Is it Hard to Get the PMP® Certification?
One of the first things most employers look for in potential project manager candidates is the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. So, how hard is it to get your PMP certification?
To earn the PMP certification, you must meet certain Project Management Institute (PMI) requirements and pass a rigorous certification exam. It is hard to get the PMP certification, but it is not impossible either.
Read through this Project Management Academy guide to learn more about what makes the exam so difficult and how you can achieve this project management certification.
On this page:
Is it difficult to get the PMP Certification?
PMI has designed a challenging PMP certification process. Not only must PMP aspirants meet several prerequisites to even apply for the exam, but the exam itself is meant to test your proficiency and understanding in every project management-related area.
Is there a known failure rate?
The PMP exam is known for being hard, but PMI doesn’t disclose specific statistics about the passing score or failure rate. Some project expert surveys estimate the failure rate at around 40-50%, meaning only about half of the first-time test takers pass the PMP exam. However, there is no officially known PMP exam failure rate.
While you may see sources claim some failure rate or passing PMP score, these are only estimates and most are generally inaccurate. There is likely no strict ratio of correct and incorrect answers to determine whether you pass or fail, especially since the exam is scored using psychometric analysis.
The PMI-approved testing center that scores your exam will evaluate your skills, knowledge, and ability while accounting for each question’s difficulty. Your scoring process will consider the difficulty of your questions, so if you get all the easy questions right but all the hard questions wrong, you are likely to fail the PMP exam.
Each PMP certification exam contains a unique combination of questions, so your scoring process will look different from any other candidate’s. You might answer 65% of your questions correctly and pass, while another candidate might answer 70% of their questions correctly and fail.
For more information about the PMP exam’s estimated failure rate and passing score, check out our resource on what to aim for in PMP exam practice tests.
How hard is the PMP Certification exam?
The PMP exam is both long and challenging. It covers a ton of information and tests your ability to understand and apply your knowledge the way you would in actual project management situations. You can’t expect to pass by simply memorizing PMP terms, concepts, and formulas.
Part of what makes the PMP exam so hard is the volume of information you need to understand. You should have a firm understanding of best practices commonly used in modern project management. Your knowledge base should include:
- Three PMP Exam Content Outline (ECO) domains: People, Process, and Business Environment
- 35 different tasks relating to these domains
- Various skills required of qualified project managers in any industry
- Predictive (also known as waterfall), Agile, and Hybrid project management approaches
- Relevant PMP formulas and mathematical concepts
This information and more is covered in PMI-approved resources such as the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), the PMP Handbook, the PMP Exam Content Outline, and coursework and other material developed by Premier PMI Authorized Training Partners (ATPs) such as Project Management Academy.
The PMP exam questions are demanding because they test your skills and understanding, not just your memory. You will be presented with realistic project management scenarios and asked to use methodologies, principles, and artifacts from the PMBOK Guide and other approved resources to determine the best solution.
The “best” solution means there may be more than one potentially correct answer to each question. If you find a correct answer, you shouldn’t simply check it and move on. You need to determine which answer is the “most” correct: the most logical, the first thing you should try, or some other reason that makes your answer the most ideal for the given situation.
The questions on the PMP exam may also be long, which means you have to read carefully. This can become much harder as the exam progresses since you have to stay patient and focused for almost four straight hours. You may also have to pick through extraneous information to focus on what is and isn’t relevant to the solution.
Here are a few tips that may help with these hard questions:
- Read the last sentence first to help you narrow down what information is most relevant.
- Study formulas proportionately. The latest version of the PMP exam is may not be near as math-heavy as it was in the past, but you should be comfortable with all the formulas to quickly and accurately interpret any math questions.
- Emphasize any particularly challenging areas in your studies. You may likely fail the PMP exam if you do well in all areas but extremely poorly in one. Instead, work hard to understand sections you struggle with the most.
Complexity of PMP Exam Structure
You need to understand the three project management domains of People, Process, and Business Environment. The exam questions about each of these domains are divided as follows:
- People: 42% of the test. This domain includes 14 tasks that focus on your ability to build, coach, and direct a project team.
- Process: 50% of the test. This domain includes 17 tasks that focus on your knowledge of project management processes and how to leverage and apply them efficiently throughout the project life cycle.
- Business Environment: 8% of the test. This domain includes 4 tasks, making it the smallest domain and the smallest percentage of the PMP Exam. It covers how projects are influenced by the organization running them and must deliver value to that organization.
Questions about these domains and tasks help gauge your understanding of many different knowledge areas related to project management. To further complicate things, part of the exam is not included in your grade; while your exam is 180 questions long, you are only scored on 175 of them.
Length of Exam
The PMP exam consists of 180 multiple-choice questions. However, PMI includes 5 “pretest questions” on every exam to evaluate the quality of a question and whether or not it should be included as a “real” question on future exams. If too many people cannot answer a pretest question correctly, it is considered too low-quality to be a scored question.
There is no way to determine whether a question is scored or unscored, so aim to answer all the questions correctly. Some of the harder questions may end up being pretest questions, but many of the “real” questions are just as challenging.
You will have 230 minutes to answer all 180 questions, averaging one minute and 16 seconds per question. There are now two scheduled breaks, so you should try to use the bathroom, get water, or stretch your legs during these times. You can take unscheduled breaks, but the timer will not stop during these periods.
Some people start with a “brain dump,” where they write down formulas and notes to refer back to during the exam. You also have the option to mark questions for review and come back to them later. These may be helpful for some people, but others have found them a waste of valuable time, giving them less time to work on the exam questions.
If you run out of time on the exam, don’t panic: the actual test may be harder than PMP practice tests. Many people have run out of time before finishing all the questions, but have still passed the exam. However, you shouldn’t rely on this possibility: do your best to answer all the questions correctly. Even one wrong answer can mean the difference between a pass and a fail.
Studying for the PMP Exam?
How to increase your chances of passing the PMP exam
While the PMP exam is hard, PMI is not trying to trick you or prevent you from getting your PMP certification. The purpose of this challenge is to ensure you fully understand how to be an efficient project manager in every way possible. Keeping this in mind, here are a few ways you can prepare to increase your chances of passing the PMP exam.
Since everyone’s schedule is different, set up a study routine that works best for you. Ensure you at least do the following:
- Map out your path from the day you start studying to your PMP exam date
- Schedule your study days and times so you are regularly learning and reviewing the material as you go
- Read the PMBOK® Guide, Agile Practice Guide, and any cheat sheets you find helpful multiple times before the exam
- Take practice exams and review any answers you got wrong so you can adjust your study routine accordingly
It is also a good idea to practice your brain dump of processes, key concepts, and equations. Even if you don’t end up taking some time at the start of the exam to write your brain dump down, having it memorized and being able to do it quickly and on-demand will help you be ready for the exam.
Practice tests offer more than just ways to practice applying your knowledge for the exam. Taking multiple practice tests before the PMP exam will help you in areas such as:
- Identifying your strongest and weakest project management domains. Review wrong answers on practice exams to know what you need to focus on studying most.
- Reinforcing your understanding of the material. Review your correct answers to identify why they are correct and guarantee you’re not just a lucky guesser.
- Training your patience for the actual exam. Almost four hours is a long time for anyone to sit and concentrate. Don’t underestimate how hard mental fatigue can be.
- Boosting your confidence before the exam. The more consistently you can answer practice questions correctly, the more confident you can be in passing the exam itself.
Practice tests can be found online or through PMI resources such as an ATP boot camp course. Using PMI-approved practice tests helps ensure your practice questions are high-quality examples.
While the PMP exam does not just test your memory skills, memorizing key PMP exam terms and formulas will help you immensely during the test. Flashcards are excellent active study aids you can use to practice your knowledge almost anywhere.
You can create your own flashcards or use existing resources. Many people share their flashcards online through sources such as Quizlet or Brainscape, but you should be cautious while using assets created by other PMP exam aspirants. More official flashcards also exist that are directly based on the PMBOK® Guide.
PMP Exam Prep Boot Camp
One of the best ways to prepare for this challenging exam is to go through a boot camp provided by a PMI ATP, previously called a Registered Education Provider (REP). PMI provides ATPs with exam prep materials they have developed, meaning you are guaranteed high-quality instruction approved by the Project Management Institute. They also train and certify instructors on this material before they are authorized to deliver a PMP boot camp course.
Boot camps go through all the material you need to know for the exam, and your qualified instructor can also provide additional guidance and resources to help you study. These resources can include practice questions, live tutors, full-length practice tests, and more.
Some PMP exam prep courses, such as Project Management Academy’s in-person and online boot camps, also offer a money-back guarantee. All you have to do is attend our entire course, complete the mock PMP exam, and finish three full-length practice exams. If you do not pass the PMP exam in your three permitted attempts, we will refund your entire course tuition.
This money-back guarantee helps ensure you will have the resources and additional help to try again if you do not pass the exam right away. The Project Management Academy course is so highly rated that only 0.1% of our students request a refund after failing the exam.
How to prepare for test day
After you qualify for the PMP exam, apply to take the exam, schedule your test day, and prepare to pass, you should also prepare for the test day itself. Here are a few things to expect as you prepare for test day.
Night Before the Test Preparation
If you are taking a remotely proctored exam, we recommend using your personal computer instead of a work computer. Your work computer may have some restrictions that cause issues with loading the test. You should prepare your test-taking area, check your equipment is working, and ensure there will be no distractions during the entire 230-minute exam period.
If you are taking the exam at a testing center, start by reading our guide on what to expect from Pearson VUE on test day. Keep the following in mind:
- You need to bring photo identification that includes your signature. Make sure your ID is in English or has an English translation.
- Have your PMI code on hand. You may also be asked for your confirmation code.
- Dress for a cool environment, but bring a light sweater or jacket. This way, you will be prepared if the room temperature is cooler or warmer than expected.
- Though you are not permitted water or snacks at your test-taking station, you may keep them in your center-provided locker and access them during breaks.
- Some testing centers will provide earplugs, but you may bring your own.
- If your test center does not allow you to keep your phone in your locker, have a plan for where to store your phone or other valuable belongings
Most importantly, get a good night’s rest! It’s best to take the exam fully rested and alert.
PMP Exam Morning Preparation
On the morning of your PMP certification exam, you need to sign in, present your photo ID, and provide your PMI code at least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time. It’s recommended you arrive earlier than 30 minutes before the exam in case there is a line to check in.
Bring everything you prepared the night before your test and get situated at your test-taking area if you are permitted. If not, find somewhere quiet and close by to get settled and relax.
The PMP exam is a challenging certification assessment that requires plenty of dedication, motivation, and discipline, both before and during the test. While it is definitely hard, you will be in a great place to pass the test if you follow these preparation tips. Follow these strategies to study and prepare for the PMP exam and achieve this coveted certification.
Upcoming PMP Certification Training – Live & Online Classes