for his second pass. He reviewed all the questions he couldn’t answer the first time round. “I gave myself a limit of about 2 minutes each,” he said. “If I couldn’t get past it in 2 minutes then I used my best guess at that point. If I had no idea what the right answer was, I just marked it for review again.”
He took a further break and then went through the entire exam, making sure that every question had an answer. This is important because there are no points for a blank answer, and making an educated guess at least gets you a 25% chance of being right – sometimes more if you can eliminate obviously incorrect answers.
Today, Kevin has a new job working in PMP exam instruction. He’s also achieved his Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner certifications, and he’s working towards the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®. “I guess I wanted to cram all these 4 certifications into 12 months!” he said. “I don’t know why but that’s just the way it worked out.”
Perhaps a year ago Kevin wouldn’t have gone for so many exams and so much new knowledge in such a short time. “When I first got serious and started studying for my PMP exam, I was scared, nervous, excited, worried, overwhelmed and a plethora of other emotions both positive and negative,” he said. “But one thing I found all around me at all times throughout my journey to becoming a PMP were helpful, friendly people. These are people who had been through the exact same thing that I was going through. Most importantly, all these people were willing to share their knowledge which is really the key to my success in becoming a PMP. Thank you!”
About the author: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted project management expert. Since 2005 he has interviewed over 120 project managers from around the world on The Project Management Podcast at www.pm-podcast.com. The interviews are available for free. Topics cover all areas of project management like methodologies, PMOs, earned value, project leadership, Agile, certifications and many more.
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