Studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam can be a time-consuming and occasionally tedious task. This article provides a quick list of tips, tricks, and techniques designed to help you prepare and sit for the PMP.
1. Study, Study, Study!
Some students come to class looking for a "silver bullet." They believe that there are quick tricks that will allow them to easily navigate the material. What's worse, they believe that if they have these tools at their disposal, they will either not have to study, or at most study very lightly. While there are plenty of useful tips, take heed of this first one - the exam is difficult and demanding and there are no shortcuts. You are going to have to study diligently. Preparation is the path to success.
2. Memorization is Important, but Understanding is Paramount.
Do you have to memorize a lot of information to pass the exam? Sure. But the memorization is typically in the service of a larger question. Many of the questions on the exam will present you with a situation which you must quickly interpret and then make a decision (often regarding what to do next). But if you don't have key terms memorized, you may not be able to interpret the question, much less answer it. So the memorization is often not just for its own sake, but in service of the question.
3. Know Your Processes, Process Groups, and Documents.
In the PMBOK® Guide, there are 5 process groups, 47 processes and 10 knowledge areas. PMI loves to test your understanding of these as well as in what order they occur. You will want to master these. Many students also memorize the PMBOK Guide's "Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping" matrix. In addition, there are a number of documents created during Initiating and Planning. Since these govern and oversee project execution, it would be to your great advantage to memorize these documents and know what each one does.
4. Make Peace with Math.
There will be a significant percentage of math calculations on the exam. The level of math is not difficult (fourth grade perhaps), but some students try to block it out and shut down at the very mention of the word. So the best thing to do is to make peace with it and try to master it to the level required for the exam. There are too many possible calculation questions on the exam to ignore it.
5. Critical Path Knowledge is Crucial!
Similar to math questions, PMI loves to test students on their knowledge of critical path, specifically forward and backward pass. After all, the heart and soul of what a project manager does is scheduling. So PMI feels that you should know how to do manually what computer-based schedulers do automatically. Putting this together with the above item, we maintain that if you have not yet mastered math (Earned Value especially) and critical path calculations, you are not yet ready for the exam.
6. Keep Your Anxiety in Check!
Anxiety is a normal part of the exam-taking process. All students will feel at least a certain amount of apprehension prior to and on the day of the exam. The key thing is not to let it overwhelm you. If you prepare for the exam and understand the information thoroughly, that will help you quell this unease. And if during the exam you find yourself tired or anxious, take a short break. Yes, the clock keeps ticking. But better to throw cold water on your face and then re-enter the fray than sit there and start to fall behind because you're stressed.
7. Know Your Testing Center.
For now, there is only one provider through which you can take the PMP exam: Prometric Testing Centers. Prometric has exam centers (10,000+) all over the world, and their administrators are very rigorous in monitoring students, up to and including using a metal wand to detect any smartphones or other devices you might have. Apart from identification like a driver's license, you will only need paper, pencils, and a calculator for the test. These will be provided for you by Prometric.
Once you decide on which of their centers is most convenient for you, your best bet is to visit in advance of exam day. The Prometric centers are uniform in administering the exam but not necessarily in amenities. Ask them about whether they provide noise-cancelling headphones, permit food and beverages, have lockers, , etc. You can also address any transportation concerns such as parking or travel time. All of this will make you feel more comfortable and help deal with potential anxiety.
8. The PMP Exam is not Adaptive.
Some computer-based exams are adaptive in that the questions may become more or less difficult based on the exam-taker's answers. The PMP and CAPM exam are fixed. All of the questions are in the computer at the start of the exam and the answer to one question has no bearing on the difficulty of the subsequent question.
9. Brain Dump!
When you arrive at Prometric, you are given an option to run a tutorial that explains how to navigate the computer. Even though it runs for fifteen minutes, it only takes a few minutes to view. You should use those fifteen minutes to write down any memorized formulas to the test center-provided packet of paper. This paper is also your scratch paper. If you need extra paper, Prometric will provide it to you. However, they will take away the first packet and you will lose your brain dump. So the best move is to write small and erase as needed.
PMI does not now and has not publicized the passing score for several years. Nevertheless, it is our experience that if you can maintain a consistent score of 85% or better on self-administered exams, you will greatly increase the probability of passing the exam. Prometric will tell you the results of the examination within a few minutes of completion. In addition to a pass/fail report, you will be given a list of areas in which you were proficient (or not). You will not, however, be informed of which questions you answered correctly or incorrectly.
As we mentioned early on, there is no "silver bullet" to passing the PMP examination. But with diligence, hard work, and (hopefully) a few of these tips, you can ensure yourself the greatest chance of success!