10 Things to Remember for Your PMP Exam

Don't forget
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. Develop a Study Strategy.

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.

Develop a study strategy and write it down. What is a study strategy? It is a clearly written statement of work that you will follow to learn the PMI® way of doing things. Since you are a project manager, treat this like a project! Here is an example of a study strategy:

"On Monday and Wednesday, I will spend 60-90 minutes reading sections of the PMBOK® Guide. On Tuesday and Thursday, I will spend 90 minutes answering questions in the Q&A section on the PMA website, specifically in areas where I need improvement. On Friday, I will take a mock exam from the PMA website. On Saturday, I will review the mock exam answers and adjust the subjects I study and my overall strategy for the following week."

The last part of this tip is very important: Integrate your study time into your daily calendar (smart phone, Outlook, etc.)

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 learn these documents and know what each one does.

4. Make Peace with Math.

There will be 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. We provide our students a book of exercises where you could gain proficiency with Earned Value and Critical Path math.

The approach of skipping the math questions is NOT recommended. Remember the difference between water and steam is two degrees. The difference between passing and failing this exam can be two questions.

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 if they provide noise-cancelling headphones, have lockers, allow you to go to your locker during a break, 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!

BrainDump As of April 2016, brain dumps are no longer allowed to be written during the 15-minute tutorial period. However, you should be prepared to do a brain dump at the testing center. A brain dump is anything you have trouble remembering. Most students start with the formulas. Practice your brain dump every night for two weeks before exam day, by writing it all down on a new sheet of paper. Try to write it from memory during the last two nights.

When you arrive at Prometric, you are given an option to run a tutorial that explains how to navigate the computer, which is recommended. Once you understand how to operate their system, begin the test timer and don't even look at the first question. Grab your scratch paper or laminated pages to write down any memorized formulas. Most Prometric testing centers are "going green", which means they are handing out three-to-four sheets of laminated paper and a dry erase marker, instead of paper that is simply recycled.

10. Pass/Fail

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!

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